The Basics of Garden Aeration: How and When to Aerate your Lawn

The Basics of Garden Aeration: How and When to Aerate your Lawn

Updated on 12th January 2022


What is Aeration?

Just like you, your lawn and its soil need to breathe. Over time, however, the soil becomes compacted and generates a lot of solid particles in a constrained space. This prevents the proper circulation of air, water and nutrients which are vital for strong grass roots. Grass needs aeration especially in extreme weather conditions such as heat and low rainfall. Otherwise, it will lose its healthy, rich color due to lack of oxygen, water and nutrients accessible just a few inches above.

Close-up of green grass with morning dew.

That’s why aeration is so important in lawn treatment. It comprises of puncturing the soil with small holes allowing air, water and nutrients to reach the grass roots. This way those roots will be able to grow deeper and produce a stronger and more lavish lawn.

Signs Showing You to Aerate Your Lawn?

It’s not hard to determine that your lawn needs aeration. In general, frequent aeration of the yard is a must. But as we are all caught up with our busy lives, we tend to forget this process. However, if the following factors are present, you should seriously consider aeration.

Too Much Thatch

Dry brown leaves fallen on the ground.

Organic debris such as shoots, stems and roots, also called thatch, are generally beneficial for the lawn. However, too much of it can hinder the health of your garden. Even a half inch (1.3 cm) or more of thatch is already too much for the soil and should be removed. This can also cause insect manifestation, diseases, and can prevent you from mowing your lawn properly. If the lawn seems fragile, supple and dehydrated, most probably you have too much thatch that should be removed.

Dry and Hard Soil

You also have a compacted soil, if the it is hard to the touch or you see that rainwater gathers where it used to get absorbed. You can check the compaction of the soil by sticking a screwdriver into it. If it slides easily, you are good. If you meet resistance, however, you have compaction problems and your lawn needs aeration.

Thin and Colorless Grass

Close-up of a dried out grass.

Generally, if you are taking a good care of your garden and it still seems to be growing thin and unhealthy, lawn aeration is most probably the missing piece.

Part of a recently constructed house

If you started growing your lawn of a newly built house. Often, the topsoil of recently grown lawns is buries or stripped, while the grass cultivated on the sub-soil is compacted to the construction.

Soil Layering and Growing Seeds

Soil layering happens when you spread a thin layer of garden compost in order to grow seeds. This prevents water drainage and makes the soil compacted. You need to break up this layering by aerating the soil, Thus, you will allow the water to flow again and get to the roots.

Lawn is Often Stepped On

Dog playing with a chewing toy on a green lawn.

The constant stepping on the lawn causes soil compaction. Cases such as serving as a playground, or having children and pets running around are common reasons for unhealthy lawn. Frequent aeration can help stimulating a healthy yard.

When to Aerate Your Lawn?

We already stressed on how important aeration is for your lawn, but if timed wrongly, it can only further stress your grass. For example, you should never aerate dormant grass. During aeration the soil should not be too wet or too dry. Aeration can be done the easiest after an irrigation or rainfall from the day before. It is better to wait awhile to prevent aerating an overly wet garden. It has to be moist to be just right for aeration. When planting grass seeds, it is appropriate to aerate the lawn during or right before the grass reaches its ultimate time for natural grown.

Brown butterfly on dry soil.

During Which Seasons Should You Aerate Your Lawn?

The perfect time for aeration is during the growing season, when the grass can heal easier. If you live in a country with colder temperatures and have cool-season grass (such as Kentucky bluegrass), you should aerate in early spring or fall. Those living in warmer countries with warm-season grass (such as Bermudagrass) should aerate in late spring or early summer, as soon as the soil has defrosted.

How Often Should You Aerate Your Lawn?

If your lawn is healthy or you have sandy soil, which is hard to get compacted, you can aerate every 2-3 years. However, if the lawn seems stressed, or gets a heavy traffic, or has clay soil, which compacts easier, it needs more frequent lawn care. In this case, it’s better to aerate every year. Moreover, if you live in a country where extreme temperatures are common such as cold and dry winters, it is recommended to aerate twice a year.

What Tools to Use for Aeration?

Spike Aerator

A spike aerator used for aerating a lawn.

