Today they will put the green jacket on this year's Masters champion. After looking at some of the best turfgrass in the world for a week, fans will start asking how to improve their lawns.
Last week, I wrote about the root system's being the most important part of having a healthy plant. The same holds true for turfgrasses. If you want a great-looking lawn, you want a deep root system. How do you get a deep root system in the clay soils in Columbia County?
If you are establishing a new lawn, it is easier to get a deep root system. The best way to do this is to till the soil to a depth of six to eight inches. The deeper the soil is tilled, the deeper the root system will be. This is also the time to add lime if your soil sample calls for it. The soil pH needs to be in the 6.0 to 6.5 range at a depth of six inches.
As the pH falls below 5.5, aluminum levels in the soil become higher in the soil. Aluminum at high levels will stop the root system from growing deeper. The calcium in the lime replaces the aluminum on the soil particles, which raises the pH.
After tilling the soil, it is time to seed, plug, sprig or sod the lawn. Unfortunately, many lawns are installed with little or no tilling. The sod is placed directly on hard clay or a little topsoil is spread on the top of the clay. This leads to turf that is lighter green in color and doesn't grow as fast because of the shallow root system.
If you have an established lawn, aeration is a tool that you can use to increase the depth of the root system. There are different types of aerators. There are aerators that slice, spike, or pull plugs out of the turf. The best for dealing with hard, compacted soils is the core aerator, which pulls plugs out of the soil. By pulling the plugs, you loosen the soil which allows water and nutrients to penetrate deeper. When the water and nutrients go deeper into the soil, the roots will follow.
Aeration needs be done while the grass is actively growing. This allows the grass to cover the holes faster, and the roots to take advantage of the loose soil. April and May is a good time of the year to aerate. The plugs that are left on the grass can be broken up and return to the soil if there isn't a thatch problem in the grass. If you have a thatch problem, it is best to remove the plugs.
Thatch is a layer of grass parts that are not broken down. It will build up on the soil surface and impede the movement of water and nutrients. The thatch layer is a haven for insects and fungi, which can cause problems in your lawn. The best way to get rid of the thatch is by verticutting, core aeration or topdressing. In a home lawn, core aeration with topdressing is the recommended way to remove thatch.
What is the best topdressing material? The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension recommends good quality topsoil. Topsoil matches our soil here better than sand. Topsoil holds nutrients and water better than sand, and has fungi in it that will help breakdown the thatch. Also, I get the comment that golf courses use sand as a topdressing material. This is true. The putting greens that they are topdressing are sand-based. So, they are putting sand-based material on a sand base.
The most important practice that you can do to improve the rooting depth of your turf is proper watering. To encourage a deep root system, you need to water for longer periods of time and less often. The way to encourage a shallow root system is water for a short time and very frequently. Our turfgrasses need an inch of water per week. This inch of water in our clay soils will wet the soil to a depth of six inches.
If you have sandy soils, you need to apply one-half inch twice a week. One-half inch of water on sandy soils will wet the soil six to eight inches. However, the sandy soils don't hold the water as well, so you have to water twice a week.
To determine how much water you are applying, you need to put out rain gauges or straight sided containers in the yard. Then, you need to run your irrigation system for the time you normally run it. This will show you how much water is being applied to your lawn. Most irrigation systems with impact or gear-driven heads are putting out a quarter to half inch of water per hour.
The best time to irrigate your lawn is from midnight to 8 a.m. There is less evaporation, less wind, and you get better coverage during this time.
If you let your turf become a little drought-stressed before irrigating, this will force the root system deeper as it searches for water.
By improving the root system of your turfgrass, you can improve the appearance, thickness, and drought resistance of your lawn.
Columbia County Extension Agent Charles Phillips can be reached at (706) 868-3413 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Extension Web address is www.ugaextension.com/columbia.
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