Aeration: Breaking the Barrier to a Lush, Green Lawn

Lawn CareA beautiful lawn is more than skin deep: grass needs air and water reaching its root system to stay healthy. Although it only needs to be done once or twice a year, aeration will ensure this exposure by breaking up the soil for better contact. Here’s how to make the most of this lawn care method.

Do I need to Aerate My Lawn?

Aeration can benefit any lawn, but it’s particularly helpful in situations where compaction or foreign material creates a barrier between the roots and the outside. These are some of the most common situations that can benefit from aeration:

Heavy foot traffic – The footfalls of children and pets playing in the yard increase soil compaction.

New construction – Topsoil around newly built houses is either buried or stripped, while the remaining soil is compacted by construction vehicle traffic.

Excessive thatch – A thatch layer over a half inch thick can impede water and air flow.

Soil layering – Is the lawn built on imported sod? Over time, surrounding soil will make its way on top the sod and the differing textures of the two materials can block moisture.

Which Type of Aerator Should I Use?

There are three main types of aerators, each with its advantages and disadvantages:

Plug aerators, sometimes called “core” aerators, cut out plugs of soil, giving a direct route for water, air, clippings and fertilizers to reach the root system. However, the plugs can be unsightly, and it takes a substantial amount of power to operate this type of tool. Add in the high cost of equipment, and it’s no surprise why many home owners shy away from this method despite its superior performance.

Spike aerators punch holes into the ground, but don’t lift out soil. This makes these aerators easier to construct and easier to pull, making them more affordable and usable with a wider range of lawn mowers and tractors. Some PTO-driven aerators are designed to vibrate, breaking apart the surrounding dirt as the spike penetrates the soil for improved exposure, resulting in near-plug aerator results. However, disturbing the soil in this way makes it more susceptible to compaction, so the benefits don’t last as long as a plug aerated lawn.

Slit aerators slice into the soil, carving lines into the turf. The resulting cuts aren’t as deep as spike or plug aerators, but they’re much closer together, improving the results from watering and overseeding. Blades are available to work with a wide range of lawn equipment including tillers, making them the most affordable option. However, these shallow cuts are even more susceptible to compaction than spiked turf.

When is the Best Time to Aerate?

Aerating during the growing season will give the grass time to recover, filling in open areas after the soil has been broken. For cool season grasses, it’s best to do this in the early spring or fall, while warm grasses recover faster if they’re aerated in late spring. Contrary to popular belief, aeration has no effect on herbicides: exposing more soil won’t give crabgrass and weeds an opening in treated turf, so aeration can be done before or after treatment.

The soil should be moist enough for the aerator to easily puncture the soil, but not wet enough that it will be cutting through mud, causing the holes and grooves to collapse. The right balance usually occurs the day after watering or a short storm, but the process should be delayed if the ground is wet enough that your feet sink in when walking across it.

How Do I Aerate My Lawn?

First, the turf needs to be prepared. Remove debris like branches and leaves from the surface, then mow and dethatch the grass. Ideally, the grass should be no more than three inches tall to make it easy for the blades to penetrate the soil.

If using a plug or spike aerator, the holes should be two to three inches apart. Depending on the tool, this may take multiple passes. Slit aerators should only require one pass.

If you used a plug aerator, the plugs can be chopped up after they’ve had time to dry, either by cutting them with a hoe or by mowing over them. Cutting soil is hard on blades, so be prepared to resharpen them after mowing the plugs.

Where to Buy Aerating Supplies and Replacement Parts

No matter what you choose to use on your lawn, from tiller-based slit blades to the largest riding mower attachments, Shank’s Lawn Equipment carries the parts and accessories you need to aerate your lawn. Order from their website,, and they can ship to anywhere within the U.S. Have questions and want to talk to someone face-to-face? Visit their store at 4900 Molly Pitcher Highway (Hwy 11) in Chambersburg, PA: just take Exit 10 to Marion from I-81.

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