Lawn Aeration Guide (2024)

By Amanda Lutz Updated February 7, 2024

Healthy lawns need more than sunlight and water to thrive. When soil becomes too compacted over time, the grass’s roots struggle to breathe, have difficulty absorbing nutrients, and don’t grow as deeply into the soil. When you aerate your lawn by methodically poking holes into the soil, you give your lawn extra breathing room.

In this guide, we’ll review the benefits of lawn aeration in your landscaping maintenance schedule and a few popular ways to aerate your home’s lawn. We’ll also give you some recommendations for taking care of your lawn before and after aerating it.

When to Aerate Your Lawn

Your lawn’s soil can become compacted from foot traffic and heavy rainfall, so consider aerating your lawn at least once per year so the soil becomes loose and easy to grow in. Because lawn aeration can lightly damage your grass, time the project for the middle of your grass’s peak growing season so it can heal itself and take advantage of the newly loosened soil. Aerate your lawn in early spring or mid-autumn for cool-season grasses and late spring for warm-season grasses.

Cool-Season Grasses

Cool-season grasses, such as fescue and bentgrass, remain green during spring and fall. If you have these varieties or know your lawn thrives outside of summer, aerate your lawn in spring or early fall.

Warm-Season Grasses

You have warm-season grasses if your lawn is a vibrant green during summer. Popular warm-season grass varieties include St. Augustine, Bermudagrass, or Zoysiagrass. Schedule your aeration project for early summer if you have warm-season grass.

Why Aerate Your Lawn

Lawn aeration counteracts the soil compaction that can happen during the year. Pets and people walking across your lawn can tamp the soil, making it hard and impenetrable. Heavy clay soils also clump and become hard barriers that constrain grass growth.

By breaking up your topsoil and even a couple of inches of dirt below the topsoil, you give your lawn a better growth environment with better drainage. Here are some benefits of lawn aeration:

By aerating your lawn once a year during the growing season, your grass becomes stronger, healthier, and more resilient. It can even help ward off pests and weeds, such as dandelions.

Aeration Methods

Core, spike, slice, and liquid aeration are the four most popular aeration methods. Each method uses different equipment and processes to break up the soil. Below is an overview of each aeration method to help you decide which is best for you and your lawn.

Core/Plug Aeration

Core aerators poke the ground with hollow tines to remove small, cylindrical plugs of soil from the ground. By removing small soil tubes, core aerators give the remaining soil plenty of room to expand and allow water, air, and nutrients to seep through the new gaps.

As a bonus, aeration equipment typically leaves the plugs of soil on the lawn. The soil then breaks down, decomposing any built-up thatch and gradually releasing its nutrients back into the soil.

There are three different types of aerators used for core or plug aeration:

Spike Aeration

Like core aerators, spike aerators poke into the ground with sharp tines to leave small cylindrical holes. Rather than pulling plugs of dirt out of the ground, spike aerators push the soil aside to leave small spike-shaped holes.

Spike aeration is a short-term solution that loosens the soil but compacts the soil over time. Commonly used tools for spike aeration include pitchforks, rolling aerators that look like a spike-covered rolling pin attached to a long handle for pushing, and towable spike aerators. You can also spot-aerate small portions of your landscape with a screwdriver.

Slice Aeration

Slicing aerators use a rolling pin with diagonal blades to carve shallow cuts through the topsoil. The slices push aside dirt to help the lawn breathe, absorb water, and access nutrients. Like spike aeration, slice aeration doesn’t remove soil and creates more compact soil over time.

Liquid Aeration

Liquid aeration is a convenient alternative for moldy compacted soil. A liquid aerator contains a chemical that reacts with the soil to break down the material and encourage microbial growth, making the soil ecosystem richer and more active.

To use this method, mix a liquid aerator chemical with water. Pour the liquid into a hose-end sprayer and spray a thin layer of the solution across your lawn. The chemical composition of the liquid depends on the brand you choose, but most liquid aerators contain surfactants and humates that spread quickly across the soil surface.

While liquid aeration can be a quick and convenient option, it may not work reliably on dense and compact soils.

