What You Need to Know About Lawn Aerators

By: Andrea Pisani Babich

The House Method team researches, reviews, and recommends a number of services, including lawn care providers. Affiliate disclosure.

If your lawn is suddenly showing brown spots after a few days of warm weather or water pools after watering or a storm, you may need to supplement your supply of lawn care tools with a lawn aerator.

When thatch builds up under the grass and soil becomes compacted, water can’t penetrate to the roots, keeping the roots from growing long enough to resist high heat and temporary drought. Under these conditions, mowing, edging, and watering your grass are not enough to keep your lawn healthy. Keep reading to learn how lawn aerators work and how to determine when lawn aeration is necessary.

If you think this is one DIY job better left to the professionals, TruGreen has the experience and know-how to aerate your lawn and complement the aeration with a full line of lawn care services, including:

  • Fertilization
  • Lime treatment
  • Tree and shrub care
  • Pre-emergent and targeted weed control
  • Healthy Lawn Analysis®✦
  • TruShield℠ Lawn Pest Control

Type in your zip code or call 888.535.3193 to get a free quote from America’s #1 professional lawn care company for any of their three lawn care plans.*

Read on to learn:

  • How lawn aerators work
  • How to determine if your lawn needs aeration
  • When to aerate your lawn
  • Types of lawn aerators
  • 5 alternative lawn aeration techniques
  • The cost of lawn aerators for DIYers
  • Whether you should DIY or hire a professional
  • And more

How lawn aerators work

Lawn aerators use rows of spikes or hollow tines to penetrate the soil, cutting through thatch and breaking up compacted soil to allow air, water, and other nutrients to reach the roots of your grass. Aerating your lawn promotes the decomposition of organic matter, helping to fertilize the grass.

Aeration also encourages deeper and stronger roots, making your lawn more resistant to heat, drought, and insects. Using a lawn aerator can help your grass grow thicker, greener, and more robust.

Aerating Lawn

How to determine if your lawn needs aeration

A few simple tests can help you decide if your lawn needs to be aerated.

Test for soil compaction

The simplest way to determine if your lawn needs aeration is the screwdriver test. Simply push a screwdriver into the soil of your lawn. If the soil doesn’t give easily, it’s too compact to sustain a healthy lawn. Aerating your lawn can fix that.

Check the roots

Dig up a small patch of grass about six inches deep. If the roots are shorter than two inches, your lawn could benefit from aeration.

During a Healthy Lawn Analysis, your lawn care specialist from TruGreen can determine if your lawn needs to be aerated and when would be the best time to do it.

Assess the thatch

Thatch is a buildup of dead grass and other organic debris that collects on top of the soil. A thatch layer that is thicker than a half inch can choke your lawn of air and nutrients.

Simpler than raking the thatch manually, aerating your lawn will break up the thatch and allow your grass to breathe, hydrate, and ultimately grow stronger.

Other signs that your lawn needs aeration include:

  • Areas of thin, patchy grass
  • High foot traffic or playing
  • Parking vehicles on the grass
  • High concentration of clay in soil
  • Brown spots
  • Compacted soil
  • Dry and spongy soil
  • Your lawn is new
  • Soil layering
  • Puddles form in your lawn after a rainstorm
  • Your lawn isn't actively growing

Physical signs Brown spots and compacted soil can indicate the need for lawn aeration.

When to aerate your lawn

The best time to aerate your lawn is during the growing season for your grass—either in the spring or early fall. Soil is typically moist during this time because of rainfall, and the aerator is able to pull enough core plugs.

Not all grasses grow at the same time during the year. Cool-season grasses such as fescue, bluegrass, and ryegrass should be aerated anytime from August through October. Allow at least a month of growing time before the threat of frost—for example, if frost sets in around the beginning of November, you’ll want to properly aerate your cool season grass by the end of September.

Warm-season grasses like Zoysia, Bermuda, and St. Augustine should be aerated in the spring from April through June. After you aerate your lawn, apply a top dressing to add organic matter into the soil that will help nourish your grass.

