What Is Turf Aeration? When And Why Is Lawn Aeration Done

Turf aeration “opens up” the lawn to create passageways. Soil aeration allows air, water and nutrients to reach the grasses’ root system. It also reduces thatch buildup and gives moss control.

Aeration of soil severs some of the roots deep in the soil, breaks apart tangled roots and encourages the growth of new roots. It could be called “grass root pruning.”

One key to healthy grass and a healthy lawn starts with healthy soil. This means a soil that can move air, water, and nutrients (in the best grass fertilizer) to move from the soil line to the root system. Aerating the lawn can improve the health of soil significantly.

Speaking of soil health, when heavy rains happen a well aerated soil allows air to penetrate and dry up excess moisture – a potential source for disease like a lawn fungus.

On the flipside, when drought conditions are present, aeration allows moisture to flow downward reaching thirsty roots.

What Is Grass Aeration?

Soil aeration involves the removal small 1″-3″ inch cores or plugs of turf – thousands of them – creating new growth zones throughout your lawn.

These “growth zone” pockets allow the lawn to expand naturally as roots, air, nutrients, and organic matter fill these spaces, resulting in a deeper root system and healthier grass. It reduces soil that has been compacted and increases the soil’s water holding capacity.

Aerating lawns plays an important role in helping to keep grass looking great and healthy. When you aerate your lawn, think of it as a type of organic lawn care. You do not have to aerate your lawn often, usually every other year should be sufficient.

Why Aerating A Lawn Can Improve Lawn Health

Many a homeowner has asked “Why” they should spend any time or expense on a lawn aerator. The fact is – Aerating the lawn has many benefits:

  • Remedy For Compaction Compacted soils usually mean unhealthy plants and grasses are plants, this holds true in the garden as well. Compacted soils turn hard as a rock when they dry during summer heat and soggy when wet.When soils are compacted (tight), the movement of water, air, and nutrients is reduced and makes it much easier for disease to occur. The small roots are often stunted and the many beneficial micro-organisms cannot survive.The grass becomes stressed and weakened. You can do everything right with watering, applying lawn fertilizer and mowing but soil compaction alone can ruin all your efforts.Over time soil can become compacted, for example, a golf course putting green where foot traffic constantly compresses the soil.A core aerator with its hollow metal tines or tubes poke and pull out plugs of soil. As these “spikes” puncture the ground they poke holes in the compacted soil giving the lawn an opportunity to repair the damage of compacted soil.
  • Reduces Runoff And Puddling Problems Soils need to breathe and compacted soils do not allow the flow of oxygen through the soil down to the roots. Aeration reduces the soil compaction and allows water to drain though the soil instead of pudding on top reducing water run-off.This improves the efficiency of natural irrigation (rain) and a sprinkler system to get more out of watering and lawn fertilizer along with reducing the build up of lawn thatch and improve the health of the lawn.
  • Allows Movement Of Oxygen And Nutrients As mentioned above root systems need oxygen, aerating the lawn allows for greater transfer of air to the soil to promote healthier turf and stronger root system.This movement gives fertilizer and nutrients “access to the root system” to deliver nutrition to the roots. A healthy root system is growing, constantly loosing up the soil and taking advantage the available moisture.

When To Aerate A Lawn

The best time to aerate a lawn depends on grass type, geographical location and time of year.

In reality, the best time to aerate St Augustine grass is just before the grasses growth season – summer – and the grass begins rapid vigorous growth.

For example, Fescue grass produces its most productive grow (roots and tops) in the fall, so September and October are the best months to aerate fescue lawns.

After the lawn – zoysia grass, and centipede grass – has greened up (March) and on the verge of vigorous growth in April, that would be the time for aerating the lawn.

Warm season grasses like St. Augustine and Bermuda recover quickly from aeration, June or July coincides with their prime growth season.

Times To Avoid

  • It is best to stay away from aerating during dry summer months as this can cause damage to a lawn already stressed.
  • Also, do not aerate during periods when weeds are seeding, as this could cause weed infestation.

Lawn aerating machines and equipment can be rented at many of the larger garden centers or equipment rentals locations, however, many times it is easier to call on the services of a lawn care pro.

These professionals know how to use lawn aerators to efficiently remove small soil plugs or cores to improve the health of the lawn. The DIY’er can do the job of aerating and thatch removal, but often a lawn professional can do it quicker and cheaper.

Aerating Video – The City of Calgary Parks

Aeration Equipment

Aerating is usually done using a walk behind aeration machine.

This specially designed lawn aeration equipment has hollow or solid tines mounted on a disk or drum which pushes or propels the machine forward. The solid tines poke holes in the turf, while the hollow spikes (called a core aerator) remove small soil plugs or cores along the way.

How Deep To Aerate A Lawn?

A core aerator extracts 1/2″ to 3/4″ inch diameter soil cores from the soil, redepositing them on top of the lawn. The typical soil core is between 1-6″ inches in depth and placed between 2-6″ inches apart.

For a small area a homeowner could try using a pair of aerating shoes (also know as garden spikes) which are easy-to-handle and very affordable. Each aerator shoe is made with numerous spikes made into the sole of the shoe. Some shoes are made specifically for aeration and others can be “attached” to a regular shoe.

When wearing aeration shoes the individual needs to slowly walk the entire length of the area to be aerated. This will make sure the complete area is aerated. The “foot aeration method” requires a lot of work and should only be done in small areas.

How To Aerate A Lawn

  • When aerating a lawn the best and most even coverage is attained when it is done in two directions.
  • Do not use an machinery on slopes or grades exceeding 25% incline.
  • Never cross surfaces or hard objects with the tines down: driveways, sidewalks, etc.
  • Watch out for sprinklers, wires, hidden pipes and tree roots hiding underground.
  • Be careful around landscape beds and buildings

Aerating Does Have A Downside

The machines can damage underground sprinklers, wires, hidden pipes and tree roots which “live” under the lawn – so beware.


Aerating your lawn can reduce the maintenance required and help improve the health of a lawn. Enhanced soil water uptake, improved and more efficient fertilizer uptake and use, stronger root system, reduce soil compaction, capable of handling heat and drought stress, faster thatch breakdown and reduced puddling and water runoff are just a few of the benefits.

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