Often overlooked, aeration plays an important role in maintaining a healthy lawn. And this year, more than ever, our lawns could use the help. A hot, dry fall followed by a wet winter and spring have led to a patchy start for many warm-season grasses. If your lawn is struggling to green up, it may be time to aerate.
Over time, soil becomes compacted, filling the tiny spaces where air and water usually flow. Clay in the soil, excess foot traffic, drought and unusually heavy rains also contribute to compaction. Once the soil is compacted, your grass gets less of what it needs to thrive, and the roots become shallower, increasing the risk for damage, disease and pest infestation.
Aeration creates holes in your lawn, allowing air pockets to return so water, oxygen and nutrients can flow more easily through the soil to the roots of your grass. In addition, aeration encourages deeper root systems, making your lawn hardier and less susceptible to drought, damage, disease and pests.
When to Aerate
A quick test will help determine if your lawn needs aeration. When the ground is moist, try pushing a screwdriver through the grass into the soil. If the ground is too hard to penetrate, you should aerate.
Aeration is most effective in the peak of growing season, before the heat of summer takes hold. If you have warm season grass that goes dormant in winter, mid to late spring is the best time to aerate. If you have cool season grass that stays green all year, wait until early fall.
For best results, aerate a day or two after a soaking rain or after irrigating, when the soil will be less hard and easier to penetrate with an aerator.
How to Aerate
Aeration requires specialized equipment, but only needs to be done once a year. Most homeowners opt to either hire a professional or rent a machine from a home and garden center.
Aerators cut through the lawn and into the soil with either hollow or solid tines. Since solid tines simply push down into the earth, compacting the soil around the holes, many experts recommend against this method.
Core aerators have hollow tines, also called spoons, that push into the earth and pull up plugs of soil and sod. The remaining void collapses over time, allowing the surrounding soil to loosen. The plugs can be left on top of your lawn where they will disintegrate and become food for your grass. The disintegrating plugs also help decompose thatch, another bonus to this method.