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Aerating your Turf Grass

Heavy clay soils (common especially in Southern Orange County) and soils with heavy foot traffic may become compacted over time. Compacted soil makes it harder for water to infiltrate and contributes to runoff. It is also harder for healthy root systems to develop, leading to patchy, less attractive turf grass. Aerating the soil by removing small cores of soil alleviates the compaction and allows water to penetrate faster and deeper, encouraging root growth along with it. If you completed the tuna can trick last week, you will likely be able to water fewer times per week for longer, especially in key overwatering zones.

You can hire a professional or aerate your own soil with five simple steps.

  • Step One: Identify the right toolaerator

If you have a small patch of turf grass to be aerated, you can use a hand aerifier. A hand aerifier consists of hollow tubes on the end of a stirrup that you push into the soil manually by foot. These are available at most home improvement stores. If you have a larger stretch of turf grass to be aerated (or if your soil is extremely compacted), you can rent a mechanical aerator. These are also commonly available to rent and are similar to a push lawnmower in appearance.

  • Step Two: Soften the soil

A day or two before you plan to aerate, water generously to soften the soil, while still taking precautions to prevent runoff.

  • Step Three: Dethatch if necessary

Thatch is a thin layer of living and dead stems, roots, and rhizomes between the green portions of turf grass (e.g. the blades) and the actual soil. A thin layer of thatch is beneficial (think of it like a tiny, self-sustaining layer of mulch) in helping limit weed germination and reduce water evaporation. It can, however, get too thick and prevent water, air, and nutrients from reaching the soil.

If your thatch gets too thick you’ll want to remove it before aerating (more on that next week!).

  • Step Four. Aerate!

Get to aerating. Remove soil cores that are about ½ inch in diameter, 6 inches apart, and 3 inches deep. The exact specifications of the aerated cores will be dependent on your equipment, but it should be in that general ballpark. The most important factor is making sure that your soil cores aren’t too far apart (which will result in ineffective aeration) or too close together (which will destroy too much of the root network).

Leave the soil cores on the grass. The first day your turf grass will be covered in thousands of small, brown tubes. A short time later, the cores will have fully broken up due to watering and mowing and return to the soil as nutritious topdressing material.

  • Step Five. Irrigate as necessary

After you aerate is a great time to water (always being cautious to not overwater) your turf grass because the water can easily penetrate the soil and bring with it nutrients, encouraging deeper root depth. Overtime, the spaces where the cores were removed will fill in with looser soil that will allow new grass to grow and encourage roots to spread.


When should I aerate?

In general, you want to aerate your soil during the spring when grasses are actively growing. Aerating causes stress on the turf grass, so aerating during a heat wave is not recommended.

How often should I aerate?

Recommended frequency of aeration depends on soil type. Heavy clay soils may need to be aerated multiple times per year while sandy soils may only need aeration annually. For turf grass with little foot-traffic, it is possible that no aeration is needed (although annual aeration still doesn’t hurt).

And that’s all it takes! As always, let me know how aerating works for you and reach out with any questions you may have in the comments below or at

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1 Comment

  1. Marvin Says:

    February 28th, 2016 at 3:19 pm

    Spring aerating is ulsualy discouraged because the aeration holes provide a perfect spot for weed seeds to germinate. Weeds seeds (especially crabgrass) are the first seeds to germinate in the spring, aerating the lawn just stirs them up and gives them an ideal home. Late spring aerating may be beneficial.You might only need to do a small area in your yard or possibly a large area. If you only do a small area, you can use a spading fork for the job to insert holes into the soil. Although this is not really the recommended way to aerate because it only forces the soil particles around the hole closer together causing more compaction. It will kind of work, but you will not get the desired affect you are hoping to achieve. So it is recommended that you purchase a sod-coring tool from your local home improvement store. These are not very expensive and they do a lot better job.For larger areas you will have to use an actual aerator. Since this is an item that you really will not use very often, you can rent one from a local lawn and garden center or there are many other equipment rental businesses that more than likely will have aerator available for rent.