What is Core Aeration?
In a nutshell, core aeration is the process of mechanically removing 2- to 3-inch deep cores (or “plugs”) from the base of your lawn. The cores are comprised of soil, thatch, grass and roots.
Also known as “lawn aeration”, this popular natural lawn care practice actually targets your lawn’s soil base as well as the thatch barrier – not the grass itself. Mechanical aeration is the practice of using a specialized machine to remove thousands of plugs of soil from the base of the lawn to open channels for better movement of air, water and nutrients. It also helps to reduce compaction in the soil and breaks up the thatch layer (when it exists). The soil plugs are left on the lawn to crumble and disintegrate before falling freely into the aeration holes. The soil plugs also spread into the thatch layer where soil microbes feed on the thatch debris. Tightly compacted clay soils may initially require an aeration twice a year (spring and fall). However, after several years of natural lawn care, it is usually sufficient to aerate once per year. Aeration is the best process with which to lead off a fertilization program. After aeration, the applied fertilizer will more readily and immediately transfer its nutrients into your lawn’s root zone. Aeration is also an excellent practice before over-seeding. If your lawn is showing some thinning after a long winter or a stressful summer, over-seeding is recommended to maintain a thick lawn. Aeration prior to seeding will help ensure better seed/soil contact for improved germination. In terms of the equipment needed to perform an aeration, we recommend using a “core aerator” – a machine that removes plugs that are approximately 2 to 3 inches deep (1/2 inch in diameter). Aerators that use “spikes” are less effective and are not recommended.
Why is Core Aeration Performed?
Simply put, core aeration is a very popular lawn care service for its numerous direct and indirect benefits both to your lawn’s health but also the health of the ecology and your household budget!
Reduces Soil Compaction
After a long winter season, most Canadian lawns are suffering from a case of significant soil compaction. Compaction results from a combination of factors such as a heavy load of snow, significant rainfall, constant foot traffic, and clay-based soils settling over time. Hard, compacted soil will result in pooling of water, insufficient transfer of oxygen and nutrients and deminished microbial activity. Aeration is the only proven method for relieving topsoil compaction. An annual aeration service can be likened to tilling garden soil in preparation for new planting.
Reduces/Eliminates Thatch Barrier
Thatch is a layer of grass stems, roots, clippings, and debris that settle on the surface of your lawn’s soil and either slowly decompose and/or accumulate over time. A thin layer of thatch is natural and a positive thing. However, a thick thatch barrier can deprive your soil (and ultimately your lawn’s root system) of rain water, oxygen, and nutrients. Aerating helps reduce – but not eliminate – the problem of excessive thatch by puncturing the thatch barrier thousands of times opening up passageways for vital nutrients to be absorbed. The secondary benefit of aeration to the thatch problem is that the removal of the soil cores brings micro-organisms to the surface which speed up the decomposition of the remaining excessive thatch.
Heat and Drought Stress Protection
Lawns with a deep root system are able to access the moisture that is found farther down in the soil – this is an important characteristic in times of drought. The removal of cores open up thousands of channels that bring moisture deep into the soil. This allows the core aeration service to “train” the root system to grow deep – where the moisture is found rather than near the surface which puts the lawn at risk during times of drought. An annual or twice annual core aeration will ensure that your roots grow deep and will have greater natural heat-stress tolerance.
Improves Fertilizer Uptake
Spreading fertilizer on a lawn where the soil is compacted and excessive thatch has not been addressed is a surefire way to get poor uptake and minimal benefit from your fertilizer. The unsatisfactory results are compounded when the fertilizer is applied on windy days since the granular fertilizer is more likely to be blown away or during heavy rainfall when the fertilizer is likely to be carried away in the run-off water (due to the compact and thickly thatched base of the lawn being unable to absorb the rain). Not only get maximum fertilizer results – but also maximum return on investment – by aerating in the spring and fall since the thousands of core holes left by an aeration will ensure that the majority of your fertilizer reaches its target: the soil base.
