What Is Aerating?
Anyone who has owned a yard knows that soil composition is fundamental. Soil needs the right mixture of nutrients and substances to grow properly. Over time, thatch piles up between the base of your grass and the underlying solid. This thatch layer is composed of dead plant matter that becomes intertwined in the layer just above the dirt.
A little bit of thatch is good for lawn health, but too much can choke off your grass from uptaking the water and nutrients it needs. The compacted layer of soil and dead plant matter acts as a barrier that prevents oxygen diffusion and nutrient uptake. Since it is deprived of the necessary nutrients, your grass will struggle and lose its lush appearance and coloring.
Aerating (sometimes misspelled “airating”) your soil upturns this layer of thatch so your lawn can breathe and better absorb nutrients. Aerating your lawn is an integral part of lawn maintenance and needs to be performed regularly. Sometimes, aerating can be as simple as poking holes in your soil to alleviate soil compaction.
Other times, you need to be more thorough and perform what is known as core aeration. This involves removing as much lawn thatch as you can and upturning key parts of the soil. Core aeration is the recommended process for more complicated thatching problems.
When Should I Aerate My Lawn?
Lawns can get compacted for all kinds of reasons. If you have a lot of foot traffic or drive vehicles over your yard, it is more likely to develop compacted thatching problems. The natural composition of the soil can make compaction more likely too. For example, if you live in the Southwest where there is a lot of clay in the ground, your lawn may become compacted much easier. More frequent aeration may be required in these locations.
Aeration and dethatching are different things, but they often complement each other well. Aeration opens up thatch layers to more air circulation while dethatching removes excess thatch so the soil can breathe better. Aeration allows for more soil penetrability while dethatching removes excess thatch.
You can tell that your lawn needs aeration if it is struggling to absorb water, or its color and body have started to fade. In general, you should aerate your lawn during your lawn’s peak growing season. So if you have a cool-season grass such as tall fescue or cat grass, then you should aerate during the late summer or early fall. Alternatively, warm-season grasses should be aerated in late spring or early summer.
Average moisture also affects when you should aerate. The best time to aerate is when your yard is moist from recent rainfall. The water softens up the soil, which makes it easier to overturn. You should not aerate your lawn if it is overly wet, though.
How do you Aerate Your Lawn?
You will need some special equipment to aerate your lawn correctly. There are three major types of aerating tools you can use.
- Spike aerators simply create a small hole through the soil. These kinds of aerators are the simplest and easiest to use. You just push the spike through the soil to create holes. Companies even make spike aerator shoes so you can aerate your lawn just by walking around.
- Slicing aerators use rotating blades to cut through grass and the underlying thatch later. The blades create trenches in the ground for the soil to breathe.
- Core aerators are typically used by professionals and have rows of tines that remove plugs from your lawn. The tines take out plugs and deposit the removed soil on top. These kinds of aerators are excellent because they do not compact the soil where they create holes.
You can aerate a lawn all on your own, or you can hire a professional to take care of it. If you decide to DIY, you can rent any necessary equipment from your local lawn and garden store. In our estimation, a core aerator is the best tool for the job, but might be more expensive to rent than other kinds of aerators. Core aerators also tend to work better on denser soil layers, such as clay. Spike aerators are very easy to use, but they may also compact the soil around where the holes are made.
First, you’ll want to water your lawn so it has a thin layer of moisture. Make sure you take note of any irrigation heads and shallow pipes so you don’t accidentally hit them while aerating. From there, start aerating the yard, starting from one end, and covering the whole length in a series of rows. Make sure that the holes you make are not too close together as that can make the soil too loose.
Once you are done with the aeration, you can leave the excess soil on the ground as compost. Apply an extra layer of topsoil over the affected area and some seed and fertilizer if you feel it is necessary. It is a good idea to apply fertilizer right after aerating as the new holes allow more direct contact with the soil. Make sure you keep your lawn adequately watered for the next few weeks. It should take about three weeks for the soil cores to break down naturally. Then you can continue with your routine yard maintenance.
Also, it might be a good idea to remove any excess thatch at this point. You can get rid of excess thatch by using a short-tined rake to pull up the topmost layer. Do not get rid of all the thatch though, as some thatch is important for proper nutrient uptake. Aerating the lawn beforehand makes it easier to pull up any excess thatch as the soil will be slightly looser.
Regular aeration is an integral part of maintaining proper lawn health. Ideally, you should try to aerate your lawn at least once every year, potentially twice a year, depending on your soil composition, average rainfall, and type of grass. Aerating your lawn regularly will keep it lush and in tip-top growing shape. So if you notice that your lawn is fading in color or texture, it might need a good aerating to bring it back.