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Aerator. Tips from Professionals. 10 Things You Should Know

Keeping your lawn in tip-top shape requires a lot of hard work. A lawn that receives regular trimming, mowing, edging, and other upkeep procedures always looks great. However, lawn owners must also know that surface-level maintenance is not all a lawn ever needs. A well-trimmed lawn quickly running out of essential nutrients will certainly stop looking so good in a while when the entire nutrient bank is depleted. Thus ensuring that the grassroots receive sufficient nutrients is crucial, and aeration is the best technique.

Lawn Aerator:

Lawn aerators are used to dig holes into the soil (spike aerators) or to pull out plugs of soil (core/plug aerators). The holes created in the soil during aeration allow penetration of air, water, and nutrients into the soil, which is crucial for the health of the grassroots.

The ideal time to aerate depends on the soil type and weather. Similarly, aeration frequency is also determined by soil type. For example, compacted soil requires more frequent aeration than clay.

What is an Aerator Used for and What Type of Lawn Aerator is Best:

A lawn aerator is a garden tool used to create holes in the soil to help the grassroots receive the required air and nutrients essential for their health and growth. The two main types of aerators are spike and core/plug.

  • Spiked aerators: These are equipped with solid spikes that punch holes in the soil. Since these aerators don’t remove any soil from the turf, subsequent watering causes the soil to compact, closing the holes. This type of aeration is suitable for sandy soils.
  • Core/plug aerators: These are equipped with hollow tines that pull out plugs of soil to create holes. Since soil plugs are removed from the turf, compaction is reduced, and more time is available for air and nutrients to reach the grassroots. This type of aeration is recommended for clay soils.

Aerators may be powered or manual. Powered aerators, like powered mowers, can aerate a large lawn relatively quickly.

Manual aerators generally have two to five hollow tines fixed on a step bar. The operator puts one foot on the step bar to push it down. This forces the tines to enter into the soil. Then he pulls up the handle of the step bar to pull the soil plugs out of the turf. When the same operation is repeated, the soil plugs left in the tines are pushed out by the next ones that get pulled out of the ground.

Manual aerators are more economical than powered ones. The major difference between the two is the speed. For a more extensive residential lawn, a manual aerator may take hours to complete. However, a well-made manual aerator has the benefits of ease of use, selective aeration, and low cost.

Is It Worth it to Aerate Your Lawn:

The purpose of lawn aeration is to provide breathability to the soil underneath the top surface and to allow the grassroots to receive adequate nutrients.

It is vital to aerate your lawn as it helps to lessen soil compaction. Compacted soils have a dense particle population preventing air, water, and nutrient circulation. Excessive lawn thatch also starves the grassroots from receiving the essential elements. A lawn thatch is a layer of living and dead grass tissue accumulated on the turf around the base of the grass.

Soil also experiences surface sealing during cold winters because the compacting effect of walking around is amplified. This makes aeration in cold weather especially important. 

When Should I Aerate My Lawn:

The perfect time to aerate a lawn is during weather periods which will help the recovery process. The ideal recovery time depends on the grass type but usually during growing seasons. Cold-season grass generally grows wells during the cooler temperatures of the early fall and early spring. On the other hand, warm-season grass usually blooms at the end of spring and during the early summer months.

The best aeration practices for different seasonal schedules also vary. Choose your aeration schedule depending on the type of grass and follow one of these tips for your schedule:

  • Lawn aeration between March and November: If aerating your lawn between March and November, it is better to spike the lawn between 5 cm and 15 cm using a spading fork or a rolling lawn aerator. This process can be repeated once every two to three months. However, damp soil that smears too much or one with frost shouldn’t be spiked. Clay or hard soil makes it difficult for air and nutrients to reach the grassroots. Therefore, lawns with clay or hard soil must be spiked and aerated at least once yearly, if not more frequently.
  • Lawn aeration in autumn: A hollow tine aerator is recommended when aerating in early autumn as it increases soil drainage and temperature. However, I only recommend this aeration technique if the soil has enough time to heal. Start aerating between the end of August and mid-October as the weather gets wetter rather than drier during this period. If you opt for hollow-tining, it shouldn’t be on frosted soil or one that’s to receive frost soon because if the soil freezes after being aerated, it will cause your lawn to heave up.

Lawn owners must remember that it is generally unnecessary to aerate your lawn yearly if it is healthy and growing fine. Lawns with sandy soil should also not be aerated yearly as sandy soil does not close up easily.

In these cases, I recommend aerating every two to three years. When you aerate your lawn more frequently than required, it can harm the grass and disturb the delicate balance between growth and latency.

