How to Make Your Fall Lawn Look Just Like Wrigley Field
Tips and insight from the manager of one of the most famous baseball fields in the country.
Everyone remembers their first time in the stands at a professional baseball game.
For me, it was when I was 8 or 9 years old. The Chicago White Sox were visiting the Baltimore Orioles in Camden Yards. With my hot dog and drink in hand, I walked through the tunnel to our seats and saw the bright green field. My eyes lit up. It was like the scene in The Wizard of Oz when the movie goes from black-and-white to color.
Since then, I've always been kind of obsessed with having a major league-quality yard. The only problem? I never really had a yard to call my own. Since I recently moved into a new home complete with a yard, and with cooler weather approaching (hopefully soon), I thought it was time to get schooled on fall lawn care. So, who better to ask than someone who actually maintains a baseball field for a living? And not just any baseball field either.
Justin Spillman is the manager for Wrigley Field Playing Surface. For those who may not follow baseball, Wrigley Field is arguably the most iconic ballpark in the country and home to the World Series champion Chicago Cubs.
As the Cubs marched towards their first championship in 108 years, the players weren't the only ones under pressure to perform. The field maintenance can actually give the home team an advantage by cutting the grass shorter and putting more moisture on the clay to slow down a fast team. "We're [the grounds crew] the 10th person on the field for the team," says Spillman, who feels the pressure in terms of sod coming up or a ball taking a bad hop off the field. "I just sit there and watch every play and in the back of my mind I'm thinking, 'that's all my responsibility.'"
Spillman works with a crew of about nine to maintain every inch of the playing surface. The grass, which is a four-blend Oregon bluegrass grown in Wisconsin, keeps its green color throughout the long baseball season, thanks to constant fertilization.
"A good fertility program is the key to a green field," says Spillman, who starts in the spring and treats the field every 10 to 14 days throughout the season. "Most homeowners can't fertilize as often because they have clay-based soil and it doesn't percolate as well as Wrigley Field," he adds. The Cubs play on a 100 percent sand-based field (similar to the greens on professional golf courses) that has irrigation underneath that sprays the grass, ivy and warning track.
During the hot summer months, Spillman pumps the grounds with moisture to keep the roots alive, but as cooler weather approaches, Spillman weans off irrigation to avoid suffocating the grass with too much moisture, which can lead to yellow spots.
But you don't have to host a professional baseball team to have a beautiful fall yard. Here are Spillman's top tips for homeowners looking to prep their lawns for autumn:
Aerate. This relieves the compaction from the soil.
De-Thatch. The thatch will hold moisture over the winter and can cause disease in the spring.
Fill in Low Areas. Level them out with top soil and, then reseed them.
Fertilize. This keeps grass green and vibrant.
Apply Weed Control. Liquid weed killers can be helpful for returning pest plants, but don't apply in areas where you'll be reseeding. Some weed killers can keep new seeds from sprouting.
If your lawn has sections that are worn out from summer activities, there's a quick fix for that. Spillman uses a sand/seed mixture to regenerate areas that have been beat up by the players, but he recommends homeowners use a topsoil/seed mixture and spread by hand.
Lastly, if you really want that major-league-ballpark look, you have to have the striping effect, and it's pretty easy to do at home. The trick? Pull the grass away or towards the sunlight depending on the look you're going for. "I've seen people drag a tire or some kind of weighted pipe behind their mower," says Spillman. At Wrigley Field, it takes three to five days to wipe out a pattern and lay a new one down.
With these tips, your lawn will be ready for 'October' (and beyond).