What aeration does for you:
Aeration or “core aeration,” as many call it, is the process of exposing your soil to the air by removing plugs of soil from the turf. The resulting hollows allow water and nutrients to move through the soil, increasing the quality and health of grass over time and resulting in stronger roots. Healthier roots can withstand the hotter temperatures and droughts that often accompany summer weather.
Aeration is especially helpful for lawns that undergo a lot of foot traffic; the more a lawn is used, the more compacted the soil becomes, which greatly reduces the spaces in the soil that would typically hold air. Due to the decreased flow of air within the soil, compaction can negatively affect root growth. Roots need oxygen from the air to grow and absorb water and nutrients. Aeration improves your lawn by:
- Increasing oxygen, water, and nutrient movement through the soil
- Creating stronger roots
- Allowing better absorption of rainfall and irrigation
- Developing a topsoil layer underneath the grass
- Preventing fertilizer and pesticide runoff
- Inhibiting thatch accumulation
To aerate or not to aerate?
Aerating isn’t necessarily needed for every lawn. If you’re unsure about whether you need to aerate, remove a six-inch-deep section of your lawn. If the grass roots only extend one to two inches into the soil, it may be too compacted, and it could significantly benefit from aeration. Additional signs of needing aeration are:
- If your lawn regularly receives heavy use
- If the thatch on your lawn is greater than one-half inch
- If you have a dense, clay soil
If your lawn is not prey to soil compaction, then it will likely grow normally without the aid of aeration. Natural factors such as earthworm activity and winter freezing-thawing cycles often loosen compacted soil. Do not aerate your lawn during the first year your lawn is newly seeded or sodded.
When to aerate:
Most lawns should be aerated once or twice a year, depending on the soil, grass type, and amount of use. A lawn experiencing heavy traffic should be aerated twice a year, while a well-established lawn with little traffic can be aerated once a year.
Kentucky bluegrass and fescue: These cool-season grasses should be aerated either in April before applying pesticides or in September before overseeding. Aerating in the spring and/or fall allows Kentucky bluegrass and fescue lawns to recover quickly and grow stronger.
Bermuda and zoysia: These warm-season grasses should be aerated in late May through July. Bermuda and zoysia grasses grow fastest during this period, so aerating at that time will help them recover quickly and thrive.
While many garden centers rent out aerators, many lawn and landscape companies also offer aeration as a service. A lawn care professional will be able to best help your lawn by analyzing your soil type, grass health, and the best aeration time for your lawn. Lawn care professionals will also have a range of machines with different-sized tines and weights for the best amount of penetration for your soil. These large, heavy machines require special handling, so be sure to contact your local Best Pick companies when you’re considering aeration.
How to prepare for aeration:
- Mow your lawn before watering and aerating it.
- Be sure to water your lawn thoroughly two days before aeration; the tines on the aeration machine penetrate loose soil better than dry soil. If the soil is too dry, the tines will have trouble effectively piercing the ground.
- Try not to aerate after an extended period of rainfall; soil that is too wet will stick to the inside of the tines instead of falling easily back to the lawn.
- Mark sprinkler heads, cables, septic lines, and any other obstacle that may be in the way while aerating.
- Plan to pass over your lawn in two or more directions; this ensures a more even, thorough coverage.
You can leave the soil plugs on the lawn because they decompose and filter back into the holes left by the aeration machine. Your lawn mower will often break them up and help work them back into the soil within two to three weeks.
Applying fertilizer immediately after aerating your lawn will put nutrients into your grass roots. This allows the grass to better prepare for summer heat. Growing a thick, healthy lawn is useful in preventing weeds as well.
You can also reseed your lawn following aeration. Reseeding is especially helpful in areas of the lawn where the grass is thin. The seeds mix with the soil plugs and have better access to non-compacted soil following aeration.
Don’t expect instant results. While root growth and the overall health of your lawn begin to improve immediately following aeration, visual results are more visible after two or three aerations. Combined with proper fertilization, irrigation, and pesticide practices, you will be well on your way to creating a dense, green, and beautiful lawn.
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