The ability to aerate sports turf surfaces has never been easier due to the extensive array of decompaction and aeration machinery we now have at our disposal. Yet there still seems to be a misconception by many who fail to invest in this much needed operation.
There are several key tasks we need to do to ensure our turf remains healthy and fit for purpose. Those are generally mowing, feeding, weeding, aerating and watering. Out of these five key tasks the one operation that rarely gets done, particularly at grass roots sports clubs, is regular aeration of the pitch.
Weidenmann Terra Spike
The reasons for this can be down to several reasons. In general it could be on cost or not having the appropriate machinery in the shed or perhaps not understanding the benefits of regular aeration work.
There are several reasons why we need to aerate sports surfaces, with the main one being compaction largely caused by usage - i.e people running around on the pitch and sometimes when using heavy machinery.
Soil compaction in sports turf refers to the process by which the soil particles in the turf are pressed together more closely, resulting in reduced pore space between the particles. This compression of the soil can lead to several issues that can negatively impact the health and performance of the sports turf.
SISIS solid tine outfield spiker
When soil becomes compacted, it becomes denser, which reduces the amount of air and water that can infiltrate the soil. This can lead to poor drainage and increased surface runoff, making the turf more susceptible to waterlogging and reducing its ability to withstand heavy rainfall. Additionally, compacted soil has limited air spaces, leading to poor aeration, which is crucial for healthy root growth and overall turf health.
In sports turf, such as football fields, golf courses, and other playing surfaces, soil compaction is a common problem. If left unadressed, soil compaction can result in a hard, unyielding surface that is less forgiving to athletes, increasing the risk of injuries.
Aeration is a critical practice in sports turf management that involves perforating the soil with holes to improve air, water, and nutrient movement within the root zone. This process is essential for maintaining healthy and high-quality sports turf, and its importance can be understood through the following key points:
- Aeration facilitates better enhanced oxygen supply and air circulation in the soil, allowing oxygen to penetrate the root zone. Oxygen is vital for root respiration and aerobic microbial activity. Healthy roots require oxygen to function optimally, and aeration prevents soil compaction, which can suffocate roots by reducing the availability of oxygen.
- By creating channels for water to move freely into the soil profile, aeration helps prevent surface waterlogging and compaction. Proper drainage is crucial for preventing waterlogged conditions that could lead to root diseases and turf decline. It also ensures that sports turf can recover faster after heavy rain or irrigation.
- Aeration also promotes nutrient movement in the soil, making essential elements more accessible to the turf's root system. When nutrients can easily reach the roots, the turf can absorb them more effectively, leading to improved growth, colour and overall health.
- Aeration also helps manage thatch by breaking it up and incorporating it into the soil, allowing beneficial microbes to break it down further. Excessive thatch can hinder water infiltration and nutrient absorption, making aeration an important tool for maintaining a healthy playing surface.
- Overall, aeration is a fundamental practice in sports turf management that directly impacts the health, playability, and longevity of the playing surface. Regular and well-timed aeration helps maintain sports fields in optimal condition, ensuring safe and high-performance playing surfaces for athletes.
As for machinery we now have a plethora of aeration equipment available, both tractor mounted or pedestrian.
A typical programme of aeration for a natural grass football / rugby pitch would see regular spiking of the pitch using tractor mounted outfield spikers fitted with either knife or solid tines. These would be used on a regular basis used after games, or monthly depending on ground conditions. The idea of using these is to keep the surface open. Generally these tines just penetrate the surface down to around 150mm if conditions allow.
In recent years clubs have been investing in the SISIS Quadraplay, a four in one tool that helps rejuvenate pitches after use, usually fitted with a set of spring tines, solid star tine, brush and roller.
It would then be beneficial to use either a Vertidrain / linear aeration machine that can penetrate to a greater depth of around 200mm once or twice a year depending on needs. Usually we Vertidrain the pitch during the renovation period in May and then perhaps do another pass in October / November to help the pitch cope during the winter months.
We have also seen the introduction of compressed air aeration systems, notably the Air2g2, Terrain Aeration’s equipment and the SISIS Javilin which are generally used to help break up severe compaction problems. They achieve this by blowing a shot of compressed air at depth which helps break up any compacted soil layers.
Air2g2 decompacting greens approach areas
The cost of hiring a Vertidrain / linear tractor mounted aerator is around £450-£500 per pitch depending on transport distances, the price may come down if you have more than one pitch to do.
As for purchasing a Vertidrain type machine they would cost in the region of £25,000 and you would need a decent size tractor to pull it.
There is currently some funds available for clubs to buy machinery. The GMA have been instrumental in initiating this opportunity via their Grounds Management Framework and the use of the Pitch Power app.