Inside Operations: Getting the Grass Green

On the third Wednesday of every month (pushed back a day this month), a member of the Facilities and Operations staff will give a behind-the-scenes look at what’s going on around its area and the department. Over the course of every month, each department will be featured at least once. Coming next Monday: Communications


Cooler temperatures signal time to transition to rye grass.  Our fields are Twifway 419 Bermuda, which is a “warm season grass” that thrives during Atlanta summers, but slows as temperatures drop and goes dormant during winter.   For playability and aesthetics we overseed with rye grass, which is a “cool season grass” that thrives when the Bermuda declines but struggles in the heat.  Overseeding occurs between the second week in September and the second week in October.  Once the low temperature drops below 60, we look at the ten day forecast and make sure the high isn’t going to get above 80.  We like to schedule around rain to help keep the seed moist and save on irrigation water.

We overseed baseball and softball different than football and soccer.  For baseball and softball we use a blend of Perennial Rye grass at a rate 650 lb per acre.  This gives us good strong coverage and aesthetics late into the season.  This year we need the rye to last two weeks longer than last year as we end the season with a big home series against Georgia Southern.  Last season we were on the road the last two weekends.  For soccer and football we use Annual Rye grass at 300 lb per acre.  The lesser rate gives the color we need but allows for a quicker transition back to Bermuda.  The Annual Rye is a lighter shade of green but can be seeded at cooler temperatures. We let the teams play most of their seasons on Bermuda.  Especially for soccer, rye grass is a slicker surface and plays different than Bermuda.  We overseed at the end of October so we have color for late season games.  The Annual Rye dies off quickly in the heat.  Football and soccer end spring practice in mid-April, so the Annual Rye dies soon after allowing for maximum time for the Bermuda to heal.

The key to seeding is “seed to soil contact”.  This is difficult because the Bermuda is tight and it’s hard to get seed down past the canopy and thatch.  For baseball and softball we lower the height of cut from 5/8” to ½” and then drive a drag across the grass to stand it up and allow the seed to get past the canopy.  The lower height of cut causes some scalping and discoloring but the benefit is worth getting the seed into the soil.  We use a drop spreader for the borders and broadcast spreader for the rest of the field.  We spread in three directions to get even coverage.  Since we are seeding in the middle of football and soccer season we don’t lower the height of cut so we rely on the teams “cleating” the seed into the soil during practice and games.

This year we had germination in two days and after four days we had seedlings standing up everywhere.  We resumed mowing at 5/8” a week after seeding.  Once the Bermuda starts to brown out (November) we raise the height of cut to ¾” to help hide the dormant grass.  When the Bermuda regains color (March) we will go back to 5/8” to allow the Bermuda to get sunlight and start growing.  After the season we spray out the Perennial Rye, this helps to eliminate the competition for the Bermuda.  The process of transitioning to rye is time consuming and stressful but it’s an exciting time for the crew.  Rye grass “strips” better than Bermuda and allows us to be creative with mowing patterns.  Safety and playability is our top priority but mowing patterns allow us to put our own unique signature on the field and is something the crew takes pride in.  In a later blog we will explain the process of mowing patterns.

See you at the game!

-Kyle Slaton, CSFM
Director of Sports Turf and Grounds


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