Is your lawn frustrating you because it has yellow patches or bare spots? If so, you might need to aerate it. Unfortunately, many homeowners incorrectly attribute lawn problems to insects or lack of water since they are unaware of the harm compacted soil can cause to a lawn. Fortunately, you can inexpensively help your lawn by breaking up this soil.
Soil compaction is a description for soil that has become so dense that nutrients, oxygen and water are unable to properly penetrate to the grass roots. Aeration is the process of breaking up compacted soil by poking holes into it. Once your lawn is aerated, your grass will become more hardy as the resulting looser soil will allow it to grow and develop a more robust root system.
To determine if your lawn needs aeration, water it and then drive a screwdriver into the turf. Your soil is in good shape if the screwdriver penetrates easily. Difficult insertion indicates soil compaction and the need to take action and start poking holes now.
There are two methods of creating these holes — spikes or coring. Spikes simply poke a hole into the dirt without removing any soil. Coring is the process of driving a cylinder into the soil that extracts a plug from the ground and deposits it on the surface. The extracted plugs are roughly 2″ to 3″ long. Coring is the preferred method as it does a better job of breaking up the soil.
Both methods of aeration can be performed with hand tools although it can be quite burdensome to complete a job manually if you have a large area. In both instances, you simply drive your selected tool into the ground and remove it. Space the holes about 3″ apart. For larger areas, it is advisable to obtain a powered aerator that can be rented from tool rental shops and some home improvement stores. However, be advised that these machines can be a bit unwieldily until you get the hang of it. Start out on a flat, open surface to give yourself time to adjust to the aerator.
To maximize results, aerate the lawn by running the machine back and forth across it. Once completed, aerate the lawn again but run the aerator perpendicular to your first direction. Be advised that a core aerated lawn looks terrible for a week or two. All the cores sitting on the surface make the lawn look ragged and bumpy. Do not despair as they break down and your lawn will return to normal. For best results, aerate in the early spring or late fall.
A few warnings are in order as well. First, if you have a gated entrance into a section of your yard, be sure that the aerator you rent will be able to fit through the gate! Second, be sure to avoid sprinkler heads or shallow buried water lines by marking them before you begin. A power aerator will absolutely destroy either of these items it hits them. Finally, mark any fenceless dog containment systems. These systems typically are powered by a wire buried just a few inches underground at the perimeter of your lawn. If the aerator contacts a wire, it will very rapidly yank the wire out and wrap it up into the machine.
If you dedicate an afternoon and just a small amount of money, you can greatly improve the health of your lawn. In the alternative, spend a bit more money, hire a landscaper and go play golf!