How to Aerate Your Lawn

Don't forget to include annual lawn aeration in your yard-care schedule. Loosening compacted soil helps your grass stay healthy and green. Here's how to aerate easily and effectively.

aerated lawn with white house and fence

While just about every homeowner knows their lawn needs watering, mowing, and fertilizing to look its best, many people don't know that aerating a lawn is also part of basic yard care. The job can be a bit tedious, but it's not difficult, and the benefits of aeration—green, healthy grass—make those few hours well spent.

There are several ways to aerate your lawn and a variety of soil aeration tools, but the process is roughly the same whichever you choose, as are the indications for lawn aeration and the benefits.

Why Aerate the Lawn?

aerated lawn

Over time, soil tends to compact and become hard due to foot traffic, mowing, clay soil, or poor drainage. This prevents water, oxygen, and nutrients from reaching the hungry roots. As a result, the turf becomes thin, pale, or patchy.

Lawn aeration—it's basically just a process of making holes in the turf—breaks up hard soil so that water and nutrients penetrate more easily. There are two basic types of soil aerators:

  • Spike aerators, which simply poke holes into the soil
  • Plug aerators, which actually remove a plug of soil and grass

Both break up hardened soil, but plug aerators are more effective.

When to Aerate the Lawn

lawn with house in background

The best time to use a yard aerator depends on the type of grass you have. Cool-season grasses, such as fescue, bluegrass, or ryegrass, should be aerated in early spring or early fall. Warm-season turf, including Bermuda grass, zoysia, or St. Augustine, does best with aeration in the late spring.

Whatever your type of grass, do not aerate the lawn within one year of planting seed or sod.

See more lawn care tips.

How to Aerate a Lawn by Hand

aeration strap on shoes

Large stretches of turf require gas-powered aerator tools, but if you have a fairly small patch of grass, a handheld (or footheld) aerator will work. There are several types of manual aerators.

  • Aerator shoes have sharp spikes on the bottoms. Just strap them on over your regular shoes and walk across your grass, making multiple passes in different directions to thoroughly penetrate the turf. One of the least expensive and most popular aerator tools, aerator shoes are spike aerators.
  • Handheld aerators come in a variety of configurations, but most somewhat resemble a pitchfork. Most are spike aerators, but there are versions that remove plugs. Using a handheld aerator is simple but tiring: Stab the spikes deeply into the grass, pull out, and repeat, taking care to cover the entire lawn. These are best for tiny patches of grass.
  • Manual drum aerators—sometimes called lawn spikers—are a spike- or blade-covered heavy drum with a long handle. To use, push the drum aerator across your lawn, making at least two complete circuits in different directions. Most manual drum aerators are spike lawn tools, but some are plug aerators.

Powered Types of Aerators

aerator on lawn

For larger lawns, or if you prefer to spare your back, gas-powered aerators make the job relatively quick and easy. These heavy-duty aerators usually remove plugs of soil and grass, which is the best method of lawn aeration, and they are generally available for rent at garden centers or home improvement stores.

  • Pull-behind aerators look like manual drum aerators, but instead of muscling the aerating tool, a riding lawn mower does the work. This means that pull-behind aerators can be heavier and spikier than manual lawn aerators, thus more effective.
  • Gas-powered aerators look like lawnmowers, but instead of spinning blades that cut grass, they have spinning spikes that aerate the soil.

See more tools for a beautiful lawn.

The Basics of Aerating a Lawn

aerator up close detail

Whatever type of yard aerator you choose, the basics of lawn aeration are the same.

  • A few days before you aerate the lawn, mow it to about half its usual height, and then water it well.
  • Rake up any fallen leaves or debris.
  • Mark the locations of sprinklers with marking flags or chalk.
  • Aerate the lawn using your chosen tool. If it's a spike aerator, make at least two passes over the lawn, each in a different direction. If using a plug aerator, just one pass is needed.
  • Leave any soil plugs on the lawn; they will return nutrients to the soil as they decompose.
  • Fertilize your lawn or apply a top dressing of compost. This is also a good time to reseed any bare patches.
  • Return to watering and mowing your grass on its regular schedule.

To keep your grass looking its best, make sure you aerate annually in addition to watering, fertilizing, and weeding on a regular schedule.

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