We all know what it’s like to be at a party and need to step outside for fresh air. But now imagine that’s what your grass is feeling—and it can’t open the door alone. Grass roots often experience a similar need for oxygen under the surface of your soil.
If you’re often treating your lawn with a healthy dose of water and other essential nutrients and your grass is still suffering, chances are it’s time to turn toward a genius but often overlooked step of lawn maintenance: aeration.
I’ll explain the what, why, when, and how-often of lawn aeration. We’re about to poke some big holes in this subject, so get ready. Your lawn will soon be vibrant with appreciation.
Understanding the Basics of Lawn Aeration
You’re here because you want a beautiful, lush lawn, and it might seem contradictory to get there by poking a bunch of holes in your soil. But actually, that’s exactly what aeration is—and it works wonders toward a healthy lawn.
So what exactly is lawn aeration? It’s the process of making small tunnels in the soil of a lawn to allow water, oxygen, and other essential nutrients to better reach its grass roots, which are located between six inches and two feet under the surface.
By making open space under the surface of your lawn, aeration allows the roots to breathe—as well as take in water and nutrients—more easily than ever, and actually works to improve soil drainage. The result couldn’t be more beautiful and functional.
To the Root of the Problem: Why Lawn Aeration Is Important
In addition to feeding your lawn a healthier serving of oxygen, irrigation, and fertilizer, lawn aeration also helps the roots of your grass to grow. You might wonder, how does making holes in the soil increase growth? This is because aeration alleviates soil compression, which occurs when the soil becomes too tightly packed and is actually harmful to the health of your lawn. Lawn aeration creates small tunnels of space in your soil, and therefore makes more room for your grass to grow in strength, vibrancy, and functionality.
Nobody wants to spend time and money maintaining a yellowing and lifeless lawn, and strangled roots under the surface are often the culprit. Lawn aeration prevents too much water from sitting under the surface and drowning your roots, and gives them more space to thrive.
When and How Often to Aerate Your Lawn
You can aerate your lawn every single year, especially if it gets heavy use or is highly compacted clay soil, which can be found in much of North America. This especially matters if you have cool season grass, which is the most common perennial grass that grows in the northern half of the United States. Common cool-season grasses are Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, fine fescue, and tall fescue. Unlike warm-season grasses, they can’t punch down roots in very hard or compacted soil, which means aeration is essential for their health and survival.
For cool-season grasses, it’s recommended that you aerate your lawn in the fall or early spring, because lawn grasses put down roots in these seasons and can always use the help. For warm-season grasses such as Bermuda grass, centipede grass, and zoysia grass, it’s recommended that you aerate in the late spring. In addition to existing grass actively growing during these times, when you aerate is also when you should seed the lawn. Seeding works great after aerating, as the holes help new seeds stay planted in place in your soil.
How to Prepare Your Lawn for Aeration
Ready to get aerating? I’m not surprised. It’s a no-brainer decision for anyone who wants a prideworthy lawn, and thankfully, it couldn’t be easier to do. But before we really get into it, it’s essential to make sure your lawn’s ready for the process.
The secret to preparing your lawn for aeration is moisture. Water your lawn at least a day or two before getting out any aeration tools, and add at least one inch of water to the soil. This intense hydration will make it easier for the aerator to penetrate and pull out the soil. The trick here, however, is to make sure that the area isn’t downright muddy. That’ll just clog the machine.
How to Choose the Right Tools for Aeration
Lawn aeration can be done manually or mechanically. As you probably guessed, manually aerating your lawn requires a little more grunt-work on your part, but both methods are an effective form of aeration.
Both types of aeration, manual and mechanical, require the necessary tools. The manual way to aerate is by using a hand aerator. A hand aerator is a pitchfork-shaped tool with spikes or plugs that you push into the ground. It’s recommended that you use a hand aerator that features plugs, not spikes, as spike-shaped aerators aren’t as effective, and sometimes actually contribute to soil compression. (Psst, that’s the opposite of what you want when you’re aerating your lawn.) A hand aerator with plugs, on the other hand, have hollow tubes which you push into the soil during the process of aeration, and actively alleviate compression.
Mechanical aeration means utilizing a tool called an aeration machine or core aerator. But don’t worry, it has nothing to do with the kind of core you work out in cycling classes. It’s called a core aerator because it removes “cores” of soil that are about the size of your thumb. This is the least labor-intensive method of aeration, as it does the work of pulling out cores on its own—you just have to give it a push.
How to Aerate Your Lawn—The Right Way
To manually aerate the lawn, push a plug hand aerator into the ground, pull it out, and repeat the process every four to six inches. It’s that easy.
To aerate the lawn with a machine, it’s even easier. Simply push the machine across your lawn and let it do the work. Keep in mind that most aeration machines cover only a small percentage of soil surface, so it’s important to take multiple passes over the most compacted areas.
A big step in aerating your lawn actually happens after the job is done. Once you finish your poking or pushing, you’ll notice that your lawn is covered with those excavated soil plugs. It’s important to let them dry before handling them. Once they’re dry, break them up by running over them with a lawn mower or hitting them with the back of a rake. This will return your lawn to its clean appearance.
The Rule After Aeration: Maintain, Maintain, Maintain
Now that you’ve aerated, you can enjoy a more attractive, functional lawn—good for you! But the work’s not done, and what happens next really matters. It’s important to properly water and maintain your lawn after aeration, because this ensures that your grass roots are able to take advantage of the improved conditions of your soil.
Maintaining a lawn isn’t easy if you do it alone. That’s why we recommend an automatic lawn treatment like the OtO device. The first of its kind, this device uses real-time local and regional weather, windspeed, humidity, and temperature data to actively adjust its schedule and deliver the perfect amount of water to your lawn (meaning you can expect to save around 50% of your water bill!). Plus, it automatically applies liquid nutrition and treatments to your lawn through its water stream. After the rewarding process of aeration, it’s the leg-up you and your lawn deserve.