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Spring Turf Prep
Guidance from Industry Specialists

By Bryan Ostlund, Grass Seed USA; Steve LePera, Schiller Grounds Care

In core aeration, there are two primary core patterns: straight line and staggered. Both patterns will aerate the turf grass effectively so long as the holes are spaced evenly apart in any direction. Professionals suggest a two- to three-inch tine pattern. When in doubt, test a small area in a crisscross pattern and measure the distance between the holes with a ruler or your thumb.
Photos: Classen (except where noted)

Even though most lawns across the county are still dormant, and many even covered with snow, it's not too early to give thought to preparing and repairing your customers' lawns when the weather warms in your area. Following are tips/reminders of best practices from turf specialists.


Tine Wheels - The quantity of holes produced by a powered core aerator with tine wheels, which are circular disks that have numerous tines on them, is only determined by the number of tines on the wheel, the number of wheels, and the distance between them along the shaft. LC/DBM research of some of the top brands found that most wheels have six tines and the distance between the tine wheels ranged from 3.8" to 4.75".


Tine Rods - For machines with tine rods, which are mechanically or hydraulically driven in and out of the ground, the quantity of holes produced depends on the distance between each tine rod; the rate of reciprocation, or how fast the rods go up and down; and how fast the unit is traveling. Machines with tine rods set close together, a high rate of reciprocation and a slow travel speed produce a large quantity of holes. But no matter how high a reciprocation rate and how slow the machine travels, if the rods aren't close enough together, you may have to do a couple of passes to produce a proper core pattern.


Accounting for an average half-inch thatch layer, aerate at a depth of at least two inches to relieve soil compaction, and allow an additional half an inch to create a growth pocket to promote deeper existing root growth. Heavy traffic areas with deep rooting systems may require deeper aeration from time to time, while other areas may only tolerate shallow aeration. Using an aerator that allows for easy depth adjustment provides flexibility on the go. Core depth must be monitored. Make a first pass and pick up a few cores to ensure consistent depth.

Aerifying improves drainage and prepares the soil for seed in the northern U.S., where cool-season grass is dominant. Warm-season grass does not need annual aerification, but if a lawn suffered a drought-induced dormancy period last summer or fall, core aerification can stimulate growth and improved surface coverage, according to Clint Waltz, Ph.D., of the University of Georgia.

There are several types of mechanisms used to penetrate the soil. Vertical slicers or slit aerators use thin blades to reduce surface area compaction. Spike tine aerators feature solid shaft tines to relieve the compaction found in transplanted grasses like sod that have a relatively shallow layer of grass root and soil applied over sandy or porous basins. Core tine aerators have hollow shaft tines that remove a plug or core of turf, thatch and soil to instantly relieve soil compaction.

Most landscape contractors, turf care professionals and golf and sport field superintendents in the United States use core tine aeration over all other methods.

Professionals surveyed determined quality of core to be a combination of three factors: core quantity, core depth and core pattern.

While all three factors were considered statistically significant in the final survey results, landscape contractors put more emphasis on core quantity as a productivity factor, where turf care professionals and superintendents put more emphasis on depth and core pattern.

Core quantity is determined by the number of tines, tine spacing, rate of operation and to some extent, the tine drive mechanism - the two most commonly used in powered core aerators being tine wheels that rely on weight to penetrate the soil and reciprocating tine rods that rely on force to penetrate the soil.

Proper core depth is vital in alleviating soil compaction. Achieving a depth of two to three inches is sufficient to relieve most soil compaction and give the root system room to grow. The compaction area in turf grass soil runs about an inch and a half deep.

Core pattern is considered by many turf care professionals to be the most important factor. The proximity of the tines to one another, not just in the distance between the tines along the shaft but also the distance from one tine tip to the next on the wheel or the distance traveled before the tine rod once again punctures the ground is the core pattern.


Seeding - Selecting the right seed based on region, the amount of sun and water a lawn will receive during the summer, and then seeding early enough to allow the grass plants to develop longer roots before the temperatures warm up are two of the best practices advised by Grass Seed USA, a national coalition of grass seed farmers and academic turf specialists whose mission is to inform and educate about the benefits of grass and best practices for responsibly growing and maintaining healthy turf.



When choosing an overseeder, recommendations include turf tread floatation tires that offer stability on hills, minimize soil compaction and eliminate tire ruts; tight blade placement (inset) for providing the best seed coverage, resulting in a thicker turf because there's increased opportunity for the new seed to reach the topsoil; and productivity-enhancing features, such as a hydrostatic drive, which provides variable speed in forward or reverse so operators can adjust their speed for the job's soil conditions, reducing grueling muscle-work from having to manually push the machine.

Choose the right seed based on your region and how much sun and water a lawn will receive during the summer. For example, Alec Kowalewski, Ph.D., of Oregon State University advises that, in the northern United States, sunny lots that are irrigated should have "a seed blend with a high concentration of perennial ryegrass. Irrigated but shady lawns will do better with fine fescue. If you do not plan to irrigate, use tall fescue."

