Soil Compaction Impacts Lawn Health (04-22-13)
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Spring has arrived and many of us will soon be back to our weekly task of maintaining our lawns. Proper fertilization, mowing, and watering all are key factors in keeping our lawns healthy and beautiful. However, on many of our heavier soils regardless of how well we maintain the above mentioned factors our lawns just do not perform as we wish due to one serious event that often occurs. That event is soil compaction. Compaction is a physical process that slowly reduces the pore space between soil particles thus making it extremely difficult for oxygen, water, and nutrients to move into the soil where turf roots can utilize them. Compaction also prevents the escape of carbon dioxide from the soil. As compaction increases roots become shallow, the turf canopy begins to thin and eventually the compacted soil will not be able to support a lawn at all.
Since compaction is a physical process we can reduce it by performing a physical process called “aerification”. This process is simply described as making small openings into the soil at a depth of 2-10 inches depending on the equipment used. For most practical purposes most lawn “aerifiers” a homeowner will purchase or rent from a lawn equipment dealer will have several hollow tubes or tines that make 1/2-inch openings into the soil to a depth of 2-3 inches. These openings will allow for oxygen, water and nutrients to move easily into the soil and as the roots push the soil particles around the compaction is relieved. The frequency at which a lawn will need to be aerified will depend mainly on the amount of traffic the lawn receives as traffic is the culprit for compaction whether it is foot traffic from recreational play on the lawn, pets, or mowing equipment. Wise traffic management can help reduce the frequency of compaction. Avoid heavy play or equipment use when the soil is wet. With riding mowers avoid the wheels always traveling in the same paths every time you mow.
Published April 22, 2013
Dr. Wayne Wells is an Extension Professor and Turfgrass Specialist. His mailing address is Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, Mail Stop 9555, Mississippi State, MS 39762. firstname.lastname@example.org