Your neighbor’s lawn is beautiful, rich, full and green. But each year, your lawn is marred by thin or bare patches and too much thatch. When it rains, puddles form in your yard.

There is a chance that what your neighbor is doing and you are not is aerating your lawn.

What is aerating, what are the benefits of lawn aeration, and what should you know about aerating your yard? In this article, we will answer those questions and more.

front lawn with green grass on edges, but brown in the center
Most yards can benefit from an annual aeration.

What is Aerating?

Aerating is a process where you treat that compacted soil and thatch by removing plugs. That way, air, water, and nutrients can get through to nourish roots. Essentially it breaks up the compacted areas allowing your lawn to breathe again.

Why is Aeration Needed?

Each year, areas of soil in your yard can get compacted causing thick layers of thatch to form. This may happen from a lack of microbial activity in the soil or either too much or too little watering.

brown patchy lawn that needs aeration
The brown spots on this lawn are thatch where the water can’t reach the grass roots.

A thatch layer is formed which is made up of tightly interwoven sections grass and roots between the blades of grass on top and the soil below. When too much thatch develops in the lawn, water, nutrients, and air cannot effectively get through to the roots of your grass. 

The organic matter that naturally collects on your lawn (like leaves and grass cuttings) is prevented from being broken down and converted into nutrients for your lawn. The roots may also become shallow exposing your lawn to drying out too quickly or succumbing to fungus or disease.

While a small layer of thatch can be good for your lawn (about 1/2 inch); too much can result in unsightly brown patches in your lawn that aren’t easily fixed by fertilizing. You may also notice areas of poor drainage where a puddle of water remains after heavy rain.

How Does Aeration Benefit Your Lawn?

Is it worth aerating your lawn? Let’s go over the key benefits of lawn aeration:

  • Promote healthy root growth. After aerating, it is easier for nutrients, air, and water to penetrate the soil to reach the roots of your grass. As such, aerating helps the roots of your grass to grow, especially with quality topdressing. Both your grass and your soil will be healthier.
  • Get rid of excess thatch accumulation. Routine aeration is a fast and easy way to break up thatch in your yard.
  • Weather droughts. If your lawn is currently highly susceptible to dry spells, you may discover that after aerating, brief droughts do not have such a damaging effect.
  • A better appearance for your lawn. If you aerate your lawn every year, you can expect a fuller, more even appearance for your grass.
well manicured lawn with brownish spots throughout
Even well manicured lawns are subject to patches of compacted soil and irrigation problems.

Thatching vs. Aerating

If you have a lot of thatch in your yard, you may wonder whether you should aerate or thatch (or “dethatch”) using a dethatching machine such as a vertical mower or power rake.  

Both methods are effective for removing thatch, but which is appropriate depends on how much thatch you have. Thatch removal is a much more aggressive approach where steel blades cut through the thatch layer and rotate to bring the roots up to the lawn surface. It can take quite a while for your lawn to recover from this process and in some extreme cases can kill the entire lawn. It is best to call in a landscape professional unless you are experienced in this process.

Aerating the lawn on the other hand only removes small plugs from the lawn. Each plug is about 2 to 3 inches deep and about 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide. Twenty to forty plugs are removed per square foot depending on the type of machine used. Almost all lawns can benefit from annual aeration and it will decrease the amount of thatch build up in the lawn over time.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Core Aeration?

There are multiple methods for aerating your soil, including slicing, spiking, and core aeration. Of all of these methods, core aeration is the one most landscapers prefer. To perform core aeration, you pull plugs (also called “cores”) out of your soil with a tine, and then place the compacted soil you removed on top of your lawn. There, it will break down and be reabsorbed into your lawn through the holes left when the plugs were removed.

What Time of Year Should You Aerate Your Lawn?

fall leaves on grass
Fall is generally a safe time to aerate the lawn – when the weather is not too hot or cold.

When is the best time to aerate? That depends on whether you have cool or warm season grass growing in your lawn. You want to aerate when your lawn has the best chance for recovery. The time of year is even more important if you are seeding the lawn at the same time, so the seeds have time to germinate and grow.

If you have warm-season grasses such as zoysiagrass or centipedegrass, you should aerate your lawn in late spring to early summer. If, on the other hand, you have a cool-season grass such as Kentucky bluegrass you should aerate your lawn in early spring or autumn.

In many cases, it can be helpful to aerate your yard twice a year in both the spring and fall. Whether you work in fall or spring, you will achieve the best results if the weather is not too hot or cold.

Do I Need to Overseed the Lawn at the Same Time?

You will maximize the benefits of aerating your lawn if you follow up immediately with fertilizing and watering. If your yard has barren or thin patches, overseeding the same day you aerate or a day later is a good idea.

Man seeding lawn
Just after aeration is a great time to overseed the lawn

Watch Out for Common Mistakes

Aerating your yard isn’t complicated once you learn the process, but be mindful of common mishaps. For example, spinning and lifting your entire aeration machine when you make a turn instead of properly withdrawing the tines by pulling the handle can damage your yard.

Aerating Your Lawn Can Give You the Full, Green Yard of Your Dreams

The benefits of lawn aeration for the health and appearance of your grass can be tremendous. Nonetheless, it is undeniably a time-consuming task, especially if you decide to do it twice a year. It is also easy to make mistakes if you are a beginner or if you are in a rush to complete the work.

If you hire a landscaper, that is a good way to ensure that your lawn is aerated properly without mistakes. It also frees up your time and energy to tackle other tasks in your lawn and garden. You can look forward to a full, green carpet of grass without all the work.

healthy green lawn
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