Your lawn is a living, breathing thing. And just like most forms of life, it needs a few additives to thrive — namely air, water and nutrients. For optimal lawn health, it’s important to get those elements down to the roots of your grass where they’ll do the most good. Over time, though, the soil in your lawn can compact, squeezing out the spaces that make the surface of your lawn permeable.
If you find yourself struggling to maintain the health of your lawn, it’s possible that the culprit is soil compaction. One test is to simply observe how your lawn behaves during watering. If the water is slow to absorb into the lawn, or if pools form rather quickly, it’s a good bet that your lawn is compacted.
You can also try pushing a screwdriver into your soil. The more effort it takes to penetrate the surface, the more compacted your lawn may be. If you’re still not sure, you can use a posthole digger to take a sample of your yard. Grass roots that extend less than two inches into the soil may be an indication air and water are having a difficult time penetrating any further.
The solution is aeration. That can be accomplished in a number of ways, but the most effective is to use a core aerator. It loosens the soil and opens channels for air and water by driving hollow tines into the ground and pulling out small cylinders of compacted soil, called “cores.”
- Fall and early spring, when the weather is relatively cool, are the best times to aerate.
- Water the lawn a day or two in advance. Even if the water isn’t able to penetrate deeply, watering will soften the surface and make it easier for the aerator to draw cores.
- If you have an irrigation system installed in your yard, you’ll want to avoid aerating the sprinkler heads. Flag them to make them more obvious.
- Run the aerator in a regular pattern over the lawn, making sure to cover it thoroughly.
- Cores can be left on the lawn to decompose, a process which should take 2-4 weeks. If you don’t like the look of all those cores on your lawn, they can also be added to your compost bin.
- If you’re planning to reseed or fertilize your lawn, now — after aerating — is the best time to do so.
Aerators come in several different forms. Here’s a quick breakdown of the types available with some tips for their use:
Useful primarily for gardens and small lawn spaces, hand operated aerators are less than idea for large spaces. The simplest kind is driven into the ground by stepping on a crossbar, similar to a shovel. Slightly more mobile are the aerators with tines arranged on a roller, which can then be pushed like a hand mower.
For most yards, a motorized version of the push aerator is ideal. As with lawn mowers, they are often gas-powered. Two different kinds of tines are available on self-propelled aerators to draw cores from the soil: cylindrical and spoon-shaped. Both work fine, but the tines generally make cleaner holes.
If you need to cover a lot of territory, the most effective solution may be to pull one of these simple aerator attachments behind your riding mower or tractor. The attachment can be weighted with concrete blocks or sandbags to ensure that the tines penetrate densely compacted soil.