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Best practices for lawn start up and minimizing future lawn problems (Part 1: Lawns)

So it’s March and the snow has melted, the weather is turning, and spring is in the air. Well, maybe it happened in January this year but usually we see this change in the weather in March. For most people their lawns are looking sleepy, like most of us look in the morning, a little rough, maybe wrinkled, glassy-eyed—let’s just say not our best. So what should we be doing to bring life to our dormant lawns? Well, for starters if you didn’t mow your grass short in the fall chances are you will have some snow mold or matted lawn. If so, catch up by mowing your lawn fairly short. Just try to remember next year that your last mowing should be short. Now aerate! If you are not sure what this is see the picture below, but basically a machine pokes holes in the lawn and pulls out a core. This is one of the three best things you can do for your lawn, right up there with correct watering and correct fertilizing (more on those later).

Aerating (or as some call it coring or plugging) is the act of removing a core of soil, leaving a void in the lawn disrupting the thatch layer. The thatch layer is an intermingled layer of living and dead stems, leaves, and roots which accumulate between the layer of grass and the soil. It is good for turf resilience to traffic, but once it reaches 1/2″ or more in thickness it becomes a major problem, causing a loss of air, water, and nutrients reaching the root zone. We have seen thatch so thick in peoples yards it was difficult to push a shovel through; do you think water and nutrients were being absorbed? I think not!

So aerating will decrease the thatch layer and provide your lawns with better heat, cold and drought tolerance, reduce compaction and reduce likelihood of diseases and insect problems too. Pretty important huh? I know some of you hate it because it leaves those core clumps everywhere or you have to rake them all up but it is really the only thing that reduces the thatch layer once it has built up. FYI power raking or as some call de-thatching actually does very little to reduce the thatch layer. True, it does pull up a lot of organic matter, but we are concerned with thatch.

How often should you aerate? Twice a year every year or as much as possible, at least once a year is recommended. It is best done while the soil is wet and either in the spring or fall or both.

Photo University of Illinois

Photo by University of Illinois

Aerated lawn (see the "plugs")

Aerated lawn (notice the “plugs”)

A little side note about thatch: watering seldom but deeply (1-2 times a week 1″ per week), frequently mowing (never removing more than 1/3 of the grass blade) and correctly fertilizing (1lb of Nitrogen/1000 sqft 3 times a year) are the best methods to minimize thatch. Adversely, frequently watering, irregular mowing cycles, over and/or under fertilizing add to the thatch layer.

Lastly, once you aerate, make your first application of fertilizer. It is also the best time to apply Gypsum, particularly if you use well water.

Questions? Comments? Email me or leave a comment below.

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