Homeowners commonly attribute lawn problems to insect problems, insufficient fertilization or even diseases. However, when the top few inches (10 cm) of soil become compacted, nutrients, such as water and air, have a difficult time reaching the roots of the grass lawn. In this case, the grass on the surface may begin to die or show signs that can easily be misdiagnosed.
A common remedy for this problem is to aerate your yard using a lawn aerator. Compressed soil makes it difficult for earthworms to perform their jobs and therefore causes thatch to accumulate. Such a problem will continue to worsen unless something is done to loosen up the surface layer of soil so that the soil can access fresh air.
A lawn aerator creates holes or cavities in the surface of the lawn and allows the soil to move and shift more freely. This practice of removing "plugs" of dirt to promote movement within the soil is referred to as aerification. There are many benefits to aerification while there are also several factors to keep in mind while engaging in the process.
Not only does aerification allow nutrients and water to reach roots, but the process also allows oxygen levels in the soil to increase, thereby helping the roots grow. Although aeration may sever the roots of grass when taking out plugs of soil, the grass stimulates its roots in an effort to fill the holes and, in turn, creates a denser habitat for itself.
Depending on the type of grass in your yard, it should either be aerated in the summer or in the fall. Cool-season grasses should be aerated in the fall, and warm-season grasses should be aerated in the summer. You should only use a lawn aerator when the soil is slightly moist. If the soil is saturated with water or even too dry it may lead to poor results.
A common test of whether your lawn needs to be aerated is to stick a screwdriver into a test area of the lawn. If the screwdriver slides into the lawn with ease then you do not need to use a lawn aerator. However, if the screwdriver seems to resist your efforts, lawn aeration is most likely necessary.
Commonly used lawn aerators include a spading fork or a sod-coring tool. These hand-held devices allow you to aerate your lawn by hand. Yet, larger areas may require a faster and easier method of aeration. For these lawns where aerating inch-by-inch would be undesirable it is common to use a powered aerator which can be rented from most hardware stores.
When using a lawn aerator to help your soil breathe, it is also a common suggestion to seed your yard. When seeding immediately after aeration, those seeds that land in or near the aerator holes will begin to grow better than those that fall between holes. Therefore, give the lawn time to regenerate after aeration before seeding. This will prevent your lawn from growing in patches and will ensure that your lawn is healthy and uniform.