Lawns are one of humanity’s great mysteries. Most gardeners see turf grasses as a weed that constantly threatens their garden.
Meanwhile, there are others who treat their lawns like a garden, giving them every bit as much care. Surprisingly, tending a healthy lawn is very different from tending ornamental grasses.
A perfect example of this is turf aeration, a special form of maintenance that many lawn lovers neglect but which can make a huge difference in the health of your beautiful lawn.
What Is Turf Aeration?
In its most basic form, turf aeration is the process of poking holes to increase the oxygen flow in your lawn, hence creating much healthier lawns.
Of course, you’re probably shuddering at the thought of having holes in your lawn surface, so let’s take a closer look at the difference between aeration and, say, a gopher.
Thatch and Your Lawn
You’ve probably heard of thatched roofs before. But first, let’s take about what thatch is first. It’s the organic matter layers that lie between the soil surface and the grass surface.
Now, thatched roofs are made of tightly woven, dried grasses, stems, and other vegetation to provide a waterproof surface.
Lawns have their own version of thatch. Lawn thatch is a tightly woven network of roots and debris that naturally forms over the course of time.
Under normal circumstances, the layer of thatch decomposes at roughly the same speed as it builds up.
However, sometimes thatch is created at a faster rate than it can be broken down.
As time progresses, the thatch sometimes becomes increasingly intertwined until, like the roof thatch, it becomes an airtight and watertight seal covering the ground.
While you might not notice lawn thatch because of the grass, you’ll soon notice its effects, namely dry, yellowing grass, that you can’t seem to recover no matter what you do.
What Does Aeration Do?
Aeration is a process of poking multiple tiny holes into the thatch and underlying ground to allow oxygen and water to absorb into the soil.
These holes, often made with hollow tines, are small enough that you won’t notice them, yet they can hugely affect your turf’s health.
When used in conjunction with heavy raking in the fall, it restricts the effects of thatch to give you only the best aspects of thatch while eliminating the worst.
It also gives cool-season grasses enough time to protect the grass from summer drought stress and before the first frost arrives. Moreover, it enhances the grasses’ drought tolerance to withstand changing lawn soil conditions.
Additionally, soil compaction can be a real problem, especially if there’s a lot of traffic on the lawn surface. Soil compaction is when there is a decrease in soil volume and an increase in soil density.
A sign of compaction is when there’s a pooling of water on the surface after rain, and it doesn’t drain easily.
When you have compacted soil or have heavy clay soils in your lawn, it prevents the proper flow of air, nutrients, and water within the soil as it has too many solid particles. This is why it’s a good idea to aerate your lawn so the water, air, and nutrients penetrate the grass roots properly.
Aeration helps loosen up the ground, allowing the soil to breathe more easily. It also improves the soil’s absorption of water and solves excessive thatch by establishing a deeper and healthier root system and stimulating microbial activity to decompose the thatch layer.
Types of Aeration
There are two types of aeration, spiking, and core aeration.
Spike aerators are the more simplistic process in which shoe spikes, pitchforks, and other pointy objects are used to provide some degree of aeration.
Core aeration, meanwhile, uses a lawn aerator machine that extracts plugs of soil and thatch via coring.
While spiking is still pretty effective, core aeration is a slightly messier alternative that provides superior aeration.
When And Why Is Lawn Aeration Done?
Aeration is best performed at the peak of your grass’s growing season, which can vary based on the type of grass you use. Read about a St Augustine Grass Maintenance Calendar.
However, the process of lawn aeration is rather simple and easy to employ.
When Should You Aerate Your Lawn?
As mentioned, the ideal time to aerate your lawn can vary slightly. Moreover, aeration schedules may differ depending on the soil, grass types, and usage habits in your lawn.
Warm-season grasses are at their peak from late spring into early summer and should be aerated at this time. Late summer into fall will be too late for these types of grasses.
Meanwhile, cold-season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass are best aerated in late February or fall. This allows the grass seed to grow and establish a strong root system.
The goal is to aerate when your grass is at its hardiest, which allows it to bounce back quickly from any potential root damage caused during the aeration process.
Core aeration can be expensive due to the machinery needed, but the good news is that you won’t need to aerate every year.
Unless you see your lawn struggling, you can aerate once every 2 to 3 years. In addition, aerating it every 2 or 3 years is sufficient, especially if you have sandy soil or a low-traffic lawn.
Annual aeration is also recommended in you’re in a place with heavy clay soil. Doing so will enhance grass growth and prevent your lawn from being weak and thin.
Additionally, you should aerate your lawn twice a year if you live in places with particularly cold winters, dry winters, or harsh climates.
On a side note, you should never aerate your lawn in early spring. Spring aeration will make it easier for weeds to take root and begin choking out the healthy grass.
You should also avoid aerating in midsummer when the hot, dry air causes moisture to evaporate more quickly.
How to Aerate Your Lawn
The spiking and core aeration processes are very similar, although there are a few key differences.
- Core aeration cannot be done when the land is at a gradient of more than 25% percent due to the weight of the equipment.
- More care is needed when using a machine to avoid damaging the tins on hard surfaces such as driveways and potentially damaging nearby garden plants.
- Spiking can take a lot longer to do and isn’t as visible, so you will need to pay attention to where you’re spiking.
Also, always try to plot out where any underground cables or hoses are, and their depth since both forms of aeration can potentially damage these objects.
To do this method of aeration, begin by marking off any hidden obstacles, such as the aforementioned cables.
Starting at one corner of your lawn, begin the aeration process, working your way evenly along the entire lawn.
Using an aerator with settings or a pitchfork, you’ll want each plug (or hole) to be 2” to 3” inches deep, 0.5 to 0.775 inches in diameter, and approximately 3” inches apart.
You may also use other aerating tools like a core aerator or plug aerator that removes tiny soil plugs and the core of grass to create deeper holes, open up air spaces in the turf, and provide good root growth.
However, make sure to use these tools properly, as they can cause additional compaction in the areas surrounding the holes. Also, do not use a garden fork under no circumstances to aerate your lawn.
Once you’ve covered the entire lawn, begin at another corner and go crossways from your original pattern.
This will help ensure full coverage.
While spiking won’t leave debris, the coring process will leave little soil plugs all over your lawn.
These can be cleaned up afterward, but it’s generally best to allow them to decompose where they lay, returning nutrients to the soil in the process. Also, don’t forget to water your newly aerated lawn every 2 to 3 days for the next couple of weeks.