In a recent article, I confessed my failure to fix my own lawn right the first time. I don't know if compared to winners, losers seem more approachable, but I received more comments about that article than usual.
One faithful reader even stopped his car and offered to water my lawn.
Another reader contacted me and asked if I could help fix failing sports fields. The truth is, it can be easier to fix a luxury item than its common cousin, so my answer is, "of course." And since a luxury lawn is still a lawn, the recipe for success contains the same ingredients for luxury and common lawns.
A school field that is used only for lacrosse in the spring and football games in the fall is a luxury field. The meaning of the term luxury implies that it is beyond the necessities. On the one hand, getting regularly trampled by a herd of athletes might not seem luxurious. But what other lawn gets to be totally overlooked during its toughest season?
That's like the difference between "America's Funniest Home Videos" and the evening news: for the news, the cameras only roll when the makeup is on, and the hair is set.
So the best management plans for a sports lawn include maximizing the rest period in June, July and August. Follow these steps:
1. Use organic fertilizers as much as possible. This should be a no-brainer. I don't want my kids being tackled into chemicals.
2. Try to get the grass growing thick before the athletes hit the field in spring. A thick turf will help protect the soil and roots, not to mention resist weeds. So fertilize early and heavily.
3. Watch the water. Usually this is no problem in spring, but don't let the turf get thirsty, especially toward June.
4. Once the spring season ends, aerate heavily—the field should look like a war zone—then fertilize and let the grass grow as high as possible. Mow at 4" for tall fescue and 3.5" for bluegrass. This is also a good time to overseed and improve grass variety.
5. For the summer break, let the grass recover and build root and shoot density. Now is the time to be liberal with watering, but only once per week.
6. In August, continue the rest and water treatment, but begin to reduce the mowing height gradually until the highest acceptable season height is reached. Cornell University sports field management says football, lacrosse, soccer and baseball outfields can all be mowed at 2.5."
7. After the last game, aerate, lime and fertilize again, anticipating winter's freeze/thaw rest.
Your lawn doesn't have the summer rest, but it may also not have the trampling. All lawns need air, water and nutrients to thrive. Traffic and timing are the variables to navigate.
Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit's municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business. Reach him at email@example.com.