When and How to Aerate Your Lawn

Lawn aeration is essential if the soil in your yard has become compacted over time. This simple yet powerful procedure can revitalize grass and improve its general health. We’ll cover all the information you need to aerate your lawn correctly, including when and how to aerate your lawn and why your grass might need it.  

Why Your Lawn Needs Aeration

Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

Your lawn is continuously communicating with you, so pay attention to the cues it gives you. You can identify when it’s time to aerate by paying attention to the state of your lawn. Here are some key indicators that your lawn could benefit from aeration:

  • Soil is Hard: Compacted soil hinders vital components such as air, water, and nutrients from reaching your lawn’s roots, resulting in a weak, dull appearance. If the soil feels hard and compacted when you touch it, dig it, or walk on it, this is a strong indication that aeration is required. Try pushing the point of a screwdriver into the soil – if it doesn’t easily slip a few inches below the surface, your soil is probably too compacted. 
  • Water Runoff: After rain or watering your lawn, if you notice that the water pools or runs off rather than being absorbed into the soil, this is an indication of soil compaction severe enough to merit aeration. 
  • Thatch Buildup: Accumulation of dead grass, roots, and detritus between the grass blades and the soil surface results in thatch buildup. While a little covering of thatch is healthy, too much of it can form a barrier that prevents water and nutrient uptake. If your lawn has more than half an inch of thatch, aeration can help break it up and allow key elements to move more freely. It may also be a good idea to dethatch your lawn before aerating. 
  • Worn or Sparse Areas: Bare and worn spots on your lawn might result from frequent foot traffic and use. If you notice diminishing grass or bare spots in particular areas of your lawn, it’s a sign that your soil is not breathing and requires aeration to encourage new growth.
  • Difficulty in Lawn Maintenance: If you find it more difficult than usual to mow your lawn or your mower leaves behind uneven patches or scalped areas, this could be caused by compacted soil. Aeration can aid in creating a more equal and reactive mowing surface, making maintenance activities more accessible and successful.
  • Thinning Grass: If your grass is drying out, thinning, and turning yellow, it might not be getting enough of the food it needs to grow properly. While there could be several different causes, soil compaction is a likely candidate. When thinning turf is paired with other symptoms of compaction, such as hard soil and pooling water, you can bet that your lawn is in need of aeration. 

When to Aerate Your Lawn

The best time for lawn aeration is determined by the type of grass in your yard. In general, aerating your lawn during your grass’s growing season is optimal because the grass is active and can recover rapidly from the aeration process. Since cool-season and warm-season grasses have different growing seasons, the best time to aerate them is different. 

For Warm-Season Grasses: 

Late spring or early summer is the ideal time to aerate warm-season grasses like Bermudagrass and Zoysiagrass. It is the beginning of the grass’s growth season, so your lawn has enough time to recover from the stress of aeration before the hottest part of summer. Spring aeration also helps to alleviate soil compaction caused by winter conditions, allowing the grass to access vital nutrients and moisture more efficiently.

For Cool-Season Grasses: 

The best time for lawn aeration in cool-season lawns with grasses like Kentucky bluegrass or tall fescue is early fall or early spring. Aerating in the fall not only aids in reducing soil compaction but also promotes root development to help grass prepare for winter dormancy.

Note: Before aerating, evaluate the present weather conditions and soil moisture content. Don’t aerate your lawn after heavy rainfall; wait for it to dry. 

How to Aerate Your Lawn: Step-by-Step Guide

A picture showing a hand of a person who is aerating lawn

Photo Credit: Oregon State University / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Aerating your lawn may appear to be a difficult task, but it can be a simple and rewarding process with the appropriate approach. Here’s a step-by-step strategy to aerate your lawn as efficiently as possible.

Step 1: Prepare Your Lawn

Sharpen your mower’s blade and mow your grass shorter than usual. It allows for easier soil access during aeration. Watering your lawn 1 inch deep a day or two before aeration is also important to keep the soil moist but not overly saturated.

Step 2: Mark Sprinkler Heads and Utility Lines

Before aerating your grass, mark any sprinkler heads or other obstacles to avoid damaging them. Call 811 a few days before you plan to aerate so someone can come out and mark your utility lines. 

Step 3: Select the Right Aeration Method

There are two primary methods for aerating a lawn: spike aeration and core aeration.

Spike aeration is the process of poking holes in the soil with spikes, either by hand or with a tool. 

