Lawn Aeration 101: Michigan and Cold Climates

by | May 24, 2014


There’s nothing better than a lush green lawn that lets you spend time with your family in the backyard, laughing and having fun. But, to keep grass healthy, techniques such as aeration are important. 


This leads us to the questions, “what is aeration, and when is the best time to aerate your lawn?”



What is Lawn Aeration? 

Simply put, lawn aeration allows your grass to breathe. 


Throughout the winter, dead grass sits 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 created a thick layer that prevents the roots of your lawn from absorbing water and nutrients properly.


Typically done by landscape companies, 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 how dense and compact the soil is, aeration be done with either a simple rake for smaller yards (this process is called “spiking”) or a core aerator for larger, more intensive projects.


A core aerator gets deeper into the ground than a rake. It has hollow tines that mechanically remove plugs or “cores” of soil and thatch from a lawn. You may be familiar with this, as it leaves behind little pellets of thatch and dirt on the surface of your lawn (more on this below).  


Why Should You Aerate Your Lawn? 


Grass roots need air, water, and nutrients to grow thick and strong just like any other plant. When soil in a landscape design becomes compacted, even slightly, it inhibits the flow of the essentials that support thicker, healthier turf growth. 


A layer of compacted soil just 1/4 to 1/2 inches thick can make a significant difference in the health and beauty of your lawn.


Aeration creates holes down into the soil to alleviate compaction so air, water, and nutrients can reach your grass roots.


Deprived of their basic needs by compacted soil, lawn grasses struggle in stressful situations, such as heat and low rainfall, and lose their healthy, rich color and strength. This is when your grass starts to look a little more like hay and feel a little more like it, too.  


Your grass will gradually thin and eventually die out completely for lack of access to the essential nutrients it needs. 


Even a single aeration session can open the avenue for these essentials to reach their mark and put your lawn back on an upward trend.


What Happens If You Don’t Aerate Your Lawn? 


Aeration acts as a renewal process that will help rejuvenate your lawn to a lush yard it once was, and if your lawn isn’t aerated you can experience difficulties with your lawn that can result in money loss and lawn damage. 


Something to look out for are the following: 

  • Discolored areas: Soil compaction is one of several reasons for discoloration in your yard. If you notice other warning signs in combination with yellow or brown areas, then it’s time to aerate 
  • Yard stops growing: The fewer nutrients the roots receive means the less growth you’ll see. Your lawn is likely suffering from compacted soil and is in need of aeration.
  • Thick debris: A thick layer of debris, also known as thatch, is living and dead organic matter between the green vegetation (top) and the root system (bottom). If the thatch becomes too thick (greater than ½ inch), then it can be detrimental for your lawn’s health. Aeration helps to decompose thatch at a faster rate. 
  • Amongst other problems. 

Where to find an aerator:


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-operated or manual lawn aerator is a simple task that you can complete at your local hardware store. 


How to properly aerate your lawn:


Whether you’ll need a proper aerating machine or a long-spiked rake, no matter what the first step is to rake the debris off the surface of your lawn. 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?


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, you would want to start lawn aeration as soon as the soil has thawed in the spring. 


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.


Ask the Experts


At Procare, we have been expertly caring for lawns for decades. Whether you have questions about how to take on the task yourself, or you’d like to sit back and let the experts take care of it for you, we can help! Contact us today, and let us know what we can do for you. 


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