How to Aerate Your Lawn


Do you know how to aerate your lawn? It is often overlooked but is an integral portion of caring for your lawn.  

The soil is a living environment unto itself and needs ideal conditions in which to supply air, water, and nutrients to your grass’ root system so that it can flourish.

If your grass is suffering, you can bet that your soil is suffering too.  Aerating your lawn will guard against a variety of issues.

What follows is a complete breakdown of the why, the when, and the how of lawn aeration.

A house with a beautifully even and green lawn that has been aerated with a lawn aerator in the recent past.

What Are the Benefits of Lawn Aeration

What benefits does lawn aeration provide?  Here are a number of benefits of aeration.

Improves the Overall Health of the Lawn

Aeration provides your grass’ root system with easier access to the vital air, water, and nutrients necessary for the optimal growth of your lawn.  Easing access to these crucial elements results in a deeper, more extensive root system.

A healthy root system is the foundation of excellent lawn care.

Relieves Soil Compaction

Compacted soil is a result of regular traffic on your lawn.  Everything from pets to kids to lawn maintenance equipment, over time, will compact the earth in your yard.  This compact soil makes it more difficult for the air, water, and nutrients to reach and absorb into your lawn’s root system. 

Compacted soil will lead to poor soil aeration. Without the necessary oxygen, your lawn will have patches, dead spots, and areas where its thinning is pronounced.

Certain methods of lawn aeration will remove soil plugs, which will decrease the density of compacted soil.

A lawn with holes from aeration (core aerator that removed the soil)

Beneficial to Overseeding

Aeration will promote direct contact between the grass seed and your lawn’s topsoil, which is integral in the process of germination.  It creates a moist, nutrient-rich environment that is optimal for the healthy development of new seedlings.

Reduces Lawn Thatch Build-Up

Thatch is a layer of dead grass and other organic matter that sits on top of your lawn.  If left unchecked, thatch will rob your healthy grass of water and nutrients it needs to remain healthy.

Aeration takes the earth, full of microorganisms that aid in decomposition, and places it directly on top of the lawn thatch to break it down.

Assists In pH Regulation

Aeration supports the modification of your lawn’s pH balance deeper into the ground because of the access it provides directly into the earth. 

The further down your pH is regulated, the deeper your grass roots will grow.

Prepares Your Lawn For Spring Growing and Winter Dormancy

When aeration is performed before spring fertilization, it will help important elements from the fertilizer soak into the earth more effectively.

In the fall, pairing the aeration of your lawn with autumn’s fertilization will help protect your grass from the stress of summer drought and heat and fill the turf with nutrients before your lawn goes dormant for the winter.

An image showing the before and after of lawn aeration.

When Should You Aerate Your Lawn

The best time to aerate your lawn is during the peak growing season. When you aerate your soil during this time, it allows your lawn to recover quickly. 

Peak growing seasons are different for different types of grasses.  For cool-season grasses, such as tall fescue or perennial ryegrass, you can plan your aerations for early spring or early fall.  The best time to aerate warm-season grasses, like Bahia grass or St. Augustine, is in the late spring and continues through the summer months.

By aerating your lawn during the grass’ peak growing season, your grass will grow over the ground exposed by your lawn aerator at a much faster pace.

If you plan on overseeding your lawn, then you should aerate before or during the planting process.  This will ensure that the seedlings come into direct contact with the nutrient-rich topsoil of your lawn. 

It should be noted that you should never undertake aerating your lawn once the grass goes dormant due to the cold weather of the winter months.  In the end, you would do more harm than good.

A lawn with lots of yellow and dead grass because it has compacted soil

How Often Should You Aerate Your Lawn

The frequency of lawn aeration depends on a couple of different factors.  If your lawn is highly trafficked by people, pets, or lawn maintenance equipment, then your soil is probably compacted.  If this describes your lawn, then you need to aerate every year.

You should also aerate yearly if the soil on your property is predominantly clay as it does not allow air, water, and nutrients to pass easily through it.

A healthy, vibrant, and well-growing lawn only needs to be aerated every 2 to 3 years, depending on the amount of traffic it receives.

This is also true if the soil in your yard is sandy or looser consistency as the water, air, and nutrients are not restricted in their movement to the roots.

A picture of plugs of soil on a lawn that were left behind from an aerator

What Are The Methods And Tools For Aerating Your Lawn

There are three dominant methods used in aerating your lawn.  Each method provides its advantages and its drawbacks.

Spike Aerator

Spike aerators aerate your lawn by poking holes in the turf with a spike-like tine.  This method is quicker and simpler than the rest, but the results do not provide the same longevity of the other two.  Because you are merely pushing the soil apart with the spike, there is inward pressure in each hole that will eventually force the soil back into its original spot.

Spike aerators are convenient.  They come in the form of “sandals” that strap onto the bottom of your shoes.  These aerators are ideal for you if you want to aerate your lawn while performing other maintenance tasks on your lawn.  These aerators also come in manual and motorized push styles and as attachments for your lawnmowers or utility vehicle.

These can be purchased relatively cheaply and do not always have to be rented for use.

A man wearing a spike aerator under his shoes

Slicing Aerator

Slicing aerators have rotating blades that physically slice through grass and thatch down into your yard’s soil.  While these types of aerators provide a pathway for air, water, and nutrients to reach the root system without furthering soil compaction, they are not the preferred method of lawn aeration for most lawn care professionals.  They leave the soil in the ground and are not the best option for aeration before overseeding.

This type of aeration equipment comes as an attachment for your lawnmower or utility vehicle and in a motorized push style piece of equipment.

Generally speaking these pieces of equipment are rented by your average homeowner as they are expensive and will not receive regular use as aerating is not done frequently.

A machine, pull-style slice aerator

Plug or Core Aerator

These aerators incorporate the use of hollow tines that remove plugs of soil from the earth and deposit them onto the top of your lawn where they will decompose.  These vary in plug depths and widths, depending on the machine you use.

Because these aerators leave soil plugs on the top of your property, it is best suited for overseeding.  These plugs of soil provide your grass seed with direct contact to the nutrient rich topsoil and perfect for the germination process.

Plug aerators also relieve soil compaction when leaving the core samples on the surface of the turf.  This soil removal decreases the density of the soil and, thus, relieves compacted soil.

For these reasons, this is the preferred method of aerating your property by lawn care professionals.

These pieces of equipment can be bought or rented as attachments for your lawnmower or utility vehicle and also come in a manual or motorized push version.  Unless this is your profession, your best bet is to rent the equipment because of the infrequent need for its use.

An even and beautiful lawn

What Are The Steps For Aerating Your Lawn

●     Apply 1” of water to the lawn to moisten soil one day before you aerate

●     Mark any in-ground irrigation systems and utility lines to avoid them

●     For lightly compacted soil, go over the entire lawn once

●     For compacted soil or a lawn that has never been aerated, go over the entire lawn vertically and then do the same horizontally

●     Water the turf to aid in the breakdown of the soil for the absorption of nutrients

●     If fertilizing or overseeding do this now

●     Water every 2 to 3 days for 2 weeks

The Green Pinky

About the author: Jeffrey Douglas is a horticultural hobbyist that loves everything related to plants and gardening. He specializes in gardens and houseplants. Read More

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