Maintaining a thicker lush grass requires an effort. Ideally, watering, fertilizing and mowing are common care practices. However, this goes incomplete if you do not include aeration. Let’s get down on how to aerate lawn by hand.
With time lawn soil becomes compacted due to heavy use or buildup of thatch. This will stop a proper flow of supplies into the soil or reaching the roots of the grass. This can be corrected through the process know as aeration.
It involves punching small holes into the lawn to help in loosening up soil so that important nutrients, air and water can freely flow into the soil for plant use.
When to Aerate a Lawn
You should aerate a lawn when the soil becomes compacted due to heavy use, thatch buildup or as a results of its clayey nature. Signs of a compacted soil include grass turning yellow, thinning and bald patches.
This shows that your lawn turf is not receiving water and nutrients as required. Without taking any action, all your grass will start wilting and eventually dry. At the same time weeds will take over your lawn since they have better surviving mechanisms than your turf.
What is Thatch?
Thatch is a buildup of a layer of organic debris beneath the surface of your lawn. It is usually made-up of both dead and living roots, stems, and shoots which have formed a thick barrier between the roots of the grass or plants and the soil surface.
Thatch is usually beneficial to a lawn or garden but too much of it becomes a problem. A thin layer acts as organic mulch that helps in conserving soil moisture and preventing fluctuation in soil temperatures. Microbes living in the soil usually break down thatch and a buildup happens when plenty is produced than what is broken down.
Other that deterring plants from accessing essential supplies, a thick layer of thatch can promote fungus and pest infestation. Furthermore, this build-up of organic materials can also hinder a proper mowing of a lawn due to its spongy nature. The lawn mower wheels are likely to sink down thus scalping your grass.
Thatch can be detected by a spongy feeling of your lawn. Sometimes the ground will feel normal and you have to check manually. Simply take a shovel and scoop a piece of lawn down to about 4”. If the organic matter is more than 1/2 inch, then it’s time to dethatch and aerate your lawn.
What is Soil Compaction?
If your lawn receives heavy traffic from machinery, playing kids and pets, you should consider doing aeration. The activities exert force and pressure on soil particles making them to compact. As mentioned earlier, compacted soil will prevent nutrients, water and oxygen from reaching the roots of your plants and grass.
To tell if the turf in your lawn is compacted, study how water penetrates the soil or push a thin metal rod such as a screw driver into the soil. If you are unable to push it all the way through, then your soil is compacted.
Ideally it is important to aerate your lawn yearly especially if you have a dense clay soil or a lawn is used heavily. Clay soil is likely to compact more than a soil with higher sand content.
If your lawn is grown on sandy or loose soil, you will want to carry out soil aeration preferably after every two years.
Best Time to Aerate a Lawn
Aerate a lawn in Fall (September) if you have grown cool season grasses such as Bentgrass, Bluegrass, Fescue and Rye Grass. Warm season grasses such as Bermuda, Carpet Grass, Centipede and St. Augustine thrives in early summer months and best to be aerated in the late Spring (April).
These are the optimal weather for faster growing and recovery of a lawn. There is no need to aerate the soil if you recently spread grass seeds on your lawn or sodded. Allow some time, at least a year for seeds to germinate and form a steady root system.
Avoid aerating a lawn that is flooded or pooled with water. Immediately after an extended period of downpour or after thorough sprinkling, the soil becomes too wet and will stick to the tines making the whole process meaningless and tedious.
Manual Tools for Lawn Aeration
Aerating a lawn manually is a less expensive method especially for small yards. However, you will need specified tools for this purpose. Lawn aeration by hand can be labor intensive and time consuming for large lawns thus recommended to use a power or commercial lawn aerator.
Hand aeration is best done using the following garden tools
1. Manual core aerator
A manual aerator has a handle and a foot bar attached to sharp cylinders. To use the tool, you hold the hand with both hands and drive it into the soil and extract it.
The sharp cylinders will perforate into the turf and remove plugs of soil and grass leaving some holes. A foot bar becomes useful where soil is hard or compacted.
2. A manual spike aerator
A manual spike aerator works like a manual core aerator but instead of sharp cylinders that plug the soil, it has sharp spikes that make holes into the turf.
Using a manual core aerator can produce optimal results as compared to spike aerator especially in areas where soil is prone to compaction. Poking holes alone may not be sufficient enough to loosen the soil.
3. Using a fork
Like a spike aeration, using a fork will make holes in your lawn for efficient flow of nutrients, air and water to the grass roots. Although a less expensive methods, forking can be time consuming and tedious for large lawns.
How to Aerate Lawn by Hand
You don’t just wakeup one day and decide that you want to aerate your lawn. There are a number of things to be done fist.
1. Establish your type of grass
Establishing the type of grass you have on your lawn helps in planning on the best time of the year to aerate. As mentioned earlier, cool season grass are best aerated during Fall and Spring for warm season grass respectively.
2. Determine the soil type
How often to aerate a lawn depends on the type of soil your grass is grown on. Clay soil compacts easily and best aerated frequently as opposed to sandier soil type. Generally, aerate clay soil every season and after every two years for other soil types.
3. Choose your tool
Based on your lawn size and budge, decided on a manual lawn aerator tool. As mentioned, the three commonly used tools are; manual core aerator, spike aerator or a fork.
Spiked shoes are still a form of aerator but using them may not achieve much. Other than covering a small area, the method may further compact soil that is already stressed.
4. Prepare your lawn
Preparing your lawn will make the whole process of aeration to become effortless. Clear debris, twigs, leaves from your lawn by raking. Mark all sprinkler heads, cables and other stationary objects in the lawn to avoid damaging them.
Mow the lawn to enable easier penetration of the manual tool. Check the moisture level of the lawn. Leave your sprinkler on overnight to make the soil moist and soft for easier penetration. Soil that is too dry makes it difficult for tines to pierce the ground.
5. Aerate the lawn as you focus on compacted areas
Now it’s time to aerate your lawn. Put on your gardening gear that include rubber gloves and boots. Remember to eat well and take plenty of water prior to the process as you will need quite a ton of energy.
Begin punching into the soil as you focus more on compacted areas. Aim for 20 to 40 holes per square foot. Don’t worry if unable to complete the task in one day. You may proceed the following day.
What to do after aerating your lawn
To make your grass recover faster, here is what to do after you done with aeration
- Do not remove the soil plugs on the lawn but rather leave them to decompose and naturally fill back the holes left by the lawn aerator.
- Apply fertilizer after aeration to supply nutrients into soil and the grass roots.
- Reseed your lawn in areas with bald spots or where the grass is thin. The non-compacted soil and extracted soil plugs will help the seeds to germinate faster and grow stronger easily.
- During the first 2 weeks following aeration and seeding, keep the ground moist for faster germination and grass recovery by watering.
Aerating a lawn comes with plenty of benefits. It is a sure way of making oxygen, nutrients and water to reach the grass roots. Additionally, lawn aeration prevents fertilizer and pesticide runoff thus saving on wastage.
Whether you do it yourself or hire a professional, this is an important process that keeps your grass beautifully green, lush and thick.