Written by 3:52 pm Lawn Tips

How to Aerate Your Lawn – What Is It, When Should You Do It

Aerating a lawn is an often overlooked process that may be what you need to take your property to the next level. Water, sunlight, and fertilization are essential elements to maintaining a beautiful lawn. But is your yard able to absorb and utilize these nutrients efficiently? Below we will discuss how to aerate your lawn, what it is, and the best time of year to aerate.

What Is Lawn Aeration

The aeration process involves penetrating the surface of your lawn and creating a void for air, water, sunlight, and nutrients to enter and reach the root system of your grass.

Another benefit is that aeration reduces the amount of thatch on your lawn. Thatch is a layer of organic material that builds up below the grass's blades. This buildup impedes growth and nutrient absorption. Finally, thatch also slows grass growth and chokes out healthy grass.

Aeration alleviates the problem of compacted soil. Over time, the ground may become tightly packed, preventing water and air from reaching the lawn's roots.

Properties that host pets, children, heavy foot traffic, or commercial applications often suffer from compacted soil and should be aerated.

How to Aerate Your Lawn

  1. Remove all debris from the lawn. Clear all leaves, pine straw, and other debris from those areas you will aerate. Additionally, cut your grass if needed before aeration. For a pro tip: bag grass clippings to prevent them from filling the aeration holes.
  2. Water the lawn. Ensure the soil is moist so that the aerator can penetrate it with ease. Hard and dry soil is not easily aerated and clogs the tines. However, avoid overwatering as aerating a muddy lawn is a challenge.
  3. Aerate the lawn. Choose a pattern to follow while aerating the yard. Many homeowners choose to aerate in the same way that they mow the lawn. Whatever you do, do not to miss any areas. Also, second or third passes over the same area are often needed–especially if the soil is very compacted.
  4. Allow discarded cores to dry. Run over the cores with the lawnmower or rake over them to break them up after they have dried. Breaking the cores so that they return to the soil is crucial to the aeration process.

After the aeration process is complete, many homeowners choose to spread sand over the yard, overseed or fertilize their yard. However, spreading sand is unnecessary. Breaking up the discarded cores is sufficient to fill the aeration holes partially.

Finally, it is important to note that aerating a lawn does not interfere with any pre-emergent herbicides that have been applied.

When to Aerate a Lawn

Grass should be aerated just before or during the growing season for your species of grass. Regardless of the type of grass you have, aeration should be done when the soil is moist and no harsh or inclement weather  is on the horizon. In fact, aeration stuns and causes mild trauma to grass. Freezes or draughts can further stress the lawn, slowing progress.

Aerating Warm Season Grass (Centipede Grass, St Augustine Grass, Bermuda Grass, Zoysia Grass)

Typically, warm-season grasses should be aerated in April or May. One should wait until the lawn has greened up and started to grow.

Aerating a dormant lawn damages the grass and encourages weeds to grow. Additionally, an aerated dormant lawn cannot crowd out unwanted weed growth. One rule of thumb: aerate warm season lawns after the first cut of the year.

Cool Season Grass: Bluegrass, Fescue, Ryegrass

Aerate cool-season grasses in the fall just before the peak growing season. Also, many homeowners combine aerating with fertilization and overseeding of cool weather grasses.

Late season fertilization is more effective after aeration as the lawn's root system is likely to absorb more nutrients.

Types of Lawn Aerators

Two different tools can be used to aerate your lawn: spike aerators, and plug aerators.

Spike Aerators

Spike aerators pierce the lawn with solid metal spikes. They often resemble pitchforks or tines that are manually pressed into the ground. While simple to operate, spike aerators are inefficient for large yards and may require multiple passes over the same area to properly break up the soil.

Spike Aerator
An example of a spike aerator

Plug Aerators

Plug aerators are equipped with long hollow spikes designed to extract cores from the soil, creating large open voids. As the aerator's drum turns, the extracted cores are ejected and left to dry on the surface of the lawn.

Plug aerators are often motor-powered and are designed to cover larger areas over shorter periods. For more problematic soil, many models can add weight to the unit to ensure proper surface penetration. Many homeowners can rent motor-powered plug aerators from big box stores or local hardware retailers. 

Plug Aerator
An example of a plug aerator.
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