Lawn Aeration: DIY Vs. Hiring a Professional

The rules of lawn care are pretty simple: Mow and water regularly, spread enough fertilizer to keep it fed, and aerate as needed.

The last part, though is tricky. You have to know when and how to aerate and make sure you poke enough holes in your lawn to let it breathe. Should you do it yourself, or are you better off hiring a professional? Here are the pros and cons of DIY lawn aeration vs. hiring a professional.

Why You Should Aerate

A simple pitchfork can aerate a small area quickly and easily.

Your lawn may need to be aerated for any of several reasons. First among them: compaction, when the soil particles are pressed together into a smaller area. Soil compaction leaves less room for air and water to get to the roots.

It is common in areas that have clay soil, or on new lawns where construction activity tamps down the soil, or any lawn that gets a lot of foot traffic. 

A thick layer of thatch can also be a reason to aerate. Thatch is the natural organic matter between the soil and the green blades of grass. A little thatch is necessary and healthy for your lawn. Too much thatch can lead to pest problems and prevent water and air from getting to the grass roots. If your lawn feels spongy underfoot, you may have too much thatch. Bend low and inspect: If the matted brown layer under your green grass blades is more than a half-inch, you may need to aerate. 

Aeration removes pokes holes in your lawn, allowing precious air and water to get down into the roots. It can also loosen the soil, and encourage the grass roots to grow deeper and spread, making your lawn healthier.

4 Pros, 4 Cons of Aerating Your Own Lawn

4 Pros

  • You can aerate on your own schedule instead of waiting for a pro.
  • You can water your own lawn if you need to. Aeration works best when the soil is moist.
  • You can decide how many times to run the aeration machine over the lawn, and hit especially compacted soil many times. 
  • You save money renting the machine yourself.

4 Cons

  1. It’s backbreaking work. Aeration machines are heavy.
  2. The pros have the right equipment, so you don’t have to guess what kind of aeration machine to rent or buy.
  3. The pros have experience. They will know how to take care of your lawn, post-aeration, to keep it healthy.
  4. The cost of renting a lawn aeration machine may be equal to paying a professional.

If You Decide to Do It Yourself…

Aerate during the peak of your lawn’s growing season. Cool-season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass should be aerated in the spring, and early fall, but warm-season grasses such as St. Augustinegrass need aerating in the late spring or early summer. 

Start with soil that’s not too dry. Aerating the day after a rain, or after watering is best.

Don’t clean up the plugs of soil; leave them to break down and return the nutrients to the soil.

Core? Tines? Spikes? Which Type of Aeration Should I Do?

Spikes that strap on the bottom of your shoes are among the least expensive forms of aeration. You’ll get a workout, but they’re not as effective as a core aeration machine.

If you do it yourself, you have a choice of aeration techniques. Some are engine-powered machines, some simple tools. All of them share one essential task: poking holes in your lawn. 

Experts consider core aerators to be superior. Core aeration machines can be purchased or rented for the day or the weekend to get the job done. This will pull out plugs of thatch and soil, allowing oxygen to get down to the roots. Core aeration is also a must in clay soil, where the soil compacts easily. Pulling the plugs out of the ground is the best way to achieve a healthy lawn. 

A spike aerator punches holes in your lawn with solid metal tines. You can even find spike aerators that strap onto your shoes. This allows you to march around your lawn, sans machine.

Words of Aeration Caution

  • Make sure you know where cables are buried before aerating.
  •  If you have an in-ground irrigation system, make sure you know where the sprinkler heads are located. 
  • If you’re planning to overseed, do it after aeration. This allows the new grass to take advantage of the oxygen and water that should be flowing more freely.
  • Put down a pre-emergent herbicide for weed control after aeration, unless you plan on overseeding. The weed killer could prevent new seed from germinating.

This last point is crucial because it could save you from making an expensive mistake.

Dr. Kevin Frank with the Michigan State University Extension Department on Crop and Soil Sciences warns, “Also be aware of any other underground lines, e.g., invisible dog fence wire. These lines should be buried deep enough to avoid any trouble, but it never hurts to double-check.”

You Win Either Way

Whether you do it yourself, or you have a lawn service aerate, you will be performing a task vital to your lawn’s health. Every living being on the planet needs oxygen and water to survive, and your grass is no different. Aeration provides the roots of your lawn access to both, leaving your lawn greener, thicker and more beautiful.

Main image credit: Wikimedia, CC 3.0

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Written by Bob Greenly

About Wikilawn

Wikilawn’s mission is to provide the best resources and information to help you enjoy your outdoor spaces the way you want. Whether you are a DIY, lawn-loving, gardening guru, or someone who wants help in picking a local lawn care professional, we can smooth your path to a beautiful backyard!

About Wikilawn

Wikilawn’s mission is to provide the best resources and information to help you enjoy your outdoor spaces the way you want. Whether you are a DIY, lawn-loving, gardening guru, or someone who wants help in picking a local lawn care professional, we can smooth your path to a beautiful backyard!

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