Aerating your lawn. doesn’t have to be complicated. It does, however, take a bit of know-how and some affordable tools.
Why Aerate Your Lawn?
It’s very easy for lawns to end up on compacted soil. These days, many of them have to do double-duty as car-parking spaces. Even when they don’t, there are places where people (and animals), walk, run, play, work, rest and entertain. They may have garden furniture on top of them for much of the year.
All of this activity puts pressure on the soil and forces it close together. Eventually, even sandy soil with good drainage will become compacted. Clay soil is pretty much always compacted, the only question is how much.
When your soil becomes compacted, it becomes difficult for anything to reach the roots of your grass. This includes air, water, food, and weed killer. As a result, your grass ends up being deprived of the nourishment it needs to grow healthy and strong. This can end up leading to all sorts of other problems.
For example, if your grass becomes weak then weeds can easily take hold. The compacted soil will make your weedkiller less effective. As the weeds become stronger, they will take over more and more of the available nutrients. If this is left unchecked, eventually, your grass will be completely overpowered and your lawn will be ruined.
When to Aerate Your Lawn
The short answer to this question is, “early spring and early fall”. In reality, however, it’s a bit more complicated. Basically, you should aerate your lawn any time you see that your soil is becoming compacted.
If you have sandy soil with decent drainage then, in theory, you might never need to aerate your lawn. In practice that’s unlikely. You’ll probably need to aerate your lawn occasionally. If, however, you have clay soil, then you may have to aerate your lawn on a fairly regular basis, certainly more than a couple of times a year.
For most people, the easiest way to see if a lawn needs aeration is to keep an eye on how well it drains. If water is draining away easily, then your soil is probably fine. If, however, it is pooling on the surface, then it’s a strong sign that the underlying soil is compact.
There is, however, a twist to this. If your lawn is on an incline, then the water may be draining away through gravity, even though your soil is compacted. In this case, look for signs that your lawn is dehydrated even though it’s been given plenty of water. Basically, if your grass feels spongy and/or there is a fairly thick layer of thatch, there is a probability that you have compacted soil.
How to Aerate Your Lawn
You need to aerate your lawn when it is as wet through as it can be given the compacted soil. This means that the best approach is to wait for heavy rain or use a sprinkler to give your lawn a thorough soaking. Then wait two or three hours and then start aerating your lawn.
Be realistic about how much you can do at your first pass. You may only be able to get your corers/tines partway into the ground. Just do what you can and get the process started. You can always go back again and redo it later.
If you use a coring lawn aerator, it will be very easy to track your progress. If, however, you use a spiked lawn aerator, then the effect will be much less obvious. This means that you need a method for keeping track of which areas you’ve covered.
One simple but effective approach is to use canes to divide your lawn into zones and then use markers to keep track of which zones have been aerated. It’s advisable to do this even if you think you can complete the job in one round as you may be interrupted.
If you’re aerating your lawn in spring, then you could do your overseeding at the same time. You definitely want to do your aeration before you do your overseeding as aeration will create much better conditions for the new seeds.
In both spring and fall, lawn aeration is also a great time to apply fertilizer. There’s little point in applying fertilizer before you perform your lawn aeration. It will basically just be wasted. You can certainly apply your fertilizer afterward. You just need to find the time to do it as a job on its own.
Finally, you need to apply weed killer then, again, wait until after you’ve aerated your lawn. If you do it before then most, if not all of it, will probably just be wasted.
The Best Lawn Aerators
Your first choice is between coring lawn aerators and spiked lawn aerators. Coring lawn aerators remove plugs of soil. Spiked lawn aerators poke much narrower holes into the soil.
Coring lawn aerators versus spiked lawn aerators
Strictly speaking, using a coring lawn aerator is the better option. Coring lawn aerators create bigger holes. This means that they loosen the soil more quickly. Also, the holes take longer to fill in, so the effect lasts longer.
In practical terms, however, many people prefer spiked lawn aerators. That’s why there’s a whole lot more of them for sale. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, coring lawn aerators need regular, thorough cleaning to stop them from getting bunged up with soil. Spiked lawn aerators, by contrast, generally just need to be wiped clean after each use.
Secondly, spiked aerators can be less effort to use.
The spikes are thinner so they slide into and out of the ground more easily. Alternatively, you can get spiked lawn aerators that hitch on to tractors for zero-effort aeration.
Thirdly, the effect of spiked aerators is less obvious visually. You probably won’t even notice the holes left by spikes unless you look really closely.
It’s hard to miss when someone’s used a core aerator.
If you opt for a spiked lawn aerator, you then need to decide what specific type of spiked lawn aerator you want to use.
Your main options are lawn aerator shoes, manual lawn aerators, and tow lawn aerators.
Lawn Aerator Shoes
Lawn aerator shoes are actually overshoes.
You put them on over the shoes of your choice and then walk over your lawn. This sounds simple and it is – once you get the hang of it. This can, however, take a bit of preparation and practice.
First of all, it’s a really good idea to take a seat out with you and put on your lawn aerator shoes when you are actually on soil. (You want to take them off on soil too). Ideally, you want to be on, or at least very near, your lawn. Then you need to focus on putting your foot down flat rather than letting your heel or your toe hit the ground first. This is often the hard bit.
If you’ve skated (on ice or on inlines), then you’ll have a bit of an advantage because it’s basically the same idea.