However, I recommend aerating a heavy-traffic lawn every year. The same goes for lawns with clay soil since it reduces the number of nutrients and air reaching the roots and also compacts easily after aeration.

Furthermore, it is best to aerate your lawn twice a year if you live in harsh climates that experience cold and dry winters.

How Do I Aerate My Lawn Myself:

Aerating a lawn is not difficult, especially if you have a smaller lawn. Aerating a bigger lawn is the same, except it takes a lot more time. For more extensive lawns, I recommend a powered aerator. If you do not want to purchase one, rent it.

Keep the following tips in mind before you aerate your lawn:

  • Aeration during drought: Never aerate your lawn during a drought or if one is expected soon. The grassroots will not recover easily and will be exposed to excessive sunshine, which may even harm them.
  • Aerate on wet soil: Always water your turf a day before aerating. Soft and moist soil will recover well afterward. However, watering the lawn is not required if it has received sufficient rainfall a day or two before you plan to aerate.
  • Be careful of what’s beneath: When aerating your lawn, avoid hitting a cable or pipe beneath the turf. Particularly take care if you have an irrigation system.

With these useful tips in mind, you can aerate your lawn in these easy steps:

● Step 1: Mow first

Mow your lawn before aerating it. This will eliminate the excessive grass and give the tool a better penetration into the turf.

● Step 2: Use the correct aerator

Select the type of aerator based on your soil type and the weather. The most compacted areas should be aerated several times as most aerators only cover a small percentage of the ground’s surface in each pass.

● Step 3: Multiple passes

If your soil is softly compacted, you should aerate your entire lawn at least twice. Also, if you have never aerated your soil, aerate the whole lawn at least twice. In this case, the second pass should be perpendicular to the first.

● Step 4: Do not remove the soil plugs

If you used a plug aerator, leave the soil plugs removed by the aerator on the ground so they can break down on subsequent watering.

● Step 5: Water the lawn

Once the entire lawn has been aerated, water the lawn well. Apply lawn fertilizer to provide the nutrients required for healing.

Water the newly aerated lawn every two to three days for the next two weeks. Keeping the lawn moist is extremely important for germination to occur.

● Step 6: Reseed where needed

Cover the aerated lawn with topsoil after completing the aeration and watering process. Screened topsoil that has been mixed with compost is ideal.

Spread the topsoil to create a layer approximately 0.4 to just over 0.5 inches thick (10 to 15 mm). Then sew the seeds, either by hand or with a spreader using expansive sweeping movements. If you use a spreader, spread half of the seeds in the first pass and then go back over all parts to be reseeded and spread in a different direction in the second pass. Settle the seeds and roll the lawn.

How do I Know If My Lawn Needs Aeration:

There are certain indicators you can look for to know if your lawn needs to be aerated. Neglected lawns usually develop these signs, and it is not hard to tell they need aeration. Look out for the following common indicators in particular:

  • Thatch layer: A thatch layer atop the turf is a clear indicator of air depravity and compaction. Soil compaction inhibits the required air, water, and nutrients from reaching the grassroots. This is detrimental to a lawn’s condition as it also harms the microbes and useful fungi population that keep the balance of life in the soil. Without a healthy microbe population, dead plants cease to decay. Instead, they keep accumulating on the turf until a soggy thatch layer is created. Once this layer reaches a thickness of 15 to 20 mm, it stops the water and air penetration into the soil, which is detrimental to your lawn’s health.
  • Grass color: Compacted areas of a lawn usually appear to be dry. A good test is to apply fertilizer to this area. If the area develops a ‘bluey’ shade, it indicates soil compaction. This is because compacted soil cannot properly absorb the fertilizer.
  • Lawn diseases: A compacted lawn is highly susceptible to lawn diseases such as Fusarium, which typically occurs in autumn and winter, red thread in summer, etc.
  • Speedy drying: A lawn with poor moisture-holding ability dries faster than a healthier lawn. Comparing your lawn with your neighbors now and then can help you notice if your lawn is drying rapidly.
  • Rain run-off: Compacted soils fail to absorb and hold water causing rainwater to run off down the turf.
  • Frequent traffic: If your lawn sees hefty traffic, such as children and pets running and playing, regular aeration would be helpful since frequent traction causes serious soil compaction.

Should I Mow Before or After Aeration:

Mowing a lawn immediately after it has been aerated is not recommended. After aerating your lawn, I recommend waiting at least a week before mowing or when it has grown to around 2.5 inches (6-7 cm). I do recommend mowing a lawn a day or two before aerating it.

Should I Aerate Before I Seed:

The ideal time to reseed is immediately after aeration because the holes created in the soil during aeration allow new seeds to have better access to air, water, and nutrients. Applying fertilizer after aeration is also very beneficial for growth.

