Are you in charge of maintaining athletic fields? If you’re looking for a two or three week head start on getting your fields ready for spring — consider a proven IPM practice: dormant overseeding. (Farmers, this can work for cool-season grains and forage crops. And homeowners — here’s a trick from the pros that you just might be able to use.)
Yes, right now those artic blasts might still be leaving us chilled. But winter weather has its advantages: snowmelt and freeze-thaw cycles help both push and pull seeds into the ground, maximizing seed-to-soil contact.
Frost heaving is more extreme on bare soil. Note that the effect of frost heaving is reduced on the area covered by grass. Photo Credit: Michal Maňas
Meanwhile, spring is just around the corner — meaning it’s time to be on the lookout for weather conditions that allow you to apply grass seed. So secure your seed and calibrate your spreaders.
What conditions are you looking for? Choose a time when:
there’s no snow cover
nighttime temperatures are predicted to dip below freezing and …
days begin to warm.
Ideally the forecast will also call for snow — snow that will push the seed into the ground while also protecting the seed from marauding birds. When that snow melts and is absorbed into the soil, it also helps pull your seed down through the crowns of existing plants, further increasing seed-to-soil contact.
Freeze-thaw cycles can affect soil dramatically, opening crevices and ridges that seed can slip into and will later collapse, maximizing seed-to-soil contact. Photo Credit: Joellen Lampman
Choose which seed to apply by your expectations for each field. Will your athletes be on the field in early spring? Then apply the quickly germinating perennial rye at a rate of 6 lbs./1000 ft2. If you have fields that won’t be used until June or July, apply Kentucky bluegrass at a rate of 3 to 4 lbs./1000 ft2. There will be some loss due to seed mortality, so these rates are 50% above conventional rates.
Your IPM benefits? Dormant seeding allows you to avoid cultivating the turf when the soil is too soft and wet to work. It saves fuel and equipment costs, too. And getting this turf management practice out of the way early means you’re better set up for the busy field season. Best of all, the seeds you apply in winter can germinate two to three week earlier than those applied during a conventional spring seeding — and your grass will be better able to face the onslaught of spring weeds and athletic cleats.
A New York law essentially banning pesticide use on the grounds of schools and day care centers has been full effect since 2011. The letter of the law states:
No school or day care shall apply pesticide to any playgrounds, turf, athletic or playing fields, except that an emergency application of a pesticide may be made as determined by the county health department or for a county not having a health department such authority as the county legislature shall designate, the commissioner of health or his or her designee, the commissioner of environmental conservation or his or her designee, or, in the case of a public school, the school board.
Questions about the law still abound. Here are the most common questions we receive:
What areas are affected?
The inside of this child care center’s fenceline falls under the Child Safe Playing Fields Act.
Besides the playgrounds, turf, athletic or playing fields clearly stated in the law, playground equipment and fence lines around athletic fields and tennis courts are included.
The following areas are left to local discretion, but with the understanding that the intent of the law is to reduce children’s exposure to pesticides:
Areas around buildings
Ornamental plants such as trees, shrubs, and flowers
Pesticides used inside of schools or day care centers, or to protect a structure, are not banned.
Family day care centers are exempted.
What if a fence line is managed by the surrounding landowner (such as childcare center on a college campus)?
The law applies to the interior fence line that encloses the play area (the side that children may contact). The law would not apply to the exterior fence line.
If a park hosts school athletic events, such as games and practices, must it be managed under the law?
What pesticides are banned and are there any exceptions?
Pesticides are substances intended to prevent, destroy, repel, or mitigate pests. They include insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, rodenticides, and plant growth regulators. All EPA registered pesticides are banned by this law for use on grounds at schools and day care centers, with the following exceptions:
Antimicrobials such as bleach
Aerosol sprays (18 ounce or less) to protect from imminent danger from stinging or biting insects
Insect and rodent baits in non-volatile containers
Products containing boric acid or disodium octaborate tetrahydrate
Note that all of the above exceptions (except bleach) must be applied by a NYS licensed pesticide applicator. Any off label use of a product – such as the use of bleach, road salt, or home remedies to control a pest – is illegal under state law.
Is there a provision within the law to add additional materials to the exempt list?
No. A change would require either the EPA to add to its 25B list or the NYS legislature to pass new legislation.
While clover does not provide the traction and stability of turfgrass, it is considered a repetitive pest problem and not an emergency under the law.
Can you tell me more about these emergency exemptions?
Under the law, a public school can seek permission for an emergency application from their school board. Non-public schools and day care centers ask the Department of Health in the case of emergencies that threaten public health, such as ticks, or the DEC for those significantly affecting the environment, such as an invasive species.
While the law does not indicate what might be construed as an “emergency”, the Guidance document states pest issues are NOT emergencies if they are:
manageable with allowed products and practices
a routine or repetitive pest problem
purely an aesthetic issue
We are used to dealing with the DEC on pesticide issues. Besides deciding on emergency exemptions for environmental issues on private school and day care grounds, what is their role in the law?
The Department of Environmental Conservation, in consultation with the State Department of Education, State Department of Health, and the Office of Children and Family Services has written guidance for alternative management of turf, but has no role in enforcement.
Where can I find help in managing my grounds without the use of pesticides?