The soil in the Rochester (NY) area is known for its high clay content, and clay isn’t the best soil for lawns. But it’s what we have so we may have to take extra steps to grow healthy grass.
Clay soil is very dense and compacts easily, making it difficult for water and oxygen to reach plant roots. It’s difficult for them to penetrate the soil and there are few pockets between soil particles to store water and oxygen. The answer is to aerify.
Aerifying involves pulling plugs of soil out of the ground so that the rest of the soil can “breathe.” The holes where the plugs were provide points of entry for water and oxygen. Eventually the soil spreads out and fills in the aerifying holes as people walk and play on the lawn. However, the soil is still loose enough to provide space for water and oxygen storage. This process may have to be repeated every year or two for a healthy lawn.
It’s been suggested that homeowners mow the lawn wearing golf shoes. That’s one of those ideas that’s too good to be true. Golf shoe cleats are too short and thin to penetrate the soil enough to do any good. Professionals use aerifying machines.
Core aerators are the most effective, and the type our lawn care professionals use. They have a rotor of hollow tines that are pushed deep into the soil. The tines pull up plugs of soil about an inch in diameter, and deposit them on the lawn surface. The plugs should be left in place to decompose naturally and return their nutrients to the soil.
Do-it-yourselfers can rent aerators at rental stores. Be forewarned, however, that they are heavy and difficult to use. Most of our customers who have tried it once turn the job over to our lawn care professionals the next time.
Dethatching is often mentioned in the same breath as aerifying. However, they are two different processes. Dethatching is necessary only when dead grass plants become entangled in the turf. A dethatching machine has tines that reach into the turf and pull the dead plants out and lay them on the lawn surface. Contrary to popular belief, thatch is not grass clippings. Grass clippings decompose quickly and return nutrients to the soil. You are doing the lawn a favor when you just let them lay where they fall when you mow.
If you don’t know whether your lawn needs aerifying or dethatching, one of our lawn care professionals would by happy to check your lawn and make recommendations for its care.