For first-time homeowners and those who have owned their homes for many years, the importance of proper lawn care should be a priority. A home is made even more beautiful and put together when the front and back lawns are in tip-top shape. If you have your mindset on creating a lush lawn, aeration may be the answer to your yard needs. Lawn aeration helps you achieve a yard that looks great and stands up to disease, weeds, and normal wear and tear.
Lawn care is essential year-round and includes regular mowing, watering, and the use of liquid lawn care products. Each season also requires its own specific set of lawn care practices that you'll want to familiarize yourself with. That way, you will be prepared to follow the proper steps to perfect a perfect lawn no matter the season.
Most of us have the basics of lawn care down. Mowing, watering, and mulching leaves during the fall - these aspects of lawn care are no-brainers. But there are some less than intuitive steps you’ll need to take to make sure you are growing the healthiest lawn you can. One of these more obscure lawn care steps is lawn aeration.
We’ve put together a complete guide to help you understand the basics of an aerated lawn. We’ll cover:
- Lawn Aeration 101
- Why is Lawn Aeration Important?
- Soil Compaction
- Best Manual Aerated Lawn Tips
- Signs That It’s Time for Yard Aeration
- Best Time of Year for Lawn Aeration
- Best Practices to Avoid Extra Soil Compaction
- Our Favorite Product for Lawn Aeration
- You’ve Aerated Your Lawn...Now What?
- The Benefits of Fertilizing After Lawn Aeration
- The Macronutrients of an Aerated Lawn
- Our Favorite NPK Fertilizers
- Seasonal Lawn Care Tips
Read on to learn all there is to know about lawn aeration and our suggested tips and products to try out!
Lawn Aeration 101
Let’s start with the basics to help get you acquainted with aerated lawns. Lawn aeration is the process of opening up channels in the soil to provide accessibility for oxygen, water, and vital nutrients to reach the roots, boost soil productivity, and create a yard you can be proud of. An aerated lawn is an essential part of your yard care maintenance routine.
Why is Lawn Aeration Important?
The aeration of soil is one of the most vital things you can do to improve your yard's health, growth, and beauty. When you look at the bigger picture, there’s not much point in spending money on treatments and fertilizers if your soil is compacted. Compacted soil can lead to stunted lawn growth and an increase in weeds. You may also experience poor water drainage, increased susceptibility to diseases, and a less than desirable-looking lawn and garden.
- Loosens the compressed soil
- Facilitates nutrient exchanges
- Improves drainage
- What is it?
- What are the effects?
- What causes it?
- How do you address it?
1. What is Soil Compaction?
Soil compaction is the compression of pores that would otherwise aid water and air transport to roots. When soil becomes compact, it becomes much denser and harder for roots to penetrate. The more your soil has been compacted, the more challenging it is for plants to stretch and grow roots. They struggle to break through the sturdy wall of soil that compaction has created. As the soil density increases, it restricts air. If air can't move through the soil, it results in the buildup of carbon dioxide and other toxic gases. Similarly, the dense nature of your soil makes it challenging for vital nutrients, like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, to reach your plants' roots.
You may also see soil compaction near the surface of your lawn. Known as “soil crusting,” this compaction can prevent water and any fertilizer you add to your yard from reaching the roots and hydrating your grass. A lack of water and vital nutrients will send your lawn into a period of dormancy.
2. Effects of Soil Compaction
Soil compaction poses many issues for your yard. Among those are two significant concerns.
- Impeded Roots
When your roots are impeded, it affects their development in two critical ways. Impeded roots increase the mechanical resistance of your soil by pressing its particles more closely together. This decrease results in fewer pores that have a diameter larger than roots, preventing them from growing freely without meeting mechanical resistance. It also reduces gas exchange from the soil to the atmosphere, important for exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen in the soil.
- Water Transport Restrictions
Soil compaction can also restrict the free and necessary movement of water down and throughout your soil. This flow restriction causes water saturation in the upper layers and can lead to the roots' oxygen deficiency.
In addition, the yard aeration status affects the availability of various plant nutrients, including nitrogen, iron, and manganese.
3. What Causes Soil Compaction?
For every homeowner, soil compaction will become an issue at some point or another. Several factors may contribute to soil compaction over time. Your lawn care routine may be the biggest culprit in compacting your soil. While it seems counterproductive, let us dive a bit deeper to explain.
