QUESTION: My yard guy has told me in the past that if I would aerify my lawn, everything would work better and look better. My problem is that it seems pretty expensive to do this each year when my grass looks good most of the time. What do you think?
ANSWER: The quality of a lawn can be somewhat limited if only the basic maintenance practices of mowing and fertilization are implemented. There are additional maintenance practices that are needed to take the quality and health of your lawn to a higher level. Aerification is definitely one of those practices.
Reducing soil compaction, especially if clay makes up the majority of your growing medium, can be extremely important to having a lush, healthy lawn. Very few homeowners understand soil compaction or the hazards it presents. Diseases, insects, improper watering and/or lack of fertilizer are often blamed for a lawn's decline when the real problem is soil compaction. The problem starts when the soil particles in the top few inches are compressed from traffic and overuse, reducing the air space between them and thus impeding the flow of air, nutrients and water to the turfgrass roots. This causes stress to the turfgrass, making the lawn less able to compete with weeds and recover from damage and stress. In time, a compacted lawn will require some form of renovation. Soil compaction can also contribute to other lawn problems such as thatch accumulation and weed invasion.
If you conclude that you have a soil compaction problem with your lawn, the solution is very straightforward: you need to initiate soil aeration as part of your lawn maintenance program. Soil aeration can be performed in several different ways, from using a potato fork or pitchfork to using a mechanical aerifier. The most effective type of soil aeration is called core aerification, in which cores of soil are removed mechanically, leaving holes in the lawn. This aerification procedure loosens compacted soil and increases the flow of water into the soil. Some other benefits include enhancing oxygen levels in the soil and stimulating new turfgrass growth. Soil aeration is generally used to correct a soil compaction problem rather than as a routine maintenance practice. However, if the desired lawn quality is quite high, you should consider implementing soil aeration as a routine maintenance practice every year.
The best time to aerify a lawn is when the turfgrass plants are actively growing to allow for their rapid recovery. The best time to aerify a warm-season turfgrass lawn is during the summer. The best time to aerify cool-season turfgrass lawns is in the early spring or fall.
David Hubbard, REA-Hanna Center
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