Core aeration removes small cores or plugs of soil from the lawn. Core aeration is often favored because it creates more space in the soil, producing better results and more benefits.

illustration of the soil after spike aeration versus after core aeration

Graphic by Juan Rodriguez

Step 4: Choose an Aeration Tool

Person aerating lawn with a manual spike aerator

Photo Credit: Jeffoto / Canva Pro / License

There are various varieties of aerators available, each with its unique set of benefits. Consider the following options when choosing the right aeration equipment for your lawn.

  • Core Aerators: Core aerators, also called plug aerators, remove 2 to 3-inch cores or plugs of soil, leaving substantial holes behind. These machines successfully reduce soil compaction and improve air and water flow. Most homeowners prefer using core aerators because they deliver the best results. 
  • Spike Aerators: Spike aerators have solid tines or spikes that penetrate the soil and push it to the sides to make holes. They are often less expensive and easier to use than core aerators. They may, however, compress the soil surrounding the holes, making soil compaction worse in some areas of the lawn. 
  • Manual Aerators: Manual aerators are hand-operated tools that can be used to poke holes in the soil manually. They can be as simple as a few spikes on the end of a long handle. They can also come in the form of spike aeration shoes, which are attachments for your shoes with spikes on the bottom. Manual aerators involve more physical effort but provide greater control and precision in aerating specific regions. They are also cheaper and easier to obtain than aeration machines. 
  • Power Aerators: Power aerators, such as gas or electric aerators, are best suited for bigger lawns or heavy-duty aeration demands. These machines are efficient and can swiftly cover enormous areas. They frequently have rotating tines or blades that pierce the soil and extract soil plugs as they move. You can rent a power aerator machine from places like Lowe’s and Home Depot. 
  • Tow-Behind Aerators: Tow-behind aerators are larger and more powerful aerating machines hitched to a riding lawn mower or lawn tractor. These aerators are ideal for aerating larger lawns, estates, or commercial properties. They cover a wider swath and penetrate the soil more deeply than handheld or push-behind aerators, making them efficient for extensive lawn care.
  • Drum or Roller Aerators: Drum or lawn roller aerators are cylindrical machines with built-in spikes or solid tines that are filled with water or sand for added weight. As the roller is pushed or towed across the lawn, the tines penetrate the soil, creating holes. These aerators combine aeration with the benefits of lawn rolling, which helps you level the lawn and improve seed-to-soil contact when overseeding. 

Note: To pick the best sort of aerator for your needs, consider the size of your lawn, budget, and individual needs. Renting aerators is a cost-effective choice for infrequent use, but owning one may be more practical for frequent or large-scale aeration needs. 

Step 5: Start At the Perimeter and Work Your Way In

illustration of a person walking an aeration machine back and forth across the lawn in the proper aeration pattern

Graphic by Juan Rodriguez

Begin by walking or towing the aerator around your lawn’s perimeter, working your way inward. To ensure comprehensive coverage, slightly overlap each pass, or follow a crisscross pattern to cover your space entirely. Continue aerating the lawn until it is completely covered.

Step 6: Leave the Soil Plugs Behind 

Leave the soil plugs from core aerators on the lawn to break down naturally, or collect and compost them for later use.

Step 7: Follow Post-Aeration Care

After the aeration is finished, try top-dressing the lawn with a thin coating of compost or sand. It improves soil structure and adds valuable organic matter. Lightly water the lawn to settle the soil and aid in the recovery process. You can also fertilize or overseed your lawn to give it a fresh boost. 

Learn more about post-aeration lawn care in our guide on What to Do After Aerating Your Lawn.

FAQ About Lawn Aeration

How frequently should I aerate my lawn?

Aerating your lawn once every 2 to 3 years should suffice for most lawns, mainly comprising sandy soil or soil that doesn’t easily compact. If your lawn has clay soil or is subjected to excessive foot traffic or compaction, you should aerate it once every year.

Should I seed my lawn after aeration?

Seeding your lawn after aeration can be highly beneficial. The newly formed holes provide an ideal environment for grass seeds to germinate. Spread the seeds evenly with a spreader, water frequently to keep the soil moist, and admire the lovely new growth!

Can aeration help with lawn disease prevention?

Yes, it can! Aeration minimizes soil compaction and improves water drainage, which can help prevent fungal diseases and other pest infestations. To find out more about what aeration can do, see our article on the Benefits of Aerating Your Lawn.

Final Thoughts

Aerating your lawn is essential for its health and vitality. But the thought of when and how to aerate it and the hours spent toiling with the aerator feels daunting. If you’d rather not invest that time and effort, consider seeking the help of a professional lawn care service provider. By hiring a skilled lawn care pro, you can be sure the aeration is effective and your lawn receives the attention it needs for healthier and more beautiful growth.

Featured Image by Juan Rodriguez

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!