Lawn Cultivation: Is now the time? – Turfgrass Science at Purdue University

Lawn Cultivation: Is now the time?

Lawns are cultivated (sometimes referred to as aerfication) primarily to relieve soil compaction and manage thatch (organic) layers. Other reasons may be to open the turf canopy and create a seedbed in order to facilitate interseeding or overseeding, or move certain nutrients, composts, pesticides etc. into the rootzone.
Common questions regarding lawn cultivation:

  1. What are the benefits to my lawn? Answer: Enhanced rooting and increased turf vigor mostly due to a more favorable soil environment and increased water and air exchange.

  2. When should I cultivate my lawn? Answer: Anytime the turf is actively growing. For cool-season turfgrasses this practice would be traditionally be considered during mid to late Spring (Apr.-early May) and/or mid to late autumn (mid-Sept.-early Nov.).

  3.  Are there limitations to when I can cultivate? Answer: First the turf must be actively growing and capable of healing. The turf MUST NOT be suffering from drought or nutritional stresses. Ideally the soil should be “moist” (e.g. not saturated but not extremely dry). NOTE: With one of the driest late summers since 1871 in Indiana many lawns may simply be too dry to benefit from cultivation at this time. In short, the equipment used may not properly penetrate the soil to an appropriate depth and you might be wasting time if you cultivate unirrigated sites at this time. This is particularly true on heavy clay soils, where aerifier tines may actually break!!! It is advisable to simply wait for mother-nature to replenish soil moisture. By contrast, if the soil is saturated cores may not eject from the equipment causing problems.

  4. How many holes should I make and what should I do with cores that accumulate on the surface? Answer: Most lawns will be aerified using a rolling drum-type aerifier with “spoon” type tines. These devices have a relatively wide spacing between tines, 6-9 inches. To effectively affect the turf surface with enough holes per square foot it may take 2-4 passes across the surface. The remaining cores that accumulate on the surface can be left to filter back into the canopy over time or can be drug back into the canopy. This normally takes 7-14 days with regular mowing and rainfall. NOTE: This year with thin areas developing in many turf areas this cultivation procedure can be followed by overseeding the lawn with an appropriate species then dragging the seed/cores back into the canopy to facilitate good seed-soil contact.

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