Improves Germination Results of Over-Seeding
As we have learned of the hazards of fertilizing a compacted, unaerated lawn, the same principle applies to applying new grass seed (i.e., over-seeding). High quality grass seed is not cheap so homeowners should be aware that strong winds and heavy rainfall could interefer with their over-seeding efforts. Another concern is birds and rodents, since they love the taste of freshly scattered grass seed. Aerating the lawn prior to over-seeding helps address these concerns by getting seed down into the newly opened channels in the soils where the wind, rain and animals can do less harm. The other benefits to seed germination achieved by aeration include increased overall soil-seed contact, deeper seed placement in the soil which boosts the chances of germination, as well as less strain on the seedlings to establish and grow due to the broken up thatch. For these reasons, we highly recommend pairing aeration with over-seeding.
Spurs New Turf Growth
A steady introduction of healthy, new lawn shoots each year will keep your lawn vibrant and resistant to harmful weeds and insects. However, these new lawn shoots require room to grow. The thousands of small openings created by the aeration provide just what your lawn needs. Think of core aeration as a “system reboot” for your lawn that removes old cores and thatch, making room for new healthier turfgrass to take its place.
Improves Soil Drainage and Reduces Runoff
Compacted soils and lawns with a dense thatch barrier suffer from water pooling and soggy lawns when the snow melts or after heavy rainfall. Sloping properties additionally suffer from water runoff preventing rainfall and sprinkler water from adequately reaching the base of the soil. The effect of aeration on breaking up the thatch barrier and relieving soil compaction greatly improves your property’s soil drainage and can eliminate the problem of water runoff.
Helps Reduce Need for Weed Control
Next to over-seeding, core aeration is the best lawn care practice for spurring new turf growth and encouraging an overall thicker lawn. Weeds establish and thrive in weaker, thinner, and less-managed turfgrass. Although core aeration does not directly kill weeds, it does help in preventing their arrival and survival by promoting a thick, healthy turf environment that is not ideal for weed development.
Helps Reduce Need for Insect Control
Insects tend to all prey on – and gain victory over – thin, sparse lawns. Many inspect species also prefer to lay their eggs in damp, thatch-filled lawns. While core aeration does not directly kill insects, it does make a lawn less inviting by creating an inhospitable breeding ground and, by promoting a thicker, healthier turfgrass, roving insects will move on to look for easier turf to infest.
Encourages Root System Growth
In the weeks following the core aeration process, the newly opened spaces allow the lawn’s root system to more readily expand and development outward and deeper which, as we have learned, is vital for the lawn’s health and vitality.
Increases Oxygen Content in the Soil
In addition to requiring nutrients and moisture, your lawn’s root system needs to breathe. Adequate oxygen content in the soil is vital for root development but this can be compromised by soil compaction. Core aeration effectively perforates the base of your lawn enabling vital oxygen to reach the root system, breathing new life into your lawn.
Water Bill Savings
Compacted lawns with excessive thatch build-up become hydrophobic! These lawns repel water no matter how much you water them. With an aeration, your watering efforts will not be in vain and you will save money in the process!
Free Top Dressing
Core aeration results in thousands of dark brown cores being scattered over the surface of your lawn. Some people might find this unsightly but don’t panic and rake them up as these cores will naturally break down and be absorbed back into your lawn – like top dressing – over the following few weeks. It’s important to realize that these cores contain essential nutrients that will work their way back into the soil to promote further growth as well as beneficial soil microbes that will feed on the remaining thatch barrier as the cores decompose.
Increases Property Value
We all know that the assessed value of a property is important, especially when it comes time to sell or refinance a home. If two homes of the same size and design are up for sale on the same street at the same time and prospective buyers only have the exterior appearance to judge from before deciding which open house showings to book, the look of the lawn could make the difference. A home with extra curb-appeal thanks to a lush, emerald green lawn will have the advantage and will naturally create a first impression – and perception – of higher property value. It’s a fact of real estate sales – amazing lawns do increase your property value!
