By Kate Wall
Your back lawn may not be the MCG, but if it is your family cricket pitch it will need some help from you in order to cope with the intense wear and tear it is likely to receive.
Regardless of your sport of choice, your sports lawn will be subject to intense use and possibly extreme wear and tear. Even a very hard wearing lawn grass will need help to flourish under these conditions.
Importantly you will need to start with a very hard wearing grass. Traditionally this would have been couch or kikuyu, but Empire™ Zoysia japonica ‘SS500’ PBR is fast becoming a reliable and very hard wearing grass popular for backyard sports fields.
A sports lawn needs to be able to be mown fairly short to create a good playing surface. In order to keep the grass healthy, and to have sufficient leaf blade remain to encourage new growth, the lawn needs to have as little thatch as possible. Regular mowing should take off only small amounts of leaf blade, leaving the lawn looking green after mowing. A lawn which is kept longer will have a layer of thatch or dead leaf blades under the green leaf, and when suddenly mown short will look brown instead of green. If the lawn looks more brown than green after mowing, there is too little leaf blade left to allow the lawn to cope with high wear and it should be allowed some recovery time before playing sports on this lawn. Excess thatch can usually be raked out of the lawn, but regular mowing will still be needed to encourage thick green grass to return.
The MCG gets mown twice a week to keep the grass short but still thick and green, meaning only very small amounts are taken off each time. Twice a week is more mowing than most backyards will need, but the principle of small amounts often still applies. A high use lawn would do best to be mown regularly -weekly throughout the growing season across most of Australia.
The regular mowing and the high wear and tear will result in a lawn with higher than usual feeding requirements. There can be a tendency to over-care for the lawn with too much fertiliser and water which actually weakens rather than strengthens the lawn. Always use lawn fertilisers in accordance with product information. When fertilising regularly is it safer to use less than the advised amount, eg half as much but twice as often. A very light fertilising monthly during the growing season will be more helpful to a high wear lawn than will a twice annual feed.
Regular applications of a garden tonic product such as a seaweed solution will also help the high wear lawn to remain strong and healthy.
A high use lawn is likely to develop bare patches particularly if the sport is something like cricket, with the bulk of the running occurring in a single section. Bare patches will become the most likely entrance point for weeds and if not given a chance to recover will simply get larger. When bare patches begin or the lawn is looking thinner than normal, it is time to allow it recovery time. Often a light fertilise and a good watering will be enough for the lawn to recover quickly. If the area has become too compacted the grass may struggle to recover, and extra help is needed.
High use lawns will suffer more than regular lawns with compaction. These lawns will need to be aerated once per year, and then top dressed. This is best done at the end of the playing season to allow the lawn greatest recovery time when it is experiencing less use. If use continues all year, it is a good idea to do this late in the growing season. Lawns are usually due to be fertilised late in the growing season and this is also the perfect time to give additional care, allowing recovery time before the cold dormant season begins. If you live in an area likely to be affected by frosts, top dressing will help to protect the lawns roots from cold damage. However in frost prone regions it is advisable to aerate and fertilise well before or after frosts, as the lawn will not be able to take advantage of the aeration and fertiliser during cold periods.
If annual aeration is not enough to manage compaction in your lawn, you may need to look at other management options like increased rest periods for the lawn, improving the quality and therefore the structure of the soil (this will depend on your soil type, but may involve top dressing with fine compost), or using a product such as Scuff Turf™.
Scuff Turf™ is a turf variety which is grown with a built in semi-rigid plastic reinforcing mesh (pictured) which protects the turf roots from compaction and excess wear and tear in high traffic areas. It is currently only available with Kenda® Kikuyu, which is a high wearing lawn type, making this combination an ideal choice for sports lawns.
With regular use of the lawn you are likely to notice any damage before it is severe, and this is the best time to treat it. A high use lawn can easily become stressed and therefore vulnerable to pests and diseases. Early attention to problems makes them much easier to fix, however frequent preventative use of chemical treatment products is not advised as it will also harm earthworms and other soil organisms which naturally aerate the lawn, leading to greater compaction problems.
Playing sport on the back lawn is something we tend to take for granted. Having a beautiful lawn to play that sport on takes a little care but is both very achievable and very rewarding.
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