Lawn Care Tips: Why Use A Lawn Aerator?

Lawn aeration is a crucial component to lush, green lawn. Learn the different types of aeration available, and when is the best time to utilize them.

Why should I aerate my lawn?

Aeration is a process that revitalizes your lawn's root system by exposing it to air, water, and nutrients. Over time the soil underneath your lawn becomes compacted and hard. As you water and fertilize your lawn throughout the spring, summer and fall, the roots beneath the surface finger out in search of nutrients. If your soil is compacted, this is nearly impossible. What is the result? Grass roots that cannot grow downward vertically end up taking the path of least resistance and growing in a horizontal fashion. This would not be such a bad thing if it was only one blade growing, but with all the roots doing this, it creates a thick, shallow carpet of roots sucking energy from a small area of soil. The typical depth of a weak, shallow root system may be two to four inches. With a thick, shallow carpet of roots, not only is the plant structure weak, but it also is a breeding ground for hungry insects such as grub worms.

On the contrary, if the soil is loose and fluffy, the roots from your grass take a vertical path and only occupy the space directly below them. The more nutrients they gather on their journey, the stronger and healthier they become. The healthier the plant becomes, the more surface space it occupies, and the less there is room for other undesirable weeds such as dandelions, to invade.

What kinds of aerators are available?

There are three different types of aerators. The first two are mechanical, and the third is a soil conditioner. The mechanical aerators are core and tine aerators. Core aerators are the only one I recommend.

A core aerator is a motorized device consisting of a horizontal shaft that turns just like the axel of a vehicle. On this shaft are small, hollow shafts that protrude out. As the horizontal shaft spins in a forward motion, the smaller shafts dig into the lawn and pull out cores of soil, and then drop the cores on the top of the lawn surface.

Core aeration is a great tool for early spring and late fall in most locales, depending upon your climate. Core aeration is not suitable for the hot summer months. The actual physical wear it creates can stress out the turf.

The main benefit of core aeration is direct exposure of the turf roots. Core aeration should be done early in the morning if possible, to increase the duration of sunlight exposure. It should be followed directly by fertilization and watering. This will give your roots a direct dose of sunlight, nutrients, and water.

Tine aeration is similar to core with the exception that the shafts are solid not hollow. If the shafts are able to penetrate the surface and make holes in the lawn, they do not pull any soil out. As a result, they only make the already compacted soil around the holes more compacted. For this reason, I do not recommend this type of aerator.

The disadvantages of core aeration are:

1. The aeration holes are only one or two for every square foot of turf area

2. The cores leave a messy appearance on the surface of your lawn

3. The holes fill back up with the cores very quickly, and therefore shorten the lasting effects of the aeration.

All of these disadvantages can be corrected by using a soil conditioner to aerate your lawn. A soil conditioner is a solution that you mix with water and spray on the turf surface. A simple hose-end sprayer can be used for this application. The important step to remember when using a soil conditioner is to water the lawn heavily either during or directly after the application.

Soil conditioners, which can be found on the internet or in some lawn and garden centers, penetrate the compacted soil, chemically cling to a soil molecule, and then expand or explode. By doing this they create air pockets in the soil, and created the desired effect of "fluffiness" for your grass roots.

Most soil conditioners can be applied at any time during the growing season since they do not mechanically create "wear and tear" on the turf. It is advisable to apply soil conditioner throughout the season in six to eight week intervals.

The main disadvantage of soil conditioners is the lack of visual proof that it is actually working. This can easily be resolved with the purchase of a soil probe. A soil probe is a T shaped tool that you push down in the soil as far as it will go without significant resistance. Then you pull the probe out and measure the depth of soil core. There are measurements on the side of the probe. It is advisable to do this measurement the day of your first application, and then again in six weeks during the second application. If the soil conditioner was effective you will see an increase in the depth that the soil probe will penetrate.

A combination of core aeration in the spring and fall with the use of a soil conditioner throughout the growing season will yield the best results for your lawn. If you practice this routine for multiple years, you can decrease the frequency of aeration applications, and eventually curtail the cost. Your grass will be green on top because it is getting the nitrogen it needs. Your roots will be hearty and deep below the surface because they will have the phosphorous and fluffy soil they need, and the lawn will require little use of chemicals for weed and insect control because with the lush, thick stand you have created, the bugs and dandelions will have no place to live or grow.

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