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Fighting soil compaction
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One thing we have in Dawson County is hard, red clay.


Red clay is great for making bricks, but not so good for growing grass. When I talk about the problem of red clay, the number one negative factor is compaction.


Compaction of turf can be a homeowner’s worst landscape nightmare. Traffic, weather conditions and normal use combine to push soil particles closer together, reducing pore space and increasing soil density.


The lack of pore space decreases the movement of air, water and nutrients and reduces percolation and infiltration. This restrictive soil environment forces turf roots to struggle to fill basic plant needs. Try aeration to combat compaction.


Aeration, opens channels in the soil through which air, water and nutrients can move more freely. Water movement into (infiltration), and through (percolation), the soil are improved.


Aeration increases pore space, softening hard soils by allowing the soil to move upon impact.


Most soil compaction from normal use occurs within the top one to three inches of the soil surface. Compaction also may 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.


Compare your aeration alternatives with how hard the soil is, weather condition, turf growth cycles and foot traffic.  Shallow aeration reaches into the top three or four inches of soil. 


Equipment using solid spikes poke holes in the soil, creating openings without removing soil. 


Equipment with hollow tines or spoons remove a soil core which is deposited on the soil surface. In most cases, hollow tines or spoons are better.


Aeration effects are increased by proper soil moisture levels. 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.


Generally, soil moisture should be at field capacity for most aeration.


Field capacity is when all excess moisture is gone.  Generally, 24 hours after a rain or irrigation.


Hot, dry weather and strong winds may dry out the turf bordering aeration holds. 


Avoid aeration during such conditions or compensate for moisture loss with irrigation.


Clark Beusse is the Dawson County extension agent.