9 Tips for Preseason Softball Field Maintenance & Preparation Equipment
February 21, 2014
The sign-up sheet hangs on the field office bulletin board as the managers are making their player rosters. Softball season is fast approaching as leagues across the country get ready to play this beloved sport. Yet before they can race out into the field and step up to the batter's box, the softball field must be ready so the softball players can play safely.
While there’s a lot of upkeep required to keep the fields looking good throughout the season, much of the maintenance actually begins in the offseason, most commonly in the weeks and months leading up to opening day.
Softball field maintenance is essential during the preseason and throughout the fair weather months to ensure that each softball game is played on the best grass conditions. Field maintenance will address infield soil and outfield turf problems created during the previous year's softball games. Use the following 9 softball field maintenance tips for the preseason to ensure the players can have a great softball season.
Tip #1: Softball Field Preparation - Inspect the Field
Now is the time to take notes about the condition of the entire softball field. Walk the whole length of the area. Check for a smooth surface that is level throughout. Place little marker flags in places where there are holes and sudden elevations so the issues can be repaired after the inspection. Also mark worn-out sod and places that have an infield lip (a hump where the soil meets the grass). Take note of unusually dry or wet areas of the field that is an indication of improper drainage.
Next, check the infield soil. There should be a good mixture of clay and soil so players have a stable surface when batting and pitching. Also ensure the base line surface is level
Tip #2: Perform a Soil Test
Soil testing allows you to determine the current condition of the field grass. You can find out the pH level, nutrient levels and any presence of contamination. By finding out this information, you can determine if your soil is lacking certain nutrients to make grass resilient and grow well to handle the amount of running and sliding players will do to catch the softball. Generally speaking, the typical softball infield should consist of about a 75 percent mix of clay, a 5 percent mix of silt and a 20 percent sand mixture, without any large stones or rocks.
Many home improvement stores carry soil testing kits that you can perform yourself if your field maintenance budget is limited. You can also have a landscaper, Cooperative Extension Office or Agronomic Division Laboratory analyze the soil tests. Once analyzed, apply recommended soil amenities to boost turf health with necessary nutrients.
Tip #3: Softball Field Prep Equipment - Mowing the Field
Regular mowing will improve the condition of the grass, allowing sunlight, fertilizer and water to reach the roots. Use sharp mower blades and never cut off more than 1/3 of the grass blade's length as this can cause detrimental effects. Mark where the sprinkler heads are located so you don't run over them with the mower. This is also a good time to edge the grass where it meets the dirt to have a straight edge along the base lines.
Tip #4: Aerate the Softball Field
Soil sometimes will have a difficult time drawing in water, fertilizer and air due to its composition. Aerating the field will allow the grass to grow fuller. To aerate the softball field, you can use softball field prep equipment like a spike aerator for loam-type soils or a core/plug aerator for clay-based soils to create the holes in the field.
Once you are finished aerating the field, add a topdressing of sand or a mixture of sand and compost. This mixture will allow for drainage as well as fill in other holes caused by shoe cleats as it levels out the field.
Tip #5: Seeding and Fertilizing
Seeding is the next important step to preseason softball outfield maintenance. Seed the entire outfield a few days after the aeration step. After the seed is laid, you can now fertilize the outfield according to the right fertilizer mixture based on the results of the soil testing. Apply the proper amount of nutrients to balance out the pH levels to have healthy grass growth. Water the outfield thoroughly without causing puddles to form. Keep in mind a winter blend of fertilizer should always be applied in late fall before the ground freezes. When you feed the lawn just before winter, the roots get stronger and nitrogen storage will also increase so the lawn comes back healthy and green in the spring.
Tip #6: Dragging the Softball Field
Sometimes dragging the softball field is performed at the beginning of the maintenance steps to loosen the soil after the winter thaw. Other times it is performed after the topdressing and seeding to blend the materials and level the field. Dragging is normally done in two steps: spike drags to loosen the topsoil; and finish drags to break up dirt clots while leveling the surface.
Never perform excessive dragging on the field as this can cause soil damage. You should also avoid dragging too close to the edge of the infield or you can create a lip to form where the turf meets the soil. Drag the field in different patterns so you reduce the likelihood of creating low spots or bumps.
Tip #7: Use a Softball Field Cover
The outfield will need time to rest and recover from the maintenance steps so the grass will have a chance to grow to its fullest. To prevent animals and people from walking on the outfield area, you can invest in a turf cover. Turf covers help to promote grass growth by keeping the soil and air temperature beneath the cover warm as this method is ideal if the spring temperatures drop to the frost level. You can also fend off the snow and ice from spring storms with the turf cover while still allowing light to reach the grass. During the playing season, the use of a rain cover is highly recommended in order to prevent damage to the soil, prevent puddles, and keep the field in good shape.
Tip #8: Lip Removal
The turf is only one part of the overall softball field. There’s the infield that you have to consider when prepping for the season and this aspect is just as important as everything else that you have to do. Softball fields will develop a lip between the field grass and the soil. These bumps can cause serious safety hazards to players if left unattended as well as affect gameplay when a ball bounces when striking the lip. Small lips can be removed by using a high-pressure water nozzle to knock the built-up soil into the field. Larger lips will need more maintenance as you need to cut the sod out and knock the dirt out of the grass, or till and level the ground. This technique should be performed in the fall after the last season softball game to put less stress on the grass. If you do it in the spring, you may want to lay down new sod in that area.
Tip #9: Spot Seed the Softball Field
Wait for the turf to begin growing again and then give it a first cut. The purpose of this first cut isn’t so much to actually cut the grass, but to even it out so that it grows level all across the playing field. This helps reduce unsightly patches of grass. After a week, you should see new grass shoots coming from the ground. Check the entire field as you look for areas of thin growth caused by overwatering, lack of water or storms. Spot seed problem areas to help with grass growth until you have a lush, green field that is ready for softball season. Mow the grass in three weeks after the aeration, seeding and fertilizing steps.
Acting on the details provided in these nine tips will not only help ensure a healthy looking field by spring time, but will help the longevity of the softball field for seasons to come.
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