Jeff Fowler, District Director, Penn State Extension and Academic Representative for the Sports Turf Managers Association, has compiled some tips that apply to perfecting the playability, conditioning and safety of sports fields, but also apply to your own lawn. To ensure that you maintain the best soil, greenest grass, and nicest looking outfield, follow these dos and don'ts.
Do soil test and apply what is needed
Soil testing is like taking a human blood pressure. You can tell a lot about the soil by conducting an annual test. After the results are returned, apply the recommended nutrients for the plants to stay healthy and strong. If you don't do a soil test, you are guessing at what is needed and, more than likely, wasting money on unnecessary applications.
Do grade your infield
Grade the infield dirt so water will run off instead of forming puddles. This will allow users more access to the field. Puddles are the number one cause of cancelled games. Proper grade will not allow puddles to form and will make preparing fields for play much easier.
Do rake and drag after every use
Raking and dragging after every use will assist in keeping the field safe for play and help to maintain proper grade. Use a rake along the grass edges, so you don't have to drag too closely and risk the infield mix forming a lip along the transition areas. Rake the home plate and pitchers' area. Filling in the low spots with loose material and tamping it into place will help maintain the grade and stop unsafe low spots and "puddle potential." Always drag slowly to avoid unnecessary movement of infield material, and never drag with a truck, SUV or automobile. These items should stay in the parking lot, not on the field.
Do pay attention to things off the field
Look carefully at fences and dugouts, bleachers and walkways, restrooms and storage facilities to make certain you have limited your liabilities by not having unsafe surroundings.
It doesn't matter if you are at the professional or youth baseball level, you need to communicate with everyone involved so that they understand why you are asking them to do certain things. Without the highest level of communication, no one will know or understand the ultimate goal of providing the safest playing field possible.
Do not remove more than 1/3 of the growth in one mowing
If you remove more, it weakens the plant and makes it more susceptible to decline. A regular mowing schedule to maintain the desired height of cut requires more than one mowing per week in many cases.
Do not over water
Over watering makes the plants weak by not forcing the roots to grow deep when looking for moisture. Deep roots produce turf that can tolerate much more wear and be more resistant to disease and insect damage. Less frequent, deep watering is a much more desirable than daily light watering.
Do not use wet fields
Using a baseball field when it's too wet ruins the grade then "bad hops" and holes form. In the turf areas, playing in wet conditions compacts the soil and leads to hard, unsafe playing conditions. Don't use any product not intended for use on a baseball field to dry them out. This includes, but is not limited to, wood shavings, sawdust or kitty litter. Don't be afraid to postpone a game if the field is too wet to play safely.
Do not overschedule
Overuse of a field never allows time for plants to recover from wear or maintenance to keep a field safe for play. Be strategic when making game schedules and planning special events on your fields.
Do not push, pull, rake, sweep, squeegee or broom puddles into the grass
This practice causes the puddles to become bigger on the infield and lips to form in the grass areas from a build-up of material. It can also kill the grass. Instead, soak up with puddle pillows or use a sump pump to remove the water. Then, after the field dries, refer to number two of the "Do" list above.
The most important thing to do is test your soil before applying any fertilizer and/or nutrients so that you know what your grass really needs to thrive. Grading your infield also helps to move water from out of the playing area. Communicate with your team, don't forget about the areas off the field, and you will have a great looking baseball field.