Well groomed turf, nicely mown, weed-free and clearly in the peak of good health is every turf manager's wish. But can time spent scarifying and aerating be justified when the sparse amount of money available has to be shared between so many seemingly equally important tasks?
At a time of declining membership for many golf and sports clubs, any means of sustaining and perhaps increasing footfall through facilities must be taken seriously. Keeping greens and sports pitches in their best condition is vital in maintaining current membership and attracting new. But even at sites such as country clubs, hotels and conference centres, the landscape aesthetics and quality of the lawns can do much to persuade corporate and private bookings alike. Money may be tight, but turf-care practices can help to bring in the punters - or at least stop them from going elsewhere.
With machines to suit all budgets, The Grass Group managing director Tim Merrell suggests that scarification could offer golf clubs, sports facilities and other turf managers the opportunity to cut costs when renovating turf in the spring.
"The industry is being encouraged to move away from quick fixes and return to good husbandry. Clearing out the turf in the spring is an excellent example of this. Well-timed scarification can encourage healthy growth, tackle disease and make the turf less susceptible to attack by pests, as well as potentially saving on chemical and fertiliser costs," he says.
Scarifying is especially important after a hard winter where snow and cold temperatures cause turf to die back and create ideal conditions for fungal activity. Scarifying in the spring will take out the dead areas along with moss, resulting in a clean turf where overseeding and fertiliser or top-dressing applications can be more effective.
"Fertilisers and top dressings can get caught up in the mat of thatch and moss rather than benefiting new growth, and later in the season it will soak up rain or irrigation water like a sponge," says Merrell. "A clean sward makes the best use of nutrients, water and air throughout the growing season. Scarification can have a dramatic effect on turf at a key time of year as air gets into the sward, stimulating vigorous growth."
Thatch can also harbour pests such as wireworms and chafer-grub eggs, whereas strong spring growth means that they have nowhere to go. Merrell suggests: "Making best use of fertiliser and minimising the need for pesticides not only helps to cut costs but is also better for the environment. We have neglected the benefits of mechanical controls in recent years and it is an ideal opportunity to go full circle and get the best out of turf by encouraging optimum spring growth."
For greens, tees and other areas where light and compact machinery is needed, The Grass Group offers the ATT TMSystem with easy-swap scarifying reel and cassette options for greens, triples and fairway mowers. Tractor-mounted scarifiers for fine turf include the Rotadairon ED130 dethatcher and Trilo VCU verticutter and scarifier collectors.
Many turf problems are, however, rooted more deeply. And this is where aeration comes in - relieving compaction, improving water infiltration and drainage, and connecting the lower levels with the air at the surface for gaseous exchange.
Aeration undertaken at the right time can maximise the playing season and restore healthy growth to turf by breathing life into the soil. It can also be an aid to soil improvement by replacing pulled cores with fresh root zone material.
When it comes to kit, there is no shortage of models to choose from and this year sees more entering the market. The Coremaster Xtreme range of aerators, for example, has joined Campey Turf Care Systems' line-up to offer a robust tool that is easy and quiet to operate.
The new-design Xtreme features the latest aeration technology to ensure perfectly vertical holes are produced with no distortion or disturbance at the surface. Xtreme 8 is suited to greens and fairways, while Xtreme 12 is sufficiently powerful to aerate a full fairway yet offers the precision needed for greens and tees. Quick-change tines give a choice of hollow, solid and quadra-tines. With a coring swath of 1.56m, Xtreme 12 can cover 50,000sq ft per hour.
Taking the tried and tested ShockWave principle and applying it in a moderated form to fine-turf playing surfaces, the new Imants GreenWave from Campey is a lightweight, tractor-mounted linear decompactor suited to compact tractors of 24-30hp. Using 8mmthick, forged steel blades, GreenWave works to a depth of 150mm over a width of 1.2m.
At IoG Saltex in Windsor last September, BLEC introduced a PTO-driven, 2m-wide decompacting machine for sports field work. Aimed at contractors and local authorities, the Shakervator requires a tractor of 50-100hp and has hardened steel blades to penetrate the ground to a depth of 300mm while using a vibrating motion to shatter the earth and create fissures. Blades can be spaced with nine at 20cm spacing or five at 40cm spaces. The gearbox design creates the vibration with a forward and reverse capability.
