Is it possible to establish a hard wearing sports pitch in just ten weeks from seed?
With the right conditions and the right materials, Simon Taylor of Euro Grass, one of Europe's leading turf grass breeders, certainly believes so
The choice of grasses is very important, of course, and that is discussed later, so what else can be done in order to ensure fast establishment of sports pitches? Working together with the local environmental conditions is always a good idea, and all the parameters mentioned below should be taken into consideration:
• Germination requirements
• Preparation of the seed bed
• Seeding rates and seeding methods
• Covering the field with grow sheets
• First mowing and mowing strategies
Water (soil moisture) and temperature are essentials when talking about germination for any kind of seeds. Water uptake is actually the first visible sign of germination which will speed up with increasing soil temperatures. The higher the temperature the faster germination. Waiting for soil temperatures to rise, or creating higher soil temperatures, often pays, but is no compensation for lack of moisture. The two elements of heat and moisture are vital components for successful germination and ongoing seedling development.
Good seedbed preparation is the single most important factor for fast even establishment. Seed that has been sown to a consistent depth will emerge at the same time across the whole of the field. The graphic illustrates this point.
Seeding rates and seeding methods
Seeding rates of approximately 30 grammes per square metre (new establishments and "ordinary" conditions) are often recommended. If rapid ground cover is needed, then seeding rates should be increased to 45 to 50 grammes per square metre. Choice of seeding equipment / seeding machinery is not so critical as long as the seedbed preparation enables "capillary water" to reach the seed. Also recommended is seeding the area twice (two times half seeding rate) so that the seeds will be evenly distributed across the field.
Covering the field with grow sheets
Similarly to applying increased seeding rates, covering the ground with grow sheets will have a major influence on establishment speed, especially when conditions are unfavourable. Increased soil temperatures, optimised micro climate and trouble free irrigation are all positive impacts of using grow sheets.
Most new sports pitches from seed should be installed in spring or, even better, in the autumn when the soil is warm and moist. Summer instalments are also possible, especially if water can be applied to grow sheet covered fields. The loss of moisture through evapotranspiration can be tremendous in hot condition. This can prove to be expensive, and further highlights the need to work with seeding during natural optimal conditions.
The single grass seed contains a 'food basket' with enough nutrients for the first one to two weeks after germination. As the root system starts to develop, the grass plant will require nutrients from the environment. The application of well composed fertilisers to the seedbed, at the same time as seeding, will ensure sufficient nutrients are available once the natural food source has run out.
First mowing and mowing strategies
For short establishment windows (from emergence to first match kick-off) the grass plants depend mainly on photosynthesis to develop. Consequently, it makes sense to allow the plants to produce a good leaf mass before the first mowing. There is, however, a balance and it is important to let air and sunlight pass through into the bottom of the pitch. Additionally, the grass sward should not be allowed to become too mature. Keeping the growth in an almost juvenile state will encourage increased tillering and avoid coarse, low density growth.
Mowing should start when the turf is approximately 8cm tall and, thereafter, lower the cutting height gradually until the desired height is reached. Never remove more than one third of the leaf length per mowing.
The company is deeply involved in the turf/amenity grass seed business. Its core activities cover breeding, production and sales of turf grass seeds for all purposes. The daily business has to meet the increasing challenges of grasses suitable for heavy wear, combined with high aesthetical values, durability and potential for fast germination.
The company continues to develop perennial ryegrasses, such as Lolium perenne, that is the ideal match for these demands. The Football & Rugby (blended from four different Lolium perenne varieties) offers the perfect mixture. This seed will germinate down to temperatures of approximately three degrees Celsius, but eight degrees, or more, are recommended. It is available as 'PureSeed' or treated with 'MicroMax', a seed treatment which enhances water and nutrient uptake.
By following these simple pieces of advice and by working together with nature it is possible to establish hard wearing, good looking and durable sports pitches in six to ten weeks (depending on the degree of wear in the first period of use).
Good luck with you future projects.