Why do lawns need to be aerated?

Lawn Aeration Tools and Methods

Core aerators cut plugs of soil like these out of the ground.
Core aerators cut plugs of soil like these out of the ground.
© iStockphoto.com/Michael Braun

­If you want to perforate your lawn, you can spend tens or thousands of dollars on aeration tools, bu­t all the methods boil down to two basic ways of making holes in the ground. Aerators with solid spikes simply poke holes in the ground. Core aerators, also called lawn plug aerators, on the other hand, use hollow tubes to cut cylinders of soil out and dump them on the surface. Of the two, core aeration works better on high-traffic turfs as they're physically removing portions of the soil instead of merely putting a hole in the soil. Spike-aerated holes have the capacity to fill back in faster, but even the cored-out soil plugs typically return to the grass within a few weeks.

Aerators come in various forms. You can wear lawn aerator shoes or push spiked wheels and gas-powered aerators across the lawn. You can strap rows of spikes to your tractor wheels or you can just grab a pitchfork and start poking. The expensive aerators are also typically available for rent and, if you'd rather not get your hands dirty, you can always hire professional landscapers to perform the task for you.

Once you have the tools you need, you'll want to make sure conditions are optimal for aeration -- even if it's the growth period for your particular variety of grass. Never aerate during a drought or heat wave, as you'll only help evaporate the soil's precious moisture. You'll want to make sure the ground is thoroughly moist, but also not too wet. You want to perforate soil, after all, and driving steel spikes into mud will have roughly the same effect as trying to cut yourself a slice of pudding. Therefore, be sure to water the yard a couple of days in advance if conditions are too dry. This will ensure the lawn receives the equivalent of 1 inch (2.54 centimeters) of rainfall. Likewise, give the yard a few days to dry out beforehand if it's soaked.

Most landscapers recommend making two passes with whatever aeration tool you're using. This ensures that enough of the yard winds up perforated. After you're finished, it's time to irrigate and apply any seeding or fertilizer you plan on using. Depending on what products you apply, you might need to keep all children and pets off the lawn for 24 hours. Also, keep in mind that the soil is open to more than just lawn care products following aeration. If you're experiencing a weed problem, they're likely to take advantage of the open soil as well.

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  • "All About Cool Season Grasses." Seedland. (Dec. 2, 2008) http://www.lawngrasses.com/season-cool/index.html
  • Aveni, Marc and David Chambers. "Aerating Your Lawn." Virginia Cooperative Extension. June 2001. (Dec. 2, 2008) http://www.ext.vt.edu/pubs/turf/430-002/430-002.html
  • "Lawn Aeration - Greenskeeper's Secret Weapon." Blades Lawn Care. 2007. (Dec. 2, 2008) http://www.bladeslawncare.com/mowers/lawnaeration.html
  • "Lawns: Aeration and Liming." HGTV.com. 2008. (Dec. 2, 2008) http://www.hgtv.com/gl-lawns/lawns-aeration-and-liming/index.html
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