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Turf Tips
by Mike Polimer

Mike Polimer
is the volunteer SYBSA head groundskeeper and maintains the Deborah Samson Little League fields. He has been at it since 1996 when the fields were first renovated. In real life, Mike is a Senior Electronics Engineer working for Raytheon.

Ben Polimer is the SYBSA turf consultant. Ben is currently a junior studying Agronomy, Turf Management, at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Ben maintained the DS Little League fields for five summers. In 2004, Ben was employed as a summer intern working on the grounds crew of the Pawtucket Red Sox, AAA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. This coming summer Ben will be employed by Sports Turf Specialties working under Dennis Brolin, former head grounds keeper of the New England Patriots.

Mike and Ben will be offering these "Turf Tips" throughout the year to explain what they do and help you make your lawn as green as the fields at Deborah Samson Park. If you have any questions, please email Ben at
.

Tip #1: Spring Green-Up

The “spring green-up” of both our ball fields and your lawns is dependent on 3 major factors. The soil temperature, what type of grass you have, and what you did last fall.

Soil temperature is very different than the air temperature. It might be 70 degrees outside but maybe only 50 degrees in the soil. The soil temperature is the indicator to when the turf will become green again after the dormant/brown stage during the winter. The turf will start to become green when the soil temp is between 50-55 degrees. This temperature is related to the amount of snow cover we had over the winter and also the soil type. If the soil does not drain well or you have puddling after the winter thaw, it will take longer for the grass to be green again.

This process of spring green-up can also be affected by the type of grass species or cultivar you have in your lawn. Kentucky Bluegrass (KBG) takes longer to green up than a Perennial Ryegrass. The infields at Deborah Sampson are mostly KBG and take longer to green up than the outfields that are a mixture of both KBG and Rye. There is one thing that can help speed the green up of KBG and that is a late season nitrogen feeding or LSN. Application of fertilizer before the soil temperature is high enough is a waste of time and money.

At Deborah Samson, we apply a quick release nitrogen source right before the turf starts to go dormant in the late fall. This water-soluble nitrogen (WSN) is quickly absorbed into the plant. Even though the plant is going dormant, the crown of the turf will use the nitrogen and turn it into food that will be available as soon as the grass comes out of dormancy in the spring. You can do this practice on your own lawn in the late fall. Find the largest amount of WSN you can find in a fertilizer and apply it up to and no more than one pound of nitrogen per one thousand feet. Make sure you water in the fertilizer lightly after the application or wait right before a rain event to apply. We have done this practice for many years now at Deborah Samson and it has worked well.

Tip #2: Weeds

Now that springtime is here, its time to think about weeds. Identifying your turf for weeds is the first step in determining what you will need to do to your lawn. Maybe your lawn is not a desired turf species but actually all “weeds." In that case you might not want to kill everything for obvious reasons, but may want to target certain weed species instead. It might take several seasons to have more grass than weeds.

The best practice is to apply a pre-emergence type herbicide to your lawn for winter annual weeds only. This product will kill off the emerging seedling of the weed, especially the dreaded CRABGRASS. The best time to apply this product is in the spring, and a turf industry standard is to apply it once the Forsythia has bloomed at the first sign that the flowers are beginning to drop. Some products that can be used are the following: Preen, Dimension, Acclaim, Barricade. I am not promoting any particular product, but in my experience, Preen, is the easiest to apply for a homeowner. This product is in granular form, and can be applied through a normal fertilizer spreader following directions on the bag. Some companies like Scott’s have these products combined with a fertilizer normally known as “Weed and Feed.” The pros almost never use these products because the active ingredients are not as powerful and will not do as well as a pre-emergence product alone. Apply only the recommended amount of herbicide to your lawn. Testing has shown that if you use more than is recommended the product will not work as well. In some recent studies, splitting the application in half and applying it twice with applications 4 weeks apart works better than one heavy application.

Note: If you are planning on putting down seed on your lawn, you must wait at least 6-8 weeks after the application of most pre-emergence products to put down the seed so that the herbicide does not kill the new grass seedlings. Scott's does produce a “Starter” fertilizer with crab grass control which you can use if you are planning to re-seed.

Here is a great website to ID your weeds:
http://www.umassgreeninfo.org/fact_sheets/weed_herbarium/common_name_list.htm

Next Turf Tip… spring fertilizer.

Tip #3: Fertilizer, Part 1

Fertilizer. Sometimes a faux paux word in society today.  Fertilizer is not a bad thing but an important part of any plant’s life. From roses to tomatoes to turfgrasses, they all need more essential nutrients than the soil can provide. Fertilizer is a mixture of essential elements that a plant needs to yield the best product it can. If you want big, juicy tomatoes, add a little fertilizer. It is the same with your home lawn! If you want your lawn to look its best in the heat of the summer or early in the spring it needs help with fertilizer.

On a bag of fertilizer there are 3 numbers that represent those nutrients. Example is a 10-10-10 fertilizer. The first number is the nitrogen. Nitrogen is the most important element for a plant. The second number is the phosphorus. The last number is the potassium. These three elements are the most important in plant health. The largest number most of the time is the nitrogen. A typical Scotts Lawn Fertilizer might be 29-3-4. So that means in 100 lbs of material, there is 29 lbs. Nitrogen, 3 lbs. Phosphorus, and 4 lbs. Potassium. The rest of the bag is made up of a filler like sand or limestone.

An important understanding of the fertilizer is how the plant uses the nitrogen, meaning how long after application will it take to see results and how long after I apply it to my lawn do I need to do my next feeding? The nitrogen in the bag is often coated with a plastic or a sulfur coating. This makes the product a time-released nitrogen so that once it is put down, the next application you need to make might be 6 weeks or longer away.  Compare this to a low dose aspirin that you take, which gives a small dosage of aspirin when you need it. Same with the coated nitrogen products. These products are great for homeowners that don’t have the time to take out their spreader every week and apply fertilizer like a professional groundskeeper will do. It also allows the plants to take up the nitrogen slowly rather than have a quick spurt of growth. The drawback to these products is that they are more costly than a non coated nitrogen source, and you have less control of your lawn than if you are “spoon feeding” it every 2 weeks.

The Sharon athletic fields only get applications of either slow release or “starter” products.

These products can also be combined with herbicides and they are commonly known as “Weed and Feed.” These are great products for the homeowner because in one application you can apply your post emergence herbicide for dandelions and your nitrogen and other elements. This is a great time saver. One drawback is that the formulation of herbicide is not as strong or powerful as a separate application of the actual un-combined product.

As always, before putting down a fertilizer, or any other material on your lawn, have your soil tested for deficiencies in elements. Most lawns in the Northeast do not need more phosphorus so the second number can be low. If there is too much nitrogen in the soil, it will leach out of the soil very quickly and go into groundwater. Also if there is too much phosphorus and goes into water bodies you can have unwanted algae blooms.

Next Turf Tip… coming soon