While establishing your new lawn with the most sensible grass varieties and providing adequate supplies of fertilizer and water is very, very important for building a beautiful lawn, in the long run, your follow up annual maintenance schedule is equally important. In other words, creating a nice lawn involves one set of activities but keeping the lawn thick and healthy year after year, requires just a few additional steps.
Often overlooked by homeowners who have an otherwise well-planned lawn program, physically removing cores from the soil can make are real and positive difference in the overall health of the lawn. Here’s how:
- Core aeration, removing small cores of soil every two or so inches across the lawn, opens up the soil, improving fertilizer, air and water movement into the top three inches of soil, where they are taken up by grass plants. Over time, especially healthy lawns build up a layer of dead but undecomposed plant parts at the soil surface. This layer, referred to as “thatch”, can form a choking barrier, preventing fertilizer, air and water, from reaching grass roots.
- Core aerating, once per season, will alleviate the problem. By pulling not just “thatch” but actual soil plugs about the size of your little pinky finger from the lawn, aeration helps to break up and minimize soil compaction, which, if unattended, can choke out grass roots, leading to a general thinning of the lawn.
- In addition, when the “thatch” layer is opened up, soil micro-organisms, now exposed to nutrients, air and water, become much more active, helping to break down “thatch”.
Especially in play areas and other high traffic locations, core aeration is definitely required. Because of the compacting impact of continual foot and equipment traffic, golf course tees and putting greens are core aerated multiple times each season. And, while this extreme measure is not required on home lawns, the principle remains the same. For a healthy, thick lawn, annual aeration should be in your lawn plan.
Core aeration vs. “de-thatching” the lawn – For decades, well-meaning gardeners and lawn enthusiasts have paraded across their lawns with a machine called a “de-thatcher”. This machine, rather than pulling small soil plugs from the lawn, using spring loaded wire tines, scrapes through the lawn, tearing up the thatch layer.
After extensive university research at nearly every turf school focusing on home lawn care practices, it was learned that, while “de-thatching” cut through the thatch layer, and did create a colossal mess, the overall integrity of the blocking thatch layer is not significantly affected. The net result is that lots and lots of clean up work is required and the soil, compacted and blocking nutrient, air and water movement to grass roots, is not touched and minimal, if any, long term improvement noted.
Our recommendation is to have your lawn core aerated and skip the labor intensive, less effective “de-thatching”.
Availability of aerators – Core aerators can be rented all nearly all equipment rental outlets. These are cumbersome and very heavy machines. We do not recommend renting aerators unless you have a realistic method of transportation, with loading and unloading ramps, and are prepared to wrestle a bulky piece of equipment weighing several hundred pounds. It is not unusual, to find homeowners in the emergency room, there to have bones set and gashes stitched up, the result of losing a hands-on match with a lawn aerator. Recommendation: let the pros handle this one!
Often overlooked until your lawn takes on a faded, sickly look, are soil amendments. Usually caused by an over or under-abundance of soil acidity, grass growing in soils with too much or too little acidity cannot take up and use the fertilizer nutrients you pay for an apply. When healthy growth, a dense turf and rich color cannot be sustained, think about adding a soil amendment.
Adding lime – Soils east of the Mississippi river tend to be acid. That is, they register below 6.5 on a PH [potential acidity] scale of 1.0 to 14.0. Grass grows best at around 6.0 to 6.5 on the pH scale. While a soil test will identify and confirm how acid your home lawn soil is, it is probably not necessary to go through the soil testing process. A professional lawn care operator, especially one with experience, will know, in advance, where acid leaning soils are located and make the right recommendation for your lawn.
When you schedule a lime treatment, it should become a part of your annual lawn care program. This annual application will help “sweeten” the soil and keep it that way year after year.
Adding sulfur – West of the Mississippi, in cities like Denver Colorado, soils are more alkaline. When soil alkalinity pushes levels much above 6.5 or 7.0, as in the case of excess acidity, the grass cannot take up and utilize nutrients to maintain turf density, health and color. Again, your professional lawn care provider has the solution. Annual applications of soil acidifying sulfur. If your western lawn is off-color, it makes sense to schedule this amendment as a regular part of your lawn program.