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The necessary evil

At some point, all avid golfers have faced the frustrating task of putting on greens that have been recently aerified. There is no disputing that aerification is a disruptive process resulting in a temporarily inadequate putting surface. However, it’s essential that core aeration be conducted each year in order to sustain the health of our Tifeagle greens.

A common misconception about aerification is that it is done only to alleviate soil compaction. Although relieving soil compaction is a benefit, the main goal of aerifying is the removal of organic matter build-up in the soil. A significant amount of organic matter in the “root zone” of the underlying soil can be extremely detrimental to the health of the turf. According to USGA research, if the surface organic matter content of a green reaches 4%, the turf quality will deteriorate. Our organic matter content over the last few years fluctuates around 3%. A drop in turf quality is due to the plant not being able to breathe, as the organic matter takes the place of oxygen in the soil. The plant then has to strain to sustain adequate health, and once an outside evil is introduced; insects, disease, shade or seasonal stresses, the plant declines even further. Consequently, USGA agronomists recommend that 20-25% of the surface area of a green be removed each year through core aerification. This research has provided Superintendents with important and specific guidelines to consider when developing their annual aerification programs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=863Ix8czcoY

Here, at St. Johns, we have greens that are 15 years old. Over this period a large amount of organics have accumulated, but with consistent aerification we are able to minimize this accumulation. With our three aerifications we impact around 20% of the total surface area of our greens alleviating only the amount of organics produced throughout the year. If we sacrifice one of these aerations we will fall behind in our battle to sustain the balance of organics and oxygen in the soil. Our three aerations consist of one ½ inch core aeration, and a double aeration of 5/8th inch core aeration and 3/8th inch core aeration. Any smaller in tine sizes would be unable to pull a core and unproductive in our efforts of removing organic material. After the cores are pulled, sand is applied and worked into the holes. The sand takes the place of the organics giving space for the oxygen and gas exchanges to occur. Finally, a vertical mowing of the greens in two directions at a depth of 1/4th inch below the surface removes thatch which is pivotal in our ability to maintain smooth and consistent greens at the height we do.

My only goal is to provide you with the best course conditions year-in and year-out. Aerification is a necessary evil essential to the short term and long term health of our greens, and the healthiest greens possible start and end in the root zone. The entire St Johns team, and especially me, appreciate your patience and consideration during aerification. The maintenance team will be aerifying from dawn to dusk for 2 days July 28th & 29th, and you’re welcome to come and watch the process in action, ask us questions and gather a stronger understanding of what exactly it is we do!

Thanks,

Nate Maurer
Golf Course Superintendent