By Mike Jiggens
SODDING a sports field, whether it’s a full field renovation or repairing worn areas, requires advanced planning and the commitment to see the job through every step of the process, an audience of sports turf managers were told in September.
Steve Schiedel, co-owner of Greenhorizons Sod Farms, speaking at Sports Turf Canada’s annual fall field day in Hamilton, said proper advance planning must include meetings with both user groups and the turf management team to ensure everyone is on the same page and understands what must be done to ensure sodding effectively achieves its goal.
“Can I just simply strip it, resod it, or do more things need to be done?” He said much thought needs to go into the answer to such a question.
Schiedel warned that a decision to sod a field or parts of it not be sprung upon turf management staff only a day in advance. Plans need to include such important matters as water scheduling and mowing, and user groups need to be aware of what is happening to the field.
The planning process also includes an understanding of any soil problems which might be present, the need to remove debris left from the field’s original construction and the removal of built-up organic matter.
The best time of year to lay sod is either early spring or early fall when nights are a little longer and temperatures are generally cooler, Schiedel recommended. It’s preferable to July, for example, when extreme evapotranspiration rates are experienced.
Sodding, however, can be done at any time during the growing season, especially if a special event or a major tournament is scheduled.
“It can be done as long as you have water, whether it’s irrigation or a plan of how you’re going to manage water coming in from outside the field.”
The removal of thatch is imperative before sod is to be laid. Schiedel said organic matter must be beaten down to the particular thatch layer’s thickness.
Preparing the soil for sod is a science in itself. Loosening the soil by means of reverse rototillering makes it soft which has both good and bad attributes, he said. On the one hand, it allows the turf to establish with its roots ably getting into the soil, but the field will also be soft which is a detriment.
“It needs to be firmed up. You want the field to be firm but not compacted.”
Once the field has been tilled and is rendered loose and soft, if it is not managed properly and rolled before it is sodded, problems with footprints will occur.
“If you do a rototilling plan, you do need to firm it up.”
Whether or not to bring in soil as well as the soil type itself are other important considerations to make before sodding.
“Are you going to do a modified sand, are you going to bring good sandy loam, are you going to buy local topsoil from the local soil supplier? Understand the differences of all the different kinds of soils and what your expectations are of what your existing field is.”
Grading of the field may also be required before sod is to be laid. Schiedel said most fields aren’t a full engineered sand system and require a crown, whether they have drainage or not.
“Unfortunately, we don’t get enough time to do proper cultural practices to aerate enough. Our surface does get compacted, and it’s hard to get water down into a drainage system, even if we have it in our fields. Make sure you have good, positive drainage.”
Any sports surface should have good surface drainage, Schiedel said, adding it is a good idea to give fields good grading and to provide them with a positive crown.
Laser grading is one option, he said, but noted not all fields can be laser graded. They need to be assessed before a decision is made to proceed with laser grading because some fields have extreme compound angles and “turtle backs.”
“You need to know what you have before you go and tell a contractor that you want it laser graded. Make sure you hire a reputable contractor who knows what he’s doing and has some experience in this.”
It’s easy to have the equipment at hand, Schiedel said, but it’s difficult to actually implement it and use it properly on a field. Multiple compound angles and turtle backs make laser grading difficult to do while fairly flat fields or those with a small crown and only a few angles are fairly easy to do.
“Laser grading is fantastic. You can get your field looking like a billiard table if it’s done properly.”
Sodding the goal mouth area of a soccer field or repairing the worn area of a field’s centre area can be problematic if clean cutting isn’t done. User groups will see the transition lines, Schiedel said, and if sod is sitting up high, they will call it a trip hazard.
“Take the time to get a good, clean, keyed-in edge.”
Relieving a field’s compaction through aeration is advisable before sodding. Schiedel suggested aerating multiple times and letting the cores dry. Cores can then be dragged back in before the field is rolled and sodded.
“This will help the sod knit quicker, those holes will hold water, and the roots will go down into those holes. It will interface and transplant and grow much better.”
Schiedel said putting down a good starter fertilizer before sodding will cut establishment time in half, if not more.
“Get a good starter fertilizer down before you sod. Your sod will establish twice as fast. I guarantee it.”
Watering in sod is vital toward its survival and its ability to establish. A water management plan must be enacted beforehand. Schiedel said if a field is already irrigated, the system should be audited and tested before sod is laid. Sprinkler heads must also freely rotate 360 degrees and sufficient water pressure must be at hand. Nothing should be left to chance.
If an irrigation system isn’t properly set up, it will be to be tweaked accordingly, he said.
As sod is being installed and immediately after installation, “water, water, water.”
Schiedel said the first 15 minutes to three hours upon installation, the soil profile needs to be super saturated. Watering should continue during the first three days.
If a sports field is not irrigated, plans need to be made to either access a hydrant or to bring in water from another source. Like an irrigation system, the water needs to be tested beforehand to ensure it is ready to go when needed.
A lack of water or water not delivered soon enough will result in sod failure.
“If there is enough water to put on sod soon enough, it is an unbelievable fast process to repair a field.”
Sod should be so wet during the first three days after installation that it can’t be walked upon, Schiedel said. Water volume should then be reduced and shut off entirely by the seventh day to allow the field to be mowed. Once the field is mowed the first time, water can be turned on again as if it was the first time. After three more days of heavy watering, the volume can be cut back and the field be mowed again on the 14th day.
“Mowing is the secret to getting sod established.”
Schiedel said bigger sod rolls will interface quicker than small rolls. Because they knit faster, they can allow a field to be put back in play that much earlier.
Natural turf fields have had to compete against synthetic fields more and more in recent years, and that can be done with properly installed and maintained natural fields.