Seed early to allow the grass plants to develop longer roots before the temperatures warm up. "The earlier in the year... the more time the turf will have for root development before summer," says Aaron Patton, Ph.D., of Purdue University. A lawn with healthy roots will not only draw water from deeper in the soil but will also be better able to fend off summer annual weeds. When overseeding, the machine used can have a big impact on the results, so it's important to choose wisely. Be sure to take a look at the seed box. If it's positioned too low, moisture on the grass may cause seed in the hopper to clog the opening, resulting in an uneven spread or no spread at all. A floating seed box ensures that no matter how uneven or bumpy the terrain, seeds are planted at a consistent and optimal depth, resulting in dependable results. When seeding on hills, consider an overseeder that can be locked in place at multiple depths for effective coverage.

Select a model that has a clear lid on the seed box so operators can immediately detect if the seed is clumping or if the box is empty. Some units also feature a seed dial and an instruction chart on the overseeder that allows operators to set the machine for the desired grass seed type so no seed is wasted.

Turf tread floatation tires offer stability on hills, minimize soil compaction and eliminate tire ruts.

Maintenance and support are two more areas to consider. One area to reduce maintenance time is on the bearings.

Greasable cast iron bearings on either side of the blade shaft require minimal maintenance and last longer than non-greasable cast iron bearings. Also, look for blades with a cutting edge on both sides for double the service life. Lastly, look for a reputable manufacturer that provides easily accessible resources, such as educational information, operational manuals and phone support for quick answers to any challenge.


Before the grass begins to grow in the spring, Daniel Sandor, Ph.D., of the University of Arkansas recommends that the turf be mowed slightly shorter than normal, which will remove dead leaf blades and other debris, reduce shading of the emerging plants and serve to warm soil temperatures more quickly.
Photo: Altoz


North Carolina State University's Grady Miller, Ph.D., advises to apply a pound of nitrogen per thousand square feet several weeks after the grass turns green.

Don't fertilize too early. Grady Miller, Ph.D., of North Carolina State University recommends applying a pound of nitrogen per thousand square feet several weeks after the grass turns green. Be sure to follow the fertilizer manufacturer's application guidelines carefully.

Irrigate appropriately. North Carolina State's Miller recommends watering to a soil depth of four to six inches. To see if a lawn needs to be watered, try pushing a screwdriver into the soil. If the screwdriver penetrates easily, the soil probably has enough moisture; if it goes in with difficulty, it's likely time to water. For lawn irrigation recommendations specific to your region, contact your county extension agency.

Mow to the right height. Generally, you never want to cut more than a third of the blade height at a time, as cutting too much can stress the lawn. Before the grass begins to grow in the spring, though, you can mow the turf slightly shorter than normal to remove dead leaf blades and other debris. "This practice will reduce shading of the emerging plants and serve to warm soil temperatures more quickly in the spring," says Daniel Sandor, Ph.D., of the University of Arkansas. "Begin mowing regularly when the grass turns green in the spring and reaches the desired mowing height."

Here's wishing all of you a productive, relatively trouble-free season of keeping your customers' turf healthy and beautiful.


Photo: Ryan

Adding Aeration to Your Business
by Tony Weber, Schiller Grounds Care

Aeration is a maintenance service that will not only improve the quality of turf for your customers, but increase your revenues as well. The season for aeration is early in the mowing season and late in the mowing season, helping to extend your total season billing hours to your existing customers.

Aeration is also an opportunity to attract new customers. While the need for aeration is not new, consumer awareness of its benefits is on the rise. Once a customer realizes that aeration can dramatically improve the quality and health of their turf, they will likely continue this service as a normal treatment each spring or fall.

Cost of entry requires a minimal investment and the payback for the equipment is short. You can start with a low-cost, walk-behind product and as your customer base expands, you can then move into larger ride-on equipment for higher productivity.

Aeration can be sold on multiple benefits: as part of a normal maintenance package for healthier, greener turf, or as an individual renovation practice to reduce recovery time from damage due to compaction, drought or winter kill. You can also sell it for a secondary benefit of reducing thatch with less disruption than the typical process.

You can promote the aeration process as having a longer lasting benefit than even fertilization (which has to be repeated several time a year). When done in the fall, it helps promote rigorous root growth, improving the turf's ability to handle winter, which promotes a shorter, healthier green-up in the spring. It enhances the drainage quality of the turf and since you're improving its root structure, it also helps reduce watering requirements while increasing resistance to disease.

Simple flyers that you can leave with existing customers explaining the benefits and costs are an effective way to promote aeration. And add a note to your invoices or send clients an email prior to aeration season. To attract new customers, consider advertising in your service area and add signage to your trucks and trailers.

Offering aeration shows a customer that your business promotes total turf maintenance - that you have the tools in your toolbox to provide healthier, better looking lawns - helping your company become a more complete turf maintenance business.

As seen in LC/DBM magazine, February 2018.

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December 7, 2019, 4:27 am PDT

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