The Bare Spot Necessities

Posted on Tuesday, July 16th, 2019

Written by The Guelph Turfgrass Institute

managing sports field bare spots
Do these look familiar? This blog post may be able to help!

Frequently trafficked areas of sports fields can be a serious challenge to manage throughout the playing season.  Competition for use between leagues, balancing games and practices in addition to other undocumented recreational uses can leave the turf with little to no recovery time.  In other words, from the moment the first foot hits the field in spring, it is a losing battle. Shoulder seasons give us more freedom to renovate by adding material, levelling the surface and laying down new sod – but this is not an option mid-season when field use is maxed out and no opportunity to close for 3 weeks.  So what is the solution? What else can be done to minimize, or potentially eliminate these problem areas?  Experts at the Guelph Turfgrass Institute suggest having a bucket of seed on hand can go a long way.

Most turfies are aware of the benefits of a regular overseeding plan.  Supplying a constant source of new life and growth power is a sure way to perpetuate the juvenility of your turf sward and ensure a viable plant comes in to replace those dying off from excessive wear.  Yet a regular overseeding program is not always feasible in many operations.  “Slit seeders and spreaders can be time consuming to calibrate, cumbersome to train staff on, and inconvenient in transportation to and from job sites.” says Cam Shaw, Communications and Outreach Coordinator at the GTI.  “There is no question that seeders serve a valuable purpose in the larger scheme of your strategic management plan, but for day-to-day or week-to-week operations, they are not always the most practical or accessible solution.” A simple tip suggested by Dr. Eric Lyons, Director at the GTI and Professor of Turfgrass Science at the U of G, is to place a bucket of seed in every field mower.  “Each time the staff member goes out and encounters a bare spot, they should be trained to shut the machine down, grab the seed bucket and sprinkle a generous amount across the bare soil and surrounding thinning areas.”  Ideally the operator should also rake in the seed as well as driving over the spot several times with his or her machine to ensure good seed to soil contact.  If this practise is repeated regularly, natural rains coupled with irrigation cycles (if you have a system) should be enough to kick start the germination process.  Perennial rye (PR)  should be the grass seed of choice due to its quick germination rate.  Some Kentucky bluegrass (KB) or choice alternative can be mixed in, but PR should be the predominant turf type in the mix.  Once the PR establishes, it will also help to nurse in the other seed as it germinates.

If you want to go the extra mile, running a solid tine aerator over these bare areas before or after seeding will help to improve the success of your efforts.  Seeds will fall into the aeration holes, where an ideal microclimate is present for germination (moist soil and protection from drying winds and sun).  If you can’t aerate, the cleat traffic from field users will help work the seed into the soil. Good contact with soil is essential to seed germination – without it you are just wasting time and seed.   

Don’t be too concerned with seeding rates for this technique.  According to Dr. Lyons, more seed is better in this circumstance – just don’t go overboard.  Use your judgement and sprinkle the seed generously by hand using the classic “feeding the chickens” technique. With luck, as the season progresses you will start to see new grass filling in from the edges – but that doesn’t mean you should stop.  Traffic and use is constant, and so should be your seeding program.  Managing bare or high wear spots can be a challenging and aggravating process for most public and private sports field maintenance crews.  For this reason, try to set realistic expectations for yourself.  Will weekly hand seeding eliminate these spots in one month? Or one year?  Probably not.  Will it give your field the best possible chance at reducing the size and severity of these bare areas?  Absolutely!  Is it better than doing nothing and watching the spots get worse?  100%!  Patience is important in turf - in time we are certain you will notice an improvement in these spots.  These extra efforts are particularly important because they will be noticed by your user groups and they will appreciate it.  Extra efforts like this go a long way to demonstrate you and your team care and are making every effort to keep the facilities safe and enjoyable for all.

On a closing note, don’t be afraid to engage your user groups and communicate your challenges with them.  Consider a newsletter or blog to share the things you are seeing and let them know how they can help.  Most bare spots are predominant on the field closest to the parking lot.  Implementing a field rotation program may help but asking coaches and users to voluntarily avoid overused surfaces (such as those that are easily accessible) will go a long way to reducing some of these issues.  Best of luck with your field and stay tuned for more tips from the GTI.

Common bare spot from heavy use at a goal mouth on a soccer field

Creating aeration holes and filling with seed

Seed and soil raked into aeration holes on the bare spot

Germination visible within a week with no irrigation

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