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How Do I Aerate?

by Dawn West, All About Lawns Columnist

Aerating is usually either done with a Power Aerator (or Coring Machine) or a Manual (foot-pressed) Aerator. The Power Aerator kind of resembles a conventional motorized snow blower with the engine on top and wheels on the back or sides. The major difference is that the Power Aerator has a circular wheel in the front or back with hollow cylinders or spikes pointing out around the wheel. The manual version will often have around four hollow cylinders on the bottom with a foot plate on top for pressing into the soil, much like a shovel.

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Manual Aerators are generally for very small lawns or grass patches and can take a very LONG time to complete a job compared to its motorized counterpart. Before we begin, let me emphasize that If you have never before aerated your lawn, you may want to think about a few things before you begin. Since almost all aerating takes place with a power aerator, it is important to know that these are VERY heavy machines and, if rented, typically require two people to transport. Additionally, these are usually not easy machines to operate and can require some degree of physical strength to operate. In short, many people tend to hire a service to aerate for them. See: Lawn Companies & Services in your Area. Some of these listed companies may offer free estimates and will give you the completed Free Estimate Form if requested. For those of you wish to aerate your own lawn, here are a few guidelines to follow when you do:

  1. Aerators can be rented from many Lawn Companies & Services in your Area. Just give the red-letters a click to find the one nearest you!
  2. Prior to aerating, make sure you identify any sprinkler heads and/or shallowly buried power lines, cables, etc. A good idea is to identify them with small yard-flags or other easy to see markers so you do not run over and damage them while you aerate. Again, a good aerating company can help you with this procedure.
  3. If you have sandy soil, lightly compacted soil, or have aerated your lawn previously in the year, you will typically want to aerate with one single pass similar to a pattern in which you mow. If you have highly compacted ground, clay soil, or haven't had your lawn aerated in over a year, you will want to make two passes, with the second pass at a different angle than the first.
  4. You will notice that while you aerate, the plugs that are removed will lay on the ground. Don't worry if they look a little unsightly, for you can either rake them back into the lawn, or you can rake them up and remove them. By raking them back into the lawn, they will typically break apart and dissolve back into the ground, especially when watered. If you are either planning on reseeding or laying sand on the ground surface, commonly done in the southern regions of the U.S., following aeration, the plugs may be good to leave on the surface to dissolve and help provide more ground cover. Either way, your lawn will look better after the plugs dissolve. So either be patient, help break them up with a rake to dissolve, or simply remove them. Remember, you're doing this for the future of your lawn, not how it may look today.
  5. Once your lawn is aerated, remember that this is usually a great time to fertilize your lawn and/or reseed it. Now that aerating has created holes in your lawn and removed thatch, it has also created excellent soil exposure, especially to the grass roots. If you decide to reseed, follow-up by ranking the suspended seeds into the soil, add fertilizer, and apply a light covering of matter and/or sand.
  6. Once you've completed aerating, try to water your lawn a few extra times, especially during hot or dry conditions. As previously stated, aerating can expose your soil to a greater loss of moisture during times of drought and high heat, so make sure you replenish your lawn with water accordingly.

About the Author
Dawn West B.A. holds a B.A. in English from Harvard University and teaches writing at Oregon State University.

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