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Wellfield Fall Turf Practices, Part 1 of 5 Part 1: Core Aeration

Cooler air and warmer soil temperatures make late summer an excellent time to implement a number of organic turf practices, so September is the month in which I invest the most time to the grass beneath my feet. The rigors of summer activity have passed, and autumn programs and events have not yet started. There is space to accomplish a lot in a short frame of time, and judging from the number of people asking what I am doing, I realize perhaps there are plenty of readers wondering what we do for our grass.

Before I briefly describe each practice, I throw out the caveat and reminder to all: Wellfield is not golf course or country club where turf reigns supreme. I love a nice lawn like most obsessed Americans, but just maybe not as much, and at the Gardens, I employ a different tactic. We at Wellfield are what I call an “organic preferred” operation, and I am more of a turf hippie in my approach. My goal is not to maintain a pristine, green stand of Kentucky bluegrass with not a weed in sight. My goal is to grow a healthy stand of turf consisting of a robust, biodiverse ecosystem above and below ground. Those pesky “weeds” are welcome in my grass as long as they play nice with everyone else.

Wellfield’s fall turf management consists of five steps:

  1. Core aeration
  2. Compost top dressing
  3. Slit seed bare patches
  4. Granular fertilizer application
  5. Compost tea application

We start with aerating the soil profile. There are a number of good reasons to aerify the soil: from relieving compaction and increasing air content in the soil, to decreasing the thatch layer. We aerate all key lawn areas once a year to relieve compaction in heavily trafficked areas and to accelerate the penetration of compost and fertilizer into the root zone. We utilize two types of aerating practices: core and liquid aeration. There are two main types of mechanical aeration: plug (or core) and spike aeration. Though I still see various tools for spiking the grass, including wearing a pair of spiked shoes with which to walk around the yard, spike aeration is not the best mechanical method.

A core aerator removes a physical plug of soil from the ground, fluffing it a bit, whereas a spike can increase compaction with repeated use. The little sandy plugs may appear unsightly to some, but they quickly disintegrate with rain or a mowing.

Tune in next week, when we will discuss the reasons and methods of spreading compost on the turf.

Josh Steffen
Horticulture Manager

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