Pretty well everyone loves fresh air and just like people, so do lawns. Giving your lawn some fresh air can make it healthier and better looking. If you'd like your lawn to look its best next spring, fall is the time to give it a breath of fresh air by aerating it. Here's why aerating is good and how to go about it.
Why aerate my lawn?
As soil becomes compacted over time, the grass roots can't reach down far enough to get the nutrients the plant needs to grow strong and healthy. When rain falls onto that hard, compacted soil, it doesn't have time to soak in. It runs into the gutter, leaving a dried out, brown lawn.
Aerating your lawn punches holes in the soil, allowing water and air to get down into the soil, softening it and making it easier for the roots to reach the moisture and nutrients they need. An aerated lawn is much less likely to provide a place for fungal infections to start, and at the same time it creates a healthy environment for the growth of microorganisms that break down lawn cuttings that provide food for your lawn.
How do I know if my lawn needs aerating?
A simple test to tell if your lawn is compacted is to press the point of an old screwdriver into the ground at several locations on your property. If the point slides easily into the soil, you're probably all right. If the screw driver is hard to push in, your soil is likely compacted and aeration would help.
Some other tell tale signs a lawn may need to be aerated include a previously thick lawn is thinning without any obvious cause, such as a lack of water or too much shade. If you're following the same fertilizing routine you always have, yet your lawn isn't growing thick and green, it may need aeration. Look for a lot of run off after a rain. As we discussed, hard soil can't absorb water quickly, so rain simply runs off rather than soaking in, leaving your lawn dry and parched when the sun comes out.
So, how do I aerate my lawn?
Most lawn care centers and home stores rent lawn aerators and it's a simple matter of running the machine back and forth over your lawn (similar to mowing it). The whole process can be finished in half a day. The aerator itself has a series of hollow tines attached to a cylindrical core that turns. The hollow tines pull small plugs of dirt out of the ground, creating a series of small holes that allow air and moisture to penetrate and softening the soil.
The Lawn Institute suggests the best time to aerate your lawn is five to six weeks before the first frost of the year or a couple of weeks before you spread fall fertilizer.
Murray Anderson is an experienced freelance writer whose work has appeared on numerous web sites, as well as in newspapers and books in both the U.S. and Canada. He is regularly cited as an expert on home related topics and is a regular contributor to DoItYourself.com.