Aerating Your Lawn

If your lawn gets a lot of foot traffic or you have heavy soil like clay, chances are that aerating your lawn now and then will help your grass to grow thicker and be more resilient to demanding summer heat and stress. Here is what you need to know about lawn aeration so that your lawn will be as durable as it can be.

What are Signs of Compacted Soil?

Other than just feeling hard as a rock, you can tell that your soil is getting too compacted when water just runs off quickly instead of seeping into the soil. Your grass may also start to get spotty in places, which is another sign. Another test is with fertilizer.  If you fertilize and the impacts of fertilization seem to be less beneficial than they used to your soil may be too compact to let the fertilizer get to your grass plant roots. Finally, you can try to stick a metal object like a screwdriver into the soil. If you can do this without too much trouble your lawn is probably fine. If you feel like you’re pushing into cement it’s time to aerate.

What is the Process of Aeration?

The process of aeration is quite simple. Holes are formed in the turf to a depth of a few inches to loosen the soil. The most common method is to use a power aerator, which takes out small plugs of soil and drops them back on the soil surface. You can easily rent a power aerator at your local hardware store or rental center but it is not light, so if you are not able to lift this machine consider having a lawn service do the job for you. There are other methods available such as using a garden rake or a special manual aerator that you step on but these are a lot of work and not as beneficial as a power aerator that removes complete plugs so I do not advise it.

What Are The Benefits of Aeration?

Aerating a Lawn Keeps It GreenBy aerating your lawn, the roots of the grass plants can grow into the void that the aerator creates. In addition, water and fertilizer will find it easier to penetrate the surface, providing important nutrients to the soil and ultimately to the grass plant roots. The plugs taken from the soil and deposited on the surface will break down and put microorganisms to work on the soil surface that are healthy for the lawn. Aeration will also help to break down the thatch layer naturally so that you may avoid a thatch problem next year. In short, aeration will help to keep your grass lush and green.

When Should You Aerate a Lawn?

The best time to aerate a lawn is in the spring or the fall, when you will have a good 4 weeks of active grass growing season ahead. Summer is not the best choice since it is when grass may get stressed or even go dormant for a while, and further stress by aeration is not a good idea. When grass dormancy sets in, you should not add any stress. In general, warm season grasses are aerated in spring and cool season grasses are aerated in fall.

What Should I Do To Prepare My Lawn For Aeration?

Before you aerate it is a good idea to eliminate as many weeds as you can. A weed control product that does not contain fertilizer can be used a few weeks ahead of time to rid your lawn of weeks that might like to drop seeds in the holes created by the aerator. On the day before you aerate you should give your lawn a moderate watering. What you want is for your soil to be workable but not wet when you aerate. If you get rain all night before you planned on aerating you might need to wait another day.

How Often Should I Aerate?

There is really no rule to this. It depends on your lawn, your soil, and your traffic. It would not be outrageous for a lawn on clay soil with frequent foot traffic to be aerated every spring and fall, but typically one time per year is plenty. If your soil is sandy you may find that every 2-3 years is more than enough. Remember to test your soil to see when it needs to be aerated again. Soon you will see a pattern and fall into a schedule that fits your lawn.

What About Dethatching?

For most lawns, using a consistent aeration schedule and managing your thatch layer by bagging grass clippings as needed to avoid excess thatch is enough to avoid de-thatching. If you take a cross-section of your lawn and do not see more than ½ inch of thatch above the soil line, thatch is not your problem. If you are unsure whether you should de-thatch or aerate because you can’t decide if your thatch layer is that bad, choose aeration. Aeration is a healthy practice for your lawn on a scheduled basis. De-thatching should only be done when necessary.

Are There Any Other Tips I Should Know?

You should not aerate a brand new lawn. If you have recently seeded or laid new sod you should wait a year for your lawn to be established.  It is a good idea to fertilize or seed your lawn after you aerate to take advantage of those holes that you have created. The plugs should be left on your lawn to break down naturally. Do not remove them as they are beneficial to the lawn. Don’t worry, they won’t look that way for long, and your lawn will thank you for it. If you have a sprinkler system, don’t forget to mark your sprinkler heads before you aerate. An aerator will break the plastic sprinkler heads in your yard if you drive over them.

Time To Aerate

Now that you know about aeration, when to do it, and the benefits that aeration has for your lawn, it’s time to check out your soil to see if aeration is needed. If so, call your local rental center or landscaping service and get it on the schedule. You will be rewarded with a healthier lawn.