Maintenance Strategies For Sand Based Turf

General Maintenance Strategies for Sand Base Athletic Fields in Western Oregon

Tom Cook
Assoc. Prof. Hort.
Oregon State University
(Revised 7/05)

What follows are my suggestions for maintenance practices that will insure continued good drainage for sand base fields. I realize that few organizations will be able to do everything I suggest. The goal is to do as much as you can possibly manage. So rather than give up because you can’t do it all, jump in and start swimming!


Mow fields as frequently as possible (at least once to twice per week). Mow at 2” and remove clippings if possible, otherwise let them fly.
Fertilize as needed to maintain turf density and vigor using a complete N-P-K fertilizer. Apply Nitrogen at rates of 1 to 1.5 lbs. N/1000 sq. ft per application,depending on current turf vigor and density.
Begin adjusting the irrigation run times down as days get cooler and shorter. Without causing dryspots keep the field as dry as possible. If rains come early and hard, shut system down to avoid excess wetness.
About the time fall rains start, begin slicing fields once per week. This should continue through winter and into spring. The goal is to maintain rapid infiltration of rain into the rootzone profile so the surface does not become mushy and wet.


Keep mowing at least weekly, removing clippings if possible.
Fertilize as per September-October.
Make sure your irrigation system is off.
Keep slicing weekly.
As soon as possible after your last game of the fall season have fields vertidrained. Follow up either with slice seeding and/or broadcast seeding of entire fields with perennial ryegrass at 5-10 lbs. seed / 1000 sq. ft. Use the heavy rate in the field centers and other worn areas and the lower rate in areas where there is still a good stand of grass. Depending on the condition of the fields you may also be able to topdress after seeding using sand identical to that used in construction.
Fill pot holes and repair sideline wear areas now. (Install artificial turf for players to stand on during games to eliminate this problem)


Mow as needed.
Fertilize as needed to maintain stand density. This may mean an application in late February at 1.5 lbs. N/1000 sq. ft. Just use your judgement.
Continue slicing weekly to help maintain rapid water infiltration.

March –April

Start mowing once to two times per week as needed to maintain dense uniform turf. Keep mowing height at 2”. No need to remove clippings during spring unless fields are receiving regular use during this time period.
Continue slicing fields weekly as long as wet conditions continue.
Fertilize in late March to mid-April as needed to achieve dense vigorous turf. Rates will vary from 1-1.5 lbs. N/1000 sq. ft depending on turf condition. This is a judgement call.
Start up the irrigation system and check out heads to make sure the system is operational. If spring is dry be prepared to irrigate as early as mid-March. Watch the field closely to avoid getting caught off guard. Proceed with regular irrigation as needed
Vertidrain somewhere around Easter depending on weather. If conditions allow, follow vertidraining with topdressing as per fall. (If there is a large accumulation of organic debris on areas normally subject to heavy wear, power rake these areas with a flail mower or other dethatching device prior to vertidraining. Reseed if necessary followed by vertidraining and topdressing.)
If the fall seeding was not successful then slice seed again at the time you vertidrain. Use the same rates as used in fall. You can also broadcast seed and then topdress the field after vertidraining. The choice is yours. If the fall seeding was successful, then sit back and relax!


Target mowing two times per week if at all possible.
Fertilize again around June 1 depending on field condition. Adjust rate according to what the fields needs are.
Irrigate as needed with the goal of producing healthy turf. Monitor the system to make sure coverage is adequate.
Seed any weak areas, around the time school is out.
Aerify with a hollow tine coring machine around mid-May to early June. Leave the cores on the turf or remove with a sweeper.
Topdress with sand in June, after coring. Drag in sand and mow or blow off organic debris left after topdressing.


Mow at least two times per week. Starting in August, remove clippings each time you mow.
Topdress with sand in early July and again in early August. Prior to topdressing, core the field as per June.
Around mid-July to the first of August fertilize to maintain vigor.
Irrigate as needed to produce healthy turf. Avoid over watering by checking profile weekly with soil probe.

Additional Notes:

1. Review this schedule and determine which tasks are feasible to do “in house” and which tasks are best contracted out. It makes sense to get tasks done on a timely basis, so if you determine that you can’t perform certain tasks in a timely manner, hire someone to come in and do it for you.
2. Attitude is important. If machines are broken get them fixed. If you have machines on hand to perform specific tasks, use them. You have to be aggressive to do a good job maintaining athletic fields.
3. Develop a budget based on tasks required to produce top quality fields. Find ways to fund your budget. Most schools unfortunately do not budget for field maintenance and end up performing crisis management. Routine maintenance should not involve the maintenance staff begging the athletic director for money for sand,fertilizer, seed, etc. Parks systems may not have the basic resources to begin with. Consider dedicated user fees that will go into the maintenance budget.
4. Don’t live in a world of excuses. Figure out what needs to be done to your field and then do it. Many schools and park departments I talk to have lots of excuses why they can’t do the right things to make their fields work. The bottom line is if you can’t figure out how to adequately maintain your fields, you should not have wasted your money building them in the first place.
5. Remember that long term performance of your fields will be determined by how well you manage the surface to maintain infiltration of water. Once you let them plug up, sand base fields will drain just as bad as any soil base mudhole field.