Overseeder Testing - Seeding is believing!
The opportunity to test overseeders at a top school sports facility was too good to miss. Eleven pto driven machines were lined up by leading manufacturers, and Laurence Gale and Jane Carley got the views of Loughborough Endowed Schools Head Groundsperson Chris Parry and his team before an invited audience of professionals saw them in action.
Overseeders are the groundsman's and greenkeeper's secret weapon, helping to restore worn turf to pristine condition or introducing favourable species to improve playing quality.
A wide variety of equipment is available for seeding turf surfaces of all sizes and, whilst some machines are capable of producing a good result across the range of sports pitches, fairways and even racecourses, multiple passes may sometimes be required to get the required coverage.
Most operations will require some degree of scarification to be carried out before seeding to remove thatch and debris from the surface and give the seeds the best possible chance of successful establishment.
There are two basic systems which use either discs or spiked rollers to create a seedbed within the existing turf. Discs offer improved seed to soil content for good establishment and protect the seed from the effects of the wind or from being eaten by birds; narrower widths reduce the appearance of drill lines and give improved cover. Spiked rollers are less precise, but can offer a quicker return to play and less surface disturbance.
Specialist fine turf seeders use narrower disc spacings and have metering systems designed to handle smaller seeds such as bents. They are also, generally, smaller units capable of working in tighter areas, such as greens, and can be pulled by lower horsepower tractors to keep weight down on delicate turf surfaces.
Horsepower requirement is worth bearing in mind as some of the larger, heavier disc seeders are best pulled by tractors of 60hp or more, especially on undulating ground such as fairways. Kits to adapt seeders to be trailed behind the towing unit rather than mounted can cut horsepower requirement or, in some cases, even allow use with a utility vehicle.
The Pitchcare test venue
Founded in 1495, Loughborough Endowed Schools comprises a high school and Fairfield Preparatory School, accommodating 2,000 pupils from four to eighteen years old.
Sports facilities are on two sites: one on the main school campus with forty-two acres offering a fifteen track cricket wicket, thirteen bay grass practice nets, three junior strips, two small athletic pitches, hard tennis courts and a recently renovated astroturf hockey pitch. At this site, head groundsperson Chris Parry's team also maintain the tree lined walks and gardens and three quads.
At the second site, Quorn, situated two miles away, there are a further forty acres of sportsgrounds in a seventy acre site, with six rugby pitches, four football pitches, three cricket squares, a full size grass athletics field and eight bay grass practice nets. Plenty to keep them busy.
Chris, who has been at the school for three years after moving from Warwick University, explains: "The sportsfields at Quorn were constructed in 1996 on a levelled site with a sandy rootzone. There is drainage at 5m centres and 1m secondary drainage, which helps in wet years. We can water the cricket pitches, but there is no full irrigation system."
Renovations have recently been brought in-house after a period with a contractor and Chris is developing on an exacting regime to get the best out of the turf.
"Previously, renovations were just made to the worst pitches rather than rotating them. We now aim to do two major overseeds a year - at Easter for the cricket pitches and in the summer holidays on the winter pitches. Using slow release fertiliser, applying only twice a year, has replaced more regular applications of granular products, and we regularly scarify and solid tine during the winter months to improve the condition of the sward."
Chris has also switched cricket pitch renovations from July to September to improve efficiency and put in place a fertiliser and maintain regime.
All this activity has required the school's grounds department to invest in its own machinery, and Chris is gradually building up the fleet. An overseeder is very much on the shopping list, so Loughborough Endowed Schools was the ideal venue for Pitchcare's trials.
"We would like to overseed little and often, so the spiked roller design which flicks seeds into the holes looks ideal, although I know germination rates are not as high as for a disc seeder," Chris comments. "Price is also a consideration and the disc machines tend to be more expensive."
The trials took place in early April in ideal conditions, reports Chris. "We had some rain at the start of the week so the soil was moist, with a binding texture and the ground soft. It then turned dry and sunny."
Views on the machines
Few of Chris's team had much experience with seeders, so they took time to look through the instruction manuals and familiarise themselves with the machines. They also went through the manufacturers' calibration procedures according to the manuals.
