Grass Aerator: What It Is, How, and When Do I Use It?

By: Sarah Sheppard

The House Method team reviews and recommends lawn care service providers. In this review, we explain why TruGreen is our top pick. House Method is reader-supported. Advertiser Disclosure.

Aeration is a scientific process that breaks up soil into smaller particles. When soil is too compact, it’s blocked from air, water, and other nutrients. With aeration, you are simply poking small holes into the soil surface to allow it to breathe and allow your grass to grow stronger.

Without aerating, your lawn could suffer under heavy rainfalls, drought, or lack of oxygen, causing the grass to turn brown, die, or thin out. You may not even realize that your soil is compact. Simple, everyday tasks like playing on the lawn, driving small equipment over the lawn, or letting pets roam on it could cause the soil to become compacted.

This is especially relevant depending on the type of soil you have. Clay soil or sandy clay, for instance, requires more aeration than silty soil.

Below, we explain the benefits of using a grass aerator, the best times to use it, and if it’s worth buying, renting, or simply hiring a professional like TruGreen to aerate your lawn. Read on to learn more about lawn aeration and get a free quote from TruGreen online or call 888.535.3193.

Benefits of grass aeration

Aeration can help you achieve a thick, healthy, beautiful lawn. When you use a grass aerator, you allow the soil access to the atmosphere. This is why you should aerate your lawn:

  • Alleviate soil compaction
  • Enhance soil access to water, air, and other nutrients
  • Improve the fertilization process by helping the fertilizer reach the grass roots
  • Allow seeds to germinate easier and help stronger roots grow
  • Help break down the thatch layer that could form in cooler seasons
  • Prevent weeds from growing and spreading
  • Prevent puddling and water runoff

If your soil can’t get enough access to water, oxygen, and other nutrients, then your grass could suffocate, dry out, or brown. However, aeration isn’t always necessary.

If you have healthy soil, then you can skip the aeration process. Though, we recommend aerating lawns about once a year, or every other year. A lawn care professional like TruGreen can evaluate your lawn and help you decide if it’s necessary.

Signs your lawn is compacted

If you’re dealing with thick thatch or compacted soils, grass aeration can break up the thatch and allow the soil and roots to get air, water, and necessary nutrients. Should you aerate your lawn?

Look for these signs that show your soil is compacted:

  • Water puddles in the lawn
  • Patchy grass areas
  • Heavy clay soil or sandy clay (if this is the case, perform aeration annually)
  • Water runs away from the higher areas
  • When pressure is put on the soil, it doesn’t budge
  • Bare spots in your lawn

If you’re experiencing these signs, you should consider aerating your grass. If you’d like a professional to take on the task, TruGreen can help. Call 888.535.3193 or use the online form to get a free quote.

Grass with bare spots and puddles

Best time to aerate your lawn

Ideally, you want your lawn to return to its healthy state following the aeration process, which is why proper timing is key.

When you should aerate depends on the type of grass you have, the climate you live in, how much foot traffic your lawn gets, and its soil composition. Aeration works best right before or during the growing season.

Here’s a breakdown of aerating times based on grass type:

Cool-season grasses

Examples: Kentucky bluegrass, annual ryegrass, perennial ryegrass, fine fescue, tall fescue, creeping bentgrass, and creeping red fescue

Cool-season grasses thrive best in temperatures between 60°F and 75 °F, so they’re typically found in the northern US regions. If you have cool-season grass, you should aerate your lawn in the fall. Make sure you do it early enough (ideally, September), so the lawn has time to recover before the harsh winter climate sets in.

Warm-season grasses

Examples: Bermuda grass, buffalo grass, St. Augustine grass, zoysia grass, and centipede grass

Warm-season grasses types thrive best in temperatures between 80°F and 95 °F and are typically found in the southern US regions. If you have warm-season grass, you should aerate your lawn in late spring, right before the growing season.

The key is to aerate when your grass is beginning its peak growing season. This gives the root of your lawn a chance to take in oxygen and fertilization for healthy growth. You should not aerate when your lawn is in a stressful environment or suffering from heat, drought, or dry patches.

green grass

Checklist: Before and after aeration

Aeration is a complicated and time-consuming process. It should always be done before you apply pesticides, overseed, or fertilize. If you’re doing it yourself, know that it’s a multi-day process.

