Using a lawn aerator: why, how and when?
Aerating your lawn can give it the extra help it needs to grow thicker and healthier. It improves drainage and helps relieve compaction in heavily trodden areas, allowing air and nutrients to penetrate the soil and encourage healthy growth.
Aside from basic care for your lawn, using a lawn aerator is a simple way of getting the best out of your garden lawn.
What is lawn aeration?
Aeration is the process of inserting small holes in the ground with the aim of improving drainage to prevent water-logging roots, aid air circulation and help improve nutrient uptake.
Aerating your lawn can break through the thatch layer (a layer of intermingled dead and living stems, roots and leaves that builds between the later of growing grass and soil underneath) if it is a high maintenance lawn.
The reason it is necessary to aerate your lawn is that if plant roots become waterlogged they cannot access vital oxygen which aids the root growing processes and stops them doing their job properly to uptake and distribute nutrients which help the grass grow and maintain health. There is a myth that aeration helps prevent weeds from coming through, but sadly this is untrue.
When do you need to aerate your lawn?
Ideally, the best time for lawn aeration in the UK is either in autumn or spring. This is when the soil is mostly likely to be naturally moist and it is suitable for the holes to be set effectively.
Ideally you would aerate in the spring when it is just coming into growing season for the grass, as this gives the grass the opportunity to heal properly. Keep in mind that the weather in the UK varies a great deal and aeration is very condition dependent. If it is too wet then the holes will not let water and air through as the sides of the holes will seal up. When it comes to frequency of lawn aeration it is dependent on the lawn.
New lawns should be aerated more often as they have a less matured root system and aerating helps this develop and grow. We would recommend you aerate a new lawn twice a year for non-established lawn. Those with hard or clay soil should be aerated once a year as they have more difficulty getting air and water to the roots. For all other types of soil and lawn you should aerate at least every 3 years, but more frequent if the grass is looking unhealthy or not growing well.
Types of aerator
There are different methods of aeration that you should consider before taking to the garden to start the work. Each method is appropriate for a different severity and size of lawn.
Solid tine aerator
Also known as spike tine aerators, this is the act of punching solid holes into the turf. Solid tines are useful for all general aeration and can be done well with a number of cost efficient tools. The only caveat to this method is that it can sometimes cause compaction in the sides of the hole that the spike creates.
Hollow tine lawn aerator
Hollow tines actually extract the compacted soil through tubes that are driven into the turf. The act of removing cores from the soil is aimed at lawns with severe compaction and is generally regarded of the most effective form of aeration.
How to aerate your lawn
Preparing your lawn
There are a number of things you can do in preparation to ensure that the aeration is as effective as possible.
First, you should mow your lawn low the day before and scarify your lawn if it has a lot of thatch or mossy growth. It can sometimes help to re-mow the lawn after scarification to clear any resulting debris. If the soil is dry and no rain showers are due to help moisten the soil before aeration, it is also recommended to water the grass the day before.
Tools for lawn aerating
Before aerating your lawn you should decide what tool you are going to use to get the job done. Your selection should be based on the size of your lawn and the type of soil you have underneath the turf.
Lawn aerator shoes: These are suitable for a small garden and they are quite self-explanatory. Aerating shoes have one to one and a half inch spikes underneath them which you put on and walk around your garden (in an organised manner, of course). A great way to do this is wear them whilst you are mowing your lawn to ensure you cover every area.
Hand aerators: These are specifically designed for a measured depth of hole into the turf. Hand aerators are cost efficient and they are also great for small gardens. A great example of a hand aerator is a pitch fork or a hollow tine aerator. A hollow tine aerator removes a plug of soil which helps prevent the hole simply closing up again.
Machine aerators: These can come in two forms. The smaller machine aerators intended for small to medium sized gardens are pushed similar to that of a lawn mower. The larger machine aerators are usually pulled by a tractor and they are intended for large gardens and fields. Machines are extremely effective for aeration but they do come at a higher cost than manual tools.
During lawn aeration
If you are using a machine aerator it will usually only cover a small percentage of the turf that you pass so it is important to go over compacted areas multiple times to ensure that it is sufficiently aerated. You should always aerate in straight lines similar to mowing or scarifying and it is advised to aerate around the perimeter lastly to cover your turning area.
After lawn aeration
Once your lawn aeration is complete you should apply fertiliser and top dressing to give your grass the extra ingredients it needs to thrive and begin to become a thick green healthy lawn. Continuing to mow and water your lawn regularly after the process of aeration will also help a great deal towards growing healthy grass in a shorter time frame.