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AerationTo maintain a healthy lawn through periods of stress, the soil should have adequate water, air and nutrients in the top 6 to 10 inches. Soils that are hard and compacted impede root growth, which prevents the grass from developing the deep root system that is essential to survive hot, dry periods.

Core aeration is the process of mechanically removing plugs of thatch and soil from the lawn. Aeration opens the soil, helps reduce compaction, improves water infiltration, improves rooting, reduces thatch and acts in many other ways to improve the lawn and to reduce stress.

Power raking is also an effective way to reduce thatch buildup, but it does not have the soil stress alleviation effects of core aeration. These techniques are labor intensive processes that require specialized equipment, but they may be necessary to maintain your lawn in top condition over an extended period of time.

Core cultivation (aerification) can be used to minimize thatch accumulation, to modify its physical characteristics, and to remove certain amounts of thatch. Core cultivation is not as effective as power raking in removing thatch debris, but serves more immediately to reduce soil compaction. Soil cores are either removed or allowed to stay in place after the cultivation process. When left on the surface, cores can be allowed to breakdown and redistribute soil throughout the thatch. Surface cores when dried can be broken up by raking or dragging the lawn with a weighted carpet mat or chain link fence. Cores can be mowed by using a rotary mower at a low travel speed when using a vertical spring blade (dethatch) attachment. This will usually lift up the dry core and pulverize it. The soil within the core modifies the physical structure of the thatch, making it a better growing medium. Soil incorporation also enhances thatch breakdown by improving physical properties of thatch and introducing microorganisms. Core cultivation can be done once a year during the vigorous growing season for bermuda grass to minimize thatch accumulation. Most turfgrasses growing on heavy clay or layered soils require annual cultivation to restrict thatch buildup and more importantly, to relieve soil compaction. Core cultivation is not a substitute for dethatching!

Solid core cultivation is the process by which holes are poked in the ground, but no cores are removed. Rather, the soil is "punched." This is practiced more on highly compacted soils which are high in silt and clay contents. Solid tine aeration can also be practiced on highly compacted surfaces when it is impractical to handle soil core removal on a timely basis. Both core cultivation and solid core aeration result in better root growth. This results from better soil oxygen content and breaking up of the surface soil layer. Do not attempt to core cultivate if the soil is dry, or poor penetration and equipment wear will result.

It is not necessary to add topdressing as an attempt to fill in the holes in most cases. Most soils will respond to a topdressing of organic matter, but it is difficult to fill the holes entirely with an amendment. However, this is a logical time to topdress. Aerification can be done once a year on home lawns. It is best done on warm season grasses during the first third of the summer and in the early fall at higher elevations on Kentucky bluegrass, fescue, and ryegrass lawns (see Maintenance Table).