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Lawn Aeration: Why It’s Important and How to Do It

Lawn aeration is key to lawn maintenance, but you might not always know when you need it. Read this aeration to guide to learn how, when, and why to aerate your lawn.

Lawn Aeration iStock

If your formerly lush, green lawn looks stressed, your soil feels dry and spongy, and your grass is puddling after it rains, you may need to aerate. Lawn aeration is the process of perforating your lawn with tons of holes to break up your soil and let it breathe, allowing water, air, and nutrients to seep in. You can aerate yourself by renting equipment, or you can hire a lawn care company to take care of it for you.

If you go the professional route, This Old House Reviews Team recommends TruGreen. This lawn care provider is available in every state but Alaska and offers five comprehensive lawn care packages. If you’re interested in a free quote from TruGreen, call 1-866-817-2287 or fill out this simple form.

Why You Need to Aerate Your Lawn

If your soil has become compacted, it’s time to aerate. Dense and tightly packed, compacted soil inhibits root growth by cutting off access to nutrients, encourages weed growth, and makes lawns more prone to stress and more vulnerable to drought. Here are some factors that might increase the likelihood of compaction:

  • High clay content – Clay soils are more likely to become compacted than sandy soils because they’re heavier.
  • New construction – If your lawn was established as part of a new home, its topsoil may be buried, and construction workers may have stepped on and compacted the subsoil.
  • Foot traffic – Lawns that get a lot of foot traffic may become compacted.
  • Sod and soil layering – If you have a sod lawn, you may have soil layering—meaning the sod’s fine soil was placed on top of coarse soil when it was installed. These inconsistent layers can reduce drainage, which can cause compaction.

If you’re not sure, there’s a foolproof way to tell. Simply pull out your toolkit and perform the screwdriver test. If you can slide your screwdriver several inches into your lawn easily, you’re good. But if you’re met with a lot of resistance, you have compacted soil.

How Often to Aerate Your Lawn

How often you aerate depends on the conditions of your lawn. If you have a sandy soil, you probably don’t need to aerate more than every two to three years. But if you have a heavy clay soil, your lawn could benefit from aeration every year—or even twice a year, if it gets heavy foot traffic.

The time of year you aerate depends on your grass type. Lawn aeration is most effective during a grass’s growing season, allowing it to heal more quickly. You should aerate cool season grasses like fine fescue and Kentucky bluegrass in fall or early spring. Warm season grasses, like Bermuda grass and St. Augustine grass, should be aerated in late spring, or early summer at the latest.

You should never aerate soil that’s too dry. Soil that’s a little moist is ideal—too wet, and aerating will be a mess. If you can, aerate the day after it rains, or a day after you’ve watered your lawn.

How to Dethatch Your Lawn

Before you start the process of lawn aeration, you’ll need to dethatch. Thatch is a layer of decomposing organic matter that sits between the grass and soil. If it builds up to a layer that’s greater than ½ inch, it can block your grassroots from absorbing water, air, and nutrients—just like compaction.

Dethatching is an easy process. You can use a regular rake or dethatching rake to break up and remove the matter. Once you’ve removed this barrier and have a smooth surface, you can start aerating.

How to Aerate Your Lawn

If you decide to aerate your lawn yourself, you’ve got several options, ranging from spiky shoes to sophisticated machinery.

Low-tech options

There are a few methods that require very little capital investment and technology, but are fairly labor-intensive. If time and tedium aren’t an issue, consider these practices.

Garden fork

A savvy DIY-er might kick things off with a simple garden fork, puncturing the soil in 3-4 inch intervals. This can be a time-consuming approach, but it’s budget-friendly. If you have a large lawn, this can get tiring quickly.

Aerator shoes

Lawn aerator “shoes” have spikes on the bottom. You strap these spiky sandals to your regular shoes and walk around your lawn, poking holes as you go. Average aerator shoes range from $10 to $25.

Aerating machines

There are three main types of aerators — core (plug) aerators, spark aerators, and slice aerators. They all serve the same purpose, just in a different way. You can rent these from home improvement or garden stores. It’s probably not necessary to buy one, since you likely won’t use one more than once or twice a year.

You can pass over your lawn once, with any of the machines. If your lawn is heavily compacted, passing over twice is a good idea. Try going in different directions to create the most pathways for water, air, and nutrients.

Core aerator

Core aerators are popular machines, since they get the job done and have the added benefit of boosting your soil’s growth. These aerators cut little holes and remove “cores” or plugs of dirt from your soil through hollow tines. These plugs are usually about 2-3 inches deep, but it depends on the machine. The plugs should be removed about every three inches.

After removing the soil plugs from your soil, you can break them up with a rake or garden fork and leave them to decompose, adding nutrients back into the soil.

Spike aerator

Spike aerators simply puncture holes in the soil with solid tines—the same principle as aerating shoes. These aerators help a little, but they can be counterproductive. If the soil around these holes get pressed together too closely, you’re back to square one.

Slice aerator

These are the least common. They slice right through the grass with their blades, giving grass access to water, air, and nutrients. It’s a similar theory to spike aerators, but it doesn’t risk further compaction.

Recommended Aeration Provider: TruGreen

If you don’t have the time to invest in lawn aeration, or don’t want to spend money on renting or buying equipment you’ll rarely use, consider hiring TruGreen. This industry leader has been in the business since 1974 and has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.

TruGreen bundles its lawn aeration services in its three core annual packages. You can find the plan breakdowns below:

TruGreen Lawn Care Plans

Plans TruHealth℠ Lawn Care Plan TruComplete℠ Lawn Care Plan TruSignature℠ Lawn Care Plan
Plans TruHealth℠ Lawn Care Plan TruComplete℠ Lawn Care Plan TruSignature℠ Lawn Care Plan
Lime Soil Amendment
Pre-Emergent and Targeted Weed Control
Tree and Shrub Services

TruGreen also offers a TruNatural℠ Lawn Care Plan that provides natural fertilizer, and the TruMaintenance℠ Plan, which covers fertilization and weeding.

The lawn care provider also offers the follow a la carte services:

  • Grub Prevention & Control
  • Fire Ant Control
  • Soil Amendment & Analysis

With a yearly package, TruGreen can take care of all your lawn aeration needs, plus fertilizing and more services your lawn needs to thrive.

If you’d like a free quote from TruGreen, call 1-866-817-2287 or fill out this simple form.

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