Aeration can be done in the summer as long as the soil is moist enough.

Types of lawn aerators

There are two main types of rolling lawn aerators: spike aerators and core aerators.

As the name suggests, a spike aerator uses spikes fixed on a rolling drum to poke holes in the soil as the aerator is pushed or towed across the lawn. Used to prepare soil for overseeding, spike aeration works best on soil that is only loosely compacted.

A core aerator uses hollowed-out tines to pull out plugs of soil from the lawn, leaving two- to three-inch holes. Both types can be motorized, manually pushed, or towed.

If a motorized lawn aerator is too elaborate for your needs—maybe your yard is small or you just want to aerate the trouble spots—here are five other aeration techniques that can be used for smaller jobs and make this DIY task as easy as a stroll through your yard.

Core aerators Core aerators used hollow tines to extract cylindrical plugs of soil.

5 alternative lawn aeration techniques

1. Spiked shoes

This is the easiest way to aerate your lawn. Simply strap on these spiked soles and take a walk through your grass.

However, spiked shoes should not be used for every aeration job. Severely compacted lawns will not benefit as much from spike aeration as much as core aeration because the spikes actually further compact the soil they penetrate.

While not practical for very large yards and less effective on severely compacted lawns, this lawn aeration tool can be an inexpensive way to maintain proper soil conditions.

2. Pitchfork

You can easily aerate small areas of your lawn by simply pushing a pitchfork into the soil about three inches deep. Wiggle the fork around a bit to widen the holes, and repeat the process every four inches over trouble spots. Caution: a pitchfork works much the same way as spiked shoes and should not be used for severely compacted yards.

3. Scarifier

Also called a dethatcher, this tool works mainly to break up deposits of grass cuttings, moss, and other debris that collect on the surface of the soil.

Powered by electricity or manually pushed, a scarifier is a wheeled machine with a series of blades that rotate through the surface of the lawn as it passes over it. Its cutting action also helps aerate the soil.

4. Hollow tiner

This tool, sometimes called a core aerator, works the same way as a pitchfork but uses hollow tines to remove cores of soil.

5. Slitter

Using a series of blades to penetrate the soil, a slitter cuts through grass roots, encouraging air circulation and new growth.

The cost of lawn aerators for DIYers

You can purchase or rent a home aerator at a home improvement store or garden center relatively inexpensively.

  • Hand-held manual aerators—Best used to aerate small trouble spots, a manual core aerator can be purchased for about $25 or $30.
  • Towable core aerator—If you have a larger area to aerate and plan to do it regularly, buying a core aerator that can be towed behind a riding mower may make sense. You can buy a towable aerator for about $200.
  • Walk-behind aerator—You can rent an aerator for about $60 for four hours or $90 for an entire day. Don’t forget that most rentals require a deposit, and you may need to make special arrangements to transport the aerator to your home.

What are the benefits of lawn aeration?

You might be wondering how a single aeration every year could help improve your lawn’s quality. Think of a lawn aerator as a way to create pores for your lawn. These “pores” need to be made and left open in order for your lawn take in nutrients and moisture. They also promote root growth in the open spaces and added air and oxygen in the soil.

Aeration can also:

  • Allow air to flow into the soil, feeding oxygen directly to the roots
  • Let nutrients and fertilizers reach deeper and closer to the feeder roots
  • Loosen tight, compacted soil to allow roots to breathe and have a place to grow
  • Allow water to soak into the ground and reach the underlying roots
  • Prevent and eliminate the threat of pests and lawn disease by breaking up thatch

Who should aerate your lawn?

There are plenty of people who like to work on their lawns, but when it comes to aerating and the follow-up treatments, you may want to reconsider. If you’re thinking about aerating your lawn yourself, ask yourself the following questions:

Do you want to spend at least an entire day aerating and overseeding the lawn?

Homeowners with lawn care experience may find this job takes less time than newbies. You may need to prepare to commit your weekend to this project.

Does your lawn need overseeding and fertilizing after aerating?

If you aerate your lawn regularly, you may not need follow-up care, which will save you time between each aeration.

