What is the difference between scarifying, verti-cutting and grooming? And do I need to do them all?

These three turf maintenance operations vary in their objective, the depth to which they are performed and the machinery used to carry them out. Whether you need to do any or all of them will depend on the species of grass in your turf, the condition of the sward and the function of the area.

Scarification penetrates the surface - into the soil or root zone - in a raking or scratching action to remove fibres, debris, thatch and moss. It is not an operation commonly carried out on winter games pitches, largely because of the grasses used, but can be of benefit where a layer of fibrous material has built up and is beginning to cause problems with water infiltration or during renovation work prior to top-dressing. Thatch build-up is particularly noticeable where there is a prevalence of annual meadow grass, in fine turf and where the grass is mown regularly and cut low.

The simplest way of removing thatch and other debris is with a wire rake - a springbok type being the best. For productivity, there is a wide range of pedestrian-operated and tractor-mounted equipment. These may have fixed-knife or flail-type tines for use where the material is thick and matted or wire tines where the material is more fluffy or mossy. During scarification, lateral grass growth can also be controlled.

Sisis of Macclesfield is one firm specialising in the production of equipment for scarification. It makes the Rotorake walk-behind unit for use on greens, tees, cricket squares, tennis courts and ornamental lawns. For larger areas, Sisis offers the Rotorake TM1000 and Veemo tractor-mounted scarifiers.

Verti-cutting, or verti-mowing, uses a machine fitted with blades that reach vertically into the turf canopy and are set to a depth where they can achieve their objective of cutting through lateral stems. The blades may also dislodge a small amount of thatch but should not penetrate into the soil or turf root zone.

Grooming goes less deep than verti-cutting and is really a light combing action. Usually carried out prior to mowing, grooming units can be fitted to the front of cylinder mowers where they serve to lift prostrate stems ready to be cut. It is important to make sure groomers are set at the exact required height before using - and remember, the setting may vary with the season. To avoid damage to the groomer blades, it is wise not to use groomers for several days after top-dressing applications have been made.

Many manufacturers of cylinder mowers offer grooming sets as an optional extra. If you are looking for versatility in your turf maintenance kit, there are cassette systems, such as TurfWorks and Maredo, to fit popular brands of greensmower.

Dennis supplies quick-change (around 15 seconds) FT cassette systems based on its 43cm, 51cm and 61cm walk-behind mowers. They have 12 different head options, including scarifiers, verti-cutters, brushes, spikers and slitters as well as fiveor nine-bladed cutter cylinders. Built on the same principle, Dennis's G660, G760 and G860 have working widths of 66cm, 76cm and 86cm and come with sixor eight-bladed cylinders.

Before scarifying, verti-cutting or grooming operations, it is always worth testing a small area to check the setting and performance of the machine.

- Sally Drury has reported for HW and its forerunner GC&HTJ for 27 years and has spent more than five years testing machinery for HW and What Kit? The advice in this helpline is independent.

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