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What Is Lawn Aeration and How Is It Done?

Author Icon By Brenda Woods Updated 02/08/2024

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. In this lawn aeration guide, we break down how to aerate your lawn, how often this maintenance is needed, and list the top lawn care companies that provide aeration services.


What Is Lawn Aeration?

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. Soil compaction also encourages weed growth and makes lawns more vulnerable to drought. Here are some factors that might increase the likelihood of soil 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 and make it difficult for root systems to grow.

If you’re not sure, simply pull out your toolkit and perform the screwdriver test. If you can easily slide your screwdriver several inches into your lawn’s soil surface, you’re good. If you’re met with a lot of resistance, you have compacted soil.


When 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 early 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 overly 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.


Dethatching Before Lawn Aeration

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 thatch layer. 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. Your choices of aeration equipment include these:

  • Aerator shoes
  • Core or plug aerators
  • Garden forks
  • Spike aerators
  • Slice aerators

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.

Core aerator

Also called plug aerators, core 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 to promote grass growth.

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 to promote a healthy lawn all throughout growing season. You can find the plan breakdowns below:

TruGreen Lawn Care Plans

Plans

TruHealth℠ Lawn Care Plan

TruComplete℠ Lawn Care Plan

TruSignature℠ Lawn Care Plan

Fertilization

Lime Soil Amendment

Pre-Emergent and Targeted Weed Control

Aeration

Overseeding

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 following 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.


Local Lawn Aeration Services

For many homeowners, the idea of connecting with a locally based branch or company is appealing. You may want to talk to someone who knows your area, the weather, and the best timing for the aeration process near your home. To be contacted by local professionals about your lawn, fill out this easy contact form or use the tool below.

Get A Quote From Lawn Professionals Near You
Get a quote in as little as 5 minutes

Frequently Asked Questions

When should I aerate my lawn?

You should aerate your lawn when it’s at the height of its growing season, helping it to heal and recover more quickly. For cool-season grasses, that’s early spring or mid-fall. For warm-season grasses, try May or June. Areas with heavy wear and tear or clay soil should aerate each year.

Is aerating your lawn worth it?

Aerating your lawn every few years will benefit it, no matter what type of grass you may have. For lawns dealing with heavy thatch, significant foot traffic, or clay soils, you may want to aerate your lawn every year.

What do you do after you aerate your lawn?

After aerating your lawn, you should take the following steps:

  1. Fertilize your lawn immediately for best results.
  2. Reseed your lawn, particularly in any thin or bare patches.
  3. Leave any soil plugs in the lawn to be worked back into the soil over time.

What are the benefits of aerating your lawn?

The benefits of aerating your lawn include these:

  • Better use and absorption of fertilizer
  • Better airflow between the soil and atmosphere
  • Breakdown of thatch buildup
  • Less compact soil
  • Less water runoff
  • Stronger roots for your turfgrass

What is the cost of aerating my lawn?

Lawn aeration costs roughly $17 per 1,000 square feet, depending on your location and service provider.


Our Rating Methodology

The This Old House Reviews Team backs up our lawn recommendations with a detailed rating methodology that we use to objectively score each provider. We review lawn care plans and packages, navigate the provider website and speak with customer service representatives, request quotes, and analyze customer reviews for each provider. We then score the provider against our review standards for plan options, additional benefits and customizability, availability, trustworthiness, and customer service to arrive at a final score out of 100.

To share feedback or ask a question about this article, send a note to our Reviews Team at reviews@thisoldhousereviews.com.