Cultural Practices

Click below to be redirected to more information about each of the following cultural practices:

Additional Considerations in Turfgrass Management


Turfgrass fertilization is one of the most important cultural practices needed to maintain a healthy, dense stand of turf. Understanding the role each nutrient plays in turfgrass plants can help determine what is needed to maintain the health of the plants and to also eliminate excessive or unnecessary application of nutrients. Soil tests are important in helping to determine the amount of each nutrient that is needed in the soil. 

Before beginning a fertilization program, be sure to take soil and tissue tests to determine required nutrients for optimum soil and plant health.  Soil tests should be conducted on a routine basis - every one (for sand-based fields) to three (for native soil fields) years is recommended.

You must be a member to view the following resource:
Understanding Soil Tests (m)

Turfgrass Nutrients 
Primary Nutrients – Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K) 
Secondary Nutrients – Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg), Sulfur (S) 

Iron (Fe), Manganese (Mn), Zinc (Zn), Copper (Cu), Boron (B), Molybdenum (Mb), Chlorine (Cl), Nickel (Ni) 

You must be a member to view the following resource:
Plant and Environmental Responses to the Essential Nutrients (m)

Fertilizer Definitions: 
Complete Fertilizer
 — contains nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) 
Compound or Mixed Fertilizer — contains at least two primary nutrients 
Homogenous Fertilizer — granular fertilizer that can have a variety of formulations, but is comprised of homogenized prills that are indistinguishable from each other 
Blended Fertilizer — granular fertilizer that contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, but is made up of separate components 
 Fertilizer Ratio — relationship among percentages of nitrogen (N), available phosphate (P2O5) and water soluble potash (K2O) 
For example: The ratio for a 10-5-5 fertilizer is 2-1-1. 
Fertilizer Analysis/Fertilizer Grade — nutrient content by weight 
For example: In a 20-5-15 fertilizer, 20 percent of the weight is nitrogen (N), 5 percent of the weight is phosphate (P2O5), and 15 percent of the weight is potash (K2O). In a 100 pound bag, 20 pounds would be nitrogen (N), 5 pounds would be phosphate (P2O5), and 15 pounds would be potash (K2O).

To determine the amount of elemental phosphorus (P): P2O5 x .44 = P 
To determine the amount of elemental potassium (K): K2O x .83 = K 

Nitrogen Sources 
The source of nitrogen determines turf growth rate, density and color. Nitrogen is broken down into two categories: quick release and slow release. 

You must be a member to view the following resource:
Quick release and slow release nitrogen sources (m)

Fertilizer Programs 
Cool Season Turfgrass 

growth cool season 

With active growth occuring in the spring and fall, the best time to fertilize cool season turfgrasses is from March to June and September to December. (This varies with geographic location.) 
March - May: One to two applications may be necessary in the spring. This application assists with greening up the turf, but can be detrimental if there is a late frost. 
June - August: Heavy fertilizer applications in the middle of summer should be avoided due to heat and drought stressing the plants. If fertilization is necessary, spoon feeding throughout the summer months will maintain turfgrass health. 
September: The best time to fertilize is in the late summer. As plants begin actively growing again, fertilization promotes recovery from drought and heat related injury sustained during the summer months. Fertilization at this time also contributes to root and rhizome growth, disease and stress tolerance, and the storage of carbohydrates. 
October - December: Fertilization in the late fall is advantageous because the majority of nutrients are used for root growth. There is not much vertical growth. Late fall fertilization can also be beneficial to early spring green up. 

Warm Season Turfgrass 

growth warm season 

With active growth occuring throughout the summer, the best time to fertilize warm season turfgrasses is from May to September. 
April - May: Early spring fertilization will assist with spring green up. One of the best times to fertilize is late spring because plants are actively growing and storing and manufacturing carbohydrates. 
June - August: Fertilization can continue throughout the summer. 
September: Late summer is also a good time to fertilize because plants are actively growing and storing and manufacturing carbohydrates. 
October - March: If a field has not been overseeded, fertilization should not take place. 

Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Fertilizer 
1. Soil test to determine the nutrients needed by the plants. 
2. Depending on the turfgrass species, apply nitrogen in the amounts needed. 
3. Apply nitrogen in multiple applications throughout the growing season. 
4. Return clippings while mowing. 
5. To avoid leaching, do not overwater. 
6. Use a slow release fertilizer and apply less frequently. 
7. If using a quick release nitrogen source, water it in to avoid foliar burn. 

Additional Fertilizer Resources:

STMA Resources (you must be an STMA member to view these resources):
Understanding Soil Tests
Plant and Environmental Responses to the Essential Nutrients
Quick Release Nitrogen
Slow Release Nitrogen
Rotary Spreader Calibration
Drop Spreader Calibration
Boom Sprayer Calibration
Backpack and Hand-held Sprayer Calibration
Compost Applications to Sports Fields
Webinar: Foliar and Granular Fertilization for Sports Turfgrasses - Dr. Grady Miller, North Carolina State University -  Learn how to identify significant differences between granular and foliar fertilization programs and the importance and advantages of both types of fertilizers for sports turfgrasses. Contact Kristen Althouse at for information on how to access the webinar.

