We are coming into the hottest time of the year, bringing with it a new set of challenges. Many players and coaches might start to complain that the infield surface is too hard and firm, causing playability issues. Read on to find tips, tricks, and appropriate strategies to keep your skin safe and playable all summer long.
First and foremost, keeping moisture in the skin is the best strategy no matter what type or level of infield skin surface you maintain. Applying water at night or later in the day, will give it the best chance of getting down into the profile and staying there for as long as possible. Hand watering is the best method of watering because you can control and regulate the amount of water being applied, but certainly takes the most time. Sprinkler heads also work very well, although sometimes difficult to achieve consistent coverage over the entire infield. This, in turn, causes parts of the infield to receive more water than others. If you have a sprinkler system it is best to have a separate zone that is dedicated to the infield skin surface and to keep a close eye on the system so that parts of the infield do not get flooded. Set the irrigation system times so that it keeps enough moisture in the infield without over saturating any areas. This is key and will also minimize the amount of time needed to hand water. If possible, it is best to avoid watering during the hottest parts of the day because you will lose much of the moisture that you have just added due to evaporation. An effective method for determining if you have enough moisture in the surface is the “key test”. If the moisture level is correct, you should be able to push a key down into the surface with minimal resistance and minimal material left on the key. If you cannot get your key into the skin, you need more moisture.
Having an appropriate topdressing or combination of topdressings will also help you maintain the infield skin in a few different ways. An expanded shale product will help keep moisture sealed down in the infield soil longer than a skin with no topdressing or only a calcined clay product. This is especially important during the summer months. A calcined clay product will not only absorb moisture from rain events, but when there are limited rain events it will absorb moisture from the infield skin surface, further drying out the infield. It is best to have a blend of both products on your infield. As a general rule of thumb, you will want to start your season with about a 50/50 blend and add more expanded shale to the surface during the summer to help keep moisture in your infield. The topdressing will also help to maintain a sliding surface for the players. The DuraEdge staff recommends a minimum of 1/2lb per square foot as a coverage rate for the topdressing.
There are certainly many complexes that do not have access to water for their infields. But not to worry, there are still strategies that you can employ to avoid having your infields get too hard and compacted if water is not available. Having the right equipment is important, and at a minimum, screen dragging your infields after each day of play will assist in keeping the topdressing and infield mix spread evenly. Nail dragging between a depth of 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch on a regular basis will keep a loose layer of infield mix and topdressing on the surface to provide a softer surface for the players. Nail dragging too deep, however, can change the grade of the infield, create too soft a surface, and in the event of a popup thunderstorm, allow the infield to remain wet for a longer period. Your infield may be a little dusty when dry, but this is still better than a hard, and perhaps, unsafe surface.
Releasing compaction from your surface once or twice in the summer is another method to avoid allowing the surface to get too hard. This is best achieved using Profile blades instead of scarifier teeth or a nail drag. The larger Profile blades can be set to penetrate an inch or more under the surface, thereby releasing the compaction from below with minimal surface disturbance. It is best to do this before the infield skin becomes too dry and compacted or after a rain event, otherwise, it will be difficult to engage the blades into the skin surface and you will not be able to achieve the desired results. Many people try to release the compaction from the top surface down. This aggressive method will end up shattering many of your larger particles, therefore changing your overall soil profile. Typically, it also negatively affects the surface grade. The Profile blades are an attachment on the ABI Force and ABI rascal infield groomers.
The home plate and mound areas also need attention in order to keep them playable during the warm season. Since these areas typically have mound clay to withstand the high traffic areas, they are susceptible to drying and cracking out quickly. Daily moisture is critical, as well as covering these areas with the appropriate size tarp, if possible. Tarps help seal the moisture in, while keeping excess moisture out. Moisture from irrigation or rain events can over-saturate the clay. Keeping this unwanted moisture out will, in turn, decrease the amount of time needed for maintenance.
For more information on these techniques, feel free to contact a DuraEdge representative.
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