With the spike aerator you can poke hole into the soil with a solid tine, or fork. It is generally used for aeration on a small scale. Poking holes with a spike machine, however, can cause further compaction in the areas around the holes, so it’s not the most effective tool. Therefore, you should use an aerating tool that can remove plugs of soil.

Slicing Aerator

The slicing aerator has rotating blades that cut or slice past the grass and down into the soil. It is similar to the spike aerator, but it actually creates pathways for air, water and nutrients without causing further compaction.

Plug Aerator

The plug aerator is usually preferred by the lawn professionals. This machine has rows of hollow tines that remove a core or plug of grass and soil from the yard. Those plugs of soil are deposit on the top where they can break down and let air in. Use a machine that can remove roughly 2-3 inches deep, 0.5-0.75 inches in diameter, and 2-3 inches apart.

Keep in mind that those machines tend to be expensive. You can either borrow one from a store or your neighbour. Or you can also hire a lawn service, which has their own professional equipment and knowledge about lawn aeration.

Step-by-Step Guide on How To Aerate Lawn

Before you start aerating, be mindful of the following lawn care tips:

  • Don’t aerate during periods of drought. Otherwise, it will leave the grass roots open to the extreme sun exposure.
  • Aerate a day or two after you’ve watered the lawn or after there has been a rainfall.
  • Be careful about any pipes, sprinkles, or utility lines that can get caught on the aeration machine or tool during the process.

Now, that you have all the information needed about aeration, let’s see what is the process of lawn maintenance:

Person mowing a lawn with a lawn mower in front of his house.

  1. Mow your garden before aeration.
  2. Go over the most compacted places more than once. You also don’t have to aerate the unaffected areas.
  3. If you have a soft soil or severely stressed garden, aerate the entire yard several times.
  4. If you aerate more than once, the second round should be performed perpendicular to the first.
  5. Leave the plugs of soil on top of the lawn and let them dry. Later, break them down by running them over with a mower or beating them with the back of a rake. However, if you have clay soil, remove altogether the core or plugs of soil. Instead, top dress the yard.  
  6. After the full aeration, water the yard thoroughly. During the next couple of weeks water the lawn every 2-3 days to keep it moist.
  7. Settle lawn food in order to provide the needed nutrients that will recover the lawn.
  8. Cover the aerated lawn with screened topsoil mixed with compost. The topsoil layer should be around half an inch thick.
  9. Sew your seeds by hand, or using spacious sweeping movements, or with a spreader.
  10. Finally, settle the seeds and then roll the lawn.
  11. If this process seems too time-consuming, you can always hire professional lawn care services who will ensure that you have a lavish and healthy lawn.

Benefits of Aeration

Relieving soil compaction

The lawn aeration process reduces soil density and relieves its compaction. That helps water, air and fertilizer amendments to penetrate deeper and easily reach the grass root system. As a result, the risks of lawn thinning and patching are severely reduced. 

Helps with thatch control

Thatch is a layer of dead grass that slowly builds up on your lawn, suffocates it and limits absorption of water and nutrients. Core aeration introduces microorganisms into the soil that decompose thatch and help thin the thatch and manage buildup.

Increases nutrients in the soil

The better penetration properties of the soil due to aeration helps nutrients get deeper into the grass roots. That improves the fertilization process and its effectiveness. The increase in nutrients makes the lawn healthy and stimulates better growth and root development. 

Makes lawn thicker

Garden aeration makes grass thicker and promotes native filling of bare patches and spots. It is especially effective during the cool seasons when the turf areas need extra attention. When combined with seeding, garden aeration strengthens the bond between soil and seeds. Aeration encourages germination and establishes a safe and moist environment for new growth.

Reduced water runoff

Nobody likes puddles and runoffs in their garden after a rainy day. Especially on their lawn. With that in mind, if you are ever faced with the tedious puddling problem, garden aeration would help solve it.

Preps lawn for dormancy

Autumn garden aeration is a great way to prepare your grass for winter dormancy and get your lawn in top shape. Follow by a nutrient bomb with autumn fertilization for even better results. The combination of aeration and fertilization is bound to keep the grass in optimal condition before the first frost hits.

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