How to Aerate Your Lawn in 5 Simple Steps

Mariel Loveland
Written by Mariel Loveland
Updated August 15, 2022
A garden operating an aeration machine on grass lawn
Photo: MAsummerbreak / iStock / Getty Images

Learn how to aerate your lawn like a pro

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Want the lushest lawn on the block? A well-aerated lawn—along with proper lawn maintenance—is a one-way ticket to greener pastures. Though the average homeowner might be hesitant to start poking holes in their yard, don’t be fooled. 

As long as you’re willing to put in some elbow grease, this is a relatively simple DIY. This guide will show you how to aerate your lawn by hand like a total pro.

Why Should I Aerate My Lawn?

Aeration is the art of poking holes in your lawn’s soil, which helps air, water, and nutrients better reach the roots. This manual lawn care technique can drastically improve the health of your lawn—especially after a summer of barbeques, family gatherings, outdoor play, heavy rain, and scorching sun. 

There are several benefits of lawn aeration, including:

  • Promoting stronger, deeper grass roots

  • Preventing excessive thatch buildup

  • Loosening compacted soil

  • Encouraging nutrient absorption (especially with fertilizer)

  • Enhancing heat and drought tolerance

  • Improving drainage, reducing runoff, and preventing pooling

  • Strengthening turf so it’s less vulnerable to illness or infestation

In other words, aeration helps you grow a thicker, stronger lawn—ensuring that the grass is, in fact, greener on your side.

How Much Does It Cost to Aerate My Lawn?

The cost of professional lawn aeration is around $129 for the average yard, but it depends on the size. For a smaller yard, you can expect to pay $0.10 to $0.35 per square foot

For a larger yard, you can expect to spend $480 to $650 per acre. You can save money by learning how to aerate your lawn by hand, as long as you know how and have rented or purchased the proper tools.

When to Aerate Your Lawn

There are a few signs you need to aerate your lawn. You may notice your lawn doesn’t look as healthy as it once did. You may notice pooling on the surface of your grass or an overabundance of thatch. 

Either way, for the best results, you’ll want to wait to aerate your lawn until the peak growing season in your area. 

Aerate your lawn in early spring or fall for cool-season grasses and late spring to early summer for warm-season grasses. Be sure to aerate your lawn annually if you have heavy clay soil or your yard gets a lot of use (think: kids, pets, entertaining on the lawn).

Early Spring/Fall GrassesLate Spring/Early Summer
Kentucky bluegrassBahiagrass
Perennial ryegrassBermudagrass
Fine fescueCentipede grass
Tall fescueSt. Augustine grass

How to Aerate Your Lawn

Though many homeowners hire a lawn care service to dethatch and aerate their lawn at the same time, you can do the job DIY with the right tools. Here’s how to aerate your lawn in a few simple steps.

1. Choose Your Aeration Tool

When you aerate your lawn, tools matter. If you’ve got a small lawn, you can aerate by hand using a small manual aeration tool. That being said, it’s typically more efficient to use a power aerator—especially if you have a large lawn. Power aerators look similar to a lawn mower, and you can rent one for around $40 to $90 per day, plus a deposit.

Either way, the advantage of aeration comes down to the type of aerator. There are two common types. 

Core/Plug Aerator 

A core or plug aerator tool has hollow tines which pull out cylindrical plugs of dirt from the ground. This leaves behind small holes that act as a highway, helping nutrients, water, and air travel to your lawn’s root system. 

This type of aeration is the most effective, but some people don’t like the look of dirt plugs littering their lawn (it should be noted that these plugs will eventually reintegrate into the soil with foot traffic and rain).

Spike Aerator

Spike aerator tools have spike-like blades or solid tines that puncture the ground. They’re not as effective as plug aerators, but they create less of a mess because they don’t pull up any dirt. If you do use this option, you’ll need to prep your lawn by watering and removing all debris. 

Avoid manual spike aerators that you wear on your feet, and opt for a handheld or push model. The former won’t puncture deep enough.

2. Water Your Lawn

Before you aerate your lawn, you want to make sure the soil is moist. Wet soil is softer and easier to penetrate than dry soil. You can wait until it rains or water your lawn the day before you plan to aerate.

3. Flag Your Lawn

If you have a lawn sprinkler system, make sure you don’t accidentally run over your sprinkler heads with the aerator. Flag the heads using stake flags. You can buy these online or from a hardware store.

4. Clean Your Lawn

If you need to dethatch your lawn, do it before you start aerating. You should dethatch about every five years. It’s also a good idea to clear your lawn of any debris, particularly if you’re using a spike aerator. Rake up fallen leaves and remove twigs and branches.

5. Aerate Your Lawn

Use your tool of choice to aerate your lawn. Go over your entire lawn at least once. High traffic areas may need additional aeration. 

Taking Care of Your Aerated Lawn

Once you’ve aerated your lawn, the maintenance begins. Post-aeration maintenance is slightly different from regular lawn maintenance. 

These lawn care tips can help you make the most out of your DIY job:

  • Leave the plugs alone: If you used a plug aerator, don’t rake up the dirt plugs. They need to dry out (and get rained on) to break down into your lawn.

  • Overseed: If you have thin or bare patches of turf, overseed your lawn. The best time to overseed is after aeration in the late fall or early spring. The weather should be warm enough for seed germination.

  • Fertilize: Fertilizing will deliver a nutrient-packed punch to your lawn. With new holes, nutrients can more easily enter your soil.

  • Mind the water: You will need to water if you’ve overseeded or fertilized. Right after aeration, only water lightly. Avoid deep watering for a couple days to prevent water from pooling in the holes.

DIY vs. Hire a Pro

Novice DIYers can handle lawn aeration provided they have the right tools. This is one of those home maintenance tasks that’s a total labor of love. It can take a couple hours and some serious elbow grease—especially for those using manual aeration tools on a large yard. 

If you don’t want to tackle the job on your own, there’s no shame in hiring a lawn aeration service near you. They’ll make sure your lawn is regularly aerated, which is particularly helpful if you have dense soil that’s prone to compaction, like clay or loam soil.

Additional Questions

When should you aerate the lawn?

For cool-season grasses, aerate in the early spring or fall. For warm season grasses, aerate in the late spring to early summer. You’ll know you need to aerate your lawn when it starts looking thin or weak.

Can I aerate my lawn by myself?

Yes! Many DIYers aerate their own lawn. You can either rent or purchase an aerator. Aerate your lawn annually for the best results. If you have sandy soil and a healthy lawn, you can stretch the timeline to every two to three years.

Can I manually aerate my lawn?

The best manual aeration tool is a manual core aerator, though you can also use a manual spike aerator. Plug or core aerators are the most effective overall. If you’re doing it by hand, it will feel a little tedious unless you have a very small yard. Wear strong boots and roll up your sleeves. 

Is it worth it to aerate your lawn?

Aeration is a great way to strengthen your lawn. This process improves nutrient absorption and drainage, which helps your grass grow stronger, deeper roots. Instead of thin or brown patches, you’ll notice a thicker, greener lawn that’s more resilient to pests and disease.

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