When you push a lawnmower repeatedly over your lawn, you create pressure on the ground, causing it to compress. Similarly, having gatherings in the backyard for a barbecue or children playing on the lawn can have a compressing effect on your soil as well. Even your four-legged friends can contribute to compaction with their daily, routine runs in the yard. You will also cause soil compaction from the pressure of leaving a vehicle parked in the yard. All this traffic leads to the compaction of your soil, leaving you with a thinned or eventually damaged lawn. You'll also want to be mindful of these three mistakes that may cause soil compaction and lead to more frequent yard aeration needs:
- Working on Wet Soil
When your soil is too wet, excessive compacting can occur. Allow your soil plenty of time to absorb excess water. Gather a bit of soil and form a ball. If it crumbles easily when you poke at it, it's prime for work.
Too much of a good thing isn’t always helpful. While several passes of your tiller help break down clumps, allowing water and oxygen to pass through, too many passes can cause damage. Watch for water pooling and linear cracked soil patterns, signaling you are over-tilling.
- Mixing Sand and Clay
Contrary to some beliefs, you should not add sand to your clay soil. This causes more compactions. Think of it as a mass concrete plug adding to the blockage of water and nutrients. Instead, address your clay soil with organic matter options, including peat moss or compost.
4. Addressing Soil Compaction
An aerated lawn is your best solution to soil compaction. In a nutshell, an aerated lawn is achieved by poking holes in your soil with either solid- or hollow tines. Hollow tines remove cores of soil in addition to creating aerated channels. The small holes left over when you remove the soil act as breathing holes for your yard. With the ability to breathe more easily, your soil can also move nutrients more efficiently from the soil to plants' roots, allowing for significant growth and more greenery. There are several yard aerations tools out there, but we’ll go over some of the more commonly used ones.
Tools for Manual Yard Aeration
It can be as simple as a little manual labor with your trusted pitchfork, multi-spike lawn aerator, or lawn aeration sandals for smaller areas. These tools are more affordable and will help loosen and open areas of soil that are lightly compacted. While you can certainly use them for larger, more compacted areas and get fantastic results, keep in mind, that it is more labor-intensive and will require added time. Take a look at these commonly used tools and decide which one fits your aerated lawn needs best:
Manual core aerator
The most effective method for a manually aerated lawn is by using a manual core aerator. This tool is conveniently designed with a handle and foot bar. As you hold the handle with both hands, you'll drive the tool into the soil. The foot bar offers additional leverage for areas where the soil is too compacted by using your weight to plunge the spikes into the ground. This tool works best while the soil is moist. It aerates your lawn by piercing the ground with its sharp cylinders, making perforations into the soil, and removing small plugs from your lawn.
Manual spike aerator
This tool works similarly to the manual core aerator, but it contains numerous spikes rather than cylinders. Instead of plugging your lawn, it drives small holes into the turf to loosen the soil. This tool provides deep penetration increasing circulation for water, air, and nutrients.
While the process is much like spike aeration, be warned! It is tedious and time-consuming, but it does offer an effective method. The pitchfork penetrates compacted soil, loosening soil and particles efficiently with a bit of maneuvering on your end. Plus, there's no need to spend money on new yard aeration tools if you currently own one.
Lawn aeration shoes
With aeration spikes attached to the souls of your shoes or strapped on as sandals, you can multitask your way to a lush lawn. The theory behind the shoes is to allow you to create holes in your lawn while you mow. While, in theory, they sound ideal, they may cause more soil compaction. The spikes are solid, possibly causing more soil to be pushed into the ground rather than pulling plugs out or opening small areas for water and air. While you may see some benefit over not having an aerated lawn, you won’t reap the rewards as you will with other yard aeration tools.
Yard aeration machine
For your larger turf areas and more compacted jobs, you’ll need the help of a core-aerifying machine. This machine will force tines into your compacted soil, pulling out plugs to allow your soil to breathe. While more expensive, it's less time-consuming.
Best Manual Aerated Lawn Tips
- Soften your soil by applying approximately 1 inch of water to your lawn the day before aerating.
- Avoid damage to sprinkler heads, utility, or septic lines by marking them before starting.
- If your soil is lightly compacted, pass over your lawn once with your aerator.
- For compacted soil, pass over your lawn twice for optimal results.
- If you’re using a manual core aerator, leave the plugs of soil on your lawn. These plugs will eventually break down, adding nutrients back into your soil.
- Water your lawn well once you’ve finished.
Signs That It’s Time for Yard Aeration
Now that you know the downsides of compacted soil, monitoring your lawn for it should become part of your lawn care routine. But what are the warning signs that lawn aeration is necessary?
