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Liquid aeration and products marketed as such have seen significant growth in the last few years. Core aeration (a mechanical process) can be a taxing process, requiring prep work and recovery times that vary wildly depending on conditions. It makes sense that an alternative would be desirable, but can an equal sign be drawn between mechanical (core) and liquid aeration? Let’s define core aeration and liquid aeration and discuss their uses in the management of your turf.

What Is Aeration?

Put simply, core aeration softens soil. The primary goal of aeration is to alleviate soil compaction created by traffic or maintenance practices. Soil is a blend of organic matter, particles of sand/silt/clay, and tiny gaps called pores. Traffic from people, pets, equipment, and play compresses the soil, reorganizing the particles, and creates a firm profile with reduced pore space. Those pores are fundamental to the movement of water, nutrients, and, in our case, treatments such as pre-emergent weed control products. A turf profile that has a good balance of macro pores and micro pores is ideal for root growth and health. The measurement used to assess this in studies is bulk density. Core aeration is an effective method of reducing bulk density when done regularly. At the time of this blog’s creation, there are not liquid aeration products capable of reducing bulk density.

Core Aeration: What Is It and How Does It Work?

Core aeration is the physical removal of plugs which generally consist of soil, roots, thatch, and top growth. Over time, technology has enabled this process to become mechanized by using specialized equipment. The act of removing cores (the plugs left behind) is fundamental to the goal of classic core aeration. By displacing the core, the soil has an opportunity to settle into the void it left. This settlement reorganizes particles, reopening pores and softening the profile. The result is a reduction in bulk density, which benefits plant health and soil health, including microorganisms used for the natural synthesis of nutrients and degradation of organic matter.

Core aeration can seem extreme if you’ve never seen it done. It is important to prep the area; core aeration must be preceded by the marking of irrigation heads and shallow lines or wires and sometimes concluded with the repair of missed items. The equipment used can be noisy and can result in a temporary mess. For these reasons, people have sought an alternative for years. In spite of the noise and the (temporary) leftover mess, core aeration effectively reduces bulk density, leaving a turf profile that is ideal for root growth and health.

Is Liquid Aeration the Answer?

Liquid aeration is a term used to cover a wide array of products and mixes of surfactants, soil amendments, and fertilizers meant to enhance soil health. Nutritional requirements for plants have been well-studied and documented for as long as humans have cultivated crops. What started as rudimentary methods of nutritional inputs, progressed through the use of manures and into synthesized fertilizers. The study of inputs to feed microbes, however, is a much more recent development by comparison. These microorganisms play fundamental roles in soil health by degrading organic materials and making nutrients available in forms plants can consume. Reinforcing the health of these microorganisms is where the ideologies of core aeration and mechanical aeration converge.

At this time, there aren’t any university studies to confirm that liquid aeration products can decrease bulk density. The reduction of bulk density is fundamental to the idea of core aeration. For this reason, drawing an equal sign between core and liquid aeration isn’t realistic, but they aren’t mutually exclusive.

Core Aeration + Soil Conditioning = Win/Win

Core aeration is a tried-and-true process that provides benefits for root and soil health that currently can’t be achieved in other ways, but just as we add fertilizer to counter nutritional deficits in our plants, amending the soil to strengthen the population of microorganisms is advised and beneficial. The answer likely isn’t an either/or, but a both proposition. By decreasing bulk density, strengthening the microbes, and using a well-planned fertility program, we can optimize the soil characteristics and nutrient loads required for turf health. Healthy turf combined with proper environmental conditions produces the beauty and density you desire, resists the impacts of environmental stressors and disease, and naturally helps turf resist weed encroachment when combined with weed control products.

Important Takeaways:

  • The primary goal of aeration is to alleviate compaction of a soil profile created by traffic.
  • Core aeration achieves this by removing plugs consisting of roots, soil, organic matter, thatch, and top growth.
  • As the soil settles into the voids left where the plugs were removed, the bulk density is reduced, indicating a relief in compaction.
  • Liquid aeration is a broad-reaching term that encompasses products and mixes of surfactants, soil amendments, and fertilizers meant to enhance soil health.
  • Currently there are not any studies providing evidence that any liquid aeration products can reduce bulk density. However, while these products can’t be seen as a direct replacement for core aeration, products to aid the health of soil microbes can provide great benefits in combination with core aeration.