The basics of lawn care are pretty simple. Your lawn needs sun, water, and fertilizer. However, there’s an extra step that many people either ignore or simply don’t know how to use to best effect: aeration.
Lawn aeration opens up your lawn’s roots and soil to the water, air, and fertilizer that they need in order to thrive. There are a few reasons that lawn aeration is necessary: soil compaction, soil layering, and lawn thatch buildup.
Soil compaction is especially an issue for high-traffic areas. As people walk over the soil, it gets packed down so that less air-filled pore spaces are available for the lawn to breathe. Soil gets even more compact if you drive on it, park on it, or even if you use a motorized lawnmower.
Aeration can also help your compacted soil stay level, preventing dips and piles that result from the pressure of compacted soil. If you have compacted soil, it’s especially important to use a core aerator instead of a spike aerator. A core aerator will pull small cones of soil from the ground, creating a good amount of space.
If you used sod to create your lawn, it can create a layering of soil in your yard. That means that the soil that was part of the sod is layered on top of the soil of your yard underneath. The tighter structure of the soil used for sod can prevent air and nutrients from penetrating into the roots. Aeration shakes up the soil and helps to effectively mix it.
Lawn Thatch Buildup
Lawn thatch is a layer of dead grass that gets strewn across the lawn when you mow. A certain amount of thatch can help your soil retain nutrients. However, too much buildup can create an impenetrable layer that suffocates the lawn. Anything more than half an inch of lawn thatch can be problematic.
In order to prevent too much thatch buildup, rake your lawn after mowing, and do a thorough job in the fall, before the lawn hibernates for the winter.
Signs that It’s Time to Aerate
How often you should aerate will depend on your lawn. It can change according to the amount of traffic you get, how much clay is in your soil, or what kind of lawn you have. Some areas only need aerating every few years. Others need it every year.
Usually, the best time to aerate is in the spring before fertilizing and seeding. Aerating beforehand ensures that the seeds and fertilizer can get down into the soil instead of sitting on the surface. Here are some signs that it’s time for your lawn to be aerated:
- There’s bad drainage, evidenced by water from rain pooling in certain areas.
- Grass stops growing after the hottest time of the year in August or so, usually because the roots aren’t deep enough.
- The soil is hard to the touch.
- You can test your lawn yourself by shoveling a square in the soil. If it’s hard for your shovel to penetrate, the soil might be too compacted. When you get a good side view of the grassroots, measure how deep the roots are. If it’s only a couple of inches, your lawn is very vulnerable and could use aeration. Check the lawn thatch layer. Half an inch or more is too much.