Friends of Francis Field

Planting Grass for a Green and Safe Environment

2017 Experiment for Central Field Underway

Posted October 4, 2017

When the board of directors of the Friends of Francis Field (FFF) agreed in April 2016 to try again to improve the central playing field with private funds, the field remained largely bare dirt in the center, as it had for many years. A photograph taken at that time is shown below.

bare dirt field, 2016An agreement was reached with the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) eleven months later, on March 1, 2017, which would allow FFF to make improvements to the field using private funds. DPR also agreed to close the field for nine months, from June 19, 2017, to March 17, 2018.1

We knew that our private landscape contractor would have to decompact the central area of the field, where years of hard use and lack of maintenance has made the soil so hard and dry that almost nothing would grow.

But the job was made harder and more experimental by three factors.

The first was the time frame we were given: the hot Washington, DC, summer was the worst time of the year to plant grass. The second was the Environmental Protection Agency's regulations concerning "soil disruptions" of certain sizes and locations. The third was the lack of running water on the field. We found that even the drinking fountain we had installed in 2010 was no longer working.

Thus we did not want to turn up, or plow, an entire field of bare soil in the summer. We decided instead to use a "Verti-Drain" tine-driven aerator to break up and decompact the soil without completely turning it over. (The equipment, pulled by a tractor, is shown in the photo at right, below.)

tractor Our only water supply was a spigot on the outside of the Francis Swimming Pool. By putting a series of sprinklers on battery-powered timers, only one would fire at a time, but each of the five would have sufficient water pressure.

If this approach failed, at least we would not wind up with a larger area of bare dirt because of our attempt to plant in summer with inadequate irrigation.

By the middle of July we could see that the grass was germinating, but not entirely winning out against the chickweed in the center field, which was evidently enjoying the plentiful water and thriving. However, the weed cover was fully native and natural; it prevented water run-off; and it appeared safer for play than the bare dirt that had existed for the last 20 years. (See "Neglect" article on this website.)

By the end of July, the District of Columbia had agreed to our need for running water, and approved to a plan to run a line from the swimming pool to repair the water fountain, and to install two new field hydrants. This involved digging up part of the field to install the lines.

holes in fieldThe series of holes that were dug to install the new water lines are shown in the photo at left, which also indicates the green appearance of the field provided by the new grass and the invigorated weeds.

During August, the new holes were planted with grass. The new hydrants gave us additional water pressure which allowed us to add four more sprinkler towers (in addition to watering the trees we planted in May (see "Tree Planting" story.)

Additional rows of snow fence were also added to support the message that the field was closed, both to league play and casual use.

September 2017 turned out to be a fairly dry month, with only 1.43 inches of rain, compared to the normal September rainfall of 3.72 inches. Thus, the sprinklers needed to be run during the entire month.

Another planting and fertilizing will take place in October. The field will remain closed during the fall and winter to allow the grass to grow, settle, and mature. Plans are to open the field to permit holders on March 17, 2018, for the spring season.


01. District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation, "Exhibit A: 2017 Partnership Plan," Modification to the Cooperative Agreement Between the Friends of Francis Field and the Department of Parks and Recreation, March 1, 2017. [ FFF web pdf ]

Copyright 2017, Friends of Francis Field.