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Why, When, and How Do You Aerate Your Grass?


If you have a yard at home, you’ll already know that taking care of some simple and regular maintenance helps you create a healthier and more vibrant lawn.

Not only will aerating your lawn help your grass to look thicker, but you will also serve to reduce and relieve soil compaction.

With lawn aeration, you’re giving your lawn, as well as the underlying soil, the chance to breathe.

Today, we’ll walk you through how to aerate your lawn the easy way, and we’ll kick off with some basics.

I. Lawn Aeration 101


Compacted soil and thatch are the underlying reasons your lawn needs aerating.

Areas of your lawn exposed to frequent foot traffic – or, even worse, car traffic – will suffer from the soil being compacted. When you aerate your lawn, this allows water and air to work their way into the root zone, along with those all-important nutrients. The more traffic your lawn gets, the more frequently you should aerate it.

Thatch a loose layer of both living and dead organic material, including:

  • Stems
  • Shoots
  • Roots

This area of thatch is found between the surface of the soil and the area of green vegetation.

If your turf starts producing this organic debris quicker than it’s broken down, thatch buildup begins.

Now, not all thatch is bad. Lawns need a thin layer of thatch for protection against changes in soil moisture, as well as extremes of temperature.

If the layer of thatch gets more than an inch thick, this is when problems can start developing. Excessive thatch traps water which can stifle the amount of oxygen penetrating the roots. When the thatch is too thick, this can also lead to more disease-causing insects and organisms, introducing a potential pest problem to your lawn.

Ultimately, when thatch builds up on your lawn, it will struggle to breathe.

Fortunately, remedying this issue can be as simple as poking holes in the lawn, but this will only prove effective with superficial thatching.

If the problem runs deeper, you’ll need to consider core aeration – more on that below.

The other preparatory step you can take is to rake the lawn deeply rather than simply skimming off the leaves from the top.

So, is it really necessary to aerate your lawn, then?

II. Do You Need to Aerate Your Lawn?

In all the following circumstances, your lawn might require aerating:

  • The lawn gets heavy use, with children and pets running all over and compacting the soil
  • Lawns established when building new homes are often problematic. Regularly, the topsoil is either buried or stripped. The lawn may be established on subsoil that’s been compacted by traffic during construction
  • Any lawn that dries easily and feels spongy is liable to have an issue with thatch developing. Using a shovel, remove a 4-inch deep section of lawn. If you notice more than a half-inch of thatch layer, you should consider aerating your lawn
  • Lawns made from imported sod with fine layers of soil laid over the coarse soil already in place often result in compacted conditions and sub-optimal root development. When you aerate this type of lawn, you’ll allow the water to more easily pass through and penetrate the roots

With those basics on thatch and aeration in place, when you should go about aerating your lawn for best results?

III. When Should You Aerate Your Lawn?

You need to aerate your lawn during the growing season. This allows the grass to heal efficiently, with any open areas filled in. This occurs when you remove plugs of soil during the aeration process.

If you have a lawn with cool season grass, aerate it at the beginning of spring.

If you have a lawn with warm season grass, aerate it at the end of spring.

IV. What’s The Best Tool for Aerating Your Lawn?


There are two main options at your disposal for aerating your lawn:

  • Spike aerator
  • Plug aerator

Spike aerator

You use this simple tool to poke holes in the lawn. The tool features a fork or a solid tine on the end.

Spike aerators are cheap and super-simple to use.

Plug aerator

A plug aerator removes a core of grass and soil from your lawn. This is much more effective than using a spike aerator and you’ll avoid introducing new areas of compaction around the holes. This can sometimes occur when you’re making holes with a spike aerator.

The best plug aerators will remove plugs of soil 2 or 3 inches deep, between 0.5 inches and 0.75 inches in diameter, and spaced 2 to 3 inches apart.

Since you won’t be aerating your lawn on a regular basis, you might prefer to hire one of these machines from a garden center or home improvement center. This will likely work out more economical, and you won’t need to worry about storing a large, bulky machine either.

V. How To Aerate Your Lawn The Easy Way

Assuming you feel your grass needs aerating, here are some simple tips to help you most effectively overhaul your struggling lawn:

  1. Make sure the soil is properly moist before you get started. Attempting to aerate dry soil will prove challenging and frustrating. Try aerating the day after rainfall, or alternatively water your lawn the day before you aerate it
  2. You can continue using herbicide on your lawn. Aerating the lawn will not impact weed prevention
  3. If you’re using a plug aerator, be sure to make several passes as most of these machines will only cover a small area of soil surface with each pass
  4. Disregard all areas of the lawn that remain unaffected to save time and effort
  5. Let the soil plugs dry and then break them up to keep your lawn looking neat and clean. Either pass the lawnmower across or use the back of a rake to smash them down
  6. Continue with all essential lawn care like mowing, watering, and fertilizing after you’ve aerated your lawn

VI. What Should You Do After Aerating Your Lawn?

Now it’s time for you and your lawn to breathe.

Take care of the soil plugs as above. This will not only improve the appearance of your lawn, but you’ll also be introducing beneficial organic matter and soil to the surface of your lawn.

Immediately after aeration is a good time to overseed your lawn. It’s also wise to fertilize the lawn and to take care of any simple repairs required.

Aerating your lawn on an annual basis will not only allow it to breathe easily, but it will also help your grass to thrive and become lushly green this coming year.

VII. Conclusion

We hope today’s guide to lawn aeration has shown you everything you need to know. Essentially, you’ll either be poking some holes in the lawn or using a machine to draw out plugs of soil.

This is straightforward job that needs taking care of once a year, so there’s no excuse for neglecting it.

Take a moment to bookmark Wild River Country before you head off, and pop back soon for more great content on all aspects of gardening and much, much more.

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