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The 5 Steps to a Great Lawn!

Over the next week or so, I'm going to put up a basic course on getting a lawn that's in balance and results oriented with minimal care, like professional turf managers would use. I decided to break it into pieces as I began to write the first couple of sections and saw how long they were getting on their own. Will this be the end all, be all of growing turf? No, I don't think so, but if you are in need of getting a basic understanding of how some of the commercial properties you see always look so healthy with rarely anyone working on them, you will find this series of interest. The focus will be on the basics and reducing costs and labor while still getting enviable turf. As always, you can visit for discussions and even more in depth articles and resources. Wade in, it's just 5 parts and once you learn these, you will find yourself spending a lot less time fighting the turf and more time enjoying it!

Here will be the sections I will make available starting with Aerate right here.

  • Aerate
  • Fertilizer
  • Water
  • Mow
  • Weed Control

Gravity. Water. Foot traffic. Snow. Mowing. All these things are conspiring against you every single day to pack your soil tighter than tight. Clay, loam, sand, it doesn’t matter, eventually your soil will be too compacted to let your turf roots “breathe” or let water and nutrients make it to your root zone. Turf, like most plants, thrives in a soil that it can stretch out in, pushing it’s roots out into a complex network to utilize water, soil and nutrients. When your soil is compacted, the plant may spend too much energy trying to push through that tough soil instead of directing it towards new vegetative growth. In gardens or on farms, we get the chance to till and add organic material after each season to the soil to keep it loose and maximizing growth. In turf, we have no such luxury and so must approach loosening with a special method known as aerating or aerifying. The idea is to poke thousands of small holes in the turf soil, allowing water and air a larger place to get into the root zone. A pitchfork, spiked shoes, rolling spiker barrels and such are some of the methods used to this end. A better way is the core aerator. This uses a hollow metal spike to punch the ground and lift a soil core out with the spike each time it enters the ground. The cores fall on top of the turf and when this method is done with a power machine or a large tow behind, it can leave thousands of small cores on top of the turf. Why is this a better method? Spiking theoretically is pushing the soil down around the hole, in effect, making a hole with even more compacted edges. Coring slices and lifts the soil, allowing the soil near the cored area to loosely settle back into the hole. The name of the game is loosening the soil and that is why core aeration is favored by pros everywhere.

So what to do with all those cores, do you need to rake them up? No. Unless you are managing a golf or ball field that cores can affect the travel of a ball on the turf, there is no need to remove cores and in fact, as they break down, they can become part of a new, looser top layer of soil rich in organics. An improvement for your turf. Depending on how heavy your soil type is and local weather conditions, cores can be on the turf for a week to three weeks before drying out and breaking down. I favor using a mulching mower to explode cores once they have dried for a few days which dramatically speeds the break down of the aeration cores.

Thatch- A little thatch layer on a lawn is beneficial, helping to hold water and shade the soil along with housing beneficial organisms in the turf. The problems begin when thatch gets excessive from over watering, fertilizing or improper mowing and begins to block water, air and in extreme conditions, sunlight from the leaf surface of the turf. Aeration speeds the breakdown of thatch by allowing air and water to penetrate the layer and enable the natural decay of the thatch layer. On the majority of vertical growing turfs, this is all that is needed beyond proper cultural practices to keep thatch at a healthy level.

Aeration bonus- The thicker lawn. That’s right, poking holes and removing small parts of the grass actually results in thickening the lawn. Here’s why. Most turf grass generates new leaf blades by rhizomes and/or stolons, above and below ground root runners. Each time one of these is cut, it in effect makes a new growing point, much like pruning limbs back to a growth nodule does for trees, shrubs and roses. In a dense network or roots, one core may slice dozens of these points, resulting in new blades generating at the end of these cuts. New grass blades in an optimally roomy atmosphere, thousands of times over throughout a lawn. Also, by loosening the soil, water and fertilizer will make it in a higher percentage to the root zone where it can benefit your lawn, reducing runoff and waste, allowing for less of both to be used, saving money and cutting environmental pollution.

Ok, so now you see what aeration can do for your lawn now the question is how and when. Well, the how depends on how much of a do-it-yourselfer you are. Machines can be rented from many rental yards, there are step down coring two prongs available for tiny turf areas and of course, most real lawn services will have the machines to do it for you. The “when” depends on your soil type, traffic conditions and where you live. In most northern states, snow load will take it’s toll on turf and when it melts away, that’s a great time to relieve that compaction and pull deep cores out of that still wet soil. Heavy clay soils or soils that are subjected to a lot of foot traffic from people or dogs may need multiple aerations per year to keep them in top condition. So now you know, get that soil open and start reaping the rewards!