Lawn Aerator: What Is It And Do You Need It?

Kenneth Wilson

Aside from irrigating, mowing, and fertilizing your lawn, another process you need to do to keep your lawn green and lush is aeration. Having a well-maintained lawn is important because this is a huge indicator of your curb appeal. Whether it be the front or the back of your yard, lawn aeration can help spruce your yard.

Don’t worry, lawn aeration is a simple maintenance task that will help ensure that your lawn grows thick and healthy. One of the ways you can aerate your lawn is by using a lawn aerator. To properly aerate your yard, you need to know how a lawn aerator works, how to use it properly, and the best time to use it.

If you don’t know what a lawn aerator is or the process of using it, here’s a guide on how to use a lawn aerator as well as to help you understand the benefits of lawn aeration.

What is a Lawn Aerator?

A lawn aerator is a device used to remove plugs or break compacted soil to allow air, water, and fertilizer to reach the roots. It’s basically pulling the cores of soil out of the ground and then air them out. This device will be able to create holes in the soil so that the roots of the grass can get the necessary nutrients they need.

Soil can get compacted when there is too much rainfall, which usually affects low areas that do not drain well. If water collects on your soil, this will reduce air spaces. It is important that your soil has enough space since seeds and roots require oxygen to grow and absorb the necessary nutrients.

If the grass is deprived of these nutrients, they will lose their green and lush color. Eventually, they will become thinner and die due to the lack of oxygen, water, and other nutrients. This will also make the turf less tolerant against heat and drought.

Why should you use a Lawn Aerator?

As mentioned above, it is important to aerate your lawn to get rid of compacted soil and provide better drainage. You may think that you don’t have to worry about this since your soil is not compacted, but it can easily happen when heavy equipment, vehicles, or small tools are driven on your lawn. If you tend to have outdoor parties or have children and pets playing in the yard, then chances are, some parts or all of the soil in your yard is compacted.

If you’re planning to overseed, lawn aeration will help repair lawns and encourage growth. Overseeding is spreading a new coat of seed or planting these directly into the existing turf without tearing the soil or turf. You usually do this to improve density, fill in bare spots, and enhance the lawn’s color. This can also be done for yards that look old, are insect-ridden, or have contracted a disease. 

Aside from breaking up compacted soil, lawn aerators are also used to remove thatch from your grass. The grass will then have some space and will have an easier time to soak air, water, and other nutrients they need to grow thick, strong, and deep. This will also increase the activity of soil microorganisms that can help decompose thatch, and prevent root stress and dehydration due to thatch.

You should aerate your lawn if you are planning to install or renovate your yard. You could also do lawn aeration when you plan to irrigate or apply fertilizer or herbicide. Overall, this will help prevent grass mold, standing water, and other lawn problems. 

Types of Lawn Aerators

There are different types of lawn aerators, it can be a machine or used manually. Here are some of the most common ones.

Spike Aerator

This device simply has solid and spike-like tines that poke a hole into the soil. Spike aerators are usually manual tools, but there are machine types as well. With this, you will be creating small holes into the turf with the tines, which will help loosen the soil.

Source: Amazon

These could work on a small lawn, but it would only push down the soil further into the ground. There’s a chance that it could make compaction worse since the soil would be pressed together.

There are also some people who used spiked aerator shoes while they do yard work. It would be like killing two birds with one stone since you can aerate your yard while doing other things in your yard. Unfortunately, it may not produce the same results as spiked aerators.

For those who have a garden fork, you can also use this instead of buying spiked aerators. It works similarly to spiked aerators where you have to push down the tines into the soil to loosen it. You will also save money since you don’t have to buy a new tool, but using this will take up more of your time, especially if you have a huge yard.

Core Aerators

Also known as plug aerator, this device has rows of hollow tines. It is hollow so that it can remove plugs and make perforation into the soil, efficiently breaking it down but scattering the soil on top. The size of the plug or amount of soil will depend on the core aerator you use.

Source: Amazon

There are aerator machines that work similarly to a lawnmower, suitable for those who have large lawns. You can also use a manual core aerator, which is a tool with a handle and foot bar. It’s best to use this tool when the soil is moist since it would be difficult to push this device on overly dry soil. 

Slicing Aerator

This device has rotating blades that can slice or cut through the grass and thatch, reaching into the soil. Similar to spike aerators, this will also leave the soil in the ground, but it will provide more access to air, water, and other nutrients the roots need. Don’t worry, this method won’t cause any more compaction. 

Tow-Behind Aerator

This aerator works similar to the spike aerator, but it is usually bigger. It’s called tow-behind because it is attached to mowers and tractors, so you don’t have to manually aerate. Since it is wider, it can cover more area and even have longer spikes that can penetrate deep into the soil.

Source: Amazon

How often should you Aerate your Lawn?

Lawn aeration is a simple maintenance task because you don’t have to do it regularly. It is recommended to aerate your lawn once a year - or even once every two to three years. The frequency would depend on what type of soil you have.

