Land-grant university scientists make turfgrass safer, more environmentally-friendly

From elite college football players to those in preschool and elementary soccer leagues, athletes of all skill levels are busy running, kicking and throwing balls across a variety of surfaces.

As they compete, players’ bodies often are slammed, thrust and thrown across these surfaces. That’s just one of the reasons researchers at land-grant institutions across the nation are busy working to improve turfgrass to keep athletes safer. In addition, they also are studying how to help minimize negative environmental impacts from practices used to maintain these playing surfaces.

turfgrassIn the Southern United States, research ranges from developing different varieties of grasses, to studies of underlayment and construction of stadium fields and community soccer pitches, golf courses, home lawns and more.

To grow and keep turfgrass beautiful and safe, researchers at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina and North Carolina State University in Raleigh have written a playbook for managing sports fields. Best Management Practices for Carolina Sport Fields, written by Lambert “Bert” McCarty at Clemson and Grady Miller at North Carolina State contains research-based information and serves as a reference guide for sports field managers and students, as well as regulatory agencies worldwide.

“Information included in this book is the most current available and includes traditional and recent agronomic trends necessary to provide desirable, yet safe, playing conditions,” McCarty said. “This information applies to natural grass fields as well as synthetic (turf) fields. It pertains to most fields and budgets, from professional to local parks and recreation fields, including football, soccer, baseball, softball, lacrosse and rugby.”

While being a surface where players can “utilize their talents to the fullest extent,” McCarty said sports fields also must be pleasing to look at.

“Television is an important part of the sports industry,” he said. “Images viewers see on the field and their television screens, requires the turf to be as aesthetically pleasing as possible. If one patch of turf is out of place or discolored, someone will notice.”

Large patches of diseased grass or discoloration from nutrient issues present an opportunity to provide guidance to turfgrass managers.

This is where Miller’s expertise comes in. Miller earned his doctorate in turfgrass management at another southern region land-grant institution, Auburn University in Alabama. As a distinguished professor of sustainability and an Extension turfgrass management specialist at North Carolina State, Miller is highly involved in turfgrass management. His research focuses on several areas including irrigation practices and turfgrass nutrition.

“Irrigation normally is just needed to supplement rainfall since the southern region of the United States usually gets adequate total rainfall amounts to meet the needs of turfgrass,” Miller said. “However, there are times when rainfall frequency or distribution can result in drought-stressed turfgrasses.”

This can be especially problematic in areas with sandy soils with low water-holding capacity.

“Periods of high heat can hasten water loss from plant surfaces,” Miller said. “So, states such as Florida, with both sandy soils and high evaporative rates, rely heavily on irrigation for consistent turfgrass health. A heavier soil, or soil with a greater percentage of clay will have a greater capacity to hold water, so irrigation may not play as critical a role in maintaining turfgrass health.”

This is an excerpt from a Clemson News press release. To read the full release from Clemson News, click here.