Why Do We Always Aerate When The Greens Are Perfect?

By Elliott L. Dowling, agronomist, Mid-Atlantic Region
August 20, 2014

Core aeration is critical to long-term health and performance of turf. Timing core aeration is also critical. Performing aeration when grass is at peak health will encourage quick recovery and minimize playing surface disruption.

Many golf courses throughout the Mid-Atlantic region consider mid-August an indicator that aeration is upon us. Depending on location, desired turf species and golf calendar, core and solid-tine aeration may already be taking place.

One question we often receive is: “Why does our superintendent aerate when course conditions and weather are perfect?” This question is very perceptive, and explains why aeration is performed when the weather and course are best. Weather plays a large role in turf recovery. Thus, performing aeration when the weather favors turf growth leads to quicker recovery. Additionally, aeration is stressful on plants. Performing aeration on healthy, “perfect” turf is critical. If aeration is conducted on already stressed turf, the result could be disastrous.

The range of ideal weather varies depending on the desired turf species. In other words, if your course is promoting bentgrass, mid-August to early September is a good time to aerate. The warm days and cool nights of early fall favor bentgrass growth, placing the competitive advantage on bentgrass over Poa annua. Conversely, if the desired turf is Poa annua, core aeration can be performed later in the fall. There is less chance for stress on Poa annua in late summer and early fall. Unfortunately, the golf schedule often dictates aeration timing more than the weather which could compromise proper aeration timing.

Another question we often receive is: “Why is so much sand applied?” Superintendents realize aeration is never popular. However, the benefits of aeration far outweigh the potential problems if nothing is done. Superintendents also understand that playability is a concern. Following aeration, especially on greens, filling each of the aeration holes with sand will promote quicker recovery and improve ball roll. There is no denying that surface disruption occurs during aeration and that greens will play differently following aeration. However, effects on playability as a result of aeration can be minimized if aeration channels are completely filled with sand. Ultimately, applying enough topdressing sand to fill aeration holes will result in a smoother post-aeration surface that recovers quicker than a surface with open aeration holes.

Aeration is performed every year to improve turf health and playing conditions. Core and deep-tine aeration are critical for the health of highly maintained grass. Keep in mind that every time you comment on the exceptional conditions during the golf season, a large part of maintaining those conditions is routine core aeration. Do not lose sight of the long-term goal because of the short-term inconvenience.

Source Elliott Dowling edowling@usga.org

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