Cultural Practices

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

Additional Considerations in Turfgrass Management


Mowing is important to maintain turfgrass because it maintains top growth within specified limits, controls undesirable vegetation intolerant to mowing, sustains turfgrasses, and produces a functional athletic surface for sports fields.

A standard rule in the industry for moderately to intensively maintained turfs is to never remove more than 1/3 of the grass blade in a single mowing.  Removing more than 1/3 can result in poor plant health and growth.  Mowing frequency is the number of mowings per unit time.  Mowing frequency depends on turfgrass growth, level of maintenance, weather conditions, and climatic conditions.

Additional Mowing Resources:
How Mowing Affects Turfgrass - Webinar presented by Dr. Doug Linde
Mowing Turfgrasses - Penn State University
Turfgrass Maintenance: Mowing - University of Tennessee


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 applications 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.

For soil testing services, contact your local Cooperative Extension office or soil testing lab for materials and information necessary for taking soil samples. 

STMA Technical Bulletins (you must be a member to view these):
Understanding Soil Tests (m)

Plant and Environmental Responses to the Essential Nutrients (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 Technical Bulletins (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

University Resources:

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

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:
2015 - The Nuts and Bolts of Applied Nutrient Management - Bryan G. Hopkins, Ph.D., James Gish, CSFM, and Jessica Buss
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


Turfgrass plants need water to survive.  Plants access moisture through precipitation, irrigation, and capillary flow.  Plants lose moisture through evaporation, transpiration, and drainage.  To aid precipitation and capillary flow, and make up for what is lost to evaporation, transpiration, and drainage, water is supplied to turfgrass areas via irrigation.  Irrigation is important for healthy turfgrass growth due to the following reasons:

- Supplies moisture for turfgrass growth
- Helps maintain turf’s green color

- Necessary for photosynthesis
- Modifies turfgrass tissue temperatures on hot days
- Aids plant rigidity
- Decreases weed encroachment
- Improves tolerance to insect and disease pressure
- Washes in fertilizers and some pesticides following application
- Maintains sufficient surface moisture to promote germination of turfgrass seed
- Reduces surface hardness
- Reduces dust and improves traction on baseball and softball infields

Turfgrass should be watered on an as needed basis. Effective irrigation applies enough water to soak the rootzone but avoids loss to drainage or runoff.  In general, turfgrasses require 1-1.5 inches of water per week, minus any rainfall, during their active growing period to remain healthy and resilient.  Soil texture, compaction issues, rootzone depth, and infiltration capacity all influence the frequency of irrigation events and the amount of water that is applied.  For more information on turfgrass soils and drainage, click here.  Other special considerations, such as weather and climatic conditions, timing, and soil moisture tools, will assist in the planning of irrigation events.

Additional Irrigation Resources:

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

University Resources:

Smart Irrigation Practices - Webinar presented by Dr. Alec Kowalewski
University of Kentucky - Sports Field Irrigation
Ohio State University Podcast - Irrigation
Ohio State University Podcast - Salt Affected Turfgrass Sites 
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
North Carolina State University - Water Requirements of North Carolina Turfgrassess 
Texas A&M University - Managing Sports Fields in Drought/Adverse Conditions

University of California - 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

United States Drought Monitor

Irrigation Sessions Featured at STMA Conferences:
2015 - Improving Water Efficiency: Take the Million Gallon Challenge! - Brad Jakubowski
2015 - Using Soil Moisture Meters to Make More Informed Irrigation Decisions - Shane Conroy
2015 - ET, Irrigation Efficiency, Water Management, and Conservation - Brent Mecham
2014 - Water Quality and Soil Conditions – Nick Christians, Ph.D.
2014 - Using Soil Moisture & Temperature Sensors as a Part of an Integrated Approach to Managing Athletic Fields – Amy Fouty, CSFM
2014 - Understanding the Basics of Irrigation Design, Installation, and Troubleshooting – Lynda Wightman
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



Aeration is the process of disturbing the soil in a controlled fashion to relieve compaction and allow air, water, and nutrients to penetrate the soil.  Aeration is one of the most important cultural practices for maintained turfgrass areas.  A field that is not aerated regularly will often be characterized by poor turfgrass growth, compacted soils, and high levels of thatch.

Topdressing is an application of soil to the turf surface.  The particle size of the topdressing material should always match the predominant particle size in the existing rootzone.  If it does not, problems such as layering can occur.  Topdressing benefits turfgrass areas by leveling uneven playing surfaces, gradually amending soils, improving drainage and rooting, and assisting with the breakdown of thatch.


STMA Technical Bulletins (you must be a member to view the following resources):
8 Steps to an Easy Field Facelift
Football Practice Techniques that Help Minimize Field Wear
Strategies for Managing Heavily-Used Fields
Thatch Management

University Resources
Athletic Field Renovation Tips - Webinar presented by Jeff Fowler

Aeration/Topdressing Sessions featured at STMA Conferences
2015 - Cultural Practices & Guidelines for Low Budget Athletic Fields - Brad S. Fresenburg, Ph.D.
2014 - Aerification Today…Methods and Styles to Help Improve Playing Conditions – Michael Hileman



STMA Technical Bulletins (you must be a member to view the following resources):
Sprigging Bermudagrass
Sod Installation

University Resources

Seeding/Sprigging/Sodding Sessions featured at STMA Conferences
2015 - Cultural Practices & Guidelines for Low Budget Athletic Fields - Brad S. Fresenburg, Ph.D.
2014 - Making the Impossible Possible: Seed to Playing in 35 Days – Julie Adamski, Ryan Bjorn
2011 - Growing Sod in a Parking Lot Brad Jakubowski  

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
Making Plant Growth Regulators Work for You Thomas Serensits
Using the Growth Regulator Trinexapac-ethyl on Bermudagrass Sports Fields - Leif Dickinson

Low Light Conditions - Shade - Ohio State University
Reduced Light (Shade) Stress: Solar Radiance - Ohio State University
Understanding, Assessing, and Managing Shade Stress Problems - John Sorochan, Ph.D.

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


International Resources