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Taft Midway Driller - Taft, CA
  • David Robson: A great time to aerate

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  • What Labor Day weekend means, besides putting away your white slacks and swimming pool paraphernalia, is lawn care.
    Some people emphatically scream, “Labor Day weekend is a holiday weekend. That means doing NOTHING.” And to those we say, that’s OK. Just do the yard work next weekend. Or hire it done.
    For those who want to do it themselves, September lawn care shouldn’t take all three days of the holiday weekend. If it comes close, either you have too much yard, or you aren’t using the best equipment to maximize your time.
    Some lawn care operations mentioned below involve specialized equipment. If you don’t already own the equipment, you should be able to rent it for either half a day or a full day. If you get your neighbors involved, you can cut down the cost on the equipment while doing four or five lawns in one day.
    So if the equipment rental is $100 for the day, it’s now $20 for five people (or if you do all the work, just charge the other four people $25).
    Ideal weather
    Most lawns north of the Mason-Dixon Line are cool-season grasses such as bluegrass, ryegrass and fescues. They thrive when the temperatures are on the cool side.
    Start by wrapping your mind around the notion that Sept. 1 should be the start of the cool-season lawn calendar year. Forget every idea of April or May as the beginning of the lawn care year.
    Granted, it’s hard to do, especially with all the spring advertising coming at you. But science wins out if your mind is open.
    The main reason goes back to the term “cool-season.” These are grasses that thrive when day temperatures are in the 70 to 80 degree range but night temperatures are in the 50s. Throw in an inch or two of water per week and they go to town. Big time.
    The arch enemy of cool-season grasses is not winter’s cold — that does nothing more than cause some dieback of the leaves, while allowing the roots and crowns the opportunity to grow even when the tops aren’t.
    The really baddie is the heat of summer.
    So if you think of Sept. 1 as the start of the lawn care year, you end up with nine months of cool growing conditions before three months of heat and drought.
    In September, think about aerating, dethatching, fertilizing, seeding and sodding. Of these, aerating and fertilizing are the two you must do.
    Aeration
    When you mow the lawn, you see the results. The turf has a nice even appearance. When you fertilize, the grass greens up and becomes thicker.
    When you aerate a lawn, you probably can only visualize the results. In fact, you may not really know you’ve improved the lawn dramatically.
    Page 2 of 2 - Aeration opens up the ground and loosens the soil, allowing for more root growth. That ends up causing more top growth. Coupled with water and fertilizer, your lawn will be thicker than a 1970s shag carpet.
    An aerator or core cultivator is one of those machines you’ll have to rent (or you can hire a lawn care company to do the job for you).
    Look for the machines that pull a plug instead of just punching a hole. A punched hole creates space, but compacts the soil to the sides and below the hole.
    A machine that pulls a plug every two to four inches and about two to four inches deep is the route to go.
    If you aerate on Saturday, mow on Sunday. After one day of air drying, the mower acts like a food processor and pulverizes the plug into fine particles.
    Just make sure the soil is moist before you aerate. Otherwise, it will be like pulling a plug out of concrete.
    Fertilizer
    When you fertilize in the spring, you get lots of top growth at the expense of root growth. This goes against one of the goals of developing a strong root system: to help the turf survive summer’s dryness.
    In the fall, the fertilizing won’t interrupt any root growth. The ground is too hot for roots to grow. So, all the fertilizer effort goes to top growth. When the soil finally starts cooling in late autumn or winter, roots will have all the extra food the leaves have manufactured and begin their growth spurts to help the plant survive next summer.
    Look for a fertilizer with 20 to 30 percent nitrogen, which is the first number listed on the package. If some of the nitrogen is listed as water insoluble, so much the better — you reduce the chances of burning the grass.
    Watering
    Of course, every operation requires moisture.
    An inch or two of water per week is ideal. That will be enough to stimulate grass growth, allow the roots to grow through the aerated looser soil and provide moisture the roots need to absorb the nitrogen.
    If nature doesn’t provide the rain, you’ll have to turn the sprinklers on for at least two hours per week until Thanksgiving.
    If you can’t afford or don’t have the ability to water, look for more water insoluble or slow-release fertilizers.
    David Robson is a specialist with University of Illinois Extension.

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