You don’t have to be a lawn ranger to aerate your own lawn. A variety of do-it-yourself methods make the chore approachable for homeowners of every skill level. The question to answer before you begin is whether you want to remove soil cores when you aerate or just poke holes into soil. Removing soil cores opens channels for air to reach into soil. Punching holes serves to compact soil that’s already compacted.

Pick Your Tool

For aeration, choose from two methods: manual or motorized. Manual aerators work best for small lawns and produce results that rival automated aerators. You use foot-power to plunge two to four hollow cylinders into soil to extract cores or punch holes. Strap-on spike shoes accomplish a hole-punch effect but don’t remove soil cores.

Automated aerators have a circular drum in front or back loaded with hollow cylinders or spikes. With a core aerator that removes soil plugs, look for machines with deeper tines and weight over tines to sink them into soil. Some riding mowers have spike or core aerator attachments.

Another option for aerating is applying an ionized soil conditioner, a solution that loosens clay soil particles and encourages microorganisms that foster healthy soil and digest thatch.

Aerator Options

The easiest way to aerate is to hire a lawn service to tackle the job. But if you’re a diehard do-it-yourselfer, renting an aerator could be ideal.

Before renting an aerator, review the facts. An aerator is a large, heavy piece of equipment that requires physical strength to operate. Plan on two individuals and a full-size truck bed to move an aerator. Consider partnering with neighbors to share the cost of rental and provide the extra muscle to manage the machine. Typically the busiest rental times for aerators are spring and fall weekends. If you know you’ll be aerating, make your reservation early, or avoid the crowds by aerating on a weekday.

Tips for Success

  • Before aerating, use marking flags to indicate locations of sprinkler heads, shallow irrigation lines, septic lines and buried utilities.
  • With lightly compacted soil, sandy soil or soil that’s been aerated in the last 12 months, aerate in a single pass, following your typical mowing pattern. For highly compacted soil or soil that hasn’t been aerated in more than a year, make two passes with the aerator: one following your mowing pattern, and the second at an angle to the first. Aim to create 60 to 120 holes per square metre.

TLC for Aerated Lawns

  • After you aerate, leave soil plugs in place to decompose. These cores contain microorganisms that digest lawn thatch. Running over them the next time you mow will break them up, as will a light raking (after they dry out) or dragging a piece of old carpet over the lawn.
  • You can fertilize and seed lawns immediately following aerating. It’s not necessary to add a thin layer of soil or composted manure, but you can. For heavily compacted soils, consider covering the lawn with one-quarter inch of compost (use sand in southern locales), raking it so it falls into aeration holes.
  • Core aeration brings up weed seeds from lower soil levels. For cool-season grasses, plan to use a pre-emergent herbicide in the spring following fall aeration. For warm-season turf, apply the herbicide the fall after aerating. Do not apply a pre-emergent herbicide at the same time you reseed.
  • Water your lawn a few extra times following aeration, especially during hot or dry spells.