How to Aerate Your Lawn
The Ultimate Lawn Aeration Guide
Have you ever wondered why nothing seems to grow well in your yard while your neighbor maintains a gorgeous garden seemingly without effort?
Blame it on your lack of green thumbs all you want, but the reason could be that your soil is too compact. The solution is learning how to aerate your lawn to loosen up the soil.
How to Fix Compacted Soil
Compact soil is very dense, hard soil that is difficult to penetrate. As a result, water and fresh air have trouble getting through to your plant roots, and your garden starves. This can significantly decrease the amount and quality of growth.
What is Lawn Aeration?
Lawn aeration is simply the process of putting holes in your lawn's soil. These holes help break up soil that's too heavy and dense, or that has become compacted from years of pressure.
As you can guess from the name, aeration improves airflow to your soil. In addition to allowing more oxygen deep into the dirt, it also allows more water and nutrients to penetrate the ground.
Aeration has several benefits:
- Better nutrient absorption
- Better water flow and drainage
- More extensive grass root growth
Because putting holes in your soil risks damaging the roots of your grass, aeration actually causes initial damage to your yard. However, in the long term, it improves your lawn's overall health.
Should I Aerate My Lawn?
An easy way to tell if you should aerate your lawn is to stick a screwdriver or other long, thin tool into your soil. If you can insert it to a depth of about three inches with little resistance, your soil is probably moist enough that you don't need to aerate.
However, if you have trouble pushing the screwdriver into the soil, then you should aerate your soil. Aeration is done by using an aerator. There are two types of aerators:
Spike aerators use long, thin spikes to poke into the soil and help improve drainage and absorption.
Plug aerators are like long cookie cutters. They stamp in and pull cylinder-shaped plugs about two or three inches long out of the soil. The plugs that they leave behind will dry up and blend back into the lawn as looser soil. This style of aerator is typically better for loosening compacted soil.
Should I Pick Up Plugs After Aerating?
There is no need to pick up the plugs of soil after aerating. Over time, they will disintegrate back into the soil, especially after you mow your lawn. Besides, picking them up would take much longer than the actual aerating work for no reason.
When Should You Aerate Your Lawn?
The best time of year to aerate depends on the kind of grass you're growing.
For cool-season grasses, such as Kentucky Bluegrass, fall and spring are the best times to aerate. Either season is a prime growing season that will allow these types of grasses to recover from the initial damage that aeration causes.
If you choose to aerate in autumn, do so at least four weeks prior to the first frost. This allows time for the additional air and nutrients to do their job. Aerating in the fall will allow moisture to seep in better, and as temperatures drop, that moisture will expand, further loosening the soil.
In spring, the frozen moisture in the soil will thaw and leave soil damp down deep. Aerating in the spring will loosen soil that's compacted from the previous growing season.
For warm-season grasses, such as Zoysia grass, mid-spring to mid-summer is the best time to aerate. This is when these types of grass are actively growing.
How Often Should You Aerate Your Lawn?
How often you aerate your lawn depends on how quickly your soil gets compacted. Although most lawns require aeration only once per year, some conditions call for additional aerating:
- Hilly terrain
Rainwater likely tends to run off hilly terrain more than it soaks in, which means that a sloping lawn dries out more. Aerating will allow water and fertilizer to soak into the soil and nurture the roots more easily.
- Lawns with clay soil
Soil that's high in clay content is dense to begin with. As a result, lawns with clay soil have a tendency to more easily become compacted.
- Lawns with heavy thatch
Thatch is a layer of dead grass and roots that can block the absorption of air, light, and water before any of it reaches the soil or your healthy grass. A dethatcher is the perfect tool for removing it, but aeration also can cut through the thatch and restore good circulation.
- Heavily trafficked lawns
Kids and pets playing on the lawn can compact the soil, as can your lawn mower. If your lawn is the place where everyone wants to be, you might benefit from investing in an aerator.
How to Aerate a Lawn: Additional Tips
Here are some additional tips and considerations before you begin aerating your lawn.
- Remove all the weeds from your lawn before aeration. Otherwise, you might spread weed seeds.
- If you haven't had rain recently, or if your lawn is generally dry, water it the night before you plan to aerate. Saturate it in the evening when the sun is setting, then let it soak up what it can overnight. Hard, dry soil is difficult to aerate.
- If you use a plug aerator, you may feel a strong urge to clean up the resulting plugs on your lawn. Don't. Those plugs will dry up, and once they do, you should either break them up with a rake or mow them over with your lawn mower. As they dry, they'll blend back into your lawn to help absorb water around the root system.
- Once you've finished aerating your lawn, you should continue to care for it with regular mowing and watering. Fertilizing immediately after aerating is also recommended, as the fertilizer will be able to seep down into the soil where the roots can absorb it.
Your soil needs to breathe to be healthy and produce a beautiful lawn and garden. Give it a burst of fresh air with aeration!
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