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6 Steps to Aerate Your Lawn [DIY How To]

Whether you’re an avid gardener or just looking to renovate your own lawn, you may have heard of aerating your soil. It’s an easy, simple, and quick process that can reap your garden or lawn massive benefits in a comparatively short amount of time. Aerating your soil involves perforating it with small holes in order to allow water, essential plant nutrients, and air to penetrate your grass’ roots. In this way, aerating your lawn can help your grass’ roots grow more deeply into the ground to produce a durable and easily sustained lawn. Aerating soil can be done by anyone, and there’s no need to wait. Read this article now to get started with a quick guide as to how – and why – you should be aerating your lawn.

Why Aerate Soil?

Compacted Soil

Compacted soil is one of the biggest issues you’ll run into as a homeowner looking to give your lawn a sprucing. It takes a very gradual onset and destroys all of your hard work before you even realize what it’s done – in other words, it’s a pest. If not adequately cared for, it can even cause runoff water that can’t penetrate the ground to end up flooding your basement. But what is it?

Compacted soil is soil that ends up getting packed together so tightly grass roots can’t penetrate it. When this happens, your lawn is unable to obtain the nutrients it needs from the soil because it can’t access them – without root penetration, your lawn will die off. It can happen due to any variety of external factors (including being subject to heavy foot or vehicular traffic), but soil compaction generally occurs in soil that has been dug up and refilled. Newer neighborhoods experience higher rates of soil compaction than their older counterparts because the soil surrounding older homes has had more time to settle. Therefore, preventing for the occurrence of compacted soil is particularly important because of how catastrophic the consequences can be. Aerating your soil can help prevent the occurrence of compacted soil by both loosening it and giving the affected soil a chance to re-settle.

Nutrients for Roots

Aerating your soil can also help drastically with the absorption of nutrients your lawn enjoys. Unaerated lawns can often appear to be thin and yellow, and unattractive blotches of dead grass interspersed with greenish-yellow matter are common sights on almost any lawn suffering with the compaction of its soil. This means that your grass is dying or almost dead and aerating your soil can be the perfect way to reverse the trajectory of your lawn’s appearance. In addition, it will certainly make your lawn much healthier and much easier to care for in the future. By loosening the soil beneath the top layer of grass, lawn aeration allows oxygen, water, and other important plant nutrients to reach the grass’ roots – therefore giving your lawn a new lease on life.

Dethatching vs. Aerating

You may have also heard of something called thatch – in addition to compacted soil, thatch is a main problem source for many homeowners bewildered at the state of their dead or dying lawn. Thatch is the catch-all term used to describe the bits and pieces of grass that die and gather above the soil.

In smaller doses, it can be beneficial to your lawn. When thatch is able to be adequately broken down by naturally occurring microbes in the soil, it can provide organic material for your soil to feed upon. It can even provide a blanket of insulation for your grass to survive bad weather, cold spells, and the crushing sensation of car tires or human feet.

However, this is not usually the way thatch makes its initial appearance. More often than not, thatch builds up too fast for organic processes to break down and forms a barrier that prevents moisture and air from reaching your healthy grass. Just a half-inch of thatch can be enough to cause these effects. Thatch is also dependent on soil compaction, because compacted soil will definitively cause more thatch to be present in your lawn – the more grass that dies, the more thatch your lawn will deal with.

While related, dethatching and aerating your lawn are not the same thing. Rather, dethatching your lawn involves removing the thick layer of plant material resting on top of the soil. By comparison, aerating your lawn involves poking holes in the soil to allow more airflow and nutrient absorption for your grass.

Does My Yard Need Aeration?

What To Look For

If you’ve been reading this article and considering whether or not your lawn needs to be aerated, the answer is probably a resounding yes. This is because your yard is probably suffering from a bad case of compacted soil.

If your lawn is brownish/greenish-yellow, this is an issue related to poor drainage and signifies that it needs to be aerated immediately. Seeing this means your lawn is dehydrated and not getting enough water because water cannot penetrate through the soil to the grass roots. Clay soil is much more likely than sand-based soil to have this issue.

If you have a yard that houses old cars, or if you have grandchildren who are fond of frolicking in the grass, aerating your lawn is the right move. Compacted soil can be caused by pressure applied to your lawn over a very long period of time, and you might be preventing a potential problem by properly caring for and aerating your lawn. For example, if a case of compacted soil gets to be too extreme, water cannot penetrate the soil at all – instead, it looks to squeeze its way into your basement because that’s the next-best place for it to stay. Trapped water within compacted soil doesn’t disappear, it just ends up in places where it shouldn’t be.

How to Test Your Lawn

On a related note, if you see any kind of water pooling in your backyard, this means that your lawn definitely has compacted soil and would benefit greatly from an aeration. So, if your lawn is constantly spongy or has a lot of particulate matter that looks like dead grass (thatch), you need to aerate your yard. But there is a particular way to test whether or not you absolutely have to aerate your lawn this very second, and you only need a screwdriver. Take the screwdriver and push it down into the soil. If it takes effort to insert when the soil is moist, your lawn is suffering from a case of compacted soil and is in need of aeration.

DIY vs. Professional Services

There are two ways you can go about the process of aerating your lawn: you can do it yourself, or you can call a professional. The difference between what you and a professional can do to help your lawn restore itself back to its former glory is fairly significant due to both their experience and access to higher-grade equipment than you will be able to get. A professional lawn aeration service will also understand how to care for your lawn after the job is done and can be very helpful in making sure you don’t need to use their services again.

