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Understanding soils

Sports turf managers are charged with providing cost effective, safe playing surfaces for athletes. The challenge is to create a uniformly dense turf cover that provides sure footing and one that is able to tolerate and recover from the extreme wear and tear to which high-use fields are subjected to.

Although newer, properly designed fields may be constructed to handle more intense use, many school and community sports fields were built on existing “native soils” that are often less than ideal.  These soils may or may not have the best properties for sports field use but in many cases can perform well if managed properly.

Soils are made of varying amounts of:

  • Mineral solids - grouped into 3 main categories based on particle size; sand, silt, clay
  • Organic matter - material that originates from living organisms
  • Water - essential for soil and plant life and enables plants to take up nutrients
  • Air – that provides the oxygen required by plant roots and soil organisms to grow and function
  • Micro-organisms – including bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes, nematodes, etc.
  • Macro-organisms – including earthworms, insects and millipedes

To say "the life of the soil" is important is an understatement. The life of the soil (micro and macro-organisms) helps maintain soil structure, suppress some plant pests, breakdown organic matter, mineralize and recycle nutrients, fix nitrogen and detoxify pollutants. Turfgrass management practices that support the “life of the soil” include: using organic amendments, maintaining adequate water and nutrient levels, improving soil porosity and limiting the use of pesticides.