Just as fertilizing, watering and mowing your lawn are important maintenance routines, aerating can be put into that category as well. Aeration allows both water and air to permeate any lawn thatch or built-up grass that can stop fertilizer and nutrients from penetrating into the soil.

What is aeration?

Aeration is a method of poking small holes in the soil of your yard, allowing water, nutrients and air to get to the grass roots. This helps them produce healthier, sturdier grass.

Often over time, soil gets compacted, meaning it’s bunched up into solid particles. This prevents air from circulating and doesn’t let nutrients and water soak in. If you have heavy organic debris clotting up your lawn at the base of the grass or buried under it where you can’t see, the roots can be starving for these important elements.

How to Properly Aerate Your Lawn

Do I have to aerate my lawn?

Your yard probably needs a good aeration if it:

  1. family-on-grass-300Was established using sod and you have soil layering. Soil layering is a term used for the time when finer textured soil (that comes with imported sod) is laid over the top of existing courser soil. This can disrupt your drainage, as the finer soil will hold most of the water. This can lead to soil compacting and poor development of grass roots. Aerating your lawn will break up this layering, which allows water to flow deeper into the soil and into the roots.
  2. Feels spongy and dries out easily. This could mean you have excessive thatch. If you remove a slice of lawn about four to six inches deep with a shovel, you can see if the thatch layer is larger than ½ inch, in which case you need to aerate. Also, if you see the grass roots don’t go down further than two inches, it’s time.
  3. Was a home of new construction. In this case, often the topsoil can be buried or stripped during the construction process. The subsoil can also be compacted by construction equipment and traffic.
  4. Is used a lot, such as a gathering spot for the neighborhood kids. Pets and kids running around the yard a lot can lead to soil compaction.
  5. Is clay-based.

When is the best time to aerate?

During the growing season is the best time to aerate. This way, the grass can heal and any open areas can fill in. If you have cool season grass like rye, bluegrass or fescue, early spring or fall is the best time. August through October is the best time because the grass is coming out of dormancy and into its active growth period.

If you have warm season grass like St. Augustine, Zoysia or Bermuda, late spring is best. April through June is ideal.

What tool should I use?

pitchfork-aeration-300There are two main tools used for aeration: A plug aerator and spike aerator. Plug aerators operate by removing a plug or core of soil and grass from your lawn. Spike aerators just poke holes into the yard with a solid fork or tine. It’s good to know that just poking holes can cause the soil to compact further in the areas around the holes. For this reason, a plug aerator might be the best choice.

When choosing a tool, look for one that removes plugs about two to three inches deep and one-half to one and three quarters of an in diameter. Often, you can rent these from a home and garden center. You can even share the cost with a neighbor and get both lawns done on the same day for half the price. Keep in mind plug aeration machines are heavy, so you’ll probably want the help of a few friends anyway to get it loaded and home.

How do I do it?

If you’re ready to aerate and know which tool you want to use, here’s how to proceed:

  1. sprinkler-head-300Make sure the soil is moist. It’s much harder to aerate soil that’s really dry, so aim your project for the day after rain or water your lawn the day before you start. If you water, make sure you apply at least one inch of water to the grass. You can measure it by placing an empty can (like a tuna can) in the middle of where you’re watering. When one inch is accumulated in the can, you’re good to go.
  2. If you have irrigation heads or any hidden objects in your yard, make sure to flag them so you don’t run them over with the aerator.
  3. If you have really compacted areas, make several passes. If there are areas where no soil is compacted, you can skip those altogether.
  4. Break up any soil plugs after letting them dry, and then scatter them back on your lawn. You can do this by running them over with the lawn mower or hitting them with a shovel or rake. You can also just add them to the compost pile if you have one. It takes about two to four weeks for them to naturally break down.
  5. If you’re horrified by the site of holes all over your yard, you can sprinkle sand, peat moss or compost over the lawn to fill in the holes. This will add additional nutrients to the soil.
  6. If you have a hot or dry spell after aerating, water your lawn at least a few extra times in the days following aeration.

As you can see, aerating your lawn can be an important step in caring for your “outdoor carpet”, especially if you have thin or yellow spots showing. Aeration is relatively easy and can have a huge impact on how your grass looks and feels since it helps it absorb fertilizer, natural nutrients and water with ease.