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  1. Tom Herrera says:

    Is there a tool I can use to check the soil compaction level?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      You can use a soil compaction meter to check the level of soil compaction in your lawn. This will help you determine if aeration is needed.

  2. Tammy Holmes says:

    How long does it take for a lawn to recover after aeration?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      A well-aerated lawn typically recovers in 2-4 weeks, depending on grass type and weather conditions. Ensure proper watering and nutrient supply.

  3. Miguel Willis says:

    What type of grass benefits the most from aeration?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      The type of grass that benefits the most from aeration are ones with compacted soil, such as clay or hard soil. Aeration allows air, water, and nutrients to reach the grassroots, promoting healthy growth.

  4. Matthew Kuhn says:

    Great explanation on different types of aerators

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Matthew! Aeration is indeed crucial for a healthy lawn. Remember to choose the right type of aerator based on your soil type for the best results.

  5. Ted Evans says:

    When should I aerate my lawn if it has both sandy and clay soil in different areas?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Hi Ted, for a lawn with both sandy and clay soil, aerate in early fall or spring. Use a core/plug aerator for clay areas and a spike aerator for sandy areas. Happy aerating!

  6. Rebecca Flores says:

    I appreciate the tips on when to aerate during different seasons

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Rebecca! I’m glad you found the tips on when to aerate during different seasons helpful. Best of luck in keeping your lawn healthy and vibrant!

  7. Connor Moreno says:

    Before reading this article, I had no idea what a lawn aerator was

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you for reading the article! A lawn aerator is indeed a useful tool for maintaining a healthy lawn. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask.

  8. Melanie Williamson says:

    I never realized aeration was so important for lawn health

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Melanie! Aeration is indeed crucial for lawn health. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask!

  9. Edith Young says:

    I never knew mowing before aerating was important, thanks for the tip

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Edith! Aeration before mowing is a crucial step to ensure nutrients reach the grassroots. Keep your lawn healthy!

  10. Daniel Romero says:

    The explanations on when to aerate depending on the grass type were very helpful

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Daniel! I’m glad you found the information helpful. Let me know if you have any more questions about lawn maintenance.

  11. Kathryn Williams says:

    I always wondered if my lawn needed aeration, now I know what to look for

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Kathryn! Aeration is a great way to keep your lawn healthy. Remember to aerate based on your soil type and weather conditions for the best results.

  12. Annie Dixon says:

    Is it better to use a powered aerator or manual?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Manual aerators are more economical and offer benefits like ease of use and low cost. Powered aerators are faster. So, it depends on the size of your lawn.

  13. Oscar Morgan says:

    Can aerating too frequently harm the grass?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Regular aeration is key to lawn health, but too much can harm the grass. Aim for once or twice a year, with more frequent aeration for compacted or clay soil.

  14. Chris Hopkins says:

    Can aeration help with water retention in the soil?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Aeration can definitely help with water retention in the soil by allowing air, water, and nutrients to penetrate the grassroots more easily. It is a crucial technique for maintaining a healthy lawn.

  15. Edward Dixon says:

    When is the best time to aerate a lawn?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      For the best results, aerate your lawn during the growing season for your specific grass type. Aeration frequency varies by soil type, with compacted soil requiring more frequent aeration.

  16. Clarence Jackson says:

    Great video resources shared in the article

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Clarence! I’m glad you found the video resources helpful for lawn maintenance. Let me know if you have any questions about aerating your lawn.

  17. Tamara Silva says:

    Do you recommend aerating a lawn yourself or hiring a professional?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      It is best to hire a professional for aeration, especially for larger lawns. Professionals have the expertise and equipment to ensure proper aeration, leading to a healthier lawn.

  18. Tommy Thompson says:

    Thanks for the detailed steps on how to aerate a lawn

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Tommy Thompson! I’m glad you found the aeration steps helpful. A well-aerated lawn is key to healthy grass growth. Feel free to reach out if you have any more questions.

  19. Bertha Bennett says:

    This article has inspired me to start aerating my lawn regularly

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Bertha! Regular lawn aeration is essential for optimal growth and health. Best of luck with your lawn maintenance!

  20. Lois Mcdonalid says:

    Interesting read, I didn’t know the importance of aeration before

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Lois! Aeration is vital for keeping your lawn healthy. Feel free to reach out if you have any further questions.

  21. Pauline Robinson says:

    What are the signs that my lawn needs aeration?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Pauline, signs that your lawn needs aeration include a thick thatch layer, dry and discolored grass, frequent lawn diseases, quick drying, rainwater run-off, and heavy traffic.