Topdressers are dressed up with accessories

Golf is not the only sport that requires a uniform turf surface. Lots of sports use topdressing to level existing turf and achieve a uniform surface. However, not only do you level the surface when you introduce uniform layers of sand, sand/soil or sand/compost mixes, you also promote healthie r turf growth.

But what types of materials should you use? Most golf-course superintendents prefer sand or sand/soil mixes, while sports facilities typically topdress with a variety of materials, including sand/compost, calcined clays and crumb rubber. Because soils also differ from one part of the country to another, it's best to contact your local cooperative-extension office to determine the best material for your site's specific needs. Give careful consideration, too, to your choice of supplier. Make sure it can produce the same material over and over again for years to come. After all, the success of a topdressing program depends on the uniformity of your material and your applications.

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Determining material needs How much topdressing material do you need? You can calculate the amount using the following formula:

Square feet x depth in inches x 0.0031 = cubic yards

For example, if you have a 5,000-square-foot surface and you want to apply 1/8 (0.125) inch of materials, you need 2 cubic yards of material:

5,000 x 0.125 x 0.0031 = 2

In another example, if you have a 50,000-square-foot surface and want to topdress with 1/4 (0.25) inch of materials, you need 39 cubic yards:

50,000 x 0.25 x 0.0031 = 39

To determine the depth of the material you want to topdress, you must keep in mind how often you topdress, the type of turf you maintain and what you want to achieve. Golf courses, for example, often topdress greens as many as 12 times a year at 1/32 of an inch, in addition to aerating up to 3/8 of an inch. Other sports surfaces, however, generally topdress only twice a year with from 1/8 to 3/8 of an inch of materials after aerating. More aggressive programs (for rebuilding crowns, modifying soil profiles and leveling surfaces) can require additional frequent applications.

Making equipment choices What kind of equipment will work best for you? Look at what you want to accomplish: a light application on a green? Topdressing on one football field? Or applying materials to 48 soccer fields? Consider that you may need a variety of topdressers. A golf-course superintendent who maintains greens, tees and fairways may have a different type of topdresser for each.

Basically, you can categorize topdressers as slinger-type, versatile-type and large-area applicators.

* Slinger-type applicators. You'll typically see this type of topdresser used on greens. It quickly delivers a light topdressing and includes a hopper that holds less than 1 yard of material. It performs a 1/32-inch application from 15 to 30 feet wide. These units are available in two styles: spinners and pendulum. The spin-type-which can throw material up to 30 feet wide-works best for lighter, more frequent applications on large areas. For rebuilding and soil-modification projects, use the drop-type spreader. These units allow more variables in their depth of application (1/32 to 3/8 inch of material) although they are less productive than the spinner or pendulum type.

* Versatile-type applicator. You'll also see this type of topdresser used on tees and greens because it can spread from 1/32 to 3/8 of an inch deep at up to 5 feet wide. These types offer capacities of about 1 yard, which leaves a lighter footprint. This type also typically has a tighter turning radius and is also available in a self-contained/self-propelled model.

* Large-area topdresser. This type of topdresser performs similar to the abovementioned units but with a greater material capacity-up to 4 yards. You'll often see these used on fairways where superintendents need to spread even larger amounts of materials.

Making purchasing decisions Understanding your specific needs is important in choosing a topdresser. Consider these questions: * How much area are you topdressing? The amount of area you plan to topdress is one factor that determines the size of topdresser you need. If you are topdressing a lawn-bowling area, a back yard or a small, elevated tee, look for a smaller, 13-cubic-foot-capacity unit. These units offer greater maneuverability with their compact size, plus you don't need a tow vehicle to transport them. If the area is larger-such as on a green, tee, baseball or football field, look for a tow-type or utility-truck-mounted topdresser. Most units in this size range from 18 to 26 cubic feet in capacity. Most topdresser manufacturers have designed these hoppers for easy filling using a front-end loader or skid steer. On even larger areas-such as fairways, multiple soccer fields and multiple sports complexes-you'll need a 4-cubic-yard-capacity topdresser. A note of caution with the larger topdressers: The turning radius requires greater room. Therefore, if your football field has bleachers close to the playing surface, you'll have difficulty maneuvering large units, which often are 12 to 14 feet long without the tow vehicle.

* What kind of tow vehicle do you need? The 13-cubic-foot-capacity units are typically self-propelled and don't need a trailer. For smaller, tow-types and truck-mounted units, a standard 1,500-pound-capacity utility vehicle will do. Larger-capacity units require a tractor between 30 and 40 hp. The reason for such a large tractor is two-fold. First, topdressers of this size require a PTO to operate, with an operating PTO hp of about 35. Second, and most importantly, consider safety. Units of this size weigh-on average-3,500 pounds. Add topdressing material of 4 cubic yards at 10,800 pounds, and you're topping 14,000 pounds altogether. However, despite their great size and weight, manufacturers have done well in achieving a light footprint with these large units.

* How much time will an application take? Consider that an average sports-field application takes 1/8 of an inch of material. A football field requires 21 cubic yards of material. Therefore, a tow-type or truck-mounted topdresser will take about 2 to 3 hours to topdress if you already have the material on-site. A large-capacity topdresser on the same field takes 1 to 2 hours. You can easily load either of these types of units using a front-end loader. However, golf-course superintendents primarily topdress 18 greens in less than 3 hours spreading 144 cubic feet (6 yards) of material. The driving time on a golf course is the major factor, because material normally is located at one end of the property-and most properties range between 100 and 200 acres.

Speed, efficiency and accuracy are what you need in a topdresser. With the variety of machines on the field today, select the largest machine appropriate to your job to save labor and time. Superior turf is a result of a good management plan. Therefore, proper planning to choose the appropriate topdresser requires careful consideration.

Monty Montague is western regional sales manager for Turfco Manufacturing Inc. (Minneapolis, Minn.).

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