Sports field maintenance

The sports field can be your organisation’s most valuable asset. Maintaining your sports field properly helps it withstand extended high use and provides a safe playing environment for members and other users.

Find out more about:

Field remediation

The end of a playing season provides time to undertake field remediation.

All turf remediation practices can and should commence in the middle of September. This will generally coincide with clubs’ respective playing schedules and when ideal turf growing conditions commence.

Watering

One of the most important factors in maintaining quality sports fields is to correctly manage and schedule an irrigation program.

It is important that watering (irrigation) of the fields is timed correctly (dependent on the time and season).

From mid-September onwards, clubs should start to increase their watering schedules. Healthy turf requires around 35 millimetres of water per week, equivalent to around 350,000 litres of water per hectare. An AFL field is approximately 16,000m² (can vary), so the amount of water required in peak growing conditions would be 560,000 litres per week.

To calculate the litres per week for watering, multiply your field area in square metres by the number of millimetres of water you are aiming to provide.

Things to consider when watering sports fields:

  • use deep and infrequent applications of water (watering to field capacity)
  • minimise light frequent hand watering
  • syringing during times of stress (ensuring it's a very fine spray)
  • know your irrigation system and how much it applies
  • avoid hydrophobic conditions (soil too dry to allow water penetration)
  • know your water and turf quality, and have it analysed
  • use wetting agents to prolong the effects of your watering schedule
  • irrigate at night to avoid significant levels of evaporation through the day.

It is important that your organisation takes into account the cost of watering when developing the annual budget.

Fertilising

When managing sports fields, it is vital to have an efficient and adequate nutrition program. Fertilising, in conjunction with an efficient watering program and other turf maintenance practices, is a pivotal step to ensure healthy turf grass for sports fields.

The two aspects to take into consideration when preparing a fertiliser program is:

  1. What the plant requires.
  2. What the soil requires in supporting healthy plant growth.

The general ‘rule of thumb’ for plant nutrition should be ‘little and often’ and only applying nutrients/fertiliser when absolutely necessary.

A common mistake among ground staff is producing a field that is aesthetically pleasing (colour and appearance), without consideration of plant and soil health. This can lead to numerous issues including disease, pests, excess thatch and wear problems.

A good place to start when establishing a nutrition program is to conduct soil and leaf tissue testing, accompanied by an evaluation of turf health and quality. Without the inclusion of these tests and data, any fertiliser applications to the sports field will be guess work, which can be inaccurate and costly.

Clubs can seek the services of a reputable and specialised turf consulting company to undertake soil or leaf tissue tests on the clubs’ behalf.

Alternatively Council undertakes soil tests on a regular basis and can provide the latest turf audit reports on request.

Aeration

Aeration should be undertaken on a quarterly basis where possible. 

Regular aeration: 

  • is an important part of the turf management process in maintaining safe and healthy sports fields
  • minimises compaction levels on the sports field
  • reduces surface hardness which can increase a field’s safety from a usability perspective
  • from a turf perspective, allows greater water infiltration and percolation through the soil profile. This means any added amendments/nutrients being able to reach the plants root zone.

Scarify

You should undertake light scarifying before and after the playing season. This is an important turf management process that involves the removal of the dead thatch layer accumulated over a playing season.

Herbicide

The control of foreign weeds in sports fields is also an integral part of ongoing turf maintenance.

To prevent germination and spread of weeds, use a pre-emergent herbicide to minimise weed infestations and prevent seeds germinating on the field.

Pre-emergent herbicides generally have a residual effect of six (6) months. They need to be reapplied half way through a year, for cover across the entire playing season.

When turf in sports fields is healthy, it will out-compete invasive weed grass species from establishing. However when weed infestations become prevalent, one-off herbicide treatments are recommended.

Herbicide treatments should only be applied when weeds and turf are actively growing and when the soil has at least normal amounts of moisture in them.

Herbicides should not be applied when the turf is under drought stress.

Mowing

Mowing frequency depends on factors including:

  • the time of year
  • the specific requirements of your sport.  

Council suggests:

This table includes a mowing schedule for sports fields for warmer and cooler months.
Warmer months (October-April) Cooler months (May-September)
Frequent mowing required approximately twice a week Less frequent mowing required approximately once a week
25mm mowing height recommended  40-50mm mowing height recommended (may vary depending on the sport)

Mowing to the recommended heights:

  • promotes regrowth
  • promotes turf hardiness
  • improves turf/grass quality
  • protects the field from excessive wear during winter play.

To mitigate excessive wear, you should change the direction in which fields are mowed, as outlined in the directional mowing chart. 

For examples of both a basic and advanced annual maintenance plans download the:

Top soil

In accordance with Council policy, any fill or soil material imported to Council parks needs to be certified clean (free of contaminants), or from a quarry source.

Under the Biosecurity Act 2014, everyone, including individuals and organisations has a general biosecurity obligation to take all reasonable steps to ensure they do not spread fire ants. To view a map of the fire ant biosecurity zones and learn more about what you need to do to prevent the spread of fire ants, refer to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries website.

More information

For further advice on sports field maintenance:

A reputable turf management company can provide advice and deliver services that may assist your organisation to maintain and/or remediate your fields.

Last updated:24 April 2019