Airing it out

Turf would be a lot easier to maintain if no one ever walked on it, played on it or drove heavy equipment over it.

But except for the cranky guy down the street who constantly hectors the neighborhood children to stay off his lawn, no one realistically expects turf to remain unsullied by footsteps and tire tracks.

The traffic on turf, especially in wet conditions, compacts the soil and eventually diminishes the health of the turf. Over a season, the soil becomes more compacted and can't get the air, water and nutrients it needs to maintain healthy turf and achieve proper root growth. Compacted soil on sports fields can also lead to more injuries.

Aeration can help alleviate the problem. A turf aerator uses tines, spikes or blades to punch or cut into the surface and create room for air and moisture-or sand or other topdressing- to penetrate to the turf roots.

"Typically, you want to aerate twice a year-in the spring and fall," says Chuck Greif, national sales manager for John Deere's Golf & Turf Division. "It opens up the soil and relieves compaction. It allows air and other topdressing to change the structure of the subsurface."

Aeration also benefits turf by removing some thatch, improving the penetration of fertilizers and pesticides, and improving surface drainage. It also makes application of topdressing more effective.

Punch, plug or slice Aerators have various ways to penetrate the soil. Hollow tines can punch holes in the surface vertically and remove cylindrical cores of soil. Open spoons attached to a roller remove soil when they are pushed or pulled across a field. Some machines have the option of adding weight to the unit to achieve better soil penetration.

The length of the tines, spikes or blades used varies depending on the needs of your field or golf course and how deeply you want to penetrate the soil.

But coring in this way may in some cases lead to a condition known as glazing. When a core is removed, the sidewall of the resulting core hole may become glazed and instead of providing access to the root zone, it seals off access.

Another hazard of core aeration is creation of a hardpan layer. Over time, a surface that is aerated many times with the same equipment at the same depth may create a compacted soil layer below the aerated level. In those situations, you may want to use deep-tine aerators to aerate through the hardpan layer.

Other machines use soil-shattering units. Instead of pulling soil out in cores, the units push the dirt and spread it sideways and downward.

Summertime relief Greif says that using shatter-core aeration, or spikes or blades can be beneficial during the summer. The soil becomes compacted after months of play on a golf course and the heat won't let moisture penetrate to the roots. The slicing or spiking isn't as disruptive to a golf course or field as core aeration would be.

Sports fields and golf courses typically need large-scale aeration units that can cover great-er amounts of surface in the shortest time. These units are usually attached to a tractor, either in front or back.

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