A thriving green lawn is not only a beautiful sight and the perfect welcome to your home, it also makes a major contribution to a healthy environment. On a daily basis, a 50-by-50 foot green space releases enough oxygen for a family of four. Not only that, but it purifies the air by absorbing carbon dioxide as well as trapping and breaking down pollutants.
To maintain itself in top condition to do all those wonderful things, your lawn needs a way to open up and receive nutrients and adequate hydration. In other words, just like your body, your lawn needs a way to “breathe.” The process of aeration makes your lawn thicker and also improves the effectiveness of irrigation and fertilizing.
Very simply, aeration is the process of creating small holes all over your lawn to loosen the soil and let oxygen in. A lawn care professional has the equipment and knowhow to do it quickly and effectively, but if you want to give it a go yourself, here’s what you need to know:
How Does Aeration Work?
Professional lawn aeration works by punching small holes all over the lawn, and plugs of turf, thatch, and soil are removed, letting your grass breathe easier. These plugs break down and feed nutrients back to your lawn’s root system as they decompose naturally over two to four weeks.
Does My Lawn Need It?
Look for signs like these:
- The soil is clay. Heavy clay doesn’t allow effective filtration of water and soil treatments and it keeps oxygen from reaching grass roots.
- There are puddles after watering. This means the soil is compacted and not allowing water in.
- There are worn areas. Lots of foot traffic, heavy playing, or vehicles driven or left (ACK!) on the lawn puts undue pressure on it and forces the air out.
- There are dry spots. No matter how much you water, most of it runs off without sinking in? That’s a sure sign that the soil is too compacted.
- Your lawn slopes. A gracefully sloping lawn is beautiful, but it can mean that water runs off before enough of it sinks in.
You can test your lawn by choosing an inconspicuous area and digging up a one square foot section that’s about six inches deep. If the grass roots reach no further than a couple of inches into the soil, it’s time to aerate.
What’s The Actual Process?
A machine called a lawn aerator creates evenly-spaced “pores” in the ground, between one-half and three-quarters of an inch in diameter. This loosens compacted soil and thatch, and lets water, nutrients and fertilizer filter through more easily. The plugs aren’t taken away; they’re left on the soil surface to be broken down by irrigation, mowing, or rainfall.
How Do I Do It Myself?
Here are the steps:
- Pick the right date. For cool-season turf, the best time to aerate is August through October. For warm-season grass, it’s April through June. But don’t aerate within a year of seeding or sodding.
- Water the day before. This will ease the process.
- Rent an aerator. Though they can be heavy and bulky, the most effective type is a gas-powered core aerator. There are mechanical aerators that use short spikes to puncture the ground, but these do not do as thorough a job. (As for those sandals with spikes, don’t even think about them.)
- Mark sprinkler heads. Use a flag or other device to mark the areas you need to avoid.
- Get to work. Run the aerator over the lawn methodically and only once.
- Leave the plugs in place. They will break down naturally over the next weeks. If they’re really unsightly, you can rake them out evenly over the lawn or dispose of them if you must.
- Seed if you’re going to. If you’re going to overseed your lawn, now is the time to do it. Aeration enhances the seed-to-soil contact necessary for germination, and it creates a moist and protected environment for seeding growth and development.
Of course the easiest way to do it is to hire a professional lawn care service provider to take care of it for you.
How Often Do I Have To Do It?
Aeration is part of continuing lawn maintenance. If your lawn is generally healthy, once a year will do it. If you’ve got clay or heavily compacted soil, though, aerating twice a year may be called for.
For additional reliable information about lawn care, check out The Lawn Institute.