James Hilyard is Ipswich City Council’s Infrastructure and Environment Department, City Maintenance manager.
James is a horticulturalist, arborist and holds a master’s degree in sustainability.
In this month’s column, James shares how council teams keep Ipswich’s sports fields at peak condition and how you can care for your lawn at home.
After three months on the sidelines, Ipswich’s sporting community has been given the green light to return to pre-season training.
While sport fields around Ipswich have been closed due to the coronavirus, Ipswich City Council has spent that time renovating and preparing the city’s fields.
While many of our parks and open spaces have been more heavily used during the stay-at-home period, our sports fields have had some extra maintenance and renovation work.
Which means our fields are more ready than ever for teams to return to play.
The fundamentals of working with the grass on a large scale are basically the same as lawn care at home.
- Mow the grass as low as you can with your mower.
Put it on the lowest setting and use a catcher.
You might kick up a bit of dirt or mud so make sure you were the appropriate safety clothing.
Collect all the clippings and compost them.
This will remove all of the old thatch in the lawn and let air, water and fertiliser penetrate to the soil below.
- Apply a complete granule fertiliser and water in well. Leave it for two or three days and let the grass recover.
- Use a selective herbicide to kill your unwanted weed species.
Ask your local supplier what is best for your lawn and the weed species that you have present.
Be Careful. The chemical to kill nut grass for example will also kill Kikuyu which is a desirable grass species.
The easiest option for a couch grass lawn is to use weed and feed.
Again, always wear appropriate clothing.
- Top-dress, using a suitable sandy loam type soil, not compost, potting mix or sand.
Fill in all of the holes, divots, cracks and ruts in your soil.
Level the soil out using a large piece of wood or rake.
I like to use a three metre long piece of wood and get one person on each end and level the soil out like I was preparing a surface for paving.
Try to avoid applying soil too thick or the grass will struggle to push through.
A maximum of 2.5cm should be used as a rule of thumb.
Make sure you don’t use straight sand, which is a common mistake.
You need a loamy soil that will hold a bit of moisture and provide some nutrients.
- Then stand back, water and let nature do her thing.
You should get a lovely, flat, healthy green lawn you can be proud of.
Teams across Ipswich have been busy oversewing over 100 fields with Winter Rye grass.
This is because our regular couch grass species go dormant in the winter cold weather (especially after a frost) and they lose their lush green colour and tend to go a shade of grey/brown.
Still ok to play on but not very pleasing to the eye.
The main problem other than aesthetics is that if an area gets worn out due to over use or wear and tear (particularly soccer goal mouths) when the couch is dormant, it won’t grow back until the weather warms up and the grass starts to grow again.
By oversewing the couch grass with rye grass that grows in all kinds of cold weather we get an actively growing species that can fill in the worn areas and also maintains a strong green colour during the winter.
So why don’t we just grow rye grass fields and do away with couch?
I am glad you asked.
Rye grass and all of the common cold tolerant species tend to need substantially more water than couch to grow well and they need more irrigation events to maintain their health and vigour.
A couch sports field can survive pretty well in all but the hottest and driest conditions with one or two irrigation events per week whereas a rye grass lawn will need four or five irrigation events to survive the same conditions and if the temperature gets over 30 degrees celsius for more than a day or two then no matter how much water you apply rye grass will start to die.
So clearly not an option for an Ipswich summer.
The turf industry is huge and plant breeders are always looking for species that can tolerate wear and tear, keep their colour, use less water or grow with salty water, grow quicker, provide more cushion effect, make a ball roll faster etc, the list of criteria is almost endless and we are always looking to trial promising new species.
So whether you are soon to strap on the boots and go forth into sporting battle or would like to just kick a footy with the kids, you can be assured that our fields are in top condition.