I discussed what turfplaning® was recently, but what causes the need for a field to be fraise mowed. How does a field suffer over time to the point of needing drastic maintenance measures. You may or may not be surprised with the answer. By the end of this post, you will have a better understanding of the factors that affect a field on a regular basis.
What’s good for a field?
As a seasoned groundskeeper, I am familiar with a lot of natural, chemical, and mechanical ways to maintain an athletic field. Every piece of the maintenance puzzle has a time frame and a "fairly" specific way of completing any task needed. Training is almost always hands-on, and instructions should be followed by workers. So, some common maintenance tasks performed more than once a week are listed below:
Mowing: cutting less than ⅓ of the leaf blade at each mowing.
Dragging an infield: Helps prevent weeds from taking hold.
Cleaning the lips: removing the dirt and thatch build-up at the infield dirt and grass transition.
Verticutting: dislodging thatch for removal.
Blowing debris off with a large tractor blower: Getting rid of thatch and debris that would otherwise end up in the turf. Especially after mowing and verticutting.
Watering with irrigation: Enough irrigation to offset the lack of rainfall
There are a lot of things that can be done to a field that help improve it, but at the weekly task level, these are the ones that if not done right can be detrimental to the athletic field. If these items are done right, then you help delay the need for any major maintenance work, such as fraise mowing.
What causes field damage?
Athletic field maintenance is not rocket science, but it is science, none the less. It does require a commitment to learning, hard work, and organization. The 2 hardest parts of working on an athletic field is 1) dealing with the field(s) you inherited, and 2) dealing with the resources you are given to maintain it.
Majority of athletic fields across the U.S. were created by sheet grading or crowning a field in the cheapest way possible by the cheapest contractor possible. Not to say the field was not done to the best of anyone's ability, but the expectations set by the field specs and the procurement process may have lowered the bar for the final product.
Groundskeepers make the difference game after game, OR they don't. The real force behind the damage on all athletic fields is Nature. Rain, sun, wind, animals, insects, and weeds can turn an athletic field into an unsafe venue in a short amount of time (usually one season or one year). This list is what you are working against:
Hard rain: Moves amendments, dirt, and thatch to different areas of the field where it starts to deposit it. This deposit becomes a part of the field grade over time as grass grows through it and on top of it. The result is lips and humps or berms across the field in different places.
Wind: Moves dirt and amendments across the infield to unwanted areas.
Thatch accumulation: Cutting more than ⅓ of the leaf blade at one time. This leaves cut grass spread across the field, and if it is not removed, the field will incorporate it into the grade profile.
Neglect: Obviously, not doing anything.
Improper use of maintenance techniques: Dragging, mowing, irrigating, etc., being done, but not the way it was intended to be done (i.e. Dragging into the grass, mowing with dull blades, watering too much).
Neglect and improper use of maintenance techniques would account for less damage than you think. When I look at the imperfections of an athletic field, seldom do the owners realize the damage that is caused by Nature. Small lips and uneven infield dirt can be attributed, somewhat, to the drag operator that drives too fast or starts and stops at same location, every time. However, most small lips are the result of torrential downpours displacing dirt and amendment. Excessive lips on a baseball field are usually the result of grading the field without addressing the lip itself. The repetition of Nature building a lip and man removing the water on the infield with brooms or squigees to "get a game in" results in holes on the infield that require adding dirt and grading to the new size of the old lip.
So, I would attribute human damage to a field to be no more than 30% of the imperfections of an athletic field, but probably far less. Nature would attribute at least 70%, if not more, of the damage to a ballfield.
How do you know if there is a real problem
Walking across a field in a downpour will show you the problems caused by water drainage in large quantities across the field. Water will change the grade layout of a field in one season. Torrential rain will move lots of dirt and cut grass/thatch to areas on your field where they will collect. Once the collection starts, it continues until it is noticeable enough to need to be addressed, and no matter how hard you try, there comes a point where fraise mowing is needed.
Fraise mowing with the Turfplaner, specifically, will guarantee that the transitions from a cut area to an untouched area are smooth. There are a lot of features that the computer allows the operator to use to manipulate the cut angle of the unit, but the universal truth is that high spots are cut while the low spots are “raised”. All of the damage done by Nature can be reversed in one visit, most of the time.