You put your foot down, flat, and put all your weight onto it. That holds you stable while you move the other foot, putting it down flat. Then transfer all your weight onto your second foot and move the first one again.
This can look, and feel, very awkward until you get used to it, but it will do the job and do it safely. It’ll also give you a great workout. There is a reason why lawn aerator shoes are generally only used for small lawns. On the plus side, lawn aerator shoes take up virtually no storage space.
Manual Lawn Aerators
Manual lawn aerators work in much the same way as spades. The only real difference is that you generally use a spade at an angle, whereas you want your lawn aerator to be on a straight line.
Despite this difference, manual lawn aerators will probably feel very familiar to most people and this can make them feel much easier to use. What’s more, they often have much longer tines than lawn aerator shoes. This can also make the job easier as well as more effective.
That said, manual lawn aerators are still manual.
This means that they need some degree of physical strength to work effectively. Even if gardening is your workout, you can have too much of a good thing.
In other words, manual aerators are fine for small lawns and OK for medium-sized lawns but you probably don’t want to use them on a large lawn.
Tow Lawn Aerators
Tow lawn aerators you just hitch to a tractor and tow. They require zero effort. The drawback of this is that they are, of course, the most expensive lawn aerators.
That plus the space they need to work effectively means that they’re really only worth the investment if you have a very large lawn. That said, if you do, they can be worth every cent.
Call In The Pros
Your final option is to call in the pros.
This will generally be much more expensive than aerating your lawn yourself. It will also be an expense you have to pay every time you use the service, whereas buying a lawn aerator is a long-time investment. Otherwise, if you choose a reliable lawn-care company, you can have a perfect job done without spending any of your own time or effort on it.
Best Aerators for Lawns
Here is a quick round-up of five great lawn aerators. There are options for small, medium-sized, and large lawns.
Ohuhu Lawn Aerator Shoes
Ohuhu lawn aerator shoes have a strap that goes around your shoes as well as over the top of them. This helps to ensure a comfortably snug fit, regardless of your shoe size. As a bonus, the straps are made of hook-and-loop fastening. This is more convenient than the usual buckles.
The base of the lawn aerator shoes has an anti-slip surface. This is very useful as you really want to use these shoes when the ground is fairly wet (or at least very damp). Each shoe has a total of 13 tines/spikes. These are 2” long and cover an area of 12” by 5”.
AMES 2917400 4-Spike Lawn Aerator
This lawn aerator from AMES is made out of a single piece of steel. This makes it very strong. It has a 36” “stirrup-shaped” handle which you hold at each side in any position.
There is also a foot-stirrup and 4 spikes of 3” in length.
The AMES lawn aerator is less comfortable in use than the Yard Butler alternative. You’ll probably want to keep gloves on for some padding. It also seems to require a bit more strength to use.
On the other hand, it’s both robust and affordable and does a perfectly decent job on smaller lawns.
Yard Butler Lawn Coring Aerator ID-6C
The Yard Butler Lawn Coring Aerator ID-6C is also made of steel. It has a 37” pole with a cushioned handle at one end and a foot stirrup at the other.
The two corers remove plugs of 3.5″ by 0.5″. For the most part, these drop cleanly out of the corers. This means that there is minimal need for disruptive cleaning breaks.
Overall, this lawn aerator offers a nice balance of comfort and durability. It’s perfectly capable of handling challenging soils including heavy, sticky clay.
It can also handle being around rocks.
Treat it properly and you’ll get many years of effective service from it.
Yard Butler Lawn Spike Aerator M-7C
This is identical to the previous lawn aerator except it has 4 tines of 3” in length, instead of corers. As with the lawn coring aerator, this is comfortable and robust and will last for years if you take care of it properly.
Craftsman CMXGZBF7124336 36 Tow Spike Aerator
The Craftsman tow spike aerator is based on a 10-Gauge steel frame. It has 9 galvanized steel spiked discs covering an aerating path of 36”. The depth at which these penetrate the soil depends on how you adjust the height and how much weight you add.
You can use the Craftsman tow spike aerator with any tractor because it has a universal hitch. This is also height-adjustable for even more flexibility in use.
Taking Care Of Your Lawn Aerator
If you opt for a coring lawn aerator, it’s a good idea to keep a bucket of water with you when you’re aerating your lawn.
Pop your lawn aerator into the water every now and again to clean out the corers.
When you’ve finished, give your coring lawn aerator a good soak in water to remove any remaining soil and then dry it to prevent rust. If you can’t get a cloth into the corers, try putting them into sand. With spiked lawn aerators, always wipe off any soil after each use.
Regardless of which type of lawn aerator you use, remember to treat any rust as quickly as possible. Definitely clean off any rust before you put away your aerator for summer/winter. This will keep it in good condition and make sure that it lasts as long as possible.
Aerating Your Lawn, Summary
You aerate your lawn to loosen compacted soil so that air, water, food, and fertilizer can get to the roots of your lawn. The most obvious sign of compacted soil is poor drainage. Alternatively, you may see your lawn looking dehydrated when it should look well-watered. Lawns are most likely to need aeration in spring and fall.
If you only have a small or medium-sized lawn, you can aerate it yourself using manual tools. If you have a medium-sized to larger lawn, you may want to look at a tow aerator. This is a lawn aerator you attach to a tractor. For larger lawns may find it easiest just to call in professional help.