By John Kauffman, Ph.D. for TruGreen
Photographs courtesy of TruGreen
Spring is here and while you may be on top of mowing your lawn, there’s another lawn maintenance tip that you may be neglecting: aeration.
Lawn aeration is like a breath of fresh air for your lawn. Imagine that your lawn is like your skin. Skin needs pores in order to absorb moisture, take in nutrients and air and stay healthy. Likewise, your lawn's “pores” need to be created and left open in order for it to take in nutrients and moisture, give room for plants to grow and breathe. These “pores” are created manually with an aerator. Lawn aeration is the process of using a machine, or aerator, with small hollow tines to remove nickel-size cores of soil, which leaves them on the surface of your lawn.
Aeration opens up pathways for nutrients and life-giving water, straight to new roots and shoots. If you have thin or bare patches in your yard, aeration can also provide a chance to overseed, allowing new seed to fall deeper into the turf and gain solid purchase. Some grass species will need to be aerated and overseeded in the fall instead of spring, so consult a lawn care specialist to make sure you’re using the proper techniques for your particular yard.
The following are some common signs that your lawn needs aeration:
- Puddles form on your lawn after a rainstorm. If the ground isn't soaking up any rainwater, it's probably not soaking up water from anywhere. This prevents much needed moisture and nutrients from reaching your soil.
- Your lawn does not pass the “screwdriver test.” The screwdriver test—which can also be done using a pencil—is an easy yet very accurate way to test your soil. Try sticking a screwdriver into the ground. Having difficulty doing so? It's time for a thorough aeration.
- There is a thick layer of debris (also known as thatch). Thatch is a layer of living and dead organic matter that occurs between the green matter and the soil. Excessive thatch (over 1/2 inch thick) creates a favorable environment for lawn damaging insects and disease.
Once you’ve assessed whether your lawn is in need of aeration, you can use the following tips to care for it:
- Lawn aeration is most effective as a preventive measure, ventilating the soil before thatch builds up.
- Lawns growing on compacted clay soils may require two aerations annually, typically once in the spring and a second time in the fall.
- Water the lawn thoroughly one to two days prior to aerating your lawn and apply at least 1" of water to the grass. This helps the aerator penetrate the soil more easily.
- Mark irrigation heads and other hidden objects in the lawn to help avoid them when operating the aerator.
- Run the aerator over your lawn in a back-and-forth pattern, covering the area only once. A mechanical aerator works best for this process.
- A great time to overseed is immediately following lawn aeration. This is when the openings made by the lawn aerator allow seed-to-soil contact, which is necessary for seed to germinate.
After you aerate your lawn, you can expect to see the following benefits:
- Better air exchange. Aeration gives your lawn's roots more room to "breathe." This helps strengthen your lawn by increasing the size and quantity of the roots.
- Improved fertilizer absorption. Because aeration opens the soil, more food reaches your turf's roots. More food also helps grow roots.
- More efficient water usage. Aeration lets water flow directly to grass roots and means that you use water more efficiently.
- Improved resistance. A healthy root system increases your turf's ability to survive if diseases or pests attack your lawn.
- Enhanced thatch breakdown. Millions of beneficial microbes live in your soil and eat thatch removed by the aerating process. By eating thatch, microbes release nutrients into your soil, which your turf absorbs.
If you’re still noticing thin or bare patches, water puddles on your yard after a rain or too much thatch, contact your lawn care provider to set up an appointment.