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What Is Lawn Aeration?

Lauren Wellbank
Written by Lauren Wellbank
Updated October 14, 2021
A garden operating an aeration machine on grass lawn

MAsummerbreak/iStock/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Aeration is one way to make sure the grass is never greener on the other side

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Lawn aeration is the process of breaking up the layer of compressed living and dead matter that can develop between your grass blades and the soil surface beneath them. This buildup is known as thatch, and while some of it is an essential part of a healthy yard, too much thatch can lead to pests, disease, and even drainage issues. 

Novice DIYers can handle lawn aeration or hire a local landscape professional to help with the process. Landscapers will typically charge an average of $0.10–$0.35 per square foot for the service.

What Is Lawn Aeration?

Aeration is the process of puncturing and removing small bits of soil from under your grass. You can use a machine for large lawns, but when dealing with smaller spaces, you can complete the project by wearing a pair of special aeration shoes. These shoes’ soles have long skewers to break up the tightly bound thatches of grass. This soil and thatch are then left on the top of your grass to break down and feed the growing greens beneath it. 

Recognizing When Your Lawn Needs Aeration

If you’ve noticed that your grass isn’t looking as healthy as it once was, or you’re suddenly dealing with ponding on your grass surfaces where there normally was none, you may face an overabundance of thatch. You can easily check to see if your lawn's thatch is too thick by trying to puncture the grass with a screwdriver. If you can easily force the stem of the screwdriver into the ground, your thatch is likely at a healthy level. 

However, if you struggle with getting through your grass and into your soil, it’s probably a good indication that your lawn can use some aeration.

When to Aerate Your Lawn

For the best results, you’ll want to wait to aerate your lawn until the peak growing season in your area. Early spring or fall will work best for cool-season grasses like Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, fine fescue, and tall fescue. For warm-season varieties like bahiagrass, bermudagrass, centipede grass, St. Augustine grass, and zoysiagrass, you’ll want to aerate in late spring through early summer. 

How Often Should You Aerate?

A healthy lawn won’t need frequent aeration. You can likely go two to three years between maintenance aerations. However, if you notice it needs a little TLC between routine treatments, you can go ahead and aerate again—as long as you’re doing so during the peak growing season.

Aeration vs. Dethatching

While sometimes used interchangeably, there is a difference between aeration and dethatching. Dethatching is the process of using a specialized rake or machine that digs tines into your yard and frees the thatch buildup from under your grass. This process can also help improve your grass health and appearance, but dethatching tends to be a more extreme (and labor-intensive) process which can leave your yard looking a little worse for the wear at first. According to HomeAdvisor, professional landscapers will charge an average of $180–$250 for dethatching.

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