How To Aerate Your Lawn

Aerating your lawn is essentially soil cultivation; that is, it’s the rearranging of your lawn’s soil by breaking up its surface layer. You might hear it called coring, spiking or slicing, or even core aeration. In other words, aerating is the process of creating “pores” in your soil so it can soak up all the good stuff (like Sunday’s lawn nutrients) to make your grass healthy and green.

WHY AERATING YOUR LAWN IS SO IMPORTANT

Simply put, aeration is essential to having a healthy, resilient lawn as it lets oxygen, water and nutrients penetrate past the topsoil to reach the root zone, where essential lawn nutrients can stimulate root growth to create healthier, stronger grass. Aerating your lawn is pretty cool because it …

  • Better enables oxygen to get below the topsoil
  • Improves the uptake of fertilizer and Sunday’s nutrient pouches
  • Lets the soil more readily absorb the water it needs
  • Reduces water runoff and puddling – and reduces the amount you need to water
  • Helps strengthen your yard’s root system, the key to a healthy lawn
  • Reduces soil compaction which leads to soil erosion & low grass production
  • Reduces the rate and volume of water absorption
  • Strengthens your lawn’s ability to endure heat waves and droughts
  • Makes your lawn one resilient, beautiful space for fun family time (really!)

If you don’t aerate your lawn, you risk having compacted soil. Which basically means oxygen, water and lawn care nutrients can’t get past the surface-level layer (what you see with your naked eye). All the soil beneath that top layer is then at risk of starving when it’s deprived of air and water and nutrients.

HOW TO TELL IF YOUR LAWN NEEDS AERATION

A great way to test if your lawn needs aeration is with a screwdriver. Yep, a screwdriver! Flathead or Phillips, it doesn’t matter – take the screwdriver and insert the head into the soil. If the screwdriver can’t be inserted very easily when the soil is moist, then your lawn likely needs a little TLC (aerating and fertilizing). You’ve come to the right place to get help with both.

True or False: You can aerate your lawn with a pitch fork. (Scroll down for the answer!)

Chances are your lawn needs aeration if you’ve got compacted, poor or clay-heavy soil, or if you’re lawn is heavy used. Foot traffic and heavy equipment can turn your soil harder than concrete. Also, it’s a good idea to aerate if you’re renovating a yard (lucky you!). Want to know for sure? Scroll up for the screwdriver test.  

HOW TO AERATE YOUR LAWN LIKE A PRO

The first thing to do before you aerate your lawn is to mow it one to two days beforehand with the mower blades set to 1-½”. This will get your grass low enough without it being too short, and a quick mow will make both aeration and seeding more effective. You have three choices when it comes to aeration:

  • You could core your lawn with a lawn aerator
  • You could use a liquid aeration product
  • You could do both of the above (especially if you’ve got a lot of thatch)

// Using a lawn aerator > There’s no need to own the mack daddy of lawn aeration equipment outright (and let it collect dust in the garage with your high school trophies) because you won’t aerate your lawn all that frequently. Rent the equipment from a local hardware store, or pick a less-expensive option like Punchau lawn aeration shoes (yes, those are a thing!).

// Using a liquid aeration product > Used with a simple garden hose, liquid aeration is sprayed on your lawn to break apart tightly bonded clay-soil. It’s recommended you pick one that contains enzymes or bacteria that break down thatch.

// Core aeration has more of an immediate impact on your soil than liquid aeration does, but liquid aeration will last longer than core aeration. It’s all about preference. If you have a significant layer of thatch, we recommend doing both to help make a longer-term impact on your soil. PRO TIP: Before you aerate your lawn, test the moisture level of your soil by taking that ol’ screwdriver again and inserting it into the soil. If soil sticks to the screwdriver, your lawn is too wet to aerate. Wait a day or two for it to dry out before you aerate.

WHEN TO AERATE YOUR LAWN (SPOILER ALERT: IT DEPENDS)

Don’t tell the tulips, but spring is not exactly the ideal time to aerate a lawn even if circumstances may require it (circumstances like your soil’s health). Early summer is great for warm-season grasses, whereas cool-season grasses definitely need this TLC in the fall.

PRO TIP: Skip aeration if your lawn was seeded or sodded within the last calendar year.

If the soil is so compacted that existing grass can’t grow, it’s worth aerating in the spring. Just be aware that springtime aerating is generally discouraged because the aeration holes provide perfect spots for weed seeds from pesky weeds like dandelions to germinate (those sneaky little things!).

OUR TAKE: Aerate during peak growing season so your lawn has enough time to recover afterwards. Most people find that aerating once a year is plenty; some yards don’t even need it that often and can be aerated once every two or three years. High-traffic areas or lawns that are loved by playful kids and dogs can benefit from yearly care. If you’re aerating in the fall, be sure to faithfully remove as much lawn thatch as possible by raking deep rather than just skimming the autumn leaves off the top of the lawn. 

BOTTOM LINE:  Knowing when to aerate your lawn really depends on the health of the grass and your lawn’s soil. If you have sandy soil, you could probably get away with aerating once every other year. If you have clay soil or compacted soil, you may need to aerate twice a year depending on how much traffic your lawn gets. Most lawns benefit from aeration once a year.

TRUE STORY! You definitely can aerate your lawn with a pitch fork.

So, here’s a pretty rad, super DIY lawn aeration option if, you know, you’ve got a pitchfork just laying around the house.    

  1. After mowing the lawn per usual and ditching the clippings and thach in the compost bin, get the ol’ pitchfork and hold the tines perpendicular to the lawn. Start in one small corner of your yard.
  2. Push the tines straight into the ground to their full length so the holes you create will penetrate the root zone of the grass.
  3. Continue to use the pitchfork to make holes in your lawn at 4- to 6-intervals per row, until the whole yard is aerated.
  4. Water the lawn immediately after to hydrate the root zone.
  5. Crack open a cold one. You earned it.

Ready to rock more lawn-care essentials like a total pro? Check out our other online lawn care resources