The Why, When and How of Lawn Aeration

If you’ve been spending your time and money seeding, watering and fertilizing your lawn without seeing results, there is likely one thing standing between you and the lush green grass of your dreams: thatch.

What is thatch? It’s a layer of some living but mostly dead grass roots, stems and shoots that mat between the roots and the blades of grass, creating a tangled layer of debris. Thatch can be a good thing for the health of your lawn as it insulates against extreme temperatures and drought. However, when thatch begins to build up, it hurts rather than helps as it blocks sunlight, water and nutrients from getting to the roots of your lawn. A good layer of thatch is less than a half inch thick.

What’s the best way to tell if too much thatch has built up on your lawn? If your lawn is looking grim you can determine if thatch is to blame simply by walking on it. Best done in bare feet, walk across your lawn. If the surface feels spongy or bouncy rather than firm, you’re likely looking at a layer of thatch that has grown beyond its helpful point. Additionally, if you find your lawn quickly dries out after watering, this is another indicator of a thatch problem.

What’s the best way to get through this layer of thatch and make sure the all important nutrients, oxygen and water your lawn needs are reaching their final destination at your grass’s roots? Aeration!

What is Lawn Aeration?

What is Lawn Aeration?

Aeration is the practice of perforating, or creating holes in the surface of the soil to cut through thatch and access the roots. This will alleviate the compaction of your soil and let your grass get what it needs to produce a more lush, healthy and greener lawn. If you’re not sure if you have a thatch problem but still wonder if aeration might good for your lawn, ask yourself if any of the following apply to your lawn:

  • The lawn gets lots of foot traffic from pets or kids running and playing in particular areas that will contribute to compacting the soil
  • The lawn was installed by way of sod being laid over existing soil. The soil that comes with sod is typically of finer texture and when laid over course soil creates draining troubles as water is trapped in the layer of finer soil and unable to penetrate the coarser original soil.
  • Your lawn has been subjected to heavy vehicles like construction vehicles. A good example of this is a newly built or remodeled home where many types of large vehicles have been driving on the property.

When Should You Aerate?

Aerating should be done while your lawn is still in its growing season and it can grow to fill in the holes created by the aeration. In other words, before frost when your lawn will stop growing for the winter. Aeration is best done in either spring or early fall.

How you can Aerate?

Of course, there are a myriad of companies on the market that will come to your home and do this job for you. However, it’s also a fairly easy DIY project and there are many ways and products available to get the job done.

Generally, aeration is done in one of two ways: either spike aeration or plug aeration. With spike aeration, holes are made in the earth with a pointed tool pushed into the soil to create the hole. Plug aeration tools are designed to cut a core or plug out of the soil and remove it from the ground to create the hole. Plug aeration is often regarded as the preferred method as spike aeration can cause additional compaction as it creates the holes by pushing earth out of the way.

Machines for plug aerating your lawn can be rented and are operated similar to a lawn mower. The best machines are those that remove plugs between two and three inches deep and between half and ¾ inches wide.

Before aerating your lawn, make sure the soil is moist. A dry lawn will not aerate well so it’s best to water the day before or wait until you’ve had a good rain. When doing your lawn, be sure to give areas that appear the most compacted a few passes with the machine. If there are areas that don’t need aerating, don’t do them at all. The machine will automatically lift the plugs from the soil and leave them on the surface of your lawn. Let the plugs remain there to dry. The dry plugs will break up when you next mow your lawn and provide further nutrients to the now accessible roots of your grass.

Aeration can be done yearly or every few years, depending on your lawn and its use. Once your lawn is aerated, this is the best time to give it the care it needs to grow. Fertilizing, mowing and watering your lawn properly will make the most of your hard work and get that green grass growing.