For areas such as cricket squares, the new pedestrian 75cm Plugger PL855PRO from DJ Turfcare is easy to transport and handle. It features hydrostatic drive and has a crank-powered design to punch holes with hollow or solid tines.
Estate and garden use
But it is not just cricket squares, golf courses and pitches that are getting the aeration treatment these days. Groundsman Industries reports that its 345HD professional aerator, well-known in bowling and cricket clubs throughout the UK, has now found its way into estates and gardens where the machine's rugged construction copes with stones, bricks or even old foundations below the surface.
The aeration tines are driven into the ground vertically with a heavy-duty sealed bearing crankshaft with a shock-absorbing mechanism. Woking to a depth of 130mm, the 345HD can be matched to solid, hollow or cluster tines.
The newest aerator to come to market, Quad-X's Tractor Aerator, has been designed with parkland, pasture and paddocks in mind.
With models ranging from 2m to 6m, each with three, four or five blades on a disc, these machines are built to customer specification and will work to a depth of 250mm.
Quad-X points out that compaction in soils reduces grazing potential. Aeration, says the company, allows nutrients to move freely through the soil and makes fertiliser application more effective. This brings us back to the point that scarification and aeration can help your facility achieve its potential and save money.
Who uses what on the grounds care circuit
Blackburn Rovers FC head groundsman Steve Patrick is a Charterhouse man, having just replaced his 14-year-old Verti-Drain 7316 with a brand new 7316.
Today, Patrick predominantly uses the aerator on the main ground at Ewood Park. But with 1.6m working width for high output, the machine is also deployed at the club's academy and senior training centre facilities. The pitch at Ewood Park is aerated four-to-six times during the season as part of a carefully-planned programme.
"If you have your own machinery as opposed to using contractors, you can pick and choose the ideal conditions in which to operate," says Patrick. He finds the Verti-Drain easy to use, operator-friendly and simple to mount and demount from the three-point linkage on the tractor.
Meanwhile, at King William's College - a leading independent school for ages three to 18 near Castletown on the Isle of Man - long-standing issues with poor surface drainage on the playing field were experienced by head groundsman Mike Atherton.
"We carried out several tests in early 2011 and poor infiltration rates due to a dense thatch layer were identified as the main cause," Atherton explains. He found the answer in the Imants Rotoknife from Campey Turf Care Systems.
A linear aerator designed to relieve surface compaction, improve aeration, reduce thatch and remove surface water, the Rotoknife is a fast machine that allows deep or shallow slitting. Atherton used the aerator intensively as part of the winter renovations.
He says: "Several benefits have already been noted, with thatch levels decreasing rapidly, thickening of the sward, increased root depth and improved surface smoothness all evidenced to date and surpassing my expectation."
Kirkistown Castle is Ireland's most easterly 18-hole golf course. According to course manager Paul Lappin, his new Wiedenmann Terra Spike GXi8 HD not only has speed and efficiency but also saved his committee from having to buy two separate machines and upgrading the tractor.
"It's a bit faster and wider at 1.8m than others we considered. Being on a sandy site without many rocks or stones, it's just as effective on the fairways as the greens, so I can choose to use it anywhere," says Lappin. "Had we gone for something at 1.5m to suit the greens, then I would have needed another aerator at 2m for the fairways and then had to upgrade our perfectly good Kubota L4200 tractor. As it is, the GXi8 HD is an ideal fit and now the tractor is really paying its way too."
Massey Ferguson's Sports & Social Club in Coventry hosts cricket and football and is situated on a clay plane, with the clay just 15cm below the topsoil in places. In winter, head groundsman Bob Stretton assists water percolation by using a Sisis Maxislit.
Chosen to alleviate compaction and consolidation, the Maxislit helps to move water through the soil profile. With a 1.8m working width, the slitter is suited to multiple pitches.
"Slitting also gets air into the soil profile, keeping it in good condition and encouraging growth when temperatures rise in the spring," says Stretton. The Maxislit is pulled by a 40hp MF1540 compact tractor.