Should I consider lawn aeration this fall?

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When you perform lawn aeration in the fall, you use a tool called an aerator to remove small plugs of...

When you perform lawn aeration in the fall, you use a tool called an aerator to remove small plugs of soil from your yard. This gives the earth an opportunity to absorb oxygen and micronutrients by decreasing compaction. If you've struggled with a dry, spotty yard, proper maintenance during this cool season can ensure a lush, green lawn for spring. August and September are excellent times to consider aeration, because the cooler temperatures create an ideal environment for new seed growth and nutrient absorption.

How to aerate your lawn of any size

Lawn care is important whether you've got a small patch of grass in the city or acres of turf out in the country. Even if you just have a shoebox-sized patch of land, there are tools that can help you properly aerate to yield healthy grass.

Hiring professional help

While many people can aerate a lawn by themselves, it's important to first understand environments in which you should call a professional. The following situations make aeration very difficult, so it might be worth your time and money to simply hire a pro the first time around.

  • Soil made of dense clay
  • Soil with many rocks or tree roots below the surface
  • Extremely steep lawns

Small lawns: Manual core aerator

If you've got a small lawn, consider purchasing or renting a manual core aerator. This inexpensive tool ranges from $20 to $50 and looks like a two-pronged garden tiller but is actually hollow at the tips. These tips, called tines, allow you to precisely pull up plugs of soil instead of turning over your entire lawn. To use a manual core aerator, simply push the aerator into a damp lawn. The hollow points fill up with dirt each time you push them into the ground, and each new push forces out the old soil.

Medium lawns: Push core aerator

If you're considering aeration for a medium-sized lawn, renting a professional-grade push aerator is the best option. These machines are about the size of a large push lawnmower and weigh between 250 and 500 pounds. Rental costs are typically between $50 and $90 for one day, but if you don't own a truck or van to haul it back to your house, consider that added cost as well.

The benefit of a push core aerator is that you can cover a large area of lawn in a short time. As you push the aerator across your lawn, the hollow tines pull plugs of soil about 2" to 3" deep and about 2" to 4" apart, and deposit the plugs or pellets back on the grass as you walk along. When using a push core aerator, work the ground in two directions to make sure that you get the greatest benefit.

Large lawns: Pull-behind aerator

Because of their heft, push core aerators can be difficult for some people to use. If you have a medium-sized lawn but little stamina, or a large lawn but need to save time, a pull-behind core aerator is the best option.

Just like the push aerator, a pull-behind aerator pulls plugs of soil from your lawn using several hollow tines. The only difference is that instead of pushing the aerator around, you attach it to your lawn mover (with the blade up). When using a pull-behind aerator, make sure to aerate in two directions to ensure total effectiveness.

Overseeding

Once you've aerated your lawn, it's time to overseed. Keep in mind that "overseeding" means you're simply placing new seed on top of existing turf -- not overcrowding your lawn with uneven or thick areas of new grass. When combined with lawn aeration, fall overseeing allows grass enough time to develop a quality root system in time for the heat of the spring and summer months.

Buy quality, non-weed grass seed right for your region and liberally spread it across your entire lawn. Oftentimes, it is appropriate to use a simple handheld broadcast spreader to distribute new seed.

If you're seeding an aerated lawn that has several bare areas, consider using some grass clippings to cover the seeds so they don't blow away. Avoid heavy foot traffic (both from pets and humans) until the seed has an opportunity to take root. Even though it's autumn, do not rake fallen leaves. Use a leaf blower instead to remove leaves while preserving the new seed.

The checklist

Ready to start aerating your lawn? After figuring out what type of aeration is right for your yard, follow these steps to prepare for healthy, green grass all year long.

  • Remove any objects from your yard such as dog toys, sprinklers, lights or plant stakes.
  • Mow your lawn, and heavily water it the night before aerating.
    • If you have an extraordinarily dry lawn, water routinely for three to four days before aerating.
  • The next morning, while the ground is damp and cool (not soaking wet), aerate the lawn using a core aerator.
  • If using a push or pull-behind aerator, treat the lawn in at least two directions.
  • Leave the plugs of soil on the ground.
  • Overseed, following the recommendations above.
  • Water the entire area for five to 10 minutes a day for about three weeks.
  • Avoid heavy traffic on the lawn for several weeks until the lawn is visibly established.

More information

To learn more about aerating your lawn in either fall or spring, contact a lawn care professional in your area.

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