Frequently asked questions
What time of year should I aerate my lawn?
Aerating in the spring and early fall are the two most beneficial times to aerate each year. When aerating, you want the soil to be somewhat moist to achieve good core depth and both spring and fall are prime root growth periods. We recommend against aerating in the summer and during droughts since the core depth will be shallow and the turfgrass and root system are already at a higher risk of heat stress during those times. Aerating during heavy rainfall in the spring is acceptable as long as the water isn’t pooling which cause the aerator to leave ruts in the lawn. We also recommend against late fall aeration or anytime close to the winter frost as the cores will not have sufficient time to break down and decompose and there is a chance that a winter freeze could harm your exposed root system. Since most lawn care companies are very busy during the spring months with other time-sensitive services, it is common to see aeration scheduled for later in the spring or later in the fall. At Canadian Property Stars, the only service we provide in early to mid-spring is residential core aeration to ensure that this vital service is provided to our customers during the ideal time window.
How often should I aerate my lawn?
At least once per year is a minimum recommendation for residential lawns but it’s not uncommon for golf course turf managers to aerate their course up to four times per year. At Canadian Property Stars, our customers who purchase the premium Star Plan package receive two annual core aerations, once during the early spring and then again in the early fall. If you choose only to aerate once per year, we recommend a springtime core aeration as it will set up your lawn for a healthy summer season rather than a dormant winter period.
Should I rent an aerator or order the service from a lawn care company?
Ten to fifteen years ago, prior to the widespread knowledge of the benefits of core aeration that we find today, customers “in the know” would visit the local rental store to rent an aerator for the day. The rental cost varied from $50 to $100 and required that pick up the machine (it’s heavy!), aerate the lawn, clean the machine, and return it to the rental store on the same day in order to incur no additional charges. The reason this option made sense at the time was due to the lack of companies offering the service, the average wait time to get the service performed, and the premium cost companies would charge. Recognizing the need for this service and limited affordable and convenient options available to homeowners is what led to the creation of the Canadian Property Stars business model.
Each year we dedicate the entire spring to providing aeration to our customers using a delivery model designed for time- and cost-efficiency. For equal – or less than – the cost of renting a machine and doing it yourself, you can order an affordable aeration with Canadian Property Stars and save the waiting in line at the rental store, borrowing a friend’s pick-up truck to transport it to and from the store, and instead, spend that half day with your family!
Do core aerators spread lawn disease and weeds?
The simple answer is “No”. An aerator extracts cores from the base of a lawn and then deposits those same cores on the same property, usually within 2 to 3 feets of where they were extracted. Once a property has been serviced, the machine is rolled off the property on to the driveway, sidewalk or street, at which time any remaining cores fall out of the tines. The chance of weed seeds, or lawn disease such as ferry ring, spreading from lawn to lawn by an aerator is very slim. Homeowners concerned about this minor risk should ask their technician to hose down the tines prior to servicing their property. They may also wish to provide a soap solution to apply to the tines while hosing, to eliminate any risk of disease spread. With over 20 years of experience aerating in excess of 100,000 properties per year, we are certain that aerating poses no threat to lawns but we are happy to wash our tines prior to servicing your property, upon request.
Should I fertilize before or after aeration?
Since core aeration creates thousands of channels that are ideal for immediate fertilizer transfer and uptake, we recommend fertilizing after your annual core aeration or on the same day. Fertilizing prior to aerating will result in less fertilizer reaching the soil’s base due to the lack of soil penetration, the potential for being carried away in water runoff and the risk of the fertilizer being blown away in the wind.
Should I over-seed before or after aeration?
Since core aeration creates thousands of channels for the grass seeds to be placed deeper in the soil and the overall soil-seed contact is improved, we recommend over-seeding after your annual core aeration or on the same day. Over-seeding prior to aeration will lower the numbers of seeds that make optimal contact with the soil needed for germination. Moreover, seeding before aerating raises the risk of seed loss due to strong winds, birds and rodents, and water runoff.