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I have a section of my lawn which seems prone to standing water, grass that doesn't grow very quickly, and seems very hard-packed. I think it's probably in desperate need of aeration.

What is the proper way to know when and how much to aerate? Also, since I have a small lawn, is there such a thing as a small lawn aerator and will it get the job done?

Edit:

As it turns out, there is a small aerator, like this one:

Green hand aerator

I purchased one recently and it works rather well. Obviously not a good choice for a sizable lawn, but for my small lawn this worked extremely well. I'm seeing some improvement already in the grass gradually becoming more green.

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Do you have a pair of golf shoes and some time on your hands? –  mfg Jun 8 '11 at 20:24
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@mfg Haha, I can just see myself stomping around on the lawn. On a serious note, despite being overweight, would such aeration be adequate? I would think deeper (1 1/2 to 2 inches) aeration would be needed and the removal of small amounts of soil. (Based on my observations of lawns that have been aerated with small pellets extracted from the lawn.) –  JYelton Jun 8 '11 at 20:42
    
You're probably right (that's why it was just a comment); however after seeding, when rolling the lawn my father always wore old golf shoes, fwiw –  mfg Jun 8 '11 at 21:33
    
@JYelton, I have a very similar manual aerator & use it for preparing small areas that need reseeding in the Autumn (Fall). I also agree with your observations... –  Mike Perry Aug 12 '11 at 17:33
    
@JYelton, how big is your lawn? –  Love Sep 18 at 19:34

4 Answers 4

up vote 15 down vote accepted

How to aerate is covered by the other answers, but as for how to know if you need areation:

If you can easily sink a spade into your soil down to the handle, it doesn't need to be aerated. If you have to force the spade into the ground and/or pound it with a hammer, your soil needs to be aerated.

The other sign that aeration is needed is if water isn't draining into the soil properly (which it sounds like you have). If you have lots of puddles after a rainstorm, you probably need the soil aerated.

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You can aerate your lawn with a sturdy pitchfork (as well as weed it). But I'd imagine you'd have a hard time doing it when things get too dry or cold. I don't know if there is a bad time to do it while it is possible.

You can also spread compost around your lawn, adding nutrients might fix some of the problems you have with hardpacked soil.

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According to your profile, your location is Utah, that means you could have either a cool-season lawn or warm-season lawn, therefore unless you tell me which one you have, I'm going to base my answer on a cool-season lawn (mainly because I know more about this type of lawn).

Cool-Season Grasses: Lawn Maintenance Calendar from University of Missouri Extension:

April

  • Aerate if thatch is heavy or soil is compacted.

September

  • Aerate where needed.

Aeration

On clay- or silt-type soils, or any turf receiving constant traffic, soil sealing and compacting can seriously impair turf growth. Grass roots are injured because air, water and fertilizers cannot reach them in sufficient quantities. Mechanical aeration to break through this barrier is essential for continued turf health. Fertilizer applications following aerification most efficiently provide nutrients to the turf roots.

Aeration is best done by power equipment that pulls out small cores of soil, or by cutting vertical grooves to provide openings every 3 to 4 inches. Power equipment is usually available at rental stores. Lawn-care companies may also provide this service to their customers.

For small areas, suitable hand-equipment is available, but using it is hard work. Even an ordinary spading fork plunged into the soil at 3-inch intervals when the soil is lightly moist — not wet — is far better than nothing at all.

Aeration should be done at least once a year where compaction is a problem. Early fall is the best time for bluegrass lawns, but aeration will be highly beneficial anytime the grass is actively growing, except possibly during midsummer heat.

You may also find the information found in the below links well worth you time:

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I bought the mantis tiller cultivator but to go along with it I bought the aerator and dethatcher combo. It is simply an awesome machine.

You want to aerate / dethatch twice yearly. Once in the beginning of spring and once in fall.

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