"Most of the manuals were very easy to use," Chris comments. "All of the machines worked well; the operator's preferences were often down to how easy the seeders were to set up and use, time taken to cover the required area and how quickly they could get to grips with a new machine."
"There was not really a bad machine among them," he states. "Each had their own strengths and weaknesses, and some were clearly designed for a specific job - cricket outfields or golf greens and tees for example. You could make a great machine if you combined all the best elements from the different seeders in the test!"
Chris has one suggestion for manufacturers: "Some machines include seed charts and guidelines for different seed types and this would be useful on all of them as a starting point. It doesn't have to be a definitive guide, but just to get you started."
Comments on individual machines
The Blec and Vredo disc seeders were very similar and set up in similar way, using tray with sliders or dials for calibration, with ground wheel drive. Operators found both equally effective.
The Blec Multiseeder and Aeraseeder were also similar, and gave equally good results.
The smaller machines lacked nothing in terms of productivity, time taken or costs, but were clearly designed for smaller areas such as greens and tees.
The TIP sorrel roller would be a great machine for fine turf such as greens.
The Amazone GBK was the surprise package - we were very unsure of it as it seemed very aggressive but, ten days later, the sward had recovered, you couldn't see where it had been and the new seeds were growing well.
The Rotadairon was very popular - it's very compact, but places seed to a good depth and produces very tidy seed runs.
Operators liked the floating discs which create the seed slots on the Turfco machines and suggest that it would be ideal on firm ground or in thatchy conditions.
Tractor lights have to be switched on for the Vredo Super Compact's hydraulics to work - not a problem once you had got used to it!
The high output Charterhouse 1803 is still in prototype form, but impressed all round with its output and performance, although you need a serious tractor on the front, unless you have a wheel kit!
I would personally like to thank all the companies for their time. I am most grateful for the opportunity of using their equipment.
The benefits of overseeding (Bob Scott, Southern Area Technical Sales Manager DLF Johnsons).
Overseeding! Is it merely a means by which to restore vegetative cover of sportsturf surfaces, or should it be an integral and fundamental part of modern sportsturf management? Not so many years ago, overseeding was seen as the primary method for the annual reinstatement of summer and winter sportsturf, apart from cricket wickets and golf tee renovations, not as a means by which to manipulate, maintain, and manage the sporting stage!
Today, with the advent of global televised sporting events, as Brazil 2014 will shortly testify, the expectations and demands placed upon sportsturf managers requires a more pro-active and invasive approach to sportsturf management. Admittedly, at stadium level, the pitches, resources and operational windows more readily exist to facilitate such works but, without them, the true benefits of overseeding will elude even the most conscientious and proficient grounds manager.
The accompanying main feature article clearly illustrates the range and type of overseeders available in today's market but, as turfgrass managers, the aspects that most concern us are seeding depth, density, and distribution. Naturally, according to sportsturf type, distinctions must be made between initial seeding, overseeding and the species of grass being sown. These will also determine a single, multiple or staged seeding strategy, whereas slower germinating and developing species are sown as mono species, and then oversown with target companion species on maturity.
Interview with Derek Smith DLF
So, what are the benefits of a pro-active overseeding programme in sportsturf management? Well, let's start by briefly referring to the works of J. P. Grime 2001, and H. Bechelet and R. Windows 2007. The former clearly outlines and describes the natural processes of plant strategies, vegetation processes, and ecosystem properties. In essence, there are three key factors that drive ecological succession, i.e. competition, stress and ruderals.
The latter, of a more specific nature to sportsturf management, explains how these environmental pressures and conditions affect the growth and development of finer grasses in sportsturf. Therein, you will also find guidance on the culture and maintenance of such swards so as to discourage the ingress of Poa annua. Read together, these publications demonstrate, to me, the need for a more pro-active, sustained and controlled approach to overseeding. Sportsturf does not grow in a vacuum but an ecosystem that varies from a playing field to national stadium.
