Tuomey Turfgrass Consulting, LLC - Providing Expert Turfgrass & Horticulture Consulting Services
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Aeration

Troops,
This section will consist of many posts regarding aeration.  You will not be able to tell there are multiple posts unless you check back from time to time (as you have been ordered to).  Then you will say, "Gee, that topic has grown over the last couple of weeks."  You gotta realize, I "craft" these posts.  And, I plan them out (strategically - hooah) over time.  So, like a fine wine, I will NOT post information until...it has matured...until its ready.
What is Lawn Aeration?
Aeration is the process of using a mechanical, liquid, or a manual lawn aerator to aerate your lawn.  Making holes in the surface of your lawn allows deeper root growth and reduces soil compaction.  A lawn aerator allows air, water, and nutrients direct access to the root system.  Not only does lawn aerating give you a better looking lawn, but it also thickens the turf and this promotes deeper root growth by allowing the roots to expand and grow deeper into the soil.  Lawn aeration holes hold water in them which can soften hard soil and give clay soils more room for expansion.  In addition, there are a few different types of lawn treatments that go well with aeration; these include thatching, fertilization, overseeding and liming.  I will brief you on these other topics soon.
How often do I use a Lawn Aerator to aerate my lawn?
Most experts recommend you should aerate lawns, as a minimum, every 1 to 3 years.  If you have hills, pets or active outdoor children you may even need it twice a year.  The best time to fertilize and over seed is just after you aerate your lawn.  For new lawns, turf aeration is very important.  Most developers scrape off the topsoil when they build a new home and it can take years before that soil can be naturally healthy again.  The best way to make it healthy quickly is with a lawn core aerator.  Also, in many areas new lawns tend to be installed on top of hard clay.  A core lawn aerator can speed up the process of soil integration by encouraging roots and grass growth.  If you have bad soil, you should aerate at least once a year for the first five years you own a home.  It is very effective to also fertilize and over seed right after aerating.  After a lawn is established, most experts still recommend that you aerate once every three years. 
When should I aerate my Lawn?
The best time to aerate your lawn (in the mid-Atlantic region) is usually in April or in late September.  For Spring aeration the optimal window is March to the end of June.  In the fall, it is September to October.  The 'perfect time' to aerate a lawn may change according to location (See my post on turfgrass adaptation zones.).  If you live in warm coastal states like California, or Florida, the perfect time to aerate could be as early as February and as late as November.  For the Midwest and the south, summer is a great time to aerate.  If the ground is too soft, it may not be a good time.  If the ground is too hard it may need to be watered for about an hour before hand to obtain the best results with a lawn aerator.  Lawns that are aerated on a regular basis may produce better plugs.  Lawn aeration can be done using a lawn aerator machine, aerator shoes, liquid aeration, a tow behind aerator, or a hand aerator.  If I had all kinds of time and money, I'd aerate every spring AND fall - even if I didn't overseed.  Many great golf courses aerate more than once a year and they don't necessarily overseed when they aerate.  They just aerate!
Do I need aeration?
If your lawn needs to be aerated, it is a good idea to know right away.  The following are six tell-tale signs that your lawn could greatly benefit from being aerated.

1) If your lawn is yellow in some spots, it usually means that these areas are not getting enough water.  Aerating these areas will help increase moisture penetration down to a lower level and increase root development.

2) If the water you put on your lawn runs off without soaking into the lawn it is also a good indicator that aeration will help.  Hilly lawns also tend to harden up faster.  A good aeration should help the water to soak in.

3) If the soil is dry or compacted it will also benefit by being aerated.  Aerating the soil can allow moisture to soak in and break up hard clays.

4) If the lawn has a lot of clay in it, it may need to be aerated.  Clay soils expand in the summer when they get hot and contract in the winter.  Aerating them before they get hot will allow the soils to expand without contracting the delicate root system.

5)  If the Lawn is yellow, this usually means that the lawn is not getting even water.  Aerating the lawn will allow water and moisture to have more direct access to the root system.  Over time, aerating will helps the roots break through soils and create self-sustaining turf.

6) Another good indicator that your lawn needs to be aerated is if you haven't aerated your lawn in quite a while.  Most lawn experts recommend that you aerate your lawn at least once every three years.  If the soil is compacted or has a lot of clay in it this may even need to be done more often.
 
Benefits of Fall Aeration

Since most lawns need to be aerated every year, homeowners typically choose between spring aeration and fall aeration because those are the two best times to aerate.  Between March and May (April is often best) and September to October (late September is usually ideal) is the best conditions for a superior aeration job.  Fall aeration provides benefits that are not seen in the spring and it may be a better time for your lawn.  Consider whether your lawn would be improved by the following benefits of fall aeration.

Better dirt plugs when core aerating
 
The ground in fall is usually soft enough to get decent plugs but not too soft.  The spring in many areas is too wet, that it can be hard to find the right time to aerate because the ground is saturated much of the time.  Aerating when the ground is too soft results in holes that close-up quickly and don’t provide improved access to nutrients, water, air and fertilizer for very long.

Best time for over seeding
 
Because aeration creates additional space in the soil and reduces compaction, it is a good idea to over seed after aerating.  Fall is the best time for over seeding because there is plenty of rain to help the new seed come in with little effort and without spring weeds.

Improved lawn drainage
 
Lawn Aeration is vital for good lawn drainage and helps reduce runoff.  Fall aerating can be done with lime or sand to further improve drainage.

More benefits from fertilizer
 
It is a good idea to fertilize your lawn after aerating as more fertilizer will reach the roots.  Fall aeration increases the benefits your lawn gets from both fall and winter fertilizing.

Great as part of winterizing yourlawn
 
Fall aeration makes it easier for your lawn to do well over the winter months and come back beautiful in the spring.  A great hint for over seeding in the fall is to use a good shade seed to prevent moss growth over the winter.
 
Tips for Good Lawn Aeration
 
To get the most of your lawn aeration, take these tips to heart:
 
Aerate on a day when temperatures are mild.
 
The soil should be moist, but not wet.  Wet soil catches in the hollow tines of the aerator and makes the process difficult.
 
If you have cool-season grasses, aerate in the fall.  Lawn aeration for warm-season grasses is usually best done in the spring time.
 
When you aerate in the fall, don't wait until too late in the season!  Make sure there are four weeks of good growing time left for your lawn to fill in the holes and make the most of your aeration efforts.
 
After aerating your lawn, leave the soil plugs alone for a few days to break up.  You can crumble the plugs with a rake, lawn mower, or old piece of carpet dragged lightly across your lawn.
 
Before your first aeration, talk to a turfgrass specialist (Like Me!) about your soil type, the grass you have, and how deeply you should aerate your lawn to get the best results.
 
This completes the block of instruction on Aerating.  Take a break and be back in your seats in one zero mikes.

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