Looking Ahead: Sports Field Nutrition

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith spring just a few weeks away, it’s time to start planning season fertilizer programs! We offer some information on soil test costs and nutrient sufficiency ranges for turfgrass, as well as a helpful table on calculating the amount of fertilizer needed based on nitrogen analysis..Important tasks carried out now in preparation for the season ahead may include a soil test. Conducting an early spring soil test provides a historical record of the soil pH and soil nutrient status. This supplies information on how well last year’s fertility program provided for the needs of the turf. It also provides information that is used to develop a fertility management plan for the current season. Soil pH and soil nutrient analyses are critical. Certain physical analyses are optional. Most physical parameters don’t change much over time, however, they should be known for the fields managed.

The chemical analyses provides information on:

  • Soil pH
  • Level of available phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium
  • Level of available iron, manganese, zinc, and copper
  • Cation exchange capacity and base saturation levels

The physical analysis of soil reveals:

  • Soil texture (% sand, silt, and clay)
  • Amount of organic matter present

Table 1: Estimate Cost of Laboratory Services for the Turf ProfessionalThese results can then be used to determine the field’s seasonal fertilizer needs, and cultivation requirements, to diagnose/predict any turf problems, and ultimately govern turf quality.

Estimated costs for these tests can be found in Table 1 (note, these costs were garnished in 2011 and will have increased).

Guide to Conducting a Soil Test:

  1. Perform a chemical soil analysis every 2-3 years for soil fields and at least 1-2 x per year for high sand (>85% sand) fields.
  2. Take a representative soil sample – walk in a zigzag pattern from endzone to endzone. Using a soil probe, collect 15- 20 random soil cores @ 4-inch depth. Remove upper turf and thatch. Collect in a clean plastic container and mix to make a composite sample. Send one pint of soil to a reputable soil testing laboratory that works with and understands the turf industry.
  3. Use same soil testing laboratory to ensure consistency in results. Best sampling times are spring and/or fall prior to fertilization. Best to sample the same time every year. Be consistent in overall sampling procedure from year to year.
  4. Allow 2-3 weeks for test results

It is important that the soil laboratory chosen is reputable and familiar with the sports turf industry. The lab will produce a Table 2: Soil Test Designations for Levels concise report for the sports turf manager. It is worth noting that labs may report different results. This does not necessarily mean that one lab is right and the other wrong; the variation is due to the labs using different soil testing methods that can give slightly different results. For example; analysis for available nutrients in soils is not absolutely precise but this is unimportant because no one should be maintaining nutrient status on the absolute verge of deficiency. A turf manager who is concerned with lab results, or who is interested in better understanding soil test procedures should contact the lab.

A general guide to the optimum soil test levels (sufficiency ranges) for sports turf surfaces can be found in Table 2. More highly managed sports fields should target for the upper end of the sufficiency range.

Table 3 below offers a basic outline on how much fertilizer you can put on a sports field, depending on the nitrogen analysis.Actual Fertilizer Product Needed for Football and Soccer Fields






— Authors: Pam Sherratt and Dr. John Street. Originally published in OTF TurfNews

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