Preparing for Lawn Aeration

Some extra prep work before you aerate your lawn can help your grass grow after completing the project. Implement a consistent lawn care program the weeks before you aerate the lawn. This can include mowing the grass to its ideal height once a week during the growing season, cleaning up leaves and fallen blooms, and watering your lawn at least three times a week during summer and twice a week during cool-weather seasons.

Before you aerate your lawn, follow these steps:

  1. Prepare your lawn: Remove any leaves and rinse your lawn to soften the soil. Mark obstructions in your lawn, such as tree stumps or sprinkler heads, so you don’t push the aerator over them.
  2. Rent or purchase a core aerator: Manual push-powered and gas-powered units are easy to find at home improvement stores, though gas-powered aerators generally cost more. Your local store may let you rent a unit instead of purchasing one outright.
  3. Wear thick shoes: Aerators are heavy and sharp. Wear boots or thick shoes that cover your toes so you don’t hurt your feet as you work.
  4. Test the aerator: Before you begin, test the aerator in a discreet corner of your backyard so you can adjust to pushing the tool without marking the ground.

How to Aerate With a Core Aerator

You can aerate your lawn in a single afternoon with the right equipment and prep work. Both manual and gas-powered aerators make it easy to systematically punch holes in the surface of your lawn and extract small plugs of soil.

Follow these steps to aerate your lawn:

  1. Insert the right-size tines into the aerator: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding how long the tines should be. Generally, they should be between two and four inches long.
  2. Aerate the open spaces of your lawn: Push the aerator across your lawn in careful, parallel strips. Aerate your lawn twice—once in vertical stripes and a second time in horizontal stripes. This will make your lawn smoother.
  3. Target high-traffic areas: Push the aerator over sections of your lawn and backyard that experience frequent foot traffic, such as walking paths in the grass and the edges around your patio or sidewalk.
  4. Inspect your landscape: Identify any areas you may have missed and use the aerator in these sections.
  5. Don’t pick up the soil cores: You may want to remove the soil cores after you’re done aerating your lawn, but leaving them can enrich the soil as the cores break down. However, you can sweep away any cores that fell on your sidewalk.

Caring for Your Lawn After Aeration

After you aerate your lawn, the grass will be fragile. The aerator may have cut into the grassroots and crushed the blades. Help your lawn repair itself by watering it and adding a gentle fertilizer treatment. If your grass is thin or patchy, now is a great time to add more grass seed across your lawn. Complete this step immediately after aerating so the seeds can grow in the newly opened soil. If you use a core aerator, leave the plugs on the ground so the soil can break down the thatch and enrich the soil.

Check off each of these aftercare tasks, so your aerated lawn is in great shape for the rest of the growing season:

Our Recommendation

Lawn aeration can enhance your landscape, making your lawn greener, healthier, and smoother for the end of the growing season and the beginning of the next season. Get into the habit of aerating your lawn in the middle of the growing season so you can enjoy lush, healthy grass every time you step outside. Since the aeration process is simple and can be completed in the afternoon, consider aerating your lawn or backyard if you have the time and resources. If you don’t want to aerate your own lawn, most comprehensive lawn care services offer lawn aeration as an optional service.

Lawn Aeration FAQ

How often should you aerate your lawn?

You should aerate your lawn annually. Schedule the project for late spring if you have warm-season grass or for late fall if you have cool-season grass.

What’s the best time of day to aerate a lawn?

The best time of day to aerate your lawn is in the late morning or early afternoon. This gives you plenty of daylight hours to go over your lawn twice with the aerator and perform aftercare tasks such as watering, fertilizing, and reseeding.

How long does it take for grass to recover from aeration?

Grass can recover from aeration in approximately three weeks. During this period, the soil will heal, and the holes will no longer be visible.

Is aerating necessary?

Aerating is necessary for virtually every lawn. Lawns become healthier when the grass can access more water, air, and nutrients and grow a larger root system. Aerating is especially important for lawns with heavy foot traffic or clay soil.

Can aeration damage your lawn?

Aeration temporarily damages your lawn by poking holes in the surface. However, proper lawn aeration improves your lawn long-term, and lawns heal within a month following aeration.