If you have loose soil, you don’t need to aerate every year. This also applies to those who have thriving and healthy grass. On the other hand, those who have poor, thick, compacted, or clay-heavy soil should aerate at least once a year because this type of soil easily traps water. The same goes for those who have thick grasses or has a yard with a lot of foot traffic.

When is the best time to Aerate your Lawn?

You have to aerate your lawn once a year, and it’s important to do this during the best time or else it won’t be efficient. The best time will depend on the grass type. It is recommended to aerate during mid- to late spring and early fall if you have perennial Ryegrass or Kentucky Bluegrass. If you have turf grasses such as St. Augustine, Zoysia, and Bermuda, then it is recommended to aerate during mid-spring to summer.

perennial Ryegrass OR Kentucky Bluegrass

St. Augustine, Zoysia, OR Bermuda

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If you will be fertilizing and overseeding your lawn after aeration, you should aerate before fall or around late September. This will also help your grass seeds take root, making it easier for them to soak in fertilizer, rain, and other nutrients. It’s important for these to happen before winter, which will also help prevent weeds and other competitive grasses from overcrowding your grass.

But if you don’t plan to overseed or you don’t have extremely hot summers and cold autumns, you can aerate your lawn during the spring. You can do it between March to June, but most prefer to do it in April. Whichever month you choose, the goal is to let your grass readjust before the hot summer days or cold season rolls in. This means you should aerate before or during the time your grass reaches its natural peak growth.

Lawn aeration is healthy for lawns, but it must always be done properly. If you do it when your lawns are dormant, then it will stress the grass. When you aerate during your grass’ active growth, they will recover quickly and fill in aerated areas.

You should also aerate your soil when it is moist, probably after a day from rainfall or irrigation. It would be difficult for you or a lawn aerator if you use it on overly dry soil. You should also avoid aerating wet lawns, that’s why the soil should just be moist. 

Note: Do not aerate newly sodded or seeded lawns within the first year.

How to Aerate your Lawn

Before you start aerating your lawn, here are two things you should do:

To efficiently aerate your lawn, it would be best to water your lawn a day or two before aerating. This will make it easier to penetrate the soil. Watering it up to one inch is enough to make it moist on the day of the irrigation.

To avoid damaging the equipment, you should mark the sprinkler heads, installed equipment, landscape features, and other obstacles so you won’t aerate these. The lawn aerator can break if it gobbles up these tools or accessories.

Once you’ve settled these, it’s time to aerate your lawn. There are many ways you can aerate your lawn, and the three most common ones are spike aeration, core aeration, and liquid aeration.

Spike Aeration

With this method, you use a spike to create holes in the lawn without removing or turning the oil. You will just push the dirt into the ground, but this won’t work well on heavily compacted soil. It’s not a common way to aerate, but some people with healthy and lush grass opt for this method. There are also those who prefer this method because it provides better access to the root systems, suitable for those who will fertilize or are preparing their lawn for overseeding.

You can also opt for this method if you have a small lawn, manually aerating it with a garden fork. All you have to do is shove the tines into the soil as deep you can, then while placing one foot on the head, rotate or rock the garden fork back and forth. 

The video above also shows the manual core aerator fork. Similar to the garden fork, you have to make sure to work it into the turf. Both devices are easy to use but it will take a lot of time and effort to aerate your lawn. The difference is the manual core aerator fork is used for a different way of aerating - which will be discussed in the next section.

Core Aeration

The most popular method for aerating is core aeration. With this method, you will need devices with two- to three-inch cores or hollow tines. These cores will be plugged into the ground which will remove a few inches of soil. This will break the compacted soil and redistribute it. Unfortunately, the soil from beneath will be scattered across the yard. You will have to see small bunches of soil on your green turf. 

But if you have a heavily compacted soil, it is recommended you do core aeration. Since you only have to do this at least once a year, maybe you won't mind the scattered soil for the time being. You’ll also see some holes, but this will help roots grow and make it easier for them to soak water, air, and other nutrients.

This method is also recommended for those who have a large yard since it would be challenging to aerate a huge lawn with a garden fork or fork aerator. You can use an aerating machine when doing core aeration. Operating this device is somewhat similar to using a lawnmower. It tends to move quickly so make sure to hold on tight.

Liquid Aeration

Recently, liquid aeration is becoming a more popular method. You will be applying liquid aerators on your soil which will create microscopic holes in it. There are two types of liquid aerators - there’s humic acid or humic acid mix, and the other is a surfactant.

How does liquid aeration work? These microscopic holes or pores created by the liquid aerator will act like sponges that can easily absorb and retain water, improving water flow. Compared to traditional methods, this can permeate all of the soil and not just a few inches beneath the surface.

Kenneth Wilson
February 6, 2020

Kenneth Wilson

Retired contractor. Currently residing in Southwest Florida. Now in semi-retirement, I write and manage this blog focused on helping home owners make savvy decisions when it comes to finding contractors and getting their projects done. I also operate remodeling design service for homeowners.

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