Aerating your lawn is a great way to reduce thatch, loosen up compacted soils and make it easier for water and nutrients to reach the roots of your turf. Even with the best lawn care available, grass can thin out and lose color due to excessive thatch buildup, hard or compacted soils, or periods of high temperature, high humidity, or drought. Aerating and overseeding is recognized by turf experts, such as golf course superintendents, as the best treatment to control thatch, reduce compaction, fill-in bare spots and revitalize growth.
Step 1: Aeration (or core cultivation) removes small cores of soil and thatch to allow air, moisture and fertilizer to penetrate down to the root zone. The cores brought to the surface contain microorganisms, which help the breakdown of the woody thatch tissue. This allows the roots of existing grass plants to spread out and grow deeper, creating a healthier, thicker lawn. Aeration can be done anytime the lawn is actively growing. In the south, the preferred season is spring. In the north, it’s fall.
Step 2: Overseeding in the fall will fill-in bare, or thin, spots and help build a thicker lawn faster. The new seed quickly takes root in the freshly aerated lawn and provides new life to your already established grass. As your lawn gets thicker and healthier, your new grass plants help reduce the chance of new weeds sprouting.
If you have sandy soil, it is still important to aerate, although different machinery must be used for this process. Instead of using a machine that pulls out plugs of soil, use equipment that pierces the soil with a sharp spike. This type of equipment is not recommended for heavy clay soils as it further compacts the clay.
Of all the things that build a healthy, thick lawn, aeration is second only to fertilizing. Aeration reduces thatch in your lawn while it opens the way for air, water and fertilizer to reach the root zone of the turf. Aeration is the secret to making everything else done on your lawn work even better.
The layer of living and dead roots and stems that form on top of the soil is called thatch. It is a harbor for insects and a breeding place for disease. A small amount of thatch is a good thing, but when it gets over 1/2” thick it becomes a problem. Aeration removes thousands of plugs of soil from your lawn and deposits them above the thatch. As the plugs melt back into the lawn, the soil mixes with the thatch and speeds up the natural process of decomposition. The growth pockets that are created when aeration cores are removed put food and water in easy reach of the turf roots. The root system of the lawn actually grows toward these pockets and becomes deeper and stronger. Better roots mean a thicker and healthier lawn. By aerating regularly, thatch is managed and seldom becomes a serious (and expensive) problem.
Heavy clay soils become very compacted over time. Clay soil particles are small and tightly packed with little space between for water, air and root movement. We’ve all felt this kind of hard soil underfoot. Turf has a tough time growing deep roots when it has to fight so hard for room to grow. Aeration allows the soil to relax or expand which means roots can penetrate deeper and further. Over a period of time, this results in soil that is softer and more open. Aeration is one of the best things you can do to improve and grow your lawn.