Lawns are limited by soil compaction

File/Staff
An aerater pokes and digs at the surface of the lawn, creating holes for water and nutrients to reach the roots of grasses and shrubbery, which keeps them healthy.

Soil compaction can be a problem in maintaining a beautiful lawn.

Compaction is worse in clay soil. Foot traffic, weather and normal use combine to push soil particles together, reducing pore space and increasing density. That decreases the movement of air, water and nutrients, and reduces percolation and infiltration. This restrictive environment forces turf roots to struggle to fill basic plant needs.

If soil compaction is a problem in your lawn, you might try aerating, which is best done from May to August.

Aeration opens channels in the soil through which air, water and nutrients can move. Water movement into (infiltration) and through (percolation) the soil is improved. Aeration increases pore space, softening hard soils by allowing the soil to move upon impact.

Most soil compaction occurs within the top 1 to 3 inches of the surface. Compaction may also result from heavy equipment traffic, the layering effect of differing soil textures, or repeated aeration to the same depth.

Check for soil compaction by using a soil probe, shovel, blunt rod or screwdriver to see how hard the soil is.

Equipment using solid spikes pokes holes into the soil without removing soil. Equipment with hollow tines or spoons removes a soil core, which is deposited on the soil surface. In most cases, hollow tines or spoons are better.

Proper soil moisture enhances aeration. Dry soils are hard to penetrate, limiting the effect of the procedure and stressing equipment. Wet soils may not move enough to achieve satisfactory results.

Ideally, soil moisture should be at what agronomists call field capacity, which occurs when all excess moisture is gone 24 hours or so after a rain or irrigation.

Hot, dry weather and strong winds can dry out the turf bordering aeration holes. Avoid aeration during these conditions or compensate for moisture loss with irrigation.

SUMMER TIPS

- Keep the blades sharp on your lawn mower. A brown or grayish cast over your lawn may mean that your grass is being shredded rather than cut with a sharp blade.

- If you have St. Augustine grass growing in sunny areas, be on the lookout for chinch bug infestations when we go through hot, dry spells. I have treated my lawn once this summer.

There are many insecticides available in garden centers to kill chinch bugs. I seem to get better control with liquids.

Chinch-bug damage makes your grass look like it needs water when it shouldn't. The grass turns yellow then brown, and dies rather quickly.

The best way to determine if you have chinch bugs is to cut the bottom out of a coffee can, work it slightly into the ground, and then fill with water. If chinch bugs are present, they will float to the top in a few minutes.

-Although tomatoes are self-pollinating, they need movement to transfer pollen. If it is hot and calm for several days, gently shake plants for assured pollen transfer and fruit set. Hot temperatures can also interfere with blossom set.

- For best flavor, pick ripe tomatoes as needed. Flavor peaks within three minutes of picking. Don't refrigerate tomatoes: Fruit texture and some aroma compounds deteriorate quickly in the cold.

- Before you spray an insecticide on your vegetables, check the label for how long you have to wait after spraying before you can safely eat the vegetable.

Sid Mullis is the director of the University of Georgia Extension Service Office for Richmond County. Call him at (706) 821-2349 or send e-mail to smullis@uga.edu.

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