I want to give you an idea of what needs to be done to bermudagrass turf before the growing season starts. As I watched televised sporting events over the holidays, I thought of the long hours groundskeepers put in before the events. At this time of the year, a groundskeeper attends classes and meetings to sharpen skills to keep his sporting field attractive for those games. The tools are fairly simple: fertilizer, water, aeration (maybe), and mowing. It's the timing and precision of these management practices that are critical to any grounds.
Fertilizer. Generally the fertilizer's first ratio number, which indicates the percentage of nitrogen in the product, should be high. Nitrogen is the nutrient that enhances growth of leaf blades; one pound of nitrogen per thousand square feet is usually adequate. In southern Oklahoma, fertilize at forty-day intervals from April through September. Fertilization conveniently starts and ends during months when we receive generous rainfall, so let's take advantage when planning our warm-season bermudagrass fertility program. The other two numbers in a typical ratio represent phosphorous and potassium. Both play important roles in plant growth as well. A soil test conducted now will show any deficiencies that you need to correct through fertilization.
Water. This commodity has been scarce during our last two summers. Water should be plentiful and have good quality as well as a low salt content. Now is a good time to decide how water will be delivered to the turf. If subsurface irrigation is the answer, the lines can be put in place now, with plenty of time for the grass to grow over the trench before play begins. Irrigation heads need to have overlapping coverage, since wind will distort even the most well-designed array. Irrigate after fertilization to soak the roots. Check moisture depth periodically with a soil probe.
Aeration. This method of moving and fracturing the soil so that air and rainfall can penetrate into the root zone can be done during the growing season. Soil compacts most commonly around stationary playground equipment and anywhere else foot traffic is extremely heavy. Besides causing compaction, heavy use leaves the grass very little time for regrowth. If aeration is used, at least one of the problems is abated.
Mowing. Bermudagrass should be mowed only with a sharp rotary blade or a reel-type mower blade. Other management practices performed by the groundskeeper during the growing season can be undone by a dull mower blade, which tears the leaf, making it pale. A dull reel-type mower pulls the leaf blades and stems away from the plants.
During the growing season, mowing heights differ from three-quarters of an inch in the spring to one and a half inches in the summer. Be careful not to take off more than a third of the leaf blade at one mowing, which may mean more frequent mowing. If mowing is properly done, the turf grass stand will be healthier and lush and may be booked for a special event. Take advantage of the off-season to sharpen or replace rotary blades and hone the reels on the reel-type mowers.