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January landscapes – Aeration, compost set the tone for the year!

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Aeration, topdressing set the tone for the growing season!

January is one of my favorite months in the landscape. Sounds crazy, right? I know, I know. But its the truth.

January is significant to me because I know that what I’m doing this month will have a lasting impact on my landscape and lawn. What am I doing? Performing aeration and applying compost topdressing to both the lawn and the landscape beds.

It’s January. Why now? The turf is dormant.

Doing it now allows enough time for the compost to have a very positive effect. The aeration of course allows oxygen into the soil, reviving it. The compost will refurbish the soil.

Each time it rains, the rainwater sifts through the compost topdressing and creates a “compost tea” as it gets to the soil. That tea is carrying important nutrients and enzymes into the soil that set the table for an awesome start to the growing season. The benefits of this will still be seen in July and August but is really noticeable when the turf and perennials come out of dormancy in March/April and are green and vibrant.


So what type of compost should you use?

Frankly, most all compost is valuable for plant life of any kind. But some are better than others. I prefer to use Cotton Burr Compost because of the soil I deal with (black clay soil, DFW Metroplex) and the goals I want to achieve.

Cotton burr compost is 100% cotton plant waste, composted. It is highly nutritious and is a natural clay softener. High nutrition + clay softener = win/win for me.

The cotton plant soaks up an incredible amount of nutrition surrounding it. That nutrition supports the energy required to produce the cotton bolls. Farmers back in the 1800s noticed that crops were better when the plants were returned to the fields to decompose. They noticed how healthy the growth was around the piles of dead plants they created after the growing season. Thanks to this, they were able to grow good crops year after year.

Likewise, we have found valuable use for cotton burr compost in the landscape industry. We use it as part of our planting mixture. We can use it to mulch. And we use it for topdressing purposes.


So what is a topdressing anyway?

A topdressing is a substance, such as compost, that is spread over the lawn. It is a thin layer that ideally sinks into the turf to the soil. Combined with aeration (three-four inch holes in the turf), the effect is accelerated and made more effective.

The compost topdressing doesn’t actually cover the lawn or hide it. Bulk cotton burr compost is ground up fine, so it falls through to the soil level faster than the larger, chunkier product sold in bags. So bulk is the more appropriate format to use in this case.

If you’re doing this yourself at home, know that it is best to start by taking small marker flags and sticking them in every location where you have a sprinkler head. This will help prevent you from hitting a head while you’re aerating the lawn.

If you have a drip irrigation system in your turf, unfortunately, you are unable to aerate your lawn without causing a lot of damage to the drip lines. In that case, skip the aeration and do the topdressing only.

Cotton burr compost, while 100% cotton plant waste, does have an odor with it that will dissipate after a few hours after it’s applied.

This is great, but why do I need to do this?

Each year, we water our lawns. Sometimes three to four times a week. The sun bakes the moisture back out. The chlorine that we put out with that water kills valuable enzymes in our soils. The sun bakes some of those nutrients to the point they’re no longer valuable. Wear and tear is a real thing with lawns and landscapes. Consider the aeration/topdressing a refurbishing of the soil. And that’s where everything starts in growing – the soil.


Other items this month . . .

1. This Fall and so far this winter, things have been dry. Very dry. And it’s been windy. The effects of the wind, along with the lack of normal rainfall, create a very hard environment for plants to grow in. And decline due to this is hard to detect if the plant/tree is deciduous and has no leaves right now. Make sure you are watering at least once a week throughout winter.

2. January is the driest month of the year in most of Texas. We get even less rainfall this month, on average, then we get in July or August. The effects of La Niña could very well exacerbate the already dry conditions as we go into January, the driest month.

3. If you have a drainage system at your property or home, make sure they are cleared. The Fall leaf dump has left many drains and surface drain grates clogged with leaves. There is nothing worse than paying a couple of thousand dollars for a good drain system, then having it clog and not work.

4. Many folks will be mulching now that the fall leaf dump is over and the brunt of winter is ahead of us. Make sure you do NOT mulch right up to the root flare of the tree (at the bottom of the trunk). If you have a service that mulches for you, either speak to them before they begin or return when they’re gone to correct whatever mistakes they made. Mulching around the root flare will cause all kinds of problems down the road. For a human understanding, it is much the same as someone putting their hands around your throat. Its cuts off blood and oxygen. For the tree, mulch at the root flare cuts off the valuable nutrients and moisture that are supposed to go up the trunk to the canopy. Think of the trunk as more or less a highway of nutrients and moisture.

5. For you backyard gardeners, if you are going to have Onions this year, get them in the ground by Jan. 15 or as soon after that date as possible. My onions not only survived the winter storm we had last February, but they ended up being some of the nicest onions that I’ve grown.

6. The first round of pre-emergent for the 2022 growing season begins this month. You want to get it applied to the lawn and beds by the end of the month or as soon as possible after that date. Weed seeds will be germinating in February so putting the pre emergent down in January will protect the lawn from getting in influx of new weeds.

7. If you have over-seeded your lawn with winter rye this year, you will want to give it another feeding by the middle of this month.













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  • joeywa pinned this topic


When is a good time to scalp (I can only cut to about 1.2 in.) a Bermuda lawn?  Can it be safely done before pre-emergent is applied? 

I live in Kilgore and have sandy soil.

thanks in advance       gmcc

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9 minutes ago, gmcc said:


When is a good time to scalp (I can only cut to about 1.2 in.) a Bermuda lawn?  Can it be safely done before pre-emergent is applied? 

I live in Kilgore and have sandy soil.

thanks in advance       gmcc

You can do it right now. It won't damage anything because Bermuda is dormant now. With the turf so low, you'll want to make sure your pre-emergent is dissolved by sprinkler water and not a rain event. The product would be washed away much easier in short turf.

Better sharpen that blade once you're done!

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  • 2 weeks later...

this topic reminds me what I learned in the years that I worked in the golf business and hung around the GC superintendent, it was fascinating stuff, I learned a lot about aeration, top dressing and overseeding, really got into the different grasses being used by architects like Nicklaus, Greg Norman and of course Ben Crenshaw-Bill Coore, especially in different parts of the country

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