Signs of Soil Compaction
- the appearance of lawn stress
- weed growth
- poor tree health
- soil is hard to the touch
- soil doesn’t pass the screwdriver test
The Appearance of Lawn Stress
When analyzing your grass, you may start to see areas of your lawn that look “stressed.” These stressed areas of your yard will look less green and healthy than other parts. You may also notice a gradual thinning of the grass or dead spots. The grass will appear brown, dried out, and patchy. Consider checking the condition of your soil for yard aeration needs.
Another sign you may need an aerated lawn is the appearance of weed takeover. There are even particular types of weeds that thrive in compacted soil, such as goosegrass. If you begin to notice patches of weeds popping up and taking over, it may be time to check your soil.
Poor Tree Health
Pay close attention to the health of your trees, as they may provide signs that your soil is compressed. More often than not, compacted soil isn’t the first conclusion you draw when you see an unhealthy tree in your yard. Their strong, deep roots aren’t immune to the damaging effects of soil compression. Watch for discoloration or a failure to thrive to signal it may be time for yard aeration.
Soil is Hard to the Touch
When checking your soil by hand, it may feel hard to the touch. The dense ground is a clear sign that an aerated lawn is needed because your soil is not absorbing enough water to remain hydrated and moist. If any puddles of rainwater form in your yard, you can be sure this is a telling sign your soil is too compact to absorb the liquid and it's time for yard aeration.
Failing the Screwdriver Test
Still not sure if your yard needs an aerated yard? The final, fool-proof way to figure out if lawn aeration is necessary is what’s known as the “screwdriver test.” Grab a regular screwdriver and push it into the soil in your yard. If your screwdriver slips in easily, your soil is hydrated, and no yard aeration is needed. If you struggle to get your screwdriver to penetrate the soil, you’re overdue for an aerated lawn.
Best Time for Lawn Aeration
When it comes to proper lawn aeration, timing is everything. While there are many excellent recommendations out there, we highly recommend fall aeration. Although it may be contrary to your current routine, we may just persuade you with our top two reasons:
1. Extensive Soil Compaction
- Think about when yards typically see the most traffic. During the summer months, kids are on vacation playing outside or practicing sports, and families are gathering outdoors and enjoying the weather. Your lawn is likely experiencing more use, traffic, and soil compacting through the summer.
- Lawn aeration during the early fall addresses the additional traffic while adequately preparing it for new spring growth. Leaving it compacted until early spring will make it more difficult for essential nutrients to help spur healthy growth.
- Weeds are rampant in the springtime, making fall yard aeration ideal. By opening the compacted soil in the fall and treating your yard with a pre-emergent weed treatment, you can kill off many weed seeds that would otherwise flourish come early spring.
- Yard aeration in the spring may potentially stir up weed seeds, causing additional growth and more work for you.
Regardless of which season you choose to aerate, we do want to offer these tips for a successful outcome:
Fall Aeration Tip:
If your yard aeration is done in the fall, don’t wait too late into the season. Give your lawn enough time to recover before going dormant for the winter.
Spring Aeration Tip:
Mow your lawn two to three times before aeration. You want to ensure it has begun to grow back quickly enough to recover from the process.
Best Practices to Avoid Soil Compaction
While most homeowners will require an aerated lawn at some point during the year, you may be wondering how to prevent the need for lawn aeration more often than that. The best way to be sure you don’t need frequent yard aeration is to be proactive about soil compaction. Aeration and compaction reduction do not give you a license to stop mowing your lawn or to close your backyard to friends and family, but it does mean that you can be more mindful of certain things. Try implementing a few of these best practices:
Alternate your mowing pattern
Changing your mowing pattern regularly reduces the constant compaction of soil from your monotonous foot traffic path. This addition to your routine helps eliminate the need for additional lawn aerations during the year.
Switch from a ride-on to a push mower if possible
The additional weight and pressure of riding lawn mowers add to the compaction of your soil. If possible, switch to a lightweight push lawnmower to relieve stress and strain on your soil.
Reduce the amount of foot or pet traffic your lawn sees daily
While it may sound like an impossible task, be creative with your solutions. Consider creating paths designated for heavy foot traffic by lining pathways with bushes and trees. You can enhance your yard's beauty by adding pavers, gravel, or wood chips to your designated pathways. Plus, creating a designated dog run will help reduce pet traffic in areas you wish to reduce soil compaction.
Avoid weighted activity when the soil is wet
The pressure from your mower will pack down the moist soil even further if you choose to mow while it is still wet. Refrain from driving on or parking vehicles on your lawn when wet.
