Tips on how to best air out your turf

Editor’s note: This article is from the archives of the MSU Crop Advisory Team Alerts. Check the label of any pesticide referenced to ensure your use is included.

The spring rollercoaster of wet and dry conditions continues to persist across much of Michigan. For those areas that received a nice dumping of rain this last week, you may notice that in poorly drained areas where the soil may be staying saturated for several days, the turf may be looking a little brownish or yellow. There are several reasons for the discoloration , but one of the main reasons is impairment of the root system.

It doesn’t take long once the soil is saturated for soil oxygen levels to decline and root hairs to begin to die. As the turf’s root system becomes impaired nutrient extraction and water uptake will be limited and the turf won’t look emerald green anymore. The solutions, of course, are rather simple assuming you can do some earth movement or cut in drain lines to help take the water away. However, in some situations neither of these options may seem realistic. One simple practice that can help the turf in these areas, but will probably not completely eliminate the problem, is core aeration. Of course, before you start thinking of a core aerifier going submersible in these soggy areas, you need to let them dry out. Core aeration will help get air and, most importantly, oxygen to the roots and it may also help water infiltrate quicker into the soil thereby preventing puddle formation.

Typically the “best” time of year to core aerate lawns is in the autumn because it is more likely the soil will not be too moist and it also gives the turf plenty of time to recover from this rather invasive procedure during the cooler temperatures of the autumn. However, for those trying to manage turf on soils that have a high clay content, I often recommend that they core aerate both in the spring and the fall and maybe even in the summer if the weather conditions are not too extreme in terms of heat and drought. Core aeration will increase oxygen in the soil, facilitate rooting, improve water infiltration, and can gradually over time reduce thatch.

Things to keep in mind before coring any turf area

Do you have an in-ground irrigation system? Be sure to know where the sprinkler heads are located. Also be aware of any other underground lines, e.g., invisible dog fence wire. Normally, these lines should be buried deep enough to avoid any trouble, but it never hurts to double check.

Dr. Frank’s work is funded in part by MSU‘s AgBioResearch.

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