Ag Notes: Maintaining lawn easier than it used to be

February 17, 2004|JERRY LITTLE

Proper lawn care is much easier now than a decade or so ago, largely because we're using more common sense to take care of our yards.

We're selecting more hardy grass, adding some water when necessary, and using the lawnmower and fertilizer spreader on a timely basis.

So the question arises, should we dethatch, aerify or roll lawns now like we used 10 or 20 years ago? To find out, read on.

Thatch is a thick, tightly intermingled layer of dead and living shoots, stems and roots that develops between the green vegetation and soil surface. A little thatch is desirable because it acts like a mulch to reduce soil surface evaporation.


But problems develop when thatch reaches a thickness of one-half to one inch.

It often impedes water and fertilizer penetration, becomes a cafeteria for insects and diseases, and often keeps grass roots from growing into the soil below it.

Today's lawns rarely need dethatching because our lawns have been with earthworms that are important decomposers of organic matter. Also less nitrogen fertilizer is applied to most lawns. Tall fescue, the most common new lawn grass seeded or sodded into new lawns, never builds up a serious thatch layer.

It's not longer necessary to spend endless hours to dethatch lawns and haul away the loose debris. Nowadays, rental centers still have dethatching equipment, but typically is used when renovating lawns to improve seed-to-soil contact.

Aerification, or turf coring, is an important practice for golf greens, sports fields and other heavily trafficked areas.

The cultivation practice involves removing cores the top two to three inches of soil and depositing them on the surface. This allows rainfall or irrigation to penetrate the soil instead of just running off.

However, aerification has little value on home lawns because these areas rarely receive excessive traffic and the soil is less penetrable below two to three inches.

Additionally, most rental aerifers make only four to eight holes per square foot, affecting only one to two percent of the soil surface.

It might be a good idea to aerify sloping lawns where almost all rainfall or runs off. In this instance, coring would disturb the surface sufficiently to slow down runoff and encourage water penetration.

If you plan to use an aerifer to renovate a bad lawn with new seed, crisscross the lawn several times.

Rolling lawns was a very common practice years ago, but we're not sure why this was done.

Most agronomists discouraged rolling because of the potential to increase soil surface compaction.

With the resurgence of earthworms and night crawlers, we're seeing more problems in sparse grassy areas, especially beneath shade trees. It almost feels like tottering on marbles when you walk on these surfaces if they're frozen or dried out. Therefore, rolling would be preferable to killing beneficial worms when their activity makes it hard to walk on parts of your lawn.

Since the heaviest earthworm activity is in the spring, rolling areas when the soil is moist would alleviate the roughness.

A simple solution

One winter day, my Uncle Frank was taking his two small children to Grandma's so he could do his farm chores. After putting them in his truck, he ran back into the house to get something.

While he was there, 1-year-old Zachary locked both doors of the truck. When my uncle returned, he tried to get the children to pull the locks up.

After trying and trying on both sides, 3-year-old Lisa, in tears, said, "Would it be OK if I just rolled down the window and you unlocked it, Daddy?"

Jerry Little is Boyle County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources.

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