It is now fall, or it is quickly approaching, and as the weather cools your lawn is prime to recover from the stressful summer months. July and August are traumatic for the lawn by providing plenty of heat and sunlight, and very little water. This environment will push your lawn into dormancy to protect itself. And any weak parts in the lawn will more than likely die off, or become overwhelmed with weeds during this time. As the last heat wave passes by, it is a great time to handle these areas and to aerate the lawn to help strengthen it for the following summer.
Video – Core Aeration (see the process in action!)
A core aeration is one of the greatest things you can do for you lawn. This is a process that will take cork sized plugs out of the ground. It is a natural and organic way to care for your lawn, and will create a greater environment for the roots and grass to grow. It is recommended to do in the fall when the weeds are dying off and the lawn is now growing again as the weather provides plenty of moisture. Let’s go over the benefits of the aeration, and some ways to do it.
- Turns over and loosens soil
- Reduces compaction
- Increases water and nutrient intake
- Reduces thatch layer
- Provides greater tolerance to stress
The best method to use in my opinion, is to use a core aerator and go over every square inch of the lawn. You could go in two different directions to further the impact, but doing the lawn once is fine. The machine should be in good shape with fresh tines to make sure you take full plugs out. If you have the option, do the lawn when it is a little wet. And also make sure the lawn is cut prior to aerating. You can lower the mower deck in the fall to shorten the grass. This will increase the depth of the plugs and also let the plugs sit harmlessly on the top of the grass for a week or two while they break back down. Great, great annual practice to get into.
Another option is to use the tow behind aerator. This attachment hooks to the back of your tractor and also takes out plugs. This type of aerator is much light and does not take deep lugs. If this is your method, weigh down the aerator with concrete blocks or sand bags or something. The tractor setup will probably miss large chunks of the lawn, mainly the corners. Or you can continually try to back the thing up.
Spike aerations are also a method used. There are a variety of ways to do this, from quad tines or spike machines, or just strapping shoes to your feet that have long spikes on them and walk around. This method is better than nothing and provides benefits to the lawn, so it is worthwhile. But it doesn’t compare to taking plugs out of the ground. It is quite common on golf courses, especially greens and fairways.
You can purchase a used tow behind attachment for your tractor for cheap money. It is only needed once a year (typically don’t aerate in the spring –> opens the door for crabgrass), and even if done twice a year or if friends and family borrow it, it should last quite a long time. It is not the most effective method, but it works well and will help your lawn. We recommend to stay away from spike aerations for your personal lawn as the impact of the process isn’t quite the same.
A great way to go about aerating the lawn is to talk to your neighbors and plan a day where you pitch in and rent a machine. Ideally, the lawn should be a little bit wet, but the timing may be tough, so no biggie. It should cost less than $100 for a day and will be able to handle 10,000 sqft in less than an hour. It will take a few passes to get used to it, but don’t worry about handling one. Be careful and take your time.
One warning – the aerator, of course, digs in the ground to take the plugs out. Mark all irrigation heads and boxes, and any wires that are close to the surface. The invisible dog fence will absolutely get hit, so mark it before and and give it a wide birth.