Grass seed selection can facilitate “zero pesticides” sports field maintenance!
After weighing the advantages and disadvantages of natural vs. synthetic turf for sports fields, you decided to choose natural grass. But you still have to adopt a more ecological approach to sports field maintenance! Grass seed choice is a crucial step, as was discussed at a Paysalia conference by Jean-Marc Lecourt, President of the SFG (the French turf professionals trade association), accompanied by SFG executive committee members Pierre Jolly and Julien Bouffartigue, who explained how to manage these problems!
The “zero pesticides” approach to sports field maintenance, an extension to the French Labbé law
Although sports fields are not targeted by the Labbé law (see our article on this French regulation), which limits the use of plant health products in public places, the “zero pesticides” concept is increasingly popular. Climate change is a fact and an emergency, like the need to protect biodiversity. The trend is resolutely turned towards more ecologically-friendly sports field maintenance, recognized by the creation of the French label Pelouse Sportive Écologique (Ecological Sports Field label) in 2009.
A teaser for public authorities. In 2017 only 1 in 10 did away with pesticides in the maintenance of their stadiums and sports fields (1). Natural grass is used on 28,000 playing fields in France, 21,000 of which are for soccer.
We need to change our approach to balance out playing quality on the turf, the well-being of players and environmental protection – in other words, adopt preventive rather than curative methods. For Jean-Marc Lecourt “the first step in prevention for your turf in a sports field is choosing the right grass seed species and variety”!
Choosing the right grass for the right turf is an art
There are two selections to be made – the species of grass and the variety within the species to ensure resistance to trampling, laying time and resistance to diseases… grass experts examine every detail!
As Jean-Marc Lecourt told us, “The quicker a variety takes, the fewer the adventitious (unwanted) roots. This makes it possible to limit the use of fungicides.” The search for the “right” seed is based on complementarity and involves mixing different grass seed varieties.
A meticulous task, as it takes about fifteen years to develop a new variety and bring it to market, despite increasingly high demand. Innovation in this field is subjected to “must” biological rhythms in particular those required to meet exacting norms to enter the official French catalog. Grass seeds for sports fields are certified and their germination, varietal identity, analytical purity and low weed count properties strictly controlled…
However, genetic progress does not mean you can ignore good practices when laying down a sports field! Managers must accept that even resistant species will turn yellow in summer, the result of a natural protection process. Public authorities can also agree to mix legume, pea, or bean family plants into their grass seeds, for example small clover.
Finding the right grass seed for your sports field
As each seed species has its own benefits and drawbacks, your choice for your new turf is guided by several parameters:
- the type of ground (soil type, degree of use)
- the kind of games played on it (duration of use, sport(s) played on it)
- watering quality
- the level of fertilization.
The choixdugazon.org website was recently launched (with its version for English-speaking countries turfgrass-list.org) to help public authorities create sports fields. Many criteria are listed including resistance to trampling and some diseases. Although the choice of a grass is vast, the most commonly used varieties are perennial ryegrass, tall fescue and meadow grass.
Jean-Marc Lecourt says, “A good grass seed mix exploits the complementarity of its components. The right mixture will stay dynamic over time. For example, ryegrass settles in more quickly than fescue, but in dry conditions fescue ensures better continuity than ryegrass.”
Adopting this approach when creating a sports field makes it possible to reduce the use of plant health products considerably during maintenance. And that also guarantees they are environmentally-friendly, in particular in urban environments – the carbon collection capacity of a turf ensuring good health is an undeniable plus for public authorities!
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