Penn State University - Turfgrass Fertilization: A Basic Guide for Professional Turfgrass Managers 
Penn State University - Late Fall Fertilization of Athletic Fields 
University of Illinois - Turfgrass Fertilization
Texas A&M University - Turfgrass Fertilization
University of Tennessee - Developing a Turf Fertilization Plan
University of Massachusetts - Fall Turf Maintenance

Kansas State University - A Guide to Turfgrass Nutrient Recommendations
University of Tennessee - Essential Elements
University of Tennessee - Fertilizers
Penn State University - Nitrogen in the Landscape

Virginia Tech - The Importance of pH
University of Massachusetts - Soil pH and Liming
Penn State University - Liming Turfgrass Areas 
University of Tennessee - Liming
Penn State University - Using Composts to Improve Turf Performance 
Penn State University - Using Spend Mushroom Substrate (Mushroom Soil) As A Soil Amendment to Improve Turf 

Purdue University - Turf Fertilizer Calculator  
Penn State University - Calculations Used to Determine the Amount of Fertilizer Needed to Treat Turf
Penn State University - How much phosphorus and potassium are really in your fertilizer?
Penn State University - How to calculate a fertilizer ratio

Penn State University - Calibrating Your Fertilizer Spreader
University of Missouri - Calibrating Sprayers and Spreaders for Athletic Fields and Golf Courses 
University of Massachusetts - Drop Spreader Calibration Procedures
University of Massachusetts - Rotary Spreader Calibration Procedures

Fertilizer Sessions Featured at STMA Conferences:
2013 - STMA 121 - Back to Basics: Getting the Most from Your Granular Fertilizers Speakers: Brad Jakubowski, Tom Samples, Ph.D.
2013 - STMA 206 - Fertility Management for Sand-based Systems Speaker: Nick Christians, Ph.D.
2012 - Perceived and Real Environmental Impacts of Phosphorus (also available as a recorded session here)
Speakers: Dr. Gwen Stahnke, Washington State University - Puyallup, Dr. Elizabeth Guertal, Auburn University
2012 - Environmental and Economic Considerations of Nitrogen Fertilization
Speaker: Dr. Elizabeth Guertal, Auburn University
2012 - Deciphering Your Soil Test (also available as a recorded session here)
Speaker: Dr. Elizabeth Guertal, Auburn University
2012 - Comparison of Synthetic and Organic Fertilizers for Sports Fields (available as a recorded session here)
Speaker: Dr. Tony Koski, Colorado State University
2011 - Research You Can Use: Seedbanking, Seeding Rates, and Increased Nitrogen Fertility (also available as a recorded session here)
Andrew Hoiberg 
2011 - Topdressing with Compost, A More Sustainable and Affordable Alternative (also available as a recorded session here)
Speaker: Marcela Munoz
2011 - New Fertilizer Technology (also available as a recorded session here)
Speaker -
Elizabeth Guertal, Ph.D.

Fertility Podcasts
Turfgrass Fertility - Ohio State University
Foliar Fertilization Concepts - Ohio State University
Efficiency of Foliar Fertilization - Ohio State University
Potassium: Importance, Use, and Fate - Ohio State University
Phosphorus: Importance, Use, and Environmental Fate - Ohio State University
Effects of Nitrogen on Wear Tolerance of Athletic Fields - Ohio State University


Irrigation and drainage are key components to any athletic field management program. The following information provides facts and advice for proper irrigation and drainage strategies.

Rootzone Selection
Understanding the basic soil makeup is the first step to better irrigation practices and drainage. The following is a guide to understanding the effect your athletic field rootzone has on water availability.

As water is applied to an athletic surface either by precipitation or irrigation, the water can:
• enter the rootzone. From there it can be taken up and used by turfgrass plants, lost to evapotranspiration, or percolate through the rootzone to recharge groundwater supplies.
• runoff the surface.
• evaporate into the atmosphere.

Rootzone construction is extremely important for how water enters and moves through the soil. The rootzone can affect water availability, and water tables. It is important to know the makeup of your rootzone in order to determine proper irrigation practices and what to expect with rain events.

You must be a member to view the following resources:
Rootzone Construction (m)
Water Availability (m)
Water Tables (m)

Irrigation is necessary for athletic fields to supply moisture for turfgrass growth, wash in fertilizers and some pesticides, reduce surface hardness caused by heavy field use, promote seed germination, reduce tissue temperature during severe heat and drought stress, and contribute to overall player safety. On baseball fields, irrigation helps reduce dust and improves traction for players.

The goal of irrigation is to maximize precipitation and irrigation and minimize losses due to evaporation, transpiration, runoff, leaching or drainage. Effective irrigation applies enough water to soak the rootzone but avoids loss to drainage or runoff.

