Aeration is a process in which you use a tool to plunge three- to four-inch holes into the soil of your yard so that your lawn will absorb water, fertilizers and other nutrients that will help it grow. Most people aerate when they notice the soil has become compacted (or, in other words, it's not absorbing water and the water or rain fall simply runs off). Here are some strategies you can use to aerate your lawn.
Preparing your Lawn for Aeration
Before you start to aerate, make sure the soil will be wet. If the forecast calls for rain, don't start the aeration process until the soil has absorbed the rain for one day. If there's no rain in sight, try watering your lawn. Make sure all grass gets one inch of water. Let the soil absorb the water. The Toro book, "Expert Guide to Lawns," says this strategy is important as it will help soften the soil and help the aeration tools dig into the soil.
The best way to aerate is with a power aerator. "Expert Guide to Lawns" says large aerating machines that have to be loaded onto a truck and require several helpers are the best. While you can use manual aeration tools or even a small power aerator, the key to good aeration is to have decent-sized plugs of soil (about three to four inches long) removed from your lawn. As the article "Lawn Aerator Options" from the web site All About Lawns says, there are two options for automatic (power) aerators: hole-pushers and hole-gougers, with the gougers being preferred because they're better at reducing compaction. The bigger aeration machines are weighted in the front and, because of this, will get the job done. Some small power aerators push holes into your yard and their size also makes it necessary for you to tilt the machine forward so the weight of the machine helps it do its job better. Manual aerating tools will efficiently remove plugs from your yard, but the manual tools are just like using a spade (shovel). You have to use your feet to push it into the ground and the process will take much longer--especially if your yard is large--but the manual tool is as effective as the bigger machines.
Things Not to Do
Don't aerate your lawn with golf spikes. Golf spikes aren't going to do anything because the spikes are thin, short and only make small holes. The key to aeration is for the machine or tool to extract a three- to four-inch plug of soil out of the ground. You should be able to see the plug laying next to a visible hole. Golf spikes won't do that. Also, it's best to aerate only in the fall. If you aerate your lawn in the summer, you could be damaging grass that's already stressed.