October 2014

SportsTurf provides current, practical and technical content on issues relevant to sports turf managers, including facilities managers. Most readers are athletic field managers from the professional level through parks and recreation, universities.

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Page 30 of 51

hours from harvest, the big rolls of sod arrive at Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals Major League Baseball team. There they are unloaded and installed as the stadium's new playing field surface. For 3 days straight, trucks make the drive from Colorado to the Midwest, and the process is repeated again. Two days after the field is completed, St. Louis gets its first hard freeze of the winter. The fragile new sod will stay frozen until nearly March. In April, the Cardinals play their 2014 home opener against the Cincinnati Reds winning 5-3, and the grass doesn't miss a beat, performing as well as the players. There are about a half-dozen sod farms within 30 miles of Busch Stadium. So why did Billy Findley, head groundskeeper for the Cardinals since 1998, ship sod from a farm some 800 miles away? "The main reasons we work with Graff 's Turf Farms are they're easy to work with and their growing medium is the closest to the sand here at the stadium that we can find. They grow on a very sandy soil and you need that so you don't have a layering effect or interface issue. They have a very sandy soil, they have a great product, they grow great turf," Findley says. "We'd have to truck it in from somewhere. It's hard to find the sandy soil that you need here in St. Louis." Graff 's Turf Farms also grows a new blend of bluegrass, called HGT (short for Healthy Grass Technology) that Findley was eager to have on his field. HGT Bluegrass is a bluegrass blend developed by Barenbrug USA, a turfgrass seed producer based in Oregon. The grass is licensed for sod production through Sod Solutions, out of Mount Pleasant, SC. Findley says that after he did his research, he was interested in grassing his field with HGT because of its reported resistance to summer patch disease and for its wear tolerance. In tests conducted by the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program between 2005 and 2010, HGT was found to have the lowest incidence of summer patch and fastest coverage rates—in total earning better ratings in 16 key indicator categories—over all other bluegrass varieties tested. "Summer patch is a disease we struggle with in St. Louis because of the warm, humid months. It's tough to find a cultivar that fights summer patch. Once you have it, you never get rid of it. You toler- ate it because it's a soil-borne disease. You can't control it, but you can keep it at bay so it doesn't take over your field. The fact that the HGT was a summer patch tolerant variety was very enticing to us. Having the HGT not as susceptible to the summer patch, we still have to apply fungicides against it, but in the back of your head you know you've got something that's a little more disease tolerant," Findley says. The grass was also rated to have increased heat tolerance and a quicker recovery from wear. The combination of those two strengths made a big difference to Findley. "The heat tolerance in bluegrasses is fairly low. One person I heard deem HGT as a 'tropical bluegrass,' so I thought, 'That should be able to grow great in St. Louis!' Heat tolerance is very important. July and August are pretty miserable here. The nighttime temps never cool off and bluegrasses generally stay stressed. HGT's ability to stand up to the heat was great," Findley says. Prolonged heat can also take its toll on wear recovery. "During the hotter months, I've found that bluegrasses wouldn't recover as well. Recovery was supposed to be one of the benefits of the HGT. So in the hotter months, late June, July, and August, nighttime temps don't get that cool. Bluegrass usually uses those nighttime temps to recover from the heat of the day but they don't recover as well because we don't cool off. The HGT was supposed to recover on those warmer nighttime temps, and it's done that for us," Findley says. With all of its benefits, Findley says the decision to plant the field with HGT was easy. Sodding, rather than seeding the field, how- ever, was a matter of timing. Findley says it would not have been practical to try to seed his field. There just wasn't enough time at the end of the season to allow seed to germinate before winter. October 2014 | SportsTurf 31 The back of the 4-foot harvester with two harvested rolls on the back of the machine. "That's another benefit. You can seed right into it and not worry about any weird consolidation where it will have different patches of color," Findley says. "That's very beneficial. "

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