Leave taller areas of grass
If some of these best practices don’t quite fit your needs, consider leaving areas of high or heavy traffic grass longer. The extra grass will help serve as a cushion to absorb a bit of the pressure and reduce compaction.
You’ve Aerated Your Lawn...Now What?
Once you have a successfully aerated lawn, whether manually or with a liquid lawn care product, you may feel like you can hang up your gardening gloves and let your yard be. Alas, there is more to be done to ensure that you have not aerated needlessly!
We recommend fertilizing your lawn right after aeration when the soil is breathing and can best absorb the nutrients present in the fertilizer you’ve chosen. Since there are many fertilizers to choose from, be sure to select one that is appropriate to the time of year in which you’ve aerated your lawn.
The Benefits of Fertilizing After Lawn Aeration
Fertilizing your lawn has a myriad of benefits, both short and long-term, that contribute to your yard's overall health and look. Benefits of following your aerated lawn routine with fertilization include:
- Over time, rainfall and irrigation will wash away the valuable nutrients your lawn needs to grow green and lush. A lack of nutrients leaves your grass susceptible to disease and stagnant growth.
- Fertilizer encourages growth and, in some cases, can promote swifter-than-normal growth!
The Macronutrients of an Aerated Lawn
Choosing the appropriate fertilizer means taking a closer look at what nutrients your lawn needs to grow and thrive. At Simple Lawn Solutions, we want you to know that the three nutrients your yard needs most are nitrogen (n), phosphorus (p), and potassium (k). You will often see the acronym ‘NPK' noted on bags of fertilizer or liquid lawn care products. What can you expect from the macronutrients listed above?
1. Nitrogen (N)
Nitrogen is the mineral element used in the greatest quantity by turf. Nitrogen is a component of many of the biochemical constituents of plants, including chlorophyll, amino acids, proteins, enzymes, and vitamins. The addition of Nitrogen encourages vigorous growth for the development of a dense attractive lawn.
2. Phosphorus (P)
The proper level of phosphorus in your grass is essential for root and early plant development. Its primary role is in the storage and transfer of energy. Without sufficient P, normal growth and development cannot occur. Phosphorus effects on turf are usually more subtle and, while not as readily visible, are still very important.
3. Potassium (K)
Potassium is involved in carbohydrate formation, photosynthesis, enzyme activation, and the formation of proteins. Potassium plays a role in photosynthesis, and carbohydrate production is reduced when K is deficient. Potassium can enhance the plant’s endurance to stress if a deficiency was present.
Seasonal Lawn Care Tips
Beyond aerating and fertilizing your lawn, there are many other seasonally-specific lawn care steps you can take to be sure your lawn stays healthy all year long:
Spring Lawn Care
Mid-April is an ideal time to fertilize your yard, as the soil's temperature has warmed enough to allow nutrients from your liquid lawn care product to permeate the ground.
Once you’ve fertilized, turn your attention to properly watering your lawn. Increased rainfall in the spring means there is no need to water your grass more than one inch per week. Overwatering your lawn can drown your yard’s roots and encourage weed growth.
Be sure to seed your grass in the spring as well. Seeding during the spring replenishes your grass so that your lawn looks consistently green and lush instead of patchy and thin. Additionally, weeds, especially crabgrass, begin to germinate during late spring. The best way to get rid of crabgrass? Grab and rip!
Summer Lawn Care
Mowing is critical during the summer months, but did you know that the height you mow your lawn matters? Set your mower to chop your grass at no less than two inches in height to allow your lawn to develop a more in-depth root system.
Weed control extends from the spring into the summer months. You can use many liquid lawn care products to take care of excess weeds, especially if you were not as proactive about preventing crabgrass growth during the spring.
Fall Lawn Care
Fall is a crucial time to prepare your lawn for the harsh winter months. As the leaves fall and coat your yard, you'll want to rake them up and clear away any additional debris, such as twigs and small branches. Allowing leaves to form a carpet on your lawn can lead to moisture becoming trapped under them, which can cause rot and affect your yard's health.
Don't forget; it's the best season to aerate your yard.
When you fertilize in the fall, be sure to choose a product that provides slow-release nitrogen to help your grass retain its green color longer.
Winter Lawn Care
Lawns become dormant during the winter months, so there are few lawn care steps you’ll need to take during this time. It's crucial to have removed fall leaves before the frost and snow set in so that a hard, icy layer of leaves does not sit on your lawn for months.