In the past I have mentioned that lawn aeration is beneficial to all lawns. I think it is a topic that deserves more explaining. Aerating is a way to create holes in the soil to improve air and water space in the soil. Aerating also relieves soil compaction and speeds water movement into the soil. All of these are beneficial to grass root growth.
There are a number of ways that aerating can be accomplished. One of the most common ways people try to aerate is using what I call a spike aerator. A spike aerator is supposed to poke holes in the soil surface to make water move more readily into the soil. Many times these devices just bounce on the surface. If the soil is moist enough for holes to be made, they are made by compacting soil to the sides. A power core aerator is the better way to go. The simplest types use a drum with soil coring tools attached to remove soil cores and deposit them on the surface of the lawn. Holes made in this manner are usually deeper and provide more benefit to the lawn. The goal is to remove cores as deep as possible. Usually cores one to three inches are removed. In home lawns cores can be left on the surface to dry and break up with future mowing. You can break the cores up by dragging the lawn with a piece of fencing or other drag. Soil from broken cores will help break down thatch and fall loosely back into the holes created. This creates an ideal environment for root growth.
Core aerators are available at most rental centers and some lawn care companies offer this service. There are other types of aerators on the market that use vertically driven tines and even water to reduce compaction. No mater how the aerator works if it removes soil that will be broken up on the surface it will benefit the lawn. The frequency of core aeration depends on the amount of traffic on the lawn. For most home lawns it is recommended at least once a year. I core aerated my lawn the year before last so I need to do it. I actually hope that by the time you read this my yard will have been aerated. My backyard is particularly susceptible to compaction since I drive my truck into the back yard to park a utility trailer I use for bringing in mulch. By the way, I have bermudagrass, which stands up pretty well to compaction but it still needs aerating. With the traffic from my truck, trailer, and two young boys I really do need to aerate my lawn every year.
Aerating can be used in combination with other lawn care tasks to improve the lawn. Topdressing with sand after aerating will help improve surface drainage. This may be helpful in yards that have problems with large patch disease. If sandy soils and drying are a problem then topdressing with compost or other material to help hold moisture will help after aerating. In order to change the soil in either situation aerating and topdressing will have to be done repeatedly over time.
The best time of year to aerate depends on the type of grass. For warm season grasses now is a great time to do it. Make sure soil is moist but not soggy to get the best benefits. Now should be a great time since we got some rain over the last week to soften up the soil. Warm season grasses are really just beginning actively growing now due to temperature and the minor damage done by aerating will not last long. As long as soil moisture is good aerating warm season grasses can be done from May through August. Cool season grasses like tall fescue should be aerated in the fall. September and October is a great time once they begin active growth after the stresses of summer for cool season grasses.
No matter what type of lawn you have it can benefit from aerating. Increased oxygen levels in the soil, water movement, and reduced compaction will allow root growth to increase. This will result in a healthier lawn. A healthy lawn will have fewer disease, insect, and weed problems. If you have questions about lawn care or gardening give the Pitt County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers a call at 902-1705. You can also email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can always find more gardening information at http://pitt.ces.ncsu.edu, www.pittcountyarboretum.blogspot.com, on facebook at Pitt County Gardening, or www.twitter.com/pittgardening. By the way, I want to say thanks to all those who came out last Saturday to support the Pitt County Arboretum at the annual plant sale. Also thanks to the Pitt County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers for doing such a great job planning it and making it happen.