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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 tool
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 gnome@h2OC.org.