Monday, June 14, 2010

 

Aeration Timing: Does it Matter?

posted in Aerating

Maximizing results and profits with smart scheduling of aeration services.

While the benefits of aeration have been well proven, many companies still haven't embraced the practice. Whether the reason cited is lack of demand in the market, lack of time to perform the service, or some other rationale, these contractors are missing out on an opportunity to simultaneously increase the quality and perceived value of their services, while increasing their own bottom line.

Spring or Fall Aeration: Which is better?

Traditional thinking has been that fall is the best season to aerate cool season turf, while spring is the season of choice for contractors working warm season turf. In reality, aeration can be beneficial when performed in either season, and that’s the key to integrating it into your service for your customers. Furthermore, in my travels to meet with landscape pros across the country, one thing I've found is that there isn't a region in the United States where overall turf quality doesn’t stand to improve with the adoption of an aeration program.

Perception is Reality

If you’re selling aeration to a customer for the first time, it’s a good idea to give them an aeration treatment first thing following the spring thaw. Cut the grass short, so the aeration cores are easy for the customer to see. Follow-up the aeration with a round of fertilizer and plenty of water. When combined with warmer spring weather and the short initial cut, the grass will quickly jump to life. You’ll have a happy customer that has witnessed first-hand the benefits of aeration in the overall maintenance program.

To make time for spring aeration of new customers’ properties, you can move your existing customers, who already understand the benefits of aeration, to a fall aeration schedule. They will experience the same benefits the following spring, as fall aeration works with winter freeze/thaw cycles to loosen the soil and prepare it to support aggressive turf root development in the spring.

Comparing Aeration Seasons

Fall is considered by many to be the best time for aeration of cool season turf, as the plants are busy enhancing their root zones in preparation for winter. In cool regions, the aeration opens up the root zone, promoting this new root growth, and when aeration is combined with overseeding, or the application of slow-release fertilizer, it helps the turf through winter weather and readies it for new growth in the spring.

It used to be thought that it was critical to perform fall aeration early enough that it had plenty of time to “heal” after aeration. While this practice is preferable, researchers at Purdue University note that aerification as late as November can help alleviate compaction issues with minimal side effects.1

As noted earlier, spring aeration can also be very beneficial. In fact, aeration in the springtime may be more effective than in the fall in some areas where the soil has already been loosened by wintertime freeze and thaw cycles, which makes it easier for the aerator to penetrate the soil.

One concern voiced by contractors I’ve spoken to is that spring aeration will break the turf’s pre-emergent crabgrass control barrier. In practice, this hasn’t borne out to be a significant problem, as long as the turf is good and dense prior to aeration application. In areas where turf is thin, there may be some crabgrass germination, but the benefits of aeration will usually help strengthen and thicken the turf overall.

In warmer climates, spring aeration, when combined with fertilization and watering, helps the turf better withstand the higher temperatures and decreased rainfall that summer weather brings.

Determining The Need For Aeration

How can you tell if turf needs to be aerated? Typically, the best way to determine aeration need is to pull core samples to check thatch depth and compaction layers. You’ll want to be sure to pull at least three inch plugs to get a clear picture of the situation. If you observe a thatch layer of more than one-half inch, aeration will be beneficial to help break down the excess thatch.

Additionally, watering and weed growth can be valuable in determining the need for aeration. If water is pooling where it didn’t before, it could be due to compacted soil keeping water from infiltrating through the soil. Certain weeds such as goose grass, annual bluegrass or prostrate knotweed often inhabit compacted areas. In places without direct sunlight, moss and algae growth can be an indicator compacted soil.

New construction areas can often benefit from aeration. Construction equipment can compact the soil, and aeration helps make it easier for newly-laid sod to develop a solid root zone.

If a property has not been aerated in more than one year, you can safely assume that aeration will help alleviate any compaction that exists, and will help promote the growth of healthy, lush turf.

Bob Brophy is the Director of Lawn Care Products at Turfco Manufacturing. Based in Raymond, Nebraska, Bob actually spends most of his nights on the road, as he travels the United States and Europe meeting with landscape professionals, dealers and distributors. For more than 30 years, Bob has been instrumental in equipment design advancements that increase the productivity and profitability of professional landscape contractors. You can reach Bob at turfcobob@aol.com. For more information on landscape maintenance and renovation equipment from Turfco Direct, visit www.turfcodirect.com.

Cited Literature

1. Reichter, Zac, 2004. Coping with Late Season Drought in Turf –
(http://agry.purdue.edu/tips/2004/cope101.htm)