Lawn Aeration – Why – How – When and More

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Ah, like me you’re probably starting to get spring fever. I’ve got plants coming up in the garden and blossoms on my fruit tree.  It’s wonderful. Along with all the garden stuff, my grass – where I can find it – is growing nice and tall and very green. And its got me thinking about how to spruce up the lawn a bit, which leads me to lawn aeration. If you don’t know what lawn aeration is, the basic definition is punching little holes into your lawn. Now, you may be wondering why in the world someone would punch holes in their lawn. I’m glad you asked!

Why Aerate Your Lawn?

Lawn aeration is an important part of growing a quality lawn for several reasons. First, it opens up and decompacts the lawn after a year’s worth of treading and trampling. This helps air, water and nutrients get into the ground at the root level. By decompacting the soil, it also allows roots to grow and meander more easily throughout the sub-surface root zone. Also, the coring that aeration does to the grass can stimulate growth. This is similar to pruning trees and plants, which help stimulate the plant to grow. This stimulation, plus loose soil, allows the plant to grow faster and stronger than if left alone. Finally, lawn aeration helps to de-clump or dethatch the lawn. Grasses growing in poor compacted soils or that are under-seeded tend to grown in large clumping groups. Aeration can help these clumps to spread.

How to Aerate

There are a few popular methods of lawn aeration on the market, one of which I think is pretty bogus.  We’ll start there:  Aerator Shoes.

Method One – Strap-On Shoe Aerators

lawn aerator strap-on-shoe
Photo -

Strap-on shoe aerators… does that even sound plausible? I’ve read some good reviews about them, but from some of the professionals I’ve spoken with, aerating with these contraptions is comparable to your little kid and his beach shovel trying to unload a dump truck full of mulch. These shoes strap to your feet and as you walk around they punch little holes into the ground. It takes forever to get the job done.

First,  for some of the tougher grounds, I’d think you’d need a little heft to try to do the work. Second, think about wearing football cleats on steroids strapped to your New Balances while trying to cut the grass or rake leaves…  It sounds a bit like a tripping hazard. Not to mention what you might look like to your neighbors, trying to pull your cleats out of the soil while you walk – something akin to dogs wearing shoes I think. Aside from these drawbacks, unlike large scale aerators that punch holes and then remove the plugs, the shoe aerators just push the soil down. This may de-compact the soil in the first 2 to 3 inches, but it also compacts the soil below these 2 to 3 inches,  which may inhibit root growth.

Method Two – The Aerator Drum

The next two options are more efficient but definitely cost more. The first is an aerator drum that is pulled behind your riding mower. A drum aerator like this may run as low as $225 for a 36″ wide roller.  Of course, you need to have a riding mower to have one.  This tool, unlike the strap-ons, removes plugs as you move up and down the lawn, preventing  sub-surface compaction. The plugs are deposited on top of the grass, and will dissolve during rain storms.

Method Three – The Walk-Behind Motorized Lawn Aerator

Grainger lawn aerator
Walk-behind aerator. Photo - Grainger

This baby is more of a professional tool, as it can cost upwards of $3,000. But it definitely does the trick without the need of any extra equipment. If you don’t want to fork out all that dough, you can rent one from tool a rental store.

When to Aerate

The when can be a bit tricky. Timing for lawn aeration is based in part on where you live but also, and more important, on what type of lawn you have. Mike McGrath, host of “You Bet Your Garden” and a gardening expert, explains it like this: For the most part, lawns in the northern part of the country should not be aerated until the late summer or early fall to avoid the hot days of the summer. Conversely, lawns in the south should be aerated in the spring. But, this general rule can be completely altered based on the type of grass you have. Typically, in the north grasses are cool grasses like Fescue and Bluegrass, while southern grasses are more typically Bermuda or Zoysia grasses. If you have the grass that’s typical for your area, then you aerate according to the general rule.  But if you have a grass type that’s typical of the “other” area, for example if you live in the north but have a southern typical grass then you would in fact aerate in the spring, not the fall, and vice versa.

How Often to Aerate

Lawn aeration is certainly something you can do yourself, provided you have a the tools or a rental company nearby and that you feel comfortable using the tools. It really isn’t that difficult. Renting a motorized aerator is much cheaper than buying one – about $45 for a half day (4 hours) depending on the company that you use. However, if you don’t want to DIY this job, many landscape companies perform this task. It should cost you somewhere between $50 and $150 depending on the size, slope, and other factors. Finally, if your lawn has never been aerated before, you may want to aerate it once a year for the first two or three years. Afterward, you may be able to reduce this to every two to four years.

Lawn aeration is a great step to a strong and healthy lawn. Follow aeration with fertilizing, over seeding, and a top coat of quality compost to really green up your lawn and add to your home’s value. For more information and to see the power aerator in action check out Richard Cook , the landscaping guru for” This Old House” giving a demonstration.

Photo of author

About Leroy

LeRoy was born into a long line of contractors/carpenters/missing links which maybe why he fell naturally into tools and fishing with his paws, errr, bare hands. He has since punctured, stabbed or electrocuted every appendage that can be discussed in mixed company. Given his natural fur vest, he has never been cold. In his parallel life he is a mild mannered environmental scientist where he builds, destroys and builds again. Which let’s face it is much cooler than Superman’s parallel life.

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8 thoughts on “Lawn Aeration – Why – How – When and More”

  1. My house and lawn was just finished in April 2013 and by now my lawn has come and and I’ve noticed the”soil” is like cement in areas. I guess I need to aerate in the fall as recommended (New England). I’ll also apply a layer of loam/ compost to get a good organic base going. How much material should I add? Is an inch about right?

  2. Another trick for avoiding compacted soil is grass height. The higher you set your mowing deck height, the taller the grass will be, and the deeper its roots will penetrate. Between the shading created by more grass and the deeper roots, more moisture will remain in the top-most layer of soil, preventing compaction.

    Does this comment get me entered into the “free stuff” drawing?



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