The maintenance programme for any turf area will be a balance of different practices and operations — of which scarification is just one. But it is an important one. The aim is to physically rake out the thatch that accumulates at the base of the stems and to remove the creeping, straggly and coarse growth of grasses and weeds.
Thatch is turf managers’ nightmare. Let it build up and it restricts the penetration of moisture, can cause differential drying patterns, affect ball roll and bounce, and favour undesirable species and even moss invasion. Scarification will lift accumulated thatch and control lateral growth. Think of it as invigorating the turf by giving it a good scratch.
Some turf surfaces are more likely to need scarification than others. Bents, fescues, smooth-stalked meadow-grass and annual meadow-grass are species that tend to rapidly develop fibre. Ryegrasses, on the other hand, are not so prone to thatch build-up but scarification should not be ignored here, especially if the ryegrass is growing in association with other species.
Scarification treatments by their very nature tend to be quite destructive. It is, therefore, important that such treatments be carried out when grass growth is vigorous to aid recovery. This generally means carrying out scarification in the early autumn or spring.
For efficiency, it is necessary to choose the tools and equipment appropriate to the size of turf to be treated. An economic solution to scarifying the smallest of areas is to use handheld equipment like the springbok rake. This is scarification in its simplest form but it can lift a surprising amount of debris to the surface when a downward pressure is applied to the rake as the steel teeth are drawn through the sward.
Larger areas will require the use of powered equipment — pedestrian operated scarifiers being suited to lawns, greens, tees and other fine-turf areas, while scarification on pitches is completed more efficiently with tractor-mounted units.
There are several important factors to consider when looking for a new scarifier. Since this is only one job among the many pressing jobs that need to be done, it is important to find out how fast different scarifiers will operate. Most manufacturers’ brochures will give details of coverage and speed to enable you to calculate how long the job will take. For large areas, including pitches, a fast operating speed and a good working width are necessary.
As with most turf care equipment, speed must be balanced with performance. The fastest kit in the business is no use if it fails to do the job required and to the standard desired. Remember that best results on undulating ground, especially golf courses, will come from machines with floating heads.
Scarifying kit will be required to work to the appropriate depth, depending on the site, conditions, degree of thatch infestation and the frequency that the operation is undertaken. It is important to choose a machine that is quick and simple to adjust for depth control. Blades should also be quick to change or replace. Find out whether there are additional reels to extend the use of the machine for verticutting and grooming.
When you are scarifying, you want to lift out sprigs of thatch and creeping growth. Setting the blades too low will not lift out any extra thatch — it will just put more strain on the kit and wear out the blades. The key to removing deep thatch is to carry out scarification more often and vary the direction of operation.
Look at the choice of blades offered with the machine. As a general rule, narrow blades of one or two millimetres are used on fine turf and blades of two or three millimetres are used on outfield turf. The type of turf should also be reflected in the choice of blade spacing, with 18mm or 20mm spacing being appropriate for fine turf and 25mm or 30mm spacing for outfields. Remember that scarification can be destructive — more so if the spacing between the blades is too close.
Scarifiers can pull out a lot of debris so thought should be given at the start to how the material will be gathered. Efficient debris removal is essential for effective operation. Boxed collectors are available for many machines but it is important to check how easy they are to empty onto a heap or into a trailer or skip. An alternative is to use a powered sweeper after scarification.
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