Infield Moisture Management
Friday, May 22, 2015
Written by Ryan DeMay
Berliner Sports Park/Columbus Recreation and Parks
As we near Memorial Day weekend, baseball and softball fields from the
professional to recreational levels are in peak season. There are high demands on Sports Turf Managers to deliver a safe, playable, and aesthetically pleasing surface on a daily basis and with those demands come challenges. This week let’s take a look at moisture management on skinned infields.
Whether or not one has the ability to water and/or tarp the field(s) you are responsible for, we are all in the business of managing moisture on the playing surfaces we care for. Testing your infield mix and knowing its physical characteristics, including sand fractions and sand, silt, and clay percentages, will play a crucial role in how moisture is properly managed for a particular field. Quick couplers, irrigation systems, and tarps certainly do make it more simple to manage moisture at a consistent level however, there are alternatives for those who lack the resources or infrastructure.
Engineered soils will have a balanced silt to clay ratio and properly sized sand fractions to allow for regular "flooding” of the infield skin. "Flooding” pulls water down through the profile to create a baseline moisture that can be managed with light, frequent watering right up to pre-game. These infield mixes tend to be higher in initial cost but, provide excellent playability and consistency in the Sports Turf Manager’s approach necessary for proper moisture management.
Harvested infield mixes come from a variety of local sources and tend to vary both in their physical characteristics and their ease of moisture management. Here in Ohio, harvested mixes tend to be higher in silt content due in large part to the imbalance of silt/clay in the "dirt” portion of the mix, and in some cases unwashed sand being used in the mix. High silt mixes are a problem for field managers due to the slick conditions they create when wet and the rock hard surface they create when dry.
Once one understands the physical characteristics of the infield mix, he/she can then develop a plan to effectively manage moisture to the best of your ability and resources. Knowing the physical composition of each field’s infield mix is a huge first step to adding in other elements to the skinned surface management plan such as quick couplers, irrigation systems, and tarps but, what if some or all of those resources are not available to you? The answer might lie in your spray tank.
Wetting agents have been long used in golf turf management for the purposes of more uniformly distributing water across and/or downward through the soil profile. For our purposes in skinned infield management, our soil profile will be the infield mix itself. There are numerous High School, College, and Park and Recreation fields throughout the country that have turned to wetting agents to help better manage moisture at a consistent level and do so with less labor.
Why would I spray a wetting agent when my conditioner already holds moisture in my skinned surface? These products are different than a calcined or vitrified clay infield conditioners because they actually are synthetic polymers that modify surface tension around soil particles and don’t actually hold any moisture on their own.
The average cost of a wetting agents range from $2-4 per thousand feet, per application with most programs requiring applications every two to four weeks through the playing season. One item of note is that just like using products on the turf we manage, it may take several attempts to identify the product that works well on the field you manage and makes you feel comfortable in managing moisture levels.
Feel free to read more about infield mix testing in a series of very informative blog posts from OTF Member Jamie Mehringer of J&D Turf.
Test your infield mix
What do the results mean? (Gravel)
What do the results mean? (Sand)
What do the results mean? (Silt & Clay)
What do the results mean? (Silt to clay ratio)
Additionally, please see the recent article, featuring OTF Member Brian Hall of the Sylvania Recreation District, on how using wetting agents on the skinned infields he and his staff manage has paid off. Other links include reference on wetting agent classifications and history of their development.
Making water work
Understanding the different wetting agent chemistries
Soil wetting agents