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Aeration: What, When, Why?

aeration machine
Greg Peker

Greg Peker

An Expert in Sodding, Gardening & Landscape.

Before delving into the deep roots of when and why we should probably start with the what (you like my pun there? no, keep on reading maybe you will change your mind).

What is Aeration?

Very simply put aeration is the process by which a tool perforates the soil with small holes to allow air, water and nutrients to penetrate the grass roots.

When should you Aerate your grass:

The best time to aerate is late spring, early summer or early autumn, when the lawn is growing most actively.

To determine if your lawn needs aerating, cut out several sections of turf grass, about 15 centimeters square and at least 15 centimeters deep. Examine the clumps, and if the roots extend down only two to five centimeters, it’s probably time to aerate. (Bear in mind, though, that grass roots are longest in late spring and shortest in late summer). Typically only mature lawns should need aerating.

Why is Aeration Beneficial?

The need for aerating is often overlooked. But, as sod ages, the soil underneath can become so compacted, there is little or no pore space (small pockets of air held in the soil), making it difficult for grass roots to absorb water and nutrients. Before long, the lawn will deteriorate, becoming more susceptible to weeds and attack by insects and diseases.

Aeration improves the flow of water, oxygen and nutrients through the soil, which in turn encourages grass to root more deeply promoting healthier and drought tolerant grass. It also helps with insect activity; encourages the good and gets rid of the bad.

Aerating Tools: Plug Aerator vs. Spike Aerator

Two main aerating tools exist — a spike aerator and a plug aerator. With a spike aerator, you simply use the tool to poke holes into the ground with a solid tine, or fork. Plug aerators remove a core or plug of grass and soil from the lawn. For the best results, use an aerating tool or machine that actually removes plugs of soil. Poking holes is less effective and can actually cause additional compaction in the areas around the holes.

Look for an aerating tool or machine that removes soil plugs approximately 2 — 3 inches deep and 0.5 — 0.75 inches in diameter, and about 2 — 3 inches apart. These machines can be rented from lawn and garden stores or home improvement centers. Always follow the directions provided by the store. You may want to consider sharing the rental cost with a neighbor who is interested in aerating the lawn. (source:

Aeration Best Practices:

  • Carefully mark the location of underground sprinkler lines and heads, utility lines and cables, and septic systems to avoid damaging them.
  • Thoroughly water your lawn (two to three centimeters deep) two days before aerating so the tines can penetrate farther and the plugs fall out more easily.
  • Aerate your lawn as if you were mowing it, first moving lengthwise, then widthwise.
  • When finished, improve the quality of your soil by top-dressing the lawn with five millimeters of compost or composted manure; rake the compost over the turf to loosely fill in the aeration holes.
  • Your lawn may be reseeded or fertilized immediately after aeration (either with or without top-dressing). (source:

Lawn aeration

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