Plan ahead and follow the recommended steps so that you get the most benefits of the aeration process.

Before

  • Mow your lawn 2 or 3 days before aeration. Typically, you should not cut lower than one-third of the blade, but when you’re preparing to aerate, you can cut a little lower. Be careful not to scalp it, though.
  • Water your lawn 2 days before with the intention of softening the soil. Water thoroughly, aiming for about one inch of water.
  • Don’t aerate after a heavy rainfall or during a drought. If the soil is too wet, this can disrupt the aeration process and cause the wet soil to stick to the tines (or spikes).
  • Make sure you aerate before frost sets in.

After

  • Leave the plugs, also known as the cores of soil, which will eventually dry and break down. Do not rake them or remove them from your lawn. The plugs will take about a week to break down and filter back into the soil.
  • Return to your regular mowing schedule after the aeration process (and return to using the one-third rule).
  • If you have an irrigation system, you can run it after aerating.
  • If you are planning to overseed or fertilize your lawn, you should do so within 48 hours of the aeration process.
  • Add topdressing, also known as compost, before overseeding and/or fertilizing. This can help the nutrients release more slowly, reduce erosion, and balance the pH levels. Topdressing ensures that aeration works to improve the soil’s health and increases the rate of germination, if you’re intending to fertilize.
  • Once you’ve performed the overseeding and/or fertilizing, water the lawn again.

Aeration costs: Should you buy or rent a grass aerator?

For some homeowners, grass aeration seems pretty straightforward. However, when you consider the multiple different factors that contribute to the health of your lawn, it becomes harder to decide the best application for your lawn—plus the retail prices for quality products and equipment add up. Without a lawn specialist to guide your way, it’s easy to overuse lawn care applications or improperly apply them, not only causing damage to the lawn but also wasting money.

There are different types of grass aerators. If you’re doing it yourself, you can either rent an aerator or buy one. Renting is likely the better choice, so you can use high-quality equipment and not have to worry about storage. At Lowe’s and Home Depot, you can pay per hour with a 4-hour minimum, per day, or per week for aerator rental.

If you need a grass aerator, here are the prices you can expect:

Buying Renting Hiring a Professional
Spiked aerators for shoes cost less than $50 but are less effective.

Manual aerators are available for less than $100, though many cost much more.

Automatic aerator machines are available for less than $250, but many cost more.

Between $40 and $80 per day depending on manual or automatic and your location. Between $75 and $200 or no extra cost if you have an annual plan with a lawn care company.
 
green grass

Grass aeration: DIY or hire?

When it comes to aerating a lawn, you can do it yourself, but the process is lengthy, precise, and pricey. Instead of buying or renting an aerator, House Method recommends that you hire a professional lawn care company like TruGreen. If you sign up for a lawn care plan, then aeration is likely included and won’t cost extra.

DIY

  • If you don’t have a lawn care plan, you can buy or rent an aerator and apply it yourself. However, some of the best grass aerators are very costly.
  • If you DIY, make sure you prep your lawn before and take care of it immediately after, so the aeration works effectively.

Hire

  • When you hire a lawn care professional, they will provide their expertise on aeration and help determine when you should aerate.
  • Hiring a professional will save you time, and likely money, especially if it’s included in your lawn care plan.

Our recommended provider: TruGreen

TruGreen serves over 2.3 million Americans across the United States and brings a tailored scientific approach to lawn care. When you choose TruGreen as your lawn care company, you will have a PhD certified specialist evaluate and examine your lawn during a Healthy Lawn Analysis®✦. This means means they’ll inspect the type of grass, soil, and climate of your lawn, then create a tailored lawn care plan based on these conditions.

TruGreen’s comprehensive plans are backed by the Healthy Lawn Guarantee®◆, which ensures that customers are satisfied with the results. If not, a TruGreen professional will return to make adjustments to meet your needs.

When it comes to your lawn, there are a lot of variables: the type of grass you have, the weather conditions you experience, the region you live in, etc. TruGreen specialists are trained and experienced in treating lawns and will ensure that you get what you need.

