Lawn Aeration: A Primer
When you want the best looking lawn in the neighborhood, there are certain lawn care best practices that you are probably already following, such as mowing, watering, and fertilizing. One key to a beautiful lawn, however, is in ensuring that the proper nutrients are able to make their way down to your grass's roots. Come fall, however, months of foot traffic, some heavy rains, and even thatch build up can make it difficult for your roots to get everything they need. That's where lawn aeration comes into play!
In this post, we will go step by step to show you when, why, and how you should be aerating your lawn for the best results.
What is Lawn Aeration
Before we dive head first into the practice of lawn aeration, let's take a beat to explain exactly what lawn aeration is and why the practice is critical for lawn health.
In short, lawn aeration is the practice of perforating your soil with little holes that allow water, air, and nutrients to get down into the soil and benefit your grass's roots. In doing so, your roots grow even deeper into the soil, which creates a stronger lawn that is more resistant to weather extremes, weeds, and disease.
Lawn aeration works because it counters the natural process of soil compaction. When your soil gets too compacted, it forms a sort of shield that can prevent the necessary circulation of water, air and nutrients. While soil compaction can happen naturally on its own, other factors, such as excess thatch or even organic debris just under the grass, can further withhold these necessary elements from reaching your grass's roots.
Does Your Lawn Need Aeration?
Now that you know what lawn aeration is, the next logical question is whether your lawn even needs aeration. It's a fair question; not every lawn does. There are some common factors, however, that lawns requiring aeration often have in common. Take a look at these and see if your lawn has any similarities.
Does your lawn get a lot of foot traffic? For instance, children and pets love playing in the backyard. Over the course of a summer, this can add up. Do you use your yard for entertaining purposes? That added traffic can also be a factor.
Was your lawn associated with a new home construction? In such cases, it is common for the topsoil of newly constructed lawns to be buried or stripped. Then, the grass on the subsoil gets compacted by the construction traffic.
Does your lawn feel spongy or dry out easily? These are common symptoms of excess thatch. To test it, use a shovel and cut a slice of soil from your lawn about four inches deep. If the that slice features more than one-half inch of thatch, aeration would benefit you.
Is your lawn sodded? If so, soil layering is happening. This means that the sod brings fine soil with it and is laid over the existing coarser soil. When this happens, water is absorbed and held in the finer soil, which disrupts normal drainage. The end result is compacted soil that hinders root development. Aeration, naturally, helps this by allowing water to get back down into the roots.
When to Aerate
You'll get the best results from aeration if you aerate at the right time. In general, growing season is when you want to aerate so that the grass can fill back in the holes the aeration leaves. With cool season grasses, you are looking at aeration in early spring and fall. For warm season grasses, mark your calendar for late spring.
Pro tip: If you are aerating in fall, consider fertilizing at the same time for maximum impact in the ensuing spring.
Plug Aeration or Spike Aeration?
There are two main types of aerating machines: plug aerators and spike aerators. They both do exactly what they sound like they should do. A plug aerator will pull plugs of soil out of the ground to create channels for water, air, and nutrients. A spike aerator will poke holes into the ground to achieve a similar effect. For the best results, we recommend (and use) plug aerating machines. While spike aerators created holes in the lawn, it does so by compacting the soil even tighter between the holes. A plug aerator creates those holes without adding compaction.
In most instances, an aerator that can pull plugs about 2-3 inches deep and about 2-3 inches apart is ideal. The holes should be 0.5-0.75 inches in diameter.
How to Aerate Your Lawn
So, after determining whether your lawn needs aerating and which aerator will benefit your lawn the most, it's time to get your hands dirty. The following tips should get you well on your way.
Prior to starting, make sure the soil is adequately moist. Trying to aerate dry, compacted soil makes for a long afternoon. Do yourself a favor and aerate the day after a good rain or, if need be, water the lawn yourself before you start. You'll be glad you did.
The majority of aeration machine aren't all that wide. So, if you have some sections of your yard that are extra-compacted, you'll want to make multiple passes over them to ensure the best results. On the contrary, if there are parts of your yard that aren't having compaction issues, then feel free to skip them. Work smarter, not harder.
Allow the soil plugs you pull to dry, then break them up so they aren't just lying across the surface of your lawn. You can run the mower over them to break them up, but this might dull your mower blade a bit. You can also use the back of a rake to break them up, but depending up on the size of your yard, this could take quite some time.
Work aeration into your regular lawn care routine. After aeration is complete, you should simply continue with your regular lawn maintenance of mowing, watering, fertilizing, and so forth.
It's also with mentioning a pervasive myth in lawn care. For those who use a pre-emergent herbicide in spring, there is often the fear that aeration will break up the herbicide "barrier." This is simply not true. There is plenty of research that shows aeration has no negative effect on weed prevention or crabgrass control.
If you are following a regular lawn care routine, but the results are not all that you had hoped for, lawn aeration could be just what your lawn needs to look its best and be even healthier. By knowing the right time of year to aerate and which tools are necessary, you can help your lawn reach the next level.
If you would rather leave it to the professionals, E.P.M. Lawnscape and Supply offers both commercial and residential lawn aeration services. To get started, simply contact us online or at (517) 990-0110.