The Yard Butler

What is Lawn Aeration

Have you ever gone to the park on a sunny day, eager to lie in the grass and dig in to that book you’ve been meaning to read, only to find the ground littered with off-putting clods reminiscent of something left behind by an irresponsible dog owner? Fortunately, a passing procession of uncurbed animals did not just pass through town. Your city recently aerated the grass. This might have you thinking, “Well what’s the point of that?” Allow us to explain.

Lawn aeration, simply put, is a process of poking holes into soil. This is done to help water, oxygen, and nutrients have easier access to grass roots. Aeration also efficiently combats soil compaction and thatch (the layer of organic material that builds up over time), both of which will negatively impact your lawn’s growth. The acts of breaking up compacted soil, disturbing the grass roots, and exposing them to more of the environment result in stronger, deeper root growth and an overall denser, healthier lawn.

When should I aerate?

This is a process that should normally be done once a year for areas that get high foot traffic. Your lawn can afford to be aerated every 5 years or so if it isn’t used as often. Ideal times to aerate your lawn are during the growing season of your grass. Warm season grasses, for example, should be aerated in late Spring. However, for cool season grasses—the most popular choice in Idaho—we recommend aerating your lawn in early Fall. You should aerate your lawn when the ground is moist, but not soaking wet. This will keep mud from sticking to the aerator’s tines and save time and effort.

Tools of the Trade

 Like most lawn tools, there are many forms of lawn aerators (manual, motorized, push-along roller, riding mower attachment, etc.), but only two main types: Spike and Core.

Type 1: Spike Aerators

Spike aerators use—as you might expect—wedge-tipped spikes to punch a hole into the soil. These solid tines force the ground open, leaving behind small gaps in the soil. They are more commonly used as a quick fix in smaller areas with a medium amount of use/foot traffic. This type has been described as “better than nothing” because even though it does break up soil and create holes for aeration, it still compacts soil around where the spikes penetrate which could lead to more overall compaction in the long-term. However, spike aerators leave less of a mess than core aerators and are less expensive overall. Spike aerators don’t go as deep into the ground, which may create the need to aerate certain high-traffic areas two or three times a year.

Type 2: Core Aerators

Core or “plug” aerators utilize hollow tines that push into the ground, bring up cylindrical cores from the soil, and leave them on the surface. Core aerators are recommended for larger areas with heavy use (like a grass field in a park). This type is very efficient at loosening compacted soil while breaking up thatch. The plugs left behind after aerating eventually break down, contributing to your lawn’s fertilization and refreshing its topsoil. While this is the more efficient type of lawn aeration, it does have a couple drawbacks. Using a core aerator too often or out of season will stress your lawn and the cores, while beneficial in the long-term, can make your lawn messy and unattractive until they begin to break down.

You Should Aerate Your Lawn If…

1. Your lawn puddles up in new places or has poor drainage.

2. Your soil is hard, spongey, or dries out easily.

3. Your grass develops brown patches.

4. Your grass develops discoloration or starts thinning out.

5. You recently built your house or had construction done.

6. Your lawn gets heavy, frequent use.

While these signs are definite reasons to aerate your lawn, they do not need to be present in order to justify lawn aeration. It is a practice that is universally beneficial, regardless of the quality and health of your grass.

What Comes Next?

So, you just punched a ton of holes into your grass. Now what? Do you just let it sit there and hope for the best? No, you do not. Lawn aeration is a rather traumatic procedure for the grass and needs to recover, much like a hospital patient in post-op. There are several things you can do to help your lawn have a speedy recovery and make the most out of its recent aeration. 

Overseed or Apply Fertilizer

A patient in recovery needs nutrition. They need to eat to aid in their physical recovery. Overseeding and fertilizing play a similar role in reinforcing the recovery of your lawn. Overseeding is the process of planting grass seed directly over your lawn. Doing so after aeration will help your lawn have some healthy new growth and add to the density of your grass. Fertilizer can also be spread in tandem with grass seed to add even more nutrients to your soil.

Water the Lawn

The primary thing recovering patents need is hydration. Our bodies need water especially when in recovery, and it isn’t any different for your grass. Lightly watering your lawn daily will help everything settle. Do not worry about watering more than you usually would on a daily cycle. Excessive water at this stage will do more harm than good as the lawn has not had the chance to recover or experience any of the beneficial effects of aeration that happen over time. The last thing you want is flooding to interrupt your soil’s redistribution. That being said, make sure to account for rainy weather around the time you aerate your lawn and adjust your watering schedule accordingly. You should water your lawn just after you’ve aerated, but not before overseeding or spreading fertilizer (assuming you’ve chosen to do either).


Surgeries leave scars. They leave patients self-conscious and embarrassed when they’re fresh, but scars do eventually fade with time and are a sign of a healthy recovery. As unsightly as those plugs of dirt might seem, you must resist the urge to pick them up and throw them out. Your two viable options are to break down the cores, or let them break down on their own. The first, more-hurried option can be done by lightly raking the cores. The second option is less disruptive and is more likely to evenly distribute your new source of topsoil. The cores will eventually break down in about a week with consistent watering.

Consider an Herbicide

The highest priority for the duration of a patient’s operation and recovery is sanitation. Tools are sterilized, hands are washed, and antibiotics are prescribed. All of this is done to curb infection. The last thing you want for your grass is a new set of weeds sprouting out incrementally throughout your yard after going through all that effort to improve your lawn’s health. If you’re aerating in the Spring, consider laying down a pre-emergent herbicide that will get ahead of any weed seeds that are already in your soil, waiting for the opportunity to pop up. Be sure not to spread herbicide at the same time as your fertilizer.

Give Your Lawn a Break

You wouldn’t tell someone recovering from heart surgery to get up from their hospital bed and do 50 push-ups, would you? Then why would it be okay to have a campout on the yard with the kids or bring out the mower for your Saturday morning trim the day after aerating? Your lawn will need to time to recover. For about a week or two, do everything in your power to leave the grass alone. Let it grow out and avoid traffic on the lawn as much as possible.

Side Note: Don’t Fill In

People might feel like they need to fill in the holes that were just created after aerating. The whole purpose of creating those gaps is to loosen the soil that has been compacted toward the surface. Over time, with weathering and traffic, the soil will settle into the gaps in a much more relaxed way, allowing roots to grow deeper and stronger, and your lawn to grow lusher and more resilient.


Lawn aeration may sound like an intimidating term, but it is a rather simple concept regarding the long-term care of your yard. In order to do it correctly, it is important to learn about the right tools and methods for your lawn specifically. Doing all that by yourself can be a lot to handle and take up your precious time. That is why we recommend our aeration services here at The Yard Butler. We are experts that can take care of all the fine details of aerating your lawn so you don’t have to. Utilizing our services will save you time and effort, and will ultimately improve the look and health of your lawn. If you think your yard could use a breath of fresh air, contact us here to receive a free estimate on our lawn aeration services.