Take a look at three of their best lawn service plans:

Plan Included Visits per year
TruHealth® Lawn Plan Lime
Fertilization
Insect control
Weed control
8 lawn visits
TruComplete® Lawn Plan Lime
Fertilization
Insect control
Weed control
Aeration
8 lawn visits + 1 aeration service
TruSignature® Lawn Plan Lime
Fertilization
Insect control
Weed control
Aeration
Tree and shrub services
8 lawn visits + 1 aeration service + 4 tree and shrub visits

When you sign up for a plan, your first application is $29.95 (for lawns up to 5,000 feet). Lawn care maintenance requires year-round care, and that’s why TruGreen ensures that they visit your lawn at least eight times per year.

TruGreen can evaluate your lawn and decide if aeration is right for you. If you want to get a free quote from TruGreen and learn about their best local lawn care service plans, call 888.535.3193.

How will TruGreen perform grass aeration?

When a TruGreen lawn specialist visits your home, they will analyze your lawn to determine if your lawn could benefit from aeration and overseeding. Since aeration creates optimal conditions for seeding development and growth, this is the best time to allow healthy grass to prosper. For aeration, they use a core aerator and remove small plugs of turf, thatch, and soil from your lawn.

This aeration technique is more beneficial to your grass than spike aeration, and your grass will receive extra nutrients when the plugs break down after two weeks. The grass roots of your lawn will take in more oxygen and fertilizer, and you may begin seeing new white roots growing in the aerated holes.

Get a free quote from TruGreen today.

FAQ: Grass aerators

What is grass aeration?

Simply put, aeration allows your grass to breathe by creating small holes along the surface of your lawn. These holes act as pathways where essential fertilizing agents, air, and water can infiltrate the built-up grass thatch and compacted soil below the first layer of your lawn. By doing this, you’ll make it easier for your grass to take deep root in nutrient-rich soil and promote healthy growth.

Why is dethatching good for your lawn?

Aeration and dethatching often coincide, but you should aerate before you dethatch. The process of dethatching means removing layers of dead turfgrass or buildup (known as lawn thatch). Core aeration can actually help dethatch a lawn.

Is aeration necessary?

Although lawn aeration is good for your lawn, it may not be necessary. If you are dedicated to mowing, watering, and fertilizing, and maintain a healthy lawn year-round, then you can avoid brown patches, bare spots, and compacted soil. Since aeration should only be applied during certain times of the year, it’s important to take care of your lawn seasonally. Depending on the conditions and your soil type, you should consider an annual application.

 

 

How deep should you aerate?

When using a proper grass aerator, you should aim for two to three inches deep. The holes should be no bigger than .75 inches wide.

How long do you need to aerate?

How long it takes to aerate your yard depends on the equipment you use and the condition and size of your yard. You also need to consider any follow-up care, like dethatching, overseeding, or fertilizing. It may be a good idea to block off a Saturday with good weather to allow yourself plenty of time to do the job right.

What are grass aerators used for?

Aerators are used to poke holes in the soil, alleviating it and penetrating grass roots.

What is the difference between a spike or core aerator (also known as a plug aerator)?

Core aeration, a common type of aeration for lawns, is when you use a core aerator machine that uses hollow tines to mechanically remove cores of soil. Core aerators can be more effective than spike aerators, but require certain conditions to function properly (moist soil, not saturated or dry). A spike aerator works better to break up clay soil. No matter which you use, you should make sure that the soil is watered, but not soaked and not dry.

Which is better: a manual or automatic aerator?

When considering a manual or automatic grass aerator, there are a few factors to keep in mind: the cost, the size of your lawn, and how effective you want it to be. Professional aeration machines cost thousands of dollars. If you have a small lawn, then a manual aerator should work just fine. An automatic aerator will likely break up the soil more than a manual will.

Professional Grass Aeration

Get a free quote from TruGreen.

Call Now
◆Guarantee applies to full plan customers only. ★Requires purchase of annual plan. Special price of $29.95 is for first application only, for new residential EasyPay or PrePay customers only, and applies to lawns up to 5,000 square feet. For lawns more than 5,000 square feet or for the regular lawn application price for a lawn of any size, please call for estimate. Valid at participating TruGreen locations. Availability of services may vary by geography. Not to be combined with or used in conjunction with any other offer or discount. Additional restrictions may apply. Consumer responsible for all sales tax.
Sarah Sheppard

About the author

Sarah Sheppard writes on home services, including home and lawn maintenance, for House Method.

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