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Mowing, Aerating and Top Dressing Turf Fields

By Larry Musser, president, PRZ International Sports Turf Consulting

The EA600 AERA-VATOR (attachment) aerator features a 60-inch working width. It creates a core hole without bringing a core plug to the surface, leaving the turf ready for use immediately after treatment. Six holes are created each foot (66 holes per square meter) and hole size is regulated by drive speed. It is offered by Ventrac.

How does a landscape contractor get the best value from a piece of equipment? At what point does it make economic sense to invest in larger, more expensive equipment? These are a few of the questions LC/DBM asked turfgrass consultant Larry Musser president of PRZ International Sports Turf Consulting to address.

Turf Maintenance Equipment that does more than one task and is more productive per man-hour! I do not sell anything but my time but in my consulting work I am able to observe my clients working with different pieces of equipment and to see some great differences in end results and productivity which are both critical in our current environment of budget cuts and personnel layoffs.

As all of my clients have very high wear levels (average wear level 4-5 on a scale of 1-5) and very low maintenance levels (average maintenance level 1) on their fields, we must find ways to best utilize precious man-hours and dollars.

The Accu-Z ZTi Series Zero Turn Mowers are commercial-duty mowers designed for large turfgrass mowing jobs. Its 60-inch deck makes mowing tighter areas around obstacles easier, while maintaining a lower cutting height over undulating terrain. The 13 mph, 72-inch ZTi Zero Turn mower is designed for mostly level, open areas. Twin-lever hydrostatic steering enable the mowers to turn within their overall length. This mower is offered by Land Pride.

The CA2572 Aerators utilize replaceable case hardened closed spoons mounted on weighted rotating discs, and the spoons pull cores up to three inches in length from the soil profile every seven inches of forward travel. Pulled cores are deposited on the surface for subsequent drying, pulverization, or removal. In order to achieve maximum penetration, the CA2572 offers optional poly water tanks that fit in the top mounted weight trays. When filled with water these tanks provide significantly increased down pressure on the spoons. This aerator is offered by Land Pride.

Slice Aerating

To have sustainable turf under these high wear conditions, I have all my clients slice aerating (instead of plug pulling) monthly to keep oxygen moving downward for root stimulation. The greatest value of slice aeration is that they can slice aerate in the morning and play immediately, as there are no plugs left behind to deflect the ball in ground sports.

Normally most of my clients and attendees aerate once a year and do the entire field in two directions. A 6-foot wide pull behind plug pulling aerator can plug about 3.5 acres per hour.

When they knife aerate I have them only go in one direction because everywhere two knife cuts intersect to form an X, the soccer player sliding his shoe across the surface to take the ball away from an opponent will catch one of the corners and turn the sod up. As they play over these areas, they will continue to catch these corners and tear up the sod. I have them slice aerate only the wear areas monthly and do the entire field once annually. The wear areas are from outside the goal box on each side, the entire length of the field (approximately the hash marks of a football field) and a few passes deep on the sidelines where the parents, team members and referees run. This is approximately 20,000 square feet or less than an acre.

The MultiSpread Model 320 top dresser has a struck-level capacity of 27 cubic feet and heaped capacity of 1.25 cubic yards. It's designed for sports turf managers to maintain athletic fields, schools, universities, and golf courses to spread grass clippings. It is offered by Earth & Turf.

Aerating is vital to maintaining a healthy lawn. The size of the equipment the landscaper should use is a function of equipment cost verses man-hours saved verses time saved. The Turfsaw Rolling Aerator comes with two size options, 42 and 48 inches. One pass aerates big jobs like golf fairways and athletic fields quickly, according to the manufacturer. It is offered by Earth & Turf.

The Contour Mower attachment features an 84-inch working width, with three decks that float and independently follow the contour of the terrain with up to 40 degrees of motion for each side deck. The MJ840 also features full rear rollers for even cutting and striping, rear discharge, and a flip-up deck design. This attachment is offered by Ventrac.

A football field is 60,000 square feet and a soccer field can be from 70,000- 90,000 square feet. Since I am only having them aerate in one direction and aerating approximately one-third or one-quarter of the field, one man aerating at 3.5 acres per hour can cover approximately six times the area in the same amount of time it takes to plug aerate the same field in two directions.

Each of the Aerway Aerator machines has the 100-gallon tank and a 6-inch turf tine as standard. As options (which I always recommend) they can come with the greens-roller for smoothing the turf as you slice and a 7-inch fracturing tine (just exchange one shaft for the other) that literally fractures every square inch of the root zone seven inches deep.

I have all my clients slice monthly with the turf tine on the wear areas and once annually with the fracturing tine on the entire field. The fracturing tine is solid enough that if a field has rocky soil (which can destroy PTO-driven aerators) and were to hit a rock the size of man's head, the entire aerator, tank and all would ride out of the ground rather than destroy the tine.

Productivity based on the equipment size can be an overlooked factor. Moving up to the larger capacity mower is a function of equipment cost verses man-hours saved. For example, a 16-foot wide mower will mow approximately 14.5 acres per hour verses a 6-foot mower at 5.4 acres per hour.

By having the client step up to a wider slice aerator, the same worker can cover a lot more acres per hour. The chart shows the improvement in acres per hour by going to a wider aerator. These figures are for the Aerway Aerator.

Choosing Mower Size

The productivity based on the size of the equipment works for other maintenance tasks as well. The 16-foot wide Toro will mow approximately 14.5 acres per hour verse the 6-foot Toro at 5.4 acres per hour.

Top Dressing

The same calculations work for a top dressing machines. If you take a 25 cubic-foot greens top-dresser when compared to a 4-cubic-yard top-dresser, the bigger one is 4.32 times larger meaning far fewer loads to finish a field. If you had to spread 60 cubic yards of material on a field, the small unit would need to be filled nearly 65 times while the larger machine would need to be filled 15 times. The ideas presented in this article represent only a few of the many ways we can save on maintenance costs.

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January 20, 2019, 6:30 pm PST

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