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Breaking down Washington's decision to re-sod FedEx Field for MNF vs. 49ers

We take a look at Washington's re-sodding efforts at FedEx Field, and what it all means.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

One of the big storylines late last season was the problematic turf of FedEx Field. Washington's appearance in last year's playoffs brought the issue to the forefront. The team had planned to re-sod the field during the season last year, but missed out. This year, the team's schedule allowed for a re-sodding leading up to Monday's game. Washington played at FedEx Field on November 3, and then played back-to-back road games at Minnesota and Philadelphia. That opened the door for re-sodding to take place.

Washington posted this video of the re-sodding. It's not quite "watching grass grow", but it's as close as most of us will get! I wrote about the re-sodding two weeks ago, and in the comments, grasshugger7 was able to chime in with some useful information. He has experience in grounds-keeping, which makes him perfect to expand on this topic.

I got in touch with him over the last week, and he was able to provide some great information. As far as his background is concerned:

I received my degree in plant sciences from the University of Maryland, and soon after began working in the golf course construction and renovation business. I then attended the University of Maryland Institute of Applied Agriculture to further my education and focus in on the specific business of turfgrass management. I am back in the golf course business currently renovating and reconstructing a country club in New Jersey. As for experience with field maintenance, during three years at UMD I was a member of the field maintenance staff in which I learned the process of re-grassing fields of several different sports including football. I'm glad to help you put some worries to rest. I am anxious for the game, if the sod starts coming up in the first quarter I will be thoroughly embarrassed! hahaha, but I am confident there will be no problems.

I emailed him the video I linked above, and he had the following to say:

Cool video, they really got after it. It looks like it took them two days. At some point they will overseed the entire field with perennial ryegrass, a cool season grass that germinates and establishes itself in less than a week and holds a deep green color through the winter as the bermudagrass goes dormant and fades to brown. With three straight home games it may take several seedings to make sure the plants survive each game.

They started the process with a machine called the Combinator, essentially a sod stripper with a very high level of accuracy. Judging by the size of that machine, it has either 74 or 96 individual blades that make a precision cut just under 2 inches below the surface of the grass. As the video shows, they are hauling that debris away in trailers. The machine is designed to keep a very accurate level, using its weight and a patented pendulum system to cut out any irregularities and maintain the existing grade. As that machine is doing its job, maintenance workers are following behind with grading rakes to smooth out anything from between passes and pick up any grass left behind. They will also add a sandy/peat mix to any areas that are noticeably low. I didn't see them fertilize the area, but they most likely did so with a organic fertilizer with a balanced analysis of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous.

Sodding comes next, looks like they are using 4' by 30' rolls which will help reduce the amount of seems. They are using 'Latitude 36' Bermudagrass, which was developed at Oklahoma State University and began commercial production in 2011. This sod is being grown at a sod farm in Maryland's eastern shore. 'Latitude 36' earned the Top Bermudagrass Award from the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program, the grass finished at or near the top in every category from overall turf quality, color, traffic tolerance, leaf texture, and scored particularly well in winter kill percentage and frost tolerance. It is bred this way, science is cool right? The group of guys gathered around the machine that is laying the sod are using nail rakes to pull the sod in tight to the previous row. The roller begins rolling the turf, flattening and forcing contact with the existing soil to introduce the roots to their new home. That roller weighs over 3000 lbs. The next morning, it seems they noticed a couple week sod pieces and had them replaced. They will probably cover the field with those tarps on the cold nights to keep the heat in and frost out, encouraging root growth at the same time.

To put a time table on full establishment would be very difficult because it is almost entirely based on the weather, which has been just fine for the past two weeks. But common bermudagrass is by far the quickest turf to establish when growing in the wild, it is very safe to assume this genetically designed to be efficient cultivar is well rooted as we speak.

I think it is worth noting also that this past off season, FedEx Field went through a complete renovation. They excavated the entire field down to the base, added a carefully selected 12 inch sand layer to improve drainage, and installed a new drainage system on the sidelines. The field, like all fields even artificial, has a crown to it that is hard to notice but does the job of forcing water to the sidelines. I don't know what else they may have done to the field in terms of heating or sub surface drainage. There are fields in the NFL that have piping for miles running just underneath the surface that can be heated, if there is an idea to improve turf health it has most likely been thought of and implemented somewhere. Also worth mentioning is that the NFL has hired independent field inspectors to inspect each field before each game. However, this same program was in place last year, FedEx was inspected and passed just before the game that is causing all this fuss.

Big thanks to grasshugger7 for his thoughts on this subject. It's not something people are talking about, but it is pertinent to this coming Monday's game. We'll see how the new grass works out at FedEx Field.