Choosing and Using a Grass Aerator

Selecting the right grass aerator makes lawn aerating easier and more beneficial to the grass.  You've probably seen those lawn aerating shoes at different specialty shops.  Spare yourself the time, effort and expense of using those to aerate your lawn.  They won't do a bit of good.  If you use the right grass aerator, your lawn will be healthier and stronger in the long run.

Why Aerate the Lawn?

Aerating is not a scam that lawn care companies sell their customers to make money.  Aerating, when properly done, is actually a benefit to the soil under the grass, and thus a benefit to the grass.  The health of the lawn starts with the health of the soil, and aerating the lawn can improve the soil significantly. Soils with heavy clay content, or very sandy soils have poor water movement and nutrient movement capacities.  Water and nutrients run through sandy soils quickly, while soils with heavy clay tend to get water-logged, and hold tightly to nutrients.  Neither is the ideal situation for lawn grass.  When you aerate the soil with a punch core aerator, you open up air pockets that you can then fill with a lightweight compost.  The compost will improve soil structure, soil fertility, and water and nutrient qualities of the soil.  Aerating also helps to reverse the effects of soil compaction, which happens in lawns and areas that get a lot of foot traffic.

The Best Type of Grass Aerator

Not all aerators are created equal.  In fact, you probably won't want to spend the time or money using an aerator that hooks onto your small riding mower, or that attaches to a simple roller.  These are probably spike aerators, and rather than helping the soil, they actually further compact the soil.  Aerators that do not remove a core of soil just push the soil further into the ground.  It might open up a pocket of air, but only at the expense of what is underneath that pocket. The right type of aerator to improve the soil is called a punch-core aerator.  These types of aerators usually work via hydrolics, and have several attachments that look like an apple corer which move up and down in the soil, removing cores of soil.  You can generally tell if an area has been aerated a day or two ago by the cores of soil lying around on top of the grass.  Sometimes, these types of aerators are available to rent from equipment rental companies, but more often you will need to contract with a professional landscaper to aerate for you, as they are more likely to own this piece of equipment.  The average lawn attached to a single family home will not need to be aerated more than once or twice a year.  That makes the expense of owning and keeping an aerator functioning prohibitive.

Lawn Care Before and After Aerating

Depending upon your lawn care service, they might leave you with a list of before and after care, or they may come out to your lawn and oversee the care themselves.  Here's what to expect to do before and after aerating the lawn. Before Water the lawn, thoroughly soaking it about three days before aeration.  This will loosen the soil, but give it enough time to drain before the heavy piece of equipment is on the soil. Mow the lawn about 1/2 as tall as you would normally mow it.  This puts less strain on the equipment and makes it easier to top-dress with compost. After After aeration, the lawn care company will likely water the lawn, which will partially break up the plugs removed by the punch core aerator. After watering, they might also rake the lawn to further break up the plugs. Lastly, if your lawn is being renovated, they may top-dress with an inch of lightweight, fine compost, and rake it in. Aerating is stressful for the lawn, while it is happening, so it is important to keep the lawn watered throughout the process.  However, once the grass recovers, the lawn will be healthier due to increased air flow, the addition of compost, and improved structure.  Make sure that you or your lawn service provider uses the right grass aerator, aerate at least once a year in the spring or fall, and you will have a healthier, stronger lawn.
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