Core Aeration for Improved Lawn Health

Hole in ground and plugs of dirt from lawn core aeration

Tough garden conditions sometimes call for tough love. Soil conditions and heavy traffic through the new garden left our lawn looking worse for wear and vulnerable, so we turned to hollow tine lawn core aeration for help.

Our Garden Conditions and Need For Aeration

Our new garden has heavy clay soil. This discovery meant changing some of our planting plans and working hard on soil amendment.  I’m happy to report that things are going well and sign of life have returned to the soil, including an abundance of previously absent earthworms.

Although the planted gardens get the bulk of the garden TLC around here, our lawn needed some love. After our summer drought, heavy traffic and weight loads during new garden construction, foot traffic, and dog play (and dog pee…), it was struggling. 

With our dense clay beneath and compaction of the surface topsoil, it was particularly vulnerable. Root development was at risk, water and fertiliser penetration was impeded, and the lawn was more susceptible to disease and weather conditions. Autumn aeration would set it up for a healthy winter and year two of growth.

Hollow Tine Lawn Core Aeration

Unlike standard tining or spiking, which can actually exacerbate issues by squeezing in gaps, hollow tine core aeration (coring) uses small hallow tubes to remove plugs of soil and open up space.  This can be done with hand tools, but for a big lawn and/or hard soils, motorised tools make the job much easier. It can be worth paying a professional lawn service or, if you’re comfortable with DIY, renting specialised heavy equipment to tackle the task. 

Tip: Aerator rental can be expensive, but the job is fairly quick with the right gear. Consider collaborating with neighbours to take advantage and share the costs. We shared with several very happy neighbours, and hubby got quite a lot of steps in rolling around the neighbourhood.

When to Aerate

The best time of year to aerate is typically in the shoulder seasons when the lawn isn’t under added stress and to set things up for the growing season(s) ahead.  Because of this, autumn aeration is commonly used for winter grasses and spring aeration for summer grasses.
For us, the best time for lawn aeration is in the autumn. In areas like ours, winter and spring can be very wet. Autumn aeration can support the winter lawn, and help reduce issues with water in heavy wet winter weather. It also avoids rolling heavy equipment around on soggy soft spring soil. Didn’t get a chance to aerate in autumn? Soil and weather permitting, spring is still a good time to get rolling if your lawn desperately needs some help before battling through summer’s hot and dry conditions.

Preparing to Aerate

If it hasn’t rained recently, it’s beneficial to give the lawn a good watering a day or two prior to aeration. A slightly moist soil will penetrate easier and plug well. That will help the hollow tines lift out the little plugs of soil that create the aeration holes. When working properly, these plugs drop back as the aerator rotates. If the soil is too wet, muck and mud can glug up the tines. 

Before aeration, the lawn should be mowed to help ensure the tines can penetrate and do their work. Depending on your lawn and soil conditions, you could do this before, after, or in-between any prep waterings, as long as things are dry enough for mowing. If, like us, you usually mow high, you might want to adjust your mower settings an do a lower than usual mow before you aerate, but don’t scalp. 

Tip: Check for any obstacles or safety hazards, including any shallow buried cables, pipes, irrigation, sprinkles, etc. that would be at risk during coring. Mark hazard areas to avoid if/as needed. The depth penetrated depends on your equipment, but i 

Aerating the Lawn

Ready to go? Follow the instructions and safety precautions for the specific aeration equipment used. If possible, cover the lawn in multiple passes at two (or more) different directions. This will help to ensure a thorough and even coring of the whole area. Avoid any safety areas, as noted above.

Be forewarned that it’s going to get a bit messy as the equipment pulls little plugs of dirt up and drops them all over your garden so don’t expect things to look great immediately after aeration. The magic here is mostly happening slowly unseen underground. On to the after care!

Care After Lawn Core Aeration

After aeration is a great opportunity for a light top dress with soil, fertiliser application (along with other soil amendment, if used), and/or over seeding areas of the lawn if needed.

The plugs themselves will also dry out, crumble, and break down back into the soil with a little time. Some people like to gather them up (which seems a bit of a waste) or try to accelerate breakdown by mowing over the top. We only really noticed them for the first few days. In the interim, however, it looks like a million small dogs have pooped on the grass. Be prepared for searching issues if you actually do have dogs to poo patrol for at your place. Like me – yikes!

Plugs of dirt after lawn core aeration

The Verdict

Of all of our very different homes, climates, and grass/soil types, this is the first time we’ve had a “high maintenance” lawn. Or high maintenance soil in general for that matter. A lot of research has gone into our efforts to improve the soil and help things grow, including the lawn. We definitely did our homework before deciding on an aeration approach, when to do it, and follow-on care.

The lawn grew happily through winter after it’s special treatment. We also noticed a significant improvement in the handling of water in severe weather. In our soil conditions and with more planned work ahead on the garden, we will likely continue coring as an annual autumn event. At least until our ongoing efforts to improve the soil structure and health of the grass indicate it’s no longer needed.

DIY Core Aeration for Improved Lawn Health

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