Field prep for cold weather

From the weekly newsletter by Ryan Bjorn, Director of Grounds and Environmental Management, Maryland SoccerPlex, Boyds, MD:

With the conclusion of the Bethesda Premier Cups in the beginning of November we officially ended our outdoor season for 2018! As many humans like to stay tucked in and not go out much in the winter, the fields like to do the same thing. By resting the fields for the winter months, we are able to protect them from damage that could happen from use when the fields are dormant and not actively growing. While it might seem like the most sense to just wrap up the fields with a turf blanket there are actually a few practices that can be done prior to help the fields when springtime comes back around.

Wintertime is a time when cool-season and warm-season fields are treated very differently due to their ability to survive through the low winter temperatures. One thing that is necessary for all fields is to have our irrigation system blown out. This process involves hooking up a large air compressor to each of our irrigation systems and blowing air through each field until all the water is out of the system. This ensures we will not have broken irrigation lines or irrigation heads due to the water expanding as it freezes when the temperatures drop below 32F. This process takes about 2 days to complete, as we have about 750 irrigation heads in the park! We have about 10 miles of pipe laid out throughout the park, that’s a trip from the SoccerPlex all the way to the RIO Washingtonian Center in Gaithersburg!

Our seven bermudagrass fields will be completely covered by turf blankets for the duration of winter (mid-December through Mid-February typically) to assist in keep the soil temperature from dropping below freezing as much as possible. The turf blankets also aid in protecting the plants crown area (the growing point of the plant) from the bitter cold winds that we experience here at the SoccerPlex. These winds can cause what is called desiccation, which is when the plant becomes extremely dehydrated, typically leading to death of the plants.

For our cool season fields, we take a slightly different approach before tucking them for the winter months. Cool-season fields are able to handle the cooler temperatures of winter far better than the warm season fields; because of that advantage, (and lack of that many turf blankets) we do not cover every single cool-season field with turf blankets. Instead the grounds crew will cover the center area of certain fields such as fields 1, 2, 8, and 10. The reason the center is covered is because it is the most highly trafficked area on the field and needs the most protection, and if we are lucky and get some more mild temperatures, the growth blankets can even aid in recovery of worn areas during this time. But before the grounds crew can pull out the turf blankets an aeration is done on all cool-season fields. The aeration is the final decompaction of the season and allows for air and nutrients to get to the roots. Once an aeration is done then the grounds crew can put the blankets that we have available out.

To cover 1 whole field, 5 individual blankets are needed, each blanket is 75’Wx265’L, covering almost 20,000 square feet per blanket! It is important to have favorable weather when putting down the turf blankets because if it is windy out, that could add another hour to the process. It takes at least 4 crewmembers to put down a blanket, but is much more efficient with each additional staff member we can add you. To check out what happens when turf blankets are placed on the fields, check out this video. As you can see it’s not the easiest process, but our grounds crew does it with precision! Though we might not be ready for winter, our fields soon will be.