However, if you decide to aerate your lawn yourself, you can do that too! Instead of waiting for a professional to schedule you into their calendar, you can take time into your own hands and get started today. In addition, you can water your own lawn beforehand and decide how many times to hit areas of especially compacted soil. More often than not, a professional won’t have your best interests in mind if it takes up too much of their time – getting the job done yourself is a great way to ensure that enough effort was put into the process. However, the biggest differentiating factor separating professional and DIY labor is the amount of money you’ll need to get the job done. You can save significant costs by renting an aeration machine yourself, and this next section will explain how to aerate your lawn step-by-step!

How to aerate your lawn

Make sure it’s the right time.

There is a proper time of year to aerate your lawn if you’re doing it yourself! It is primarily based on your location and your usual weather conditions. In order for best results, you want to aerate your lawn in synchronization with the peak growth of your grass. What does this look like in real life? Cool-season grasses (like bluegrass, fescue, or ryegrass) thrive in temperatures between 60 and 75 degrees for several weeks after being aerated. For warm-season grasses, it’s best if they are exposed to 80-95 degree weather. While these are guidelines more so than strict rules, knowing this helps us understand what season is best for us to aerate our lawns. For these reasons, it’s best to aerate your lawn either in early spring or fall for cool-season grasses, and late spring through the summer for warm-season grasses (such as bermuda, buffalo, and zoysia grasses). In other countries and locales, the weather will change and so will the seasons during which you should aerate your lawn. Aeration should be conducted once a year for high-traffic lawns or lawns with clay-based soil. Aeration should occur every two to three years if your lawn is growing well and/or if your lawn is lucky enough to have naturally loose, sandy soil. However, it’s important to note that you should skip aerating your lawn if it’s been seeded or sodded within the last year.

Pick the right equipment.

Aerating your lawn can be done in many different ways, and not all of them have to be terribly expensive. No matter what equipment you choose to get the job done, the process will remain the same. There are five commonly used different pieces of equipment to aerate your lawn: the hand aerator, aerator shoes, spike aerators, rolling aerators, and plug aerators.

If you’re only looking to aerate a small yard or lawn, a hand aerator will be your best option. They resemble a rake and are used in quite the same manner. However, even though they’re incredibly cheap they take a lot of effort to utilize properly and can cause fatigue and strain if you’re working on a larger yard.

Aerator shoes are the second least expensive method of aerating your lawn. Aerator shoes have spikes that are a few inches long at the bottom. They’re intended to be worn over normal sneakers or shoes when you need to take care of your lawn, and straps help secure them in place. The spikes create holes in the lawn surface, thereby allowing air, nutrients, and water to flow through soil and to grass roots properly. These shoes can retail for $20-30.

Spike aerators are a different animal entirely because they can cost anywhere from $10-$600. They work by penetrating the soil, leaving small holes in the ground. The price of a spike aerator depends entirely on the model, size, and features the tool offers, but spikes are its prevalent feature. Depending on how much money you want to spend, a spike aerator can be a great way to easily and cheaply aerate your lawn.

Rolling aerators can be especially helpful as they’re one of the most efficient aerators on the market! Ranging from $30 to $50 in price, they resemble a wheel with spikes that can be rolled over the lawn surface – not unlike a lawn mower. Spikes dig into and aerate the lawn in order to quickly and effectively create miniature holes in the soil. Because they’re also less strenuous to use than other models of aerators, they’re a top choice for homeowners looking to do a quality job without putting in a bunch of extra labor.

Core/plug aerators are the most thorough machines utilized to aerate unrelenting soil. It digs deep into the lawn and pulls out compacted soil clumps, which creates a direct link between surface air and underground soil. Because of this link, more water, air, and nutrients can get to your grass roots than other aerators can claim – if your soil is heavily compacted, other forms of lawn aeration will only make your problem worse. Because plug aeration is so thorough, the required equipment can cost $200-400 to purchase. If your lawn is on its last legs, this might be the method of aeration for you.

Step by Step

Aerating your lawn is a fairly simple and easy process that can be done by almost anyone, and below is a step-by-step guide illustrating how to properly aerate your soil.

  1. The day before you plan to aerate your lawn, wet the earth significantly (applying about an inch of water to the ground will sufficiently soften the soil).
  1. Mark any sprinkler heads, septic or utility lines, and shallow areas of irrigation so as not to run them over with the aerator.
  1. If you’re dealing with lightly compacted soil, go over the entirety of the lawn once with whichever aerator you prefer (spike, core/plug, etc.). If you’re dealing with heavily compacted soil or if you’ve never aerated your lawn, go over it twice – with the second pass being perpendicular to the first. If you walked across your yard the first time, walk up and down your lawn the second time.
  1. If you’re using a core/plug aerator, it will remove plugs of soil from the ground. These should be left on your lawn so they can break down and add missing nutrients back into the soil.
  1. Once you’re finished aerating your lawn, water it again.
  1. If you so prefer, you can now apply any lawn products or spreaders you might be interested in trying. If not, simply water your newly refreshed lawn every 2-3 days over the next few weeks.

As you can see, aerating your lawn is a simple and easy process that can be done by just about anybody with the proper equipment, time, and dedication to their lawn! Options range from DIY to professional service and you can choose from various levels of equipment, all depending upon the current health of your grass. If you’re interested in aerating your lawn, don’t wait – give us a call or get started today!


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