Aeration helps improve the health of your grass and root systems by breaking up soil compaction. Read more to determine when, how and why to aerate your lawn.

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Achieving a beautiful and healthy lawn full of lush, green grass takes more than just watering and mowing. This is especially true if your lawn is frequented by lots of foot traffic from your family and pets. That can compact your soil, so learning when to aerate your lawn is crucial. Aeration helps loosen up your soil and make way for air, water and proper nutrients to reach deep into the grass roots.

Read on to learn more about lawn aeration and how it can benefit your grass and soil. We also recommend checking out Sunday, a subscription-based service that offers natural lawn resources, for fertilizer that helps you maintain a healthy lawn.

Related: Fall is the Best Time to Plant Your Eco Lawn

What is aeration

Aeration is the process of breaking up your soil to alleviate compaction. When soil gets packed down too densely from foot traffic, machinery or cars parked on it and more, the soil’s porosity decreases. This limits your grass roots’ ability to absorb what it needs for your lawn to thrive.

Aeration tools loosen up the soil to allow the water, air, sunlight and nutrients to efficiently penetrate and saturate your grass roots. There are several types of aerating machines. Core aerators are the most popular, followed by spike aerators and slice aerators.

How does aeration help your lawn?

There are many benefits of lawn aeration:

  • Gives your grass roots better access to the air, water and nutrients it needs to grow strong.
  • Enhances the effectiveness of other lawn treatments like overseeding and fertilization. Loosened soil allows these treatments to penetrate deeper into the soil.
  • Can reduce thatch in your lawn. This debris and dead organic matter can build up and block your grass and soil from getting water and nutrients, which can lead to disease and pests.
  • Keeps your grass green. If left tight and compacted, soil can cause unhealthy bare patches and brown spots in your yard.
  • Prevents water runoff or puddling. When soil is compacted, it can cause water to pool in your lawn. This pooling stops it from reaching the soil and leaks into the driveway, street or sidewalk, which can waste water and cost you a high water bill.

What causes soil compaction?

Here are some things that can cause your soil to become compacted:

  • Frequent foot traffic from kids and pets playing in your lawn
  • Heavy lawn equipment like mowers that pass over your grass
  • Poor water drainage
  • Clay-like soil
  • Thatch, or dead organic matter that collects on the surface of your lawn

How do you know if your lawn needs aeration?

Aeration is needed more frequently for some lawns than others. You’ll know when to aerate your lawn if you notice symptoms of compacted soil.

To find out if your soil is compacted, you can do a test of your grass roots. First, pull up a section of your grass. If the roots are only one or two inches deep in the soil, you may have some issues with compaction. This means water and nutrients will have a hard time reaching the root system.

You can also use the screwdriver test. Take a regular screwdriver and try to pierce the soil with it about six to eight inches. If it sinks easily into your soil, then that’s a sign that your lawn is healthy. If it is difficult to penetrate the soil with the screwdriver, you may have issues with compaction.

Related: How to Garden in Compacted Soil

The best time to aerate your lawn

The ideal time to aerate your lawn will depend on the type of grass you have and the level of activity your lawn experiences. The best time to aerate is during your grass’ active growing season so the grass can recover and fill in any bare areas once the soil is broken up.

Aerating in early spring or fall is generally best for cool-season grasses, while late spring is best for warm-season grasses.

Is there a bad time to aerate your lawn? Yes—avoid aerating a lawn that has recently been seeded. Wait at least a year after applying new seed to your lawn before aerating.

Do you need to aerate more than once per year or growing season?

How often you aerate your lawn depends on the soil and grass you have, as well as the traffic your lawn experiences. If you have heavy traffic on your lawn or clay soil, that may be an indicator that you could benefit from biannual aeration. Lawns that don’t get as much use, however, will be OK with once-a-year aeration.

How to aerate

After determining when to aerate your lawn, it’s crucial for homeowners to learn the steps to do the job right.

Before aerating your lawn, mow your grass to a shorter-than-usual height. Also, make sure to rake leaves and remove other debris from your lawn. Aeration works best when the soil is moist, so plan to water your lawn one or two days before. This moisture helps make it easy to loosen up the soil. Dry soil can make it difficult for the aeration machine to penetrate the surface of your lawn.

Before you start aerating, make sure you are aware of the location of your sprinklers so you don’t accidentally hit them with your aeration tool.

Understanding which aeration tools to use

There are certain hand tools and aeration shoes available that you can use to manually aerate your lawn. You can also use aeration machines that are powered by a motor.

A core aerator is the method many lawn care professionals and homeowners choose to achieve the best results. This tool removes small plugs of grass and soil to leave behind holes in your grass that allow water and nutrients to soak into the soil. You can let the plugs of soil decompose on the surface of your lawn to reintroduce nutrients.

You can also use a spike aerator, but these are often not as effective as a core aerator. Spike aerators create small holes in your grass but do not remove pockets of soil. This could potentially further compact the soil as you are pushing soil down and to the side, as opposed to removing pieces.

When aerating your lawn, make passes in two or more directions across your lawn to ensure you evenly penetrate compacted soil and high-traffic areas.

What to do after aeration

After aerating your lawn, it is recommended that you leave the soil plugs on your grass. These will break down and sink back into the soil in one or two weeks.

Then, if your grass has become bare and patchy from compaction, it’s a great idea to follow up with overseeding. Apply the seeds with a spreader where your grass has become thin or bare. These grass seeds will mix with the soil plugs left behind and be more successful in growing thick and healthy. After aeration, seeds will have better access to the soil and sink deep to establish roots.

You can also apply fertilizer after aerating your lawn. This helps you to return nutrients to your soil and grass root system. Fertilization helps prepare for the spring growing season and the summer heat. And, when your grass is thick and healthy, it can also help you naturally prevent weeds from growing.

For quality lawn and garden nutrients, we recommend fertilizer from Sunday, a subscription-based service that offers natural lawn care resources to homeowners across the country. Sunday allows you to get an instant lawn analysis and provides a custom plan for your lawn.

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