For golf course superintendents, aeration is the backbone of any cultural control program. The best practices of aeration are changing, and superintendents across the country each have an idea of what works best for their courses. Here’s a rundown of some ideas and resources that can help when you decide it’s time to aerate.
1. We all know the basics: aeration relieves soil compaction, improves oxygen availability in the root zone, increases the ability of rain and irrigation water to reach the roots, improves fertilizer uptake and reduces disease pressure.
2. Jim Black, the golf course superintendent of Hawk’s Eye Golf Resort in Bellaire, Michigan explains the process of how aeration makes for a healthier plant particularly well. As he says, water needs to drain down (percolate) out of the soil profile, as well as drain up (evaporate) from the soil profile in order for turf plants and roots to be healthy. Too much organic matter at the surface inhibits this vital water movement, and inhibits nutrients from getting to the root zone. Greens become puffy, scalping occurs, and turf disease becomes more prevalent.
3. Proper aeration, combined with thatch removal and the application of soil wetting agents helps improve water infiltration to provide a healthier plant-soil-water balance.
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4. Aeration is important in horse racing too. David Lehr, track superintendent at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, uses a SubAir aeration and moisture-removal system on turf tracks, which promotes healthier and stronger playing surfaces.
5. There are more choices than ever when it comes to greens aerification. Ted Pegram, a former superintendent who now serves as a field specialist for JRM Inc., sees changes in aeration practices and the tines being used.“Most superintendents are using smaller tines, but aerifying more often,” he observes. “With bentgrass greens, it used to be in our area [North Carolina] that you usually did your core aerifications about twice a year: around March 15 and about the middle of September. That’s changed to where superintendents are using solid tines or star tines or cross tines or bayonets every three weeks throughout the growing season to try to get good oxygen exchange.”
6. Another new approach is to aerate with bayonet tines in order to encourage root branching. “The bayonet, like its name, is a flat .5-inch- or .75-inch-wide tine. It basically slices down into the roots to encourage branching before there’s been a lot of top growth,” Pegram says. “Some superintendents will continue to use those in place of small solid tines throughout the season. There’s minimal disruption, and if you’re using a .75-inch-wide bayonet tine, that’s like using three .25-inch tines in terms of how much surface you’re opening.”
7. Brooks Hastings, product marketing manager with John Deere Golf, says some superintendents go even smaller in terms of tine size. According to Hastings, some superintendents use needle tines early in the spring and then core aerify in the summer, while others use needle tines in the summer to relieve stress.Needle tines are unobtrusive and still create the important void for air and water. Needle tining can be done in the morning and golfers can potentially be playing on the course in the same day.
8. Aeration shouldn’t be limited to spring and fall, nor should it be limited to only greens and tees. Fairways need to be hit twice a year, and primary rough and surrounds at least once.
9. On the greens, a midsummer application with some smaller tines – even if you’re not pulling a core – has become common in the maintenance of high-quality cool-season greens.
10. Upper management or golf course members may not be fans of aeration since it means there are fewer rounds played ruing the aeration and recovery time frame. Fortunately, there seems to be more awareness about the importance of aeration on the golf course. Try these talking points to educate management and the public on why it’s so important.
- Communication to management and the golfing public needs to be as technical as the situation will allow. Speak to golfers on their level.
- Let golfers know this minor disruption today will provide truer, healthier greens for the rest of the season.
- Let management know you need to make sure you can offer pristine playing conditions throughout the season for the long-term financial health of the facility. That means aerating during the optimal growing season so disruption is minimal and healing is quick.