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Six Principles of Turf Care

With a steady stream of visitors from 6:00 am to 1:00 am daily, Central Park's turf gets heavily used without a lot of time to rest. In fact, urban parks everywhere experience similar stresses on their turf, even if they don't receive the 42 million annual visits that Central Park does. Guided by our mission of stewardship and effective management principles, the Central Park Conservancy has developed a set of horticultural practices to maintain healthy, attractive turf under the most challenging urban park conditions. In the busy summer season, the following Six Principles of Turf Care, which adapt industry standards and university findings to Central Park's environment and level of use, can guide your own turf management for healthy lawns.

Six Principles of Turf Care

  1. Mowing & String Trimming
    Regular mowing is the first and most important practice in caring for turf in an urban park. Properly done, mowing encourages the vigorous growth of grass, reduces weed pressure, and results in safe, visually appealing lawns that indicate to the public that the park is well maintained. During the growing season, the Conservancy mows and trims lawns up to twice a week, depending on the lawn, and leaves grass clippings to decompose and return nutrients to the soil.
  2. Irrigation
    Many turf species survive dry summers by going dormant and coming back in cooler weather. Park lawns that receive considerable foot traffic need to keep growing to recover from extensive wear and tear. Irrigation is necessary when rainfall is not adequate to keep lawns actively growing. The Conservancy's goal is to use the minimum amount of water needed to keep the grass actively growing for the public's use and enjoyment.
  3. Fertilization
    Fertilization provides nutrients for grass to develop root systems and grow consistently, as well as helps lawns recover from regular use and drought. The routine use of proper fertilization, in conjunction with other turf care practices, results in healthier root systems that can better absorb nutrients. This in turn may ultimately reduce the amount of fertilization needed. Soil testing is performed to evaluate nutrient content present in the soil.
  4. Aeration
    Millions of visits, concentrated foot traffic during special events, and back-to-back athletic activities lead to compacted soil. When soil is compacted, water, air, and nutrients may be sealed out. Aeration – creating spaces in the soil by mechanical means – alleviates soil compaction and promotes healthy growth. It opens up the surface of turf, including the thatch layer, and allows movement of air and water into the soil.
  5. Integrated Pest Management
    The turfgrass environment hosts innumerable living organisms, including earthworms, insects, fungi, and microscopic bacteria. Many of these organisms are beneficial to the health of turf, but some can cause damage. The Conservancy utilizes Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to control pests, relying on a range of strategies to keep pests at tolerable levels rather than attempting to eliminate them. Fundamental to IPM is monitoring for pest activity, identifying pests, and understanding the pest's lifecycle. We have continually decreased the use of synthetic pesticides through sound management practices that promote plant health and through integrating biopesticides where appropriate.
  6. Restoration and Renovation
    Managing turf in an urban park requires care beyond day-to-day maintenance. Two essential parts of the continual management of lawns are annual restoration and occasional full renovations. Annual lawn restorations include aeration and overseeding, usually yielding best results when performed in late summer and early fall. Making restoration an annual practice can end a cycle of decline and need for full-scale renovations.

Have questions or want more info on urban turf care? Get in touch with the Central Park Conservancy Institute for Urban Parks at institute@centralparknyc.org and sign up for news about our upcoming Park-to-Park events!