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How and When to Aerate Your Lawn

aerating lawn manually with boot attachment
Nina Malyna / Shutter Stock

If you’re a homeowner, you know that curb appeal means everything. Even if you aren’t in the process of selling your home, an appealing front yard presentation makes your guests feel welcome and gives you a sense of pride. Using a lawn aerator might be necessary if your lawn no longer absorbs water, and it begins to show some wear and tear.

Fortunately, you don’t necessarily need to hire a landscape professional for hundreds of dollars to aerate your lawn. Use this DIY guide on best practices for using a grass aerator and determining when it’s time to get to work.

What is lawn aeration and should I do it?

Lawn aeration is the process of punching holes in the ground to expose soil to oxygen. A yard aerator does this by removing small round soil plugs from the ground, thus allowing water and various nutrients easy absorption into the soil.

Lawn aeration is essential for property owners who get heavy amounts of foot traffic or if their grass is brown, thin and doesn’t easily grow. Some of the most common types of grass that need to be aerated include bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, carpetgrass, and St. Augustinegrass. A yard aerator is not needed when laying new sod grass or seeded grass until approximately six months after installation.

When to aerate your lawn

If you have a cool-season grass like Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass or fescue (typically found in northern states), you’ll want to aerate in the early fall. For warm-season grasses like zoysiagrass or bermudagrass (more common in southern states), the best time of year to use a grass aerator is late May, June, and July when the grass is actively growing.

Depending on the type of soil, grass, and foot traffic, most lawns need to be aerated at least once a year. Lawns with compacted soil or with higher clay content may want to aerate twice per year.

How to aerate your lawn in eight steps

While aerating a lawn takes some muscle and sweat, the process is straightforward for any DIY homeowner. If you haven’t already, you’ll need to determine the type of grass you have and whether or not it’s the right time to aerate.

Step 1: Mow your lawn

Make sure your lawn is evenly mowed before you start with the project.

Step 2: Check to see if your lawn needs aeration

This is best done by digging into a square foot section on the edge of your lawn to see how deep the roots are. If the roots are shorter than two inches, it’s time to proceed with lawn aeration.

Step 3: Water your lawn

You’ll need to soak your lawn with about one inch of water. You can measure how much water is on the grass by using a tuna can. Place the can in the middle of the grass and, once it’s full, turn off the water.

Step 4: Mark sprinkler heads, underground pipes, and other obstacles

To avoid costly damage to pipes, sprinklers, and the lawn aerator, use irrigation flags to mark anything that you might run into while aerating your lawn.

Step 5: Aerate the lawn

For this step, you can use either a manual aerator or an automatic aerator. Manual aerators require a significant amount of physical activity, while automatic aerators are driven by motors and easier to operate. Make sure to aerate your lawn twice, going in opposite directions each time.

Step 6: Leave the plugs

Once you’re done with the lawn aerator, do not throw away the plugs. These plugs help with the natural growth process and usually take about a week to decompose on their own.

Step 7: Fertilize your lawn

Immediately after aerating, apply the fertilizer to your lawn. This will help maximize growth during the summer months.

Step 8: Seed your lawn

Finally, it’s time to reseed the lawn. Do this by evenly spreading the seeds across the entire yard. The soil plugs mix with the seeds and helps with the growth process by allowing better access to the soil.

Lawn aerator and other tools you’ll need for the project

  • Lawn aerator: There are many different types of aerators to choose from. If you have a garden tractor, a towable aerator might be ideal for you. A manual aerator is the cheapest way to go for just $40. You can also use a push aerator, which works like a manual lawn mower. Finally, you can even strap on some lawn aerator spikes to your shoes and aerate your lawn by walking around on it.
  • Garden gloves: Always wear a good pair of gloves when working outside.
  • Irrigation flags: You’ll need irrigation flags to mark obstacles before you start aerating your lawn.
  • Lawnmower:  For this project, you’ll need to mow your lawn first with a quality lawnmower.
  • Garden hose: Use a standard garden hose to hook your sprinkler up to your water source.

How to take care of your yard after aeration

After all the hard work and sweat you put into aerating your lawn, don’t let your beautiful yard go to waste. Take the right steps to help maximize the growth of your grass.

Do not remove any dirt or lumps of sod after the aeration process. These will decompose over time. The grass should remain untouched for at least three weeks after aeration (use your irrigation flags and some tape to block access to the lawn.) Finally, you’ll want to water your grass only once per day after the initial 30 days have passed. Avoid using your lawnmower unless your lawn is taller than 3.5 inches.

The bottom line

One of the most important aspects of maintaining a healthy yard is lawn aeration. Exercising patience is crucial while your lawn continues to grow because you’ll only see minor improvements after one aeration. Any immediate results have to do with health and root growth improvements, while visually appealing results won’t take place until after two or three lawn aerations.

While using the lawn aerator, always exercise extreme caution and carefully follow the instructions. Following a strict lawn care schedule will maximize the growth of your grass and allow you to enjoy the fruits of your labor for years to come.

Frequently asked questions

  • If you want a long-lasting, healthy lawn, aeration is recommended. Depending on the type of grass you have, you’ll need to use a lawn aerator once or twice a year.

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