If your lawn does need follow-up care, you will need to consider the weather conditions. Heavy rain after overseeding can wash the seeds away, requiring another application.

Keep in mind that you may need to purchase seed and fertilizer along with renting or buying a yard aerator.

How responsive can you be when weather conditions allow for aeration?

Lawn care can be miserable if it’s too hot, humid, or rainy. Will you be ready to work in the yard when the weather allows?

Bone-dry soil is difficult to aerate. You want the soil to be moist, but not muddy. If you have drought conditions, water your lawn lightly for a few days before you aerate.

Outdoor DIY jobs require several conditions to be optimal before you can proceed. When the weather is right, will you have the time, money, and energy to complete the job?

How often do you want to aerate your lawn?

Will you be able to be aerate your lawn as often as it needs? If not, finding someone who will be available (like a professional) may be key.

 

DIY or Hire?

House Method recommends contacting a professional to take care of your lawn aeration.

DIY

  • Small trouble spots are easier to take on yourself.
  • It’s a good project for outdoor enthusiasts who love to work on their lawns.
  • Aerating and follow-up care (overseeding and fertilizing) will cost almost the same as hiring a professional lawn care company.

Hire

  • Professionals already have lawn aerators and other equipment to get the job done properly and efficiently the first time.
  • Scheduled lawn care ensures regular aeration at the optimal times during the year.
  • The cost is comparable to doing it yourself.
  • Comprehensive lawn care provides the best results for any one lawn care job, like aeration.
Get a Free Quote

Call in the pros: TruGreen

Aerating your lawn and following up with overseeding and fertilizing can be time-consuming and expensive. If you’d rather have professional lawn care, TruGreen offers three plans to keep your lawn healthy and looking good year after year.

TruHealth® Lawn Plan TruComplete® Lawn Plan TruSignature® Lawn Plan
Lime Lime Lime
Pre-Emergent & Targeted Weed Control Pre-Emergent & Targeted Weed Control Pre-Emergent & Targeted Weed Control
Fertilization Fertilization Fertilization
Healthy Lawn Analysis®✦ Healthy Lawn Analysis Healthy Lawn Analysis
Healthy Lawn Guarantee®◆ Healthy Lawn Guarantee Healthy Lawn Guarantee
Aeration Aeration
Tree & Shrub Plan

All TruGreen lawn care treatments are performed by skilled professionals and backed by their Healthy Lawn Guarantee. That means your lawn care specialist will come as often as necessary to make adjustments, get your lawn healthy, and ensure your satisfaction.

Unlike many other lawn care companies, TruGreen take a science-based approach to perfecting your lawn. Their team of PhD certified specialists will evaluate your lawn through a Healthy Lawn Analysis, then design a tailored approach to give your lawn exactly what it needs.

If you’d like to hire a pro to take care of your lawn aeration and guarantee strong results, get a free quote from TruGreen online or call 888.535.3193.

Aeration without a professional

If you do decide to aerate your lawn without the help of a professional, there are a few things you should think of beforehand:

  • Know your grass type. Aeration should only occur when the grass is actively growing.
  • Rent or purchase an aerating machine.
  • Clearly mark sprinkler heads, irrigation lines, and other underground lines in your yard that could get damaged by a lawn aerator.
  • Water the lawn thoroughly the day before.
  • Plan to seed and fertilize after core aeration.
  • Let the plugs disintegrate into the lawn.
  • Be safe opening an aerator. It requires proper handling and safe operations.

Professional Lawn Aeration

Get a free quote from TruGreen.

Call Now
✦Purchase of full lawn plan required for Healthy Lawn Analysis, which is performed at the first visit. ◆Guarantee applies to full plan customers only. *America’s #1 lawn care company based on U.S. market share of professional lawn care companies. 2016 NorthStar Partners U.S. Share Tracker

About the author

Andrea Pisani Babich is a writer and editor who believes your home is your sanctuary. She writes about home care and lifestyle so that everyone can surround themselves with peace and beauty in whatever place they call home.

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