The Ultimate Guide to Michigan Lawn Aeration

What is Lawn Aeration?



A diagram of the lawn aeration process, showing thinner grass before, cores of soil removed in the aeration stage that allows oxygen, water, and nutrients to penetrate the soil, and finally thicker, healthier grass after.

Simply put, lawn aeration allows your grass to breathe. Throughout the winter, dead grass sits, often undisturbed, for months at a time. This layer of built-up components of dead grass, including stems and roots, is called thatch. Once it builds up to more than half an inch thick, thatch can become a detriment to your lawn. Along with compacted soil, thatch causes the roots of your lawn to be unable to absorb water and nutrients properly.


The process of lawn aeration is done by first removing the thatch layer, often with a rake. From there, tiny holes are made in the lawn, allowing water and nutrients to reach the roots more easily. Depending on the size and severity of soil compaction, this can be done with either a simple rake for smaller yards (this process is called “spiking”) or a lawn aerator for larger, more intensive projects.



Why should I aerate my lawn?


As well as improving your yard’s aesthetic, aeration is simply good for your lawn. Any plant without proper access to nutrients, water, and air will eventually lose color, wither, and die. A thick layer of thatch or compacted soil can starve grass even in the best conditions… if the nutrients can’t reach the plant, it will turn brown. If you want a lush, thick, verdant lawn that’s the envy of the entire neighborhood, aerating your lawn will do the trick.


What happens if I don’t aerate my lawn?


Without proper soil aeration, the roots of your grass will remain shallow as they will have a limited exposure to the nutrients, water, and oxygen they need to grow and develop. Soil types do vary, and the type of soil you have will affect how often you need to aerate it. Clay soils are very dense and need regular aeration, whereas sandy soils do not need as much intervention.


How to properly aerate your lawn:


To aerate your lawn, first determine what equipment you require. If you’re working in a small area, or the problem isn’t too significant, you can get a good rake from the local hardware store to remove thatch and then begin “spiking.” Conduct spiking by plunging the teeth of the rake into moist, but not wet, soil every few inches to create holes in the lawn. This will expose the grasses’ root systems to air, water, and nutrients.


A more extensive project may require different equipment. Luckily, finding a power or manual lawn aerator is a simple task that you can likely complete at your local hardware store. Much like with spiking, you will want to use a rake first to remove thatch. Remember to rake deeply! You’re doing more than just skimming for autumn leaves. After you’ve removed the thatch, use your new power or manual lawn aerator to plunge holes into moist, but not wet, soil every couple of inches, revealing the lawn’s root system to much-needed nutrients and air.


Severe cases require a lawn aerator, a machine that can be rented for personal use to properly aerate the lawn. This machine goes a step beyond simple spiking; instead of just mashing the ground to create the holes for water, nutrients, and air to permeate the root layer, a lawn aerator extracts small cylinders of the lawn, often referred to as “cores” or “plugs.” It’s essential to water the soil of the area you will aerate so that the soil is moist, but it should be done the day before so that the soil is not wet to the point of mud. Cores should be extracted at approximately 3” intervals for proper aeration. You can leave the plugs on the lawn because they will break down and be reabsorbed into the soil within a week or two.


No matter what method you used to aerate your lawn, you should finish by watering it and applying fertilizer for strong new blade and root growth.


When should I aerate my lawn?


When is the best time of year to aerate your lawn? Two options are generally best: either the spring or fall, depending on the climate you live in and the type of grass your lawn is sewn with. For warm-season grasses like Centipedegrass, Carpetgrass, or the ever-popular Bermudagrass, you would want to start lawn aeration as soon as the soil has thawed in the spring.


Do you live in a colder climate, grow cool-season grasses like Kentucky Bluegrass, Fine Fescue, or Perennial Ryegrass, or are you asking yourself: when should I aerate my Michigan lawn? This answer is different. Cooler temperatures favor aerating your lawn in the fall to prepare your lawn for the harsh winter months. In actuality, the difference between lawn aeration in the spring and fall is minimal. While some experts maintain that doing so in the fall in colder climates is better for your lawn, you can determine which of those two seasons is better for you, as long as you aim for your grasses’ peak growing period.


As for how often you should aerate your lawn, high-traffic areas and clay-heavy soils should be aerated once to twice a year, while most average lawns will thrive with annual aeration. If you’re not sure whether to aerate or not, check for grass that looks stressed, hard soil, or water puddling in your lawn after rain, as these can all be signs of soil compaction.


To be sure you need to aerate your lawn, conduct a simple “screwdriver test.” When soil is dry and compacted, it gets too firm. To run the screwdriver test, simply grab any screwdriver you have, though one with a 6” shaft works best, take it to your lawn, and try to plunge it into the soil by hand. If you meet resistance, it’s time to break out the lawn aerator.


Who can aerate my lawn?


The great thing about lawn aeration is that, in many cases, you can do it yourself. If you have a large or severely damaged lawn and need to use a core aerator, make sure the rental company includes the operating instructions. Otherwise, you could unknowingly damage your lawn or make the even more expensive mistake of damaging the equipment. If you aren’t confident about taking on lawn aeration, consider hiring a professional. Lawn maintenance and landscaping companies often include lawn aeration in maintenance packages or as an a la carte service. Just make sure to avoid these 5 common mistakes businesses make when hiring a landscaping company.




We hope you’ve learned everything you need to know to aerate your lawn, or that you’ve gained the knowledge to make the right choices when choosing a professional to do the job. However, we know that you may still have some unanswered questions. If this is the case, please contact the experts at Procare for all of your landscaping needs and questions!