These are problems that suggest attention needs to be paid to turf-aeration practices. Oxygen is essential for healthy soil and plant growth. It needs to be in the right balance with moisture and nutrients. Unfortunately, heavily-used or poorly-maintained turf will have reduced oxygen levels, along with the associated complications of compaction and impeded drainage. Nutrient availability and uptake will also be affected. The answer is to put oxygen back into the soil.
Scarification will scratch out thatch and keep a surface open, but this is only part of the story. The other part is down to relieving compaction and re-establishing aeration channels, which can be done by making a series of slits or holes in the ground, or removing cores from the upper layers of the soil.
Spoilt for choice
There is a wide selection of aeration machinery and equipment on the market. For starters, there are various hand tools. Laborious, yes, but in the right place something as basic as a hand fork can do a first class job. These or hand-propelled devices, including push-along sorrel rollers, can be useful on small areas of lawns and even in goal mouths.
Then we come to the engine-driven, self-propelled equipment — of which there are two main types. The revolving drum aerator is the faster working of these and is useful for frequent aeration, as a back-up to deep aeration practices or as a quick fix on large areas, when conditions are not suitable for tractor work. Most models of drum aerator will give a choice of interchangeable tines to allow slitting, coring or solid tining as required.
The other type of pedestrian-operated aerator is the vertical-action machine. This type of aerator punches the surface. The process is slower than using a drum aerator, but provides good penetration when fitted with either solid or hollow tines.
Tractor-mounted equipment will prove more efficient where the area to be treated is large and time is of the essence. Again, there is a choice of drum or vertical-action machines, along with different tines for slitting, solid tining or aerating. Slitter knives or solid tines on a revolving drum will give the fastest performance. Many are capable of covering a football pitch in less than 20 minutes and are ideal for frequent treatment. Vertical action machines give effective treatment at a closer spacing and work at a slower pace. Tractor-mounted mole ploughs are also available for working to a deep level, for compaction relief and to aid drainage.
A range of heavy-duty equipment is available for relieving deep-seated compaction. It uses a rotary action, where a series of knives is worked through the ground, often with a ground-shaking movement, or a vertical action such as the well-known Verti-Drain machines. Finally, there is a range of specialist machinery for injecting compressed air or water into the soil.
The main factors affecting buying or hiring decisions include the size of the area to be treated, the depth of soil and what is to be achieved by the operation. Most manufacturers’ brochures will give details of coverage and speed of operation, so you can calculate how long it will take to complete the job.
Different types of tines will give different results. Hollow coring tines are generally used to enable soil exchange, as well as relieving compaction. A plug of soil will be removed and, when followed by top dressing, can be used to modify and improve the root zone over time. It is slow, labour-intensive work and usually involves taking the facility out of play. For this reason, hollow coring is carried out as part of the end-of-season renovation programme. Where the ground is particularly hard, it is wise to use solid tines because penetration is easier.
Size of tine is also important. Smaller tines are generally used on greens because they produce a smaller surface hole. Needle tines are finer still and can be used on fine turf without disrupting play. Chisel tines prune the roots to promote a thicker sward while aerating the soil, but these should never be used on clay soils because they can result in the opening up of slits and fissures.
If there is a choice of tines, the method for swapping one to another and the ease of adjustment for depth control should be checked.
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