Spring is the time for us as turfgrass managers, to start thinking of the new season that will be upon us in just a few short months. It is an important time to prepare the turf for the stresses of the summer heat, and relentless pest pressure. To prepare the turf, we use a combination of cultural practices including the most important one, core aerification.
The turf grows in a unique environment, getting nutrients and life support from the soil. An ideal soil system is 50% insoluble material, while the other 50% is made up of 25% water, and 25% oxygen. If you noticed, I mentioned “ideal.” Over the winter months the soil has become saturated with water, and since the insoluble material cannot be displaced, oxygen is pushed from the soil system, leaving the turf in a less than desirable situation.
With that being said, as turf managers, we must core aerify the turf. The goal is to balance the soil’s three part system, while also removing unwanted thatch created by the natural attrition of the shoots, roots, and stems. The process also enhances nutrient uptake while the plant begins the root driving process. You can see the full process in this video. We remove about 10% of the turf’s surface each time. To offset thatch buildup, removal of 20% of the surface per year is recommended by the USGA. That gives us the reasoning behind the need of twice per year. Click here for the recommendations of the USGA.
Core aerification is a disruptive process. Playing conditions are typically affected for a few weeks, depending upon weather. An application of fertilizer, one week before aerification day, will get the plant growing rapidly. Expect reduced green speeds coming into aerification. The day of aerification, after we have filled the holes completely with sand, we will apply another application of fertilizer. The purpose of increased fertility during this process is to speed up the healing process and give the plant the nutrition it needs to grow roots.
A not so uncommon question that is asked, "will skipping greens aerification cause problems?" My answer to that question has been, if the process is skipped repeatedly, then problems begin to occur that are not easily corrected. My analogy to help understand this answer is; if you are healthy and you eat french fries once, it will not majorly affect you. If you begin eating french fries at every meal, then you are looking at combating major health issues, even after you get back to your healthy diet.
Justin C. Ruiz | CGCS, MG | Indian Summer Golf & Country Club