These environmental and ecological pressures, in my opinion, can be adapted, utilised, and controlled within sportsturf management in order to improve the quality and performance of professional sportsturf. For example, the timely nature, extent and frequency of overseeding has a profound effect on the density and integrity of the sward, thereby providing positive population pressure against the ingress of weed species. As you know, Poa annua is renown for exploiting situations of low competition and high disturbance and, yet, in so doing it reduces the quality, performance and aesthetics of our stage!
Moreover, sward density, or the lack of it, can have an effect on soil temperature, soil moisture availability, soil compaction, microbial activity and reduced sward vigour. Exposed soils are not only more prone to these conditions, but they provide the ideal opportunity and environment required to trigger germination of any dormant Poa annua seed, thereby further compromising sward integrity, wear tolerance and, more importantly, recovery from play. In particular, on winter games pitches, this can have a significant impact on turf quality, playability and visual aesthetics. In this instance, the judicious and timely use of a winter overseeding mix, pre and in-season, can help to condition, strengthen and maintain the integrity and quality of winter sportsturf, to the satisfaction of all concerned.
In conclusion, I cannot emphasise strongly enough the imperative to monitor, maintain and manage the composition and balance of your sportsturf so as to produce, promote and present a stage on which to play the world's greatest sport. If you wish to sow the seeds of success, then l can think of no better time or reason to embody the concept of pro-active turfgrass overseeding.
Renovations and overseeding for Winter Sports Pitches (Matt Gresty, Amenity Sales Manager, Limagrain UK Ltd).
Mixture requirements should always relate to the sport or main characteristics that the sport demands.
For all winter sports surfaces, a 100% Perennial Ryegrass mixture should be the preferred mix; other grasses such as Poa pratensis can be part of a Ryegrass blend for this situation but have some limitations such as speed of germination and establishment compared to Ryegrass.
What qualities and characteristics to look out for when choosing a mix for winter sports?
- Strong recovery from damage and wear
- Disease resistance
- Fast establishment
- Shoot density
- Germination speed and fast establishment
- Good ground coverage
Cultivars should always be selected from the BSPB recommended list as these have been trialed in UK conditions and evaluated using independent data and are also proven to work in the UK.
Interview with Matt Gresty
Timing and surface conditions can have a major impact on the success of a seeding or overseeding operation, things to consider:
- Soil or rootzone type
- Soil temperature when sowing
- Moisture levels
- Existing nutrient availability
- Ability to irrigate if needed
- Organic matter percentage present
- Compaction in the top of the surface
- Post renovation care and nutrition
With the unpredictable spring weather patterns in recent years, spring renovation conditions have varied greatly; last year the spring was very dry and cold, so seed germination was slow, but this spring has been better.
Seed coatings are always worth considering as they can help improve germination rates and initial establishment.
Using the correct sowing rate is a key feature in the successful renovation of winter sports pitches, an overseeding rate of 15-30 grams into existing swards and 30 grams plus in bare areas should be used.
Method of application
For the best results, a recognised seed drill should always be used; either a disc or dimple seeder provide the best results, but these alone can be no guarantee of success unless the other standard renovation operations have taken place.
Overall, seeding and overseeding is a continued investment in playing surfaces that have increasing demands from end users. Good planning and process will always help ensure that the desired results are achieved.
Results Click on the following link to see result
I would like to take the opportunity to thank all the companies who took part in the seeder testing day, it was a great day and was very well hosted by Chris Parry and his dedicated staff at Loughborough Endowed School.
Please take the oportunity to view a number of interviews recorded on the day below :-
Amazone Ltd :-www.amazone.co.uk/
Blec Global Ltd :-www.blec.co.uk/
Campet Turfcare :- www.campeyturfcare.com/
DLF Trifolium :-www.dlf.co.uk/
The Grass Group :-www.thegrassgroup.com/
Ransomes Jacobsen :-www.ransomesjacobsen.com/ransomes
Redexim Charterhouse :-redexim.com/
Sisis :- www.sisis.com/
Interview with Simon Gumbrill
Interview with Gary Mumby
Interview with Havey Doughty
Interview with Jason Briggs
Interview with John Proffitt
Interview with Nick Darking
Interview with Joe Weston
Interview with James Mead & Bob Stretton