Whose Turf to Play on? Advice on Field Turf Selection from Experts Dana Lonn and Van Cline

Article excerpt

Synthetic or natural turf? When it comes to playing fields, there are no easy answers to that question, The choice involves myriad factors, including geographical region, space to be covered, amount of use, intensity of use, and environmental concerns. Unfortunately, misconceptions about cost, maintenance, required expertise, and water usage often drive agencies' turf decisions, In a recent interview with engineer Dana Lonn and agronomist Van Cline, both of the Toro Center for Advanced Turf Technology, the two experts debunked a few common myths and outlined several helpful resources for turf grass selection.

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MYTH 1: Opting for natural turf is a simple matter of planting, maintaining, and watering grass.

The maintenance of natural turf grass--no matter how long the growing season of your region or how hardy the grass variety--is an art and a science. "For optimal results, you've got to have people with specialized expertise," Lonn says. And while that expertise is expensive, Lonn has seen several small park agencies pool resources to hire a turf specialist for the care of their fields. He cautions that a general approach of seeding, mowing/ and watering will not result in the kinds of lush resilient fields a community needs--especially for intense-use sports like football and soccer. "Over all," Lonn adds, "we see lots of park districts out there that have lots of land, but not so much expertise [with maintaining turf]."

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Not only is the maintenance of natural turf best assigned to a specialist; but the choice of grass should, ideally, involve an investment of time and research. Lonn and Cline suggest a number of resources--beginning with consultation with local extension agents--for making that investment of time pay off. See the resource list with this article for specific guides and websites offering cutting-edge information on the varieties of grass species available.

MYTH 2: Opting for synthetic turf is a simple matter of paying a lot up front and then having no maintenance worries.

This is partially true--and of course the known up-front cost and relatively low maintenance of synthetic turf fields are well known advantages.

Especially when a donor contributes a field, say Lonn and Cline, there is a great incentive to invest in synthetic turf. Most donors, after all, do not allocate funds for ongoing maintenance in their donations. Often, in such situations, the two turf experts agree synthetic turf is the best option. However, they caution decision-makers to keep in mind that even artificial turf is not maintenance-free.

First, because of the black rubber (recycled tires) that form the "foundation" of synthetic turf fields, watering is necessary during hot summer months to cool playing surfaces that can get as hot as 180 degrees. Obviously, the regularity of the watering schedule will depend on the frequency of field use. But, Lonn says, it is a mistake to overlook just how hot synthetic fields can get for players--and how necessary the step of pre-play watering is.

Secondly, synthetic fields do require equipment, supplies, and labor for grooming and treatment. Anti-static treatments are recommended, for example. (Lonn compares the anti-static maintenance to treatment with laundry fabric softeners--but on a field-size scale.) Moreover, synthetic fields require that fungicides and anti-bacterial treatments be applied regularly through a water-based preparation.

MYTH 3: Natural turf wastes water.

Obviously, Myth 2 tackles the misconception that synthetic fields need no water. …