After this past winter, many lawns could use a pick-me-up.
If your lawn receives six hour of sunlight or more, is growing in a well-drained, sandy-silt soil with adequate nutrients and proper irrigation and minimal thatch, then your lawn probably doesn't need any help.
Most of us, however, aren't that fortunate.
I know you're tired of hearing it, but start with a soil test. Correctable problems can be revealed. Clemson Extension (www.clemson.edu/agsrvlb) or A and L Labs (www.allabs.com) can provide a simple, low-cost analysis of your soil.
Some soil problems, however, cannot be corrected at a reasonable cost. Clay can result in poor root growth while sandy soils are inherently nutrient-deficient. Tree roots and shade further limit turf growth.
While you can't replace all the soil, you can amend it.
Aerification is one of the most effective ways to stimulate turf growth. An aerifier can be leased from a local equipment rental company. Costs range between $50 and $100.
Recruiting neighbors to join in a Saturday afternoon aerification fiesta can defray the cost, since it only takes about half an hour to do a lawn. It's not as fun as cornhole, but everyone's lawn will benefit.
An aerifier is a little larger than a lawn mower. Rotating hollow tines punch holes about three inches deep. The more holes you can make, the better, so go over your lawn two or three times.
The holes increase soil oxygen for improved root growth. The resulting cores can be left on the surface to dissolve or can be broken up with a leaf rake.
If you want to invest more time and money, this is an ideal time to topdress. Quality topsoil can be spread and evenly raked over the surface and into the holes. In some cases, bags of compost can be used on sandy soils to improve organic matter content.
Mushroom compost or cotton burr compost is often recommended. If you have clay soil, do not topdress with sand. This will not improve drainage and, in fact, can make matters worse when clay particles pack between sand particles.
Aerification also will reduce thatch, that layer of undecomposed organic matter that makes a lawn spongy. A little thatch is good, but a lot decreases the tolerance of temperature and moisture extremes.
Thatch accumulation depends on the turf species and growing conditions. It is the direct result of turf growth exceeding soil micro-organisms' ability to decompose it. Anything we can do to enhance microbial activity will help maintain healthy thatch levels.
Aerification not only physically removes thatch, it stimulates microbial activity.
Other things to do to help improve your lawn include:
Avoid overwatering. Saturated soils not only reduce root growth but decrease microbial activity. If you use an irrigation system, install a rain sensor. You also can install a smart controller that automatically adjusts your programs based on weather conditions.
Reduce pesticide use. Pesticides negatively impact microbial activity. Herbicides, in particular, can harm turf roots. Pre-emergent herbicides prevent weed growth, but over-application can cause club-rooting in turf. This prevents roots from penetrating the soil. Consider if you really need the product. If so, follow the label and apply accurately.
Fertilize wisely. Fertil-izer will encourage growth, but too much nitrogen can stimulate excessive topgrowth at the expense of root growth, resulting in shallow roots and increased thatch. Centipedegrass should only receive a half-pound of nitrogen in May and another half-pound in August. All other turf can get as much as one pound of nitrogen per month from May to August.
Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, e-mail him at tony. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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