When to Aerate Your Lawn: Everything You Need to Know
Aerating the lawn is a practice commonly used to help improve the look of a yard, and may also help restore a damaged lawn to full health. If you haven't recently aerated your lawn and it is not responding to fertilizing, and other care, thorough aeration and dethatching may be helpful.
Lawn aeration can also be helpful for lawns that are particularly wet as it allows for better drainage and reduces the formation of standing water or puddles. Knowing when to aerate your lawn may require a visual inspection and some specialized tools will be needed to complete the job.
What is Lawn Aerating?
The annual process of aerating your lawn can help your lawn flourish by ensuring nutrients can get to the roots by puncturing the topsoil layer. Over time, a layer of dead grass can form on the surface of the soil, which is commonly called thatch, and this can prevent air and water from getting to the roots of the grass.
Knowing when to aerate your lawn can help remove this layer of thatch which in turn can help the roots of the grass breathe. Regular lawn aeration is a service that is commonly provided by many landscaping and lawn care companies, although it is likely an additional service and not coupled with weekly lawn mowing.
The process of aerating your lawn is straightforward, and there are several different motorized and hand tools to help complete the process. Homeowners can rent a lawn aeration machine themselves that is motorized, and the procedure should take less than a few hours for a modest-sized lawn.
After aerating your lawn, you may not see improvements immediately. The grass will need time to absorb nutrients and air out its roots before visible improvement is apparent above the soil line. Keep in mind that during this time, your lawn will need a consistent amount of moisture, sunlight, and fresh air for best results.
Why Should You Aerate Your Lawn?
There are a few simple reasons to aerate your lawn, and this simple procedure can have a significant impact on your lawn's overall health and appearance.
Over time the soil where your lawn grows will become compacted from various factors including being walked on, and the weather wetting the soil and washing it downwards. It's also possible that the compacted soil level may only be a ¼ inch to ½ inches thick before it starts to affect the growth rate of your lawn.
Compacted soil can prevent your lawn from branching out its roots in different directions, and can also keep nutrients at the soil surface instead of allowing them to sink into lower depths where there are significant roots.
Compacted soil is also more difficult for roots to grow through. This can prevent your lawn from thickening, growing correctly, and absorbing the water and nutrients that you make available.
Nutrients and Water
Figuring out when to aerate your lawn may also depend on the amount of water and nutrients your lawn needs versus how much the lawn appears to be getting. Some lawns are naturally wetter and therefore standing water can quickly accumulate or prevent the roots of your grass from being able to breathe.
Aeration can combat the standing water to some degree, and can also pull out plugs of soil which enhances the soils ability to absorb water. This process will ultimately make the soil conditions more favorable so the grass can absorb more water as well.
In addition to getting more water to the roots, aeration can also get more nutrients to the roots that are responsible for making the lawn green, durable, and lush. A thick carpet of lawn with strong roots will become more resilient against foot traffic and weather than a thin lawn with spread out blades of grass.
Relieve Stress and Enhance Appearance
A properly cared for lawn will be able to survive in times of stress where water isn't readily available, or the sun is scorching. A lawn that has a robust root structure is also more likely to survive harsh winters and other weather conditions that are less than ideal.
It's also possible for grass to feel stressed when their growing conditions are subpar, and when this situation occurs, the lawn can turn lighter green and even brown. While it is possible to salvage your grass when this happens, it can be difficult, and the possibility of patches of your lawn dying increases significantly.
The Lawn Aeration Process
The process of aerating your lawn can be simple, but there are different tools available to do the job and some helpful instructions that can help make the treatment a success.
Types of Aerators
There are different kinds of aerators available, and some are straightforward non-motorized tools, while others are motorized and feature several various adjustments. Typically, the types of aerators available can fall into one of three categories:
Core aerators or plug aerators are named after the small plug of soil that they remove which allows the roots of the grass more room to grow. This style of aeration also helps to get rid of extra water that the grass can't absorb and may help decrease puddles.
Commercial lawn professionals commonly use plug style aeration, and the depth and spacing of these plugs can vary from one machine to another. Spike aerators are similar, but they only press a spike into the ground and don't pull a plug of soil out as it moves across the surface.
Spike soled “sandals" are available that offer homeowners a low-tech way of aerating their lawn for a low price. This kind of footwear is generally worn as an individual does their usual yard work but may further soil compaction over time. For this reason, using a plug style aerator may still be necessary at some point.
Slicing aerators are similar to spike aerators in the sense that they leave the soil in the ground, but the slicing motion they use creates slits for water and moisture through the thatch and into the soil layer. These machines look a little bit like a rototiller but are designed to create cuts into the soil instead of digging up the soil layer.
The day before you intend to aerate your lawn, you should thoroughly water it to loosen and moisten the soil for the best effect. About one inch of water evenly spread across your whole lawn should be enough to soak the ground and make it soft enough to aerate quickly.
If you have any sprinkler heads, now is also an excellent time to either remove them, cover them, or mark them, so they are not damaged. Make sure to also clear any debris and other material out of your lawn and out of the areas where you want to aerate.
If you have determined that your soil is only lightly compacted then a single pass with the aerator device is likely sufficient. Light compaction of the earth is expected if you regularly aerate your lawn, or have minimal foot traffic and good drainage.
Heavily compacted soil or a lawn that has never been aerated will likely need to have two passes with the aeration machine to ensure enough soil is disturbed. Make sure that the second pass goes in the opposite direction of the first for the best coverage.
If you are using a plug or core style aerator, you may notice that there are plugs of soil laying around your lawn. It's a good idea to leave these plugs to break down as they will lend valuable nutrients back to the soil and create a fluffier top layer.
Once you have aerated your lawn, it's a good idea to water the lawn to ensure that the roots of the grass get some moisture and some of the available nutrients. There are also other products on the market that you can use during this step to help improve the soil and feed your lawn, but they are optional.
Dethatching is where a layer of dead grass and other stems and roots are removed from your lawn to ensure that the soil can breathe and the living grass gets the moisture and nutrients it needs. Dethatching can also help to prevent issues with disease and pests that can otherwise damage your lawn.
For small lawns, dethatching can be accomplished using a specialized rake called a dethatching rake, but more extensive yards will need to use a motorized tool. This dethatching tool is also called a verticutter, power rake, or vertical cutter, and can be rented from local companies. Professional lawn care businesses also offer dethatching services.
Before dethatching you'll want to mow your lawn to no more than half of the length you usually cut it as the shorter length will make the process easier. Using a rake for this process is the same as using a conventional rake; however, the tines will dig into the dead plant material and pull it out with each stroke.
Featured Image via Flickr