When it comes to landscaping and keeping your grass in top form, a great way to approach it is to think like a golf course greenskeeper.
And one of the techniques that most greenskeepers employ is aeration.
Aerating your lawn is an excellent way to help it thrive. It improves the condition of your soil so that your grass can grow healthy and strong.
We'll go over exactly what aerating is, how lawn aerators work, how to determine if you should aerate your yard, and when the best time to aerate is.
What Is Aeration?
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.
How Does a Lawn Aerator Work?
An aerator can be either a tow-behind or a walk-behind piece of equipment. Additionally, within those styles, you'll find two different types of aerators to choose from:
Plug or core aerators
Spike aerators use long, thin spikes to poke into the soil. The thin slits they 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 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.
Although most lawns require aeration only once per year, some conditions call for additional aerating:
Hilly terrain Rainwater likely tends to run off of 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 of your very own.
When Should I Aerate?
You might think there are particular times of year that are best for aerating, and you'd be right. However, 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 inital 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 zoysiagrass, mid-spring to mid-summer is the best time to aerate. This is when these types of grass are actively growing.
Additional Lawn Aeration Tips
Remove all the weeds from your lawn before aeration. Otherwise, aeration can 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's 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.