Scarification is a vital part of turf care. But how do you select the right kit for your needs?

Turf could be described as a victim of its own success. We like to walk on it, run on it, sit on it and engage in a variety of sports on it. Grass gives us the most effective surface for landscaping, amenity and sports purposes.
To keep it looking its best and performing in the way we require means the correct levels of management and the right maintenance practices must be in place. It means giving the grass exactly what it needs and ensuring it doesn’t get the things that will harm it.
The aim, whether for green, pitch or lawn, is to produce a good-looking sward consisting of the desired grasses of good health and an erect habit. This is achieved by a balance of operations. Scarification is just one — but a very important one.
Scarification is done to physically rake out the thatch that accumulates at the base of the stems. It also removes the creeping, straggly, coarse growth of grasses, along with weeds and mosses. And we need to remove all these elements because when they build up they restrict the penetration of moisture, can cause different drying patterns, affect ball roll and bounce, and favour the invasion of undesirable species.
As turf managers challenged with maintaining fine turf will know, bents and fescues are two of the species that tend to develop fibre rapidly. Smooth-stalked and annual meadow-grasses are also prone to thatch build up and while ryegrasses tend to be less troublesome, they still need attention when growing in mixtures with other species.
Since scarifying a sward tends to be a fairly destructive operation, most work is carried out in the spring and autumn when grass growth is sufficiently strong to aid recovery. But what type of equipment is best for the job?
Since the spring and autumn are very busy times of the year in terms of turf maintenance, it is essential to choose the most efficient way of scarifying the sward. Equipment should be appropriate to the size of turf being treated.
Small areas can be scarified by applying downward pressure on a handheld springbok rake. For efficiency, it is necessary to use powered equipment for larger areas. There is a wide choice of pedestrian-operated kit for lawns, greens and other fine-turf areas, while tractor-mounted units will be the best option for large areas such as pitches.
It is also important to look at the speed of the equipment. The working width of the machine and the speed of operation are the key factors here, and most manufacturers’ brochures will detail the coverage and speed of individual machines so you can calculate how long the job will take. Of course speed must be balanced with performance. There is no point in racing over the grass at a cracking speed if little or no thatch is removed in the process.

Depth adjustment
It is also important that the equipment can be set to work at the required depth — depending on the site, conditions, degree of thatch present and the frequency scarification is undertaken. Adjustment for depth should be quick and easy. Ideally, scarification should lift out springs of thatch and creeping growth. A scarifier that is set to work too deep does not lift out any extra thatch. It merely puts stress on the kit and wears out the blades. The key to tackling deep thatch is to nibble it away little and often, varying the direction of operation.
It is also an advantage if the blades are quick to change and replace. Choose narrow blades of one or two millimetres for fine turf and blades of two or three millimetres for outfield turf. The type of turf will also determine the best blade spacing, with a spacing of 18mm to 20mm for fine turf and 25mm to 30mm for outfields. Additional reels such as verticutters and grooming reels will help extend the use of the kit and enable a faster return on your investment.
Having an effective and efficient machine is all well and good. Don’t forget to think about how the resulting debris will be removed. Boxed collectors are available for some machines. An alternative is to use a powered sweeper after scarification.
The past year has seen the introduction of several new scarifiers, including the Charterhouse Pilote and Sisis Rotorake pedestrian machines. For use behind tractors, Sisis has developed the Veemo MKII and Rustons Engineering supplies the Rotadarion de-thatcher. MJT Contracts, known for its Trilo vacuum-sweeping technology, has moved into the scarifying market with a range of tractor-mounted machines that scarify and collect in one pass.

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