Ideas for Drying Out Wet Winter/ Early Spring Fields

Is it just me, or has the winter just flown by?!?  Here in the USA, the spring sports season is upon us:  College baseball and lacrosse season is open, professional baseball spring training baseball is underway, and professional soccer pre-season is nearing the end with the season opening in 2 weeks.  Are you sensing faint hints of freshly cut grass yet??

Winter and early spring play creates a vast challenge for sports field managers. Grass is either dormant or slow-growing, soils are freezing and thawing, and cold temperatures and/or snow can eliminate getting work done all together.  But for every challenge there is a creative solution.  Today let’s share together some different ideas and techniques to solve the challenge of preparing wet fields for spring time play.

Why Do Fields Stay So Wet in the Winter/ Spring?

Wet fields are challenging in the winter/ early spring for several reasons. 2 of those are:

  1. Sun Angle Is Lower:  Summer is the only time that the earth is tilted directly towards the sun.  Then during the spring and fall, the tilt is more intermediate.  Then In the winter the earth is tilted completely away from the sun in the winter hemisphere.                                        Because of the tilt, evaporation/ evapotranspiration and atmospheric heating are greatly reduced.  The result: much slower surface drying for wet fields
  2. Temperature fluctuation:  Temperature (and climate) can also be traced back to the tilt of the earth as well.  But ups and downs are more dramatic during the winter.  This weekend Florida is experiencing un-seasonably cool temperatures.  Last week the GIS Convention experienced cold, rain, and overcast in San Diego.  Up and down temperatures inhibit drying and lead to soils freezing and thawing.  Then a thawing top layer on a field is soft and wet, especially if the profile below is still frozen.

Solutions to Drying Fields:

We have defined some of the reasons for wet, spring time fields.  Now lets explore some possible solutions.  Please share some of your ideas as well!

  1. Soil Penetrants:  Moving water off of the surface is Step #1 to getting a wet field dry.  Because the field surface is unstable, mechanical means of drying are impossible.  Liquid soil penetrants provide an option for these surfaces.  Soil penetrants contain negatively charged particles that repel the negatively charged soil colloids to open up pathways through the soil for temporary drainage.  An application of a soil penetrant can expedite the movement of water by up to 40%.  Soil penetrants have no environmental impact and have no long-term effects on the field surface, so using them is 100% safe.  They are generally economically priced as well.
  2. Drying Agents:  Soil drying agents such as calcine clay and ceramics provide an option for wet surfaces.  The ability of these products to work on wet grass surfaces is mixed, especially with possible detrimental long-term issues for grass if over used.  But drying agents are extremely effective on drying infield skinned areas/ bare dirt areas, so creative uses can be attempted if budget is no object (can be expensive)
  3. Rolling:  A roller can be used to “seal off” the surface of a field to make it playable for a competition.  This certainly isn’t a long-term solution, but can provide a quick fix to get the field to a point that a competition can take place and prepare it for mechanical means such as aeration to take place to work towards drying the field.
  4. Aeration/ Venting:  Venting the surface can encourage the field to begin to dry.  Rapid tine aerators w/ solid tines set to 1-2” can work very well, specially since the front roller can smooth our tractor tracks.  The RotoKnife, slicers, aerway type aerators, and dimple or needle tine seeders can also work to run across a surface that needs vented to promote drying out.  Hollow tines can also be used if you are comfortable with being able to get the plugs cleaned up.  Again, 1-2” is all that is needed to encourage/ speed drying out.
  5. Topdressing:  Topdressing sand can be used to assist in creating air space to dry and firm the surface, especially in cooperation with aeration/ venting.  Filling the open holes with sand allow them to remain open longer and provide more drying ability.
  6. Grow Tarps:  Using grow tarps doesn’t directly help dry out a field surface, it actually can trap in moisture without sunshine.  But when used w/ sunshine, a grow tarp not only magnifies sun to dry a field surface.. it also promotes grass growth and establishment.  When grow tarps are used correctly (off and on when needed), they can create early spring growth and drying to have a field playable nearly daily.  Any high level (high traffic) field that is depended on for early spring play should consider grow tarps to ensure success for playability (in combo with these other ideas)

These are just a few ideas and thoughts about getting wet fields open in the spring time.  We will build on this and have a more extensive discussion on drainage options for fields (especially heavy soil) in the next week with some examples from drainage work we are doing at  Maryland SoccerPlex.  But in reference to today’s discussion, please sure any ideas/ thoughts with us that you might have in order for Sports Field Managers to better meet the challenge of wet fields this spring!!


2 thoughts on “Ideas for Drying Out Wet Winter/ Early Spring Fields

    • Hi Craig!

      Great question… Typically, no. I have not and/or do not recommend that such drying agents be used on grass. In emergency situations, such as needing to dry puddles/ etc, a drying agent possibly could be used. But it needs to be removed ASAP after the water is dried. The fines will create an even harder surface with bigger issues for puddling, etc. Ceramics/ calcine clays/ etc can be incorporated into the sand or soil for moisture retention, some people have great success with them. But I would use it for blanket apps only in emergencies, know that the short term fix could be a long term problem.

      Something like a liquid soil penetrant product combined with some sand might be a better solution. And getting the field top dressed/ KORO’ed/ etc to help level and eliminate puddles as well

      I hope this info is helpful and that your week was full of success!! Cheers!!

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