Compacted soils cause a severe strain on grass and could spell disaster for a lush lawn. Grass requires air to grow and areas that are compacted from play, pets, vehicles or wet soil conditions may suffer the effects of compaction. Clay soils are especially susceptible to compaction. To determine if aeration is necessary, one can inspect the grass. If more than an inch or thatch is present, it probably is signaling the need for aeration. Another way to determine if aeration is necessary is to dig up a small section of turf about 4-6 inches deep and examine the length of the grass roots. The roots should extend greater than two inches. The deeper the root system is, the healthier your grass will be. Aerating will open up the soil and foster lush growth and healthy grass.
Once it is determined that aeration is necessary, one must determine how to do it. The preferred method is called “core aeration”. It requires a special machine that removes small plugs of soil as it moves along. These plugs are normally ½ to ¾ of an inch in length and are generally spaced 6-8 inches apart. These are generally heavy machines which are available at rental centers and it will take a small truck or trailer to move it. Often rental centers will deliver the machine to you. Make sure you are familiar with the operation of the machine before beginning. They are not hard to operate, but a short orientation from a rental center employee might avoid a disaster if you haven’t used an aerator before. The machine is self propelled and moves the same as a lawn mower although it is a bit heavier. It is recommended that the lawn be “cored” first in one direction and then again perpendicular to the original line of coring. The small plugs of soil will be deposited on the ground and in a week or two will gradually disintegrate and disappear. Do not aerate if the soil is excessively wet. It should be a bit damp though as this facilitates the process. After aerating an opportunity is provided to over seed your lawn or to apply a top dressing if needed.
The core aerator will generally extend several inches into the ground. Be careful if you have cable systems, electrical wires or irrigation systems close to the surface. An aerator will destroy an sprinkler head if it is run over it.
Aeration promotes a healthy lawn and vigorous growth, the benefits of aeration when it is necessary will be easily recognizable during the growing season and you will be rewarded with a lush lawn.