You must be a member to view the following resources:
Amount and Frequency for Irrigation Application (m)
Irrigation Systems (m)

Additional Irrigation Resources:

STMA Resources (you must be an STMA member to view these resources):
Rootzone Construction
Water Availability
Water Tables
Amount and Frequency for Irrigation Application
Irrigation Systems
Effective Water Use
Field Management During a Drought
Conducting and Irrigation Audit

University of Tennessee - Irrigation
University of Kentucky - Sports Field Irrigation
Ohio State University Podcast - Irrigation
Ohio State University Podcast - Salt Affected Turfgrass Sites 
Ohio State University Podcast - Irrigation System Maintenance
Ohio State University Podcast - Water Use Rates 
Texas A&M University - Water Management on Turfgrasses
University of Georgia - Water Conservation and Use-Efficiency
Michigan State University - Water Page
University of Massachusetts - Maximizing Irrigation Efficiency and Water Conservation
University of Massachusetts - Turf Irrigation and Water Conservation
North Carolina State University - Tools for Turfgrass Irrigation Water Management 

University of Massachusetts - Management Tips to Improve Turfgrass Drought Survival
University of Massachusetts - Turfgrass Response to Water Deficits
Ohio State University Podcast - Drought Stress 
North Carolina State University - Water Requirements of North Carolina Turfgrassess 
Managing sports fields during water restrictions 

Interpreting Irrigation Water Test Results
Penn State University - Irrigation Water Quality Guidelines for Turfgrass Sites
Using Recycled Water on Golf Courses
Purple Gold: A Contemporary View of Recycled Water Irrigation

Hunter Irrigation - Sports Field System Design

United States Drought Monitor

Irrigation Sessions Featured at STMA Conferences:
2013 - STMA 106 - Subsurface Drip Irrigation for Sports Turf Speaker: Bernd Leinauer, Ph.D.
2013 - STMA 119 - Developing and Implementing Best Management Practices for Sports Field Water Conservation; BMP Checklist Speakers: Clint Waltz, Ph.D., Kenny Pauley   

2013 - STMA 303 – Water Management to Improve Turf Performance Speaker: Jack Fry, Ph.D.
2013 - STMA 309 - Optimizing Sprinkler Uniformity with an Irrigation Audit; Irrigation Formula Handout Speaker: Jeff Gilbert
2012 - Irrigation Water Quality Evaluation and Management
Speaker: Dr. Ali Harvandi, University of California
2012 - Managing Turfgrasses During Drought
Speaker: Dr. Ali Harivandi, University of California
2011 - Irrigating Turf with Effluent/Salt Water (also available as a recorded session here)
Jim McAfee, Ph.D.
2011 - Water Reduction 101 - An Audit Competition (also available as a recorded session here)
Speakers: Michael Carr, Gordon Kunkle


Drainage is one of the most important issues when managing a sports field. Your field will not perform well if you do not have surface or internal drainage in place. Surface and subsurface drainage problems, such as standing water and high water tables, can pose a safety hazard to athletes and other users. These problems can also cause cancellation or postponement of events due to field closure. It is important to understand what types of drainage will work best for your field to enhance user safety and reduce field closures.

You must be a member to view the following resource:
Drainage Solutions (m)

Additional Drainage Resources:

STMA Resources (you must be an STMA member to view these resources):
Drainage Solutions
Best Management Practices to Reduce Stormwater Runoff and Pollution at your Sports Facility
Flooding on Sports Fields
Drainage - A Crucial Component for Athletic Field Performance
Part One: Surface Drainage
Part Two: Internal Drainage
Part Three: Subsurface Installed Drainage Systems

University of Minnesota - Agricultural Drainage: Soil Water Concepts
Ohio State University - Understanding Agricultural Drainage
Penn State University - Beneath the Surface


Penn State University - Understanding Field Drainage
Michigan State University - Improving Native Soil Athletic Field Drainage  

Drainage Sessions Featured at STMA Conferences:
2012 - Sports Field Drainage - What Are Your Options?
Speaker: Ian Lacy, Institute of Groundsmanship

Additional Considerations in Turfgrass Management:
Salt Affected Turfgrass Sites - Ohio State University
Biomass Accumulation on Sand Stabilizer Fields - Ohio State University
Testing for Hydrophobic Soil Conditions - Ohio State University
Relieving Soil Compaction - Ohio State University

Heat Stress
Moisture Stress: Drought - Ohio State University
Turfgrass Temperature Overview - Ohio State University
Practices to Minimize Heat Injury - Ohio State University
Managing Turf Under Heat Stress - Pt 2 - Ohio State University

Cold Temperature Injury
Frost - Ohio State University
Chilling Injury - Ohio State University
Freeze Smothering - Ice Cover - Ohio State University
Winter Injury - Desiccation - Ohio State University
Freeze Injury - Ohio State University

Plant Growth Regulators
Can Plant Growth Regulators Improve Your Field? - Penn State University

Low Light Conditions - Shade - Ohio State University
Reduced Light (Shade) Stress: Solar Radiance - Ohio State University

Dew - Ohio State University
Characteristics of Dew on Athletic Fields - Ohio State University

International Resources


Student challenge