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Aeration: A Handy Hand Tool May Do the Trick

This hand tool is ideal for aerating tight spaces around walkways.

If your lawn is hard, almost painful to walk on, you might need to aerate. If you lawn is coated with weeds, especially plantain and crabgrass, you probably need to aerate. If you try to drive a shovel in the ground and all you come up with is a thimble full of hard-pan clay, you definitely need to aerate. And do it now if you want to take a major step toward having a better lawn next season.

This aerator cuts finger-sized cores of soil out of the ground and deposits them atop the lawn, where they will eventually break down and re-assimilate back into the soil.

The definition of aeration is just like it sounds . . . adding air. You do that by poking holes into the lawn so the air, water, fertilizer and any other top-dressed materials can get down to the roots. But don’t use those spiked sandals; they do more harm than good.

You need to poke actual holes, which means you pull finger-sized tubes of soil and sod out of the ground and lay them on top of the lawn. Two primary types of machines exist for this admittedly laborious task: a powered mechanical machine or a hand tool.

Most folks rent the gas-powered machines for a half a day; some rent them for the full day and share the equipment with neighbors. I know of few home owners who can withstand the physical rigors of wrestling with this beast for a full eight hours on their own, even if his or her lawn is that large to necessitate a full day. In that case, hire someone!

For smaller jobs, especially on the edges of driveways or walkways where the compaction is likely to be at its worst, a hand aerator may do the trick. Here’s a link to our video that shows both options: http://www.safelawns.org/resources/videos/#!fjhadd_vg375[fjhadd_vg_gallery375]/0/.

When you do aerate, be sure to poke as many holes as is reasonably possible. With a powered machine, go at least once in each direction, so that your lawn looks like Swiss cheese when you’re finished. Those fingers of soil and sod can stay right where they are; they’ll quickly break down.

As soon as you’re done aerating, whether by machine or by hand, it’s the ideal time to overseed, top dress with compost, fertilize, apply limestone or any other soil amendment. You can do all of the above at once as long as your fertilizer doesn’t have a high nitrogen content that could burn the young grass seedlings.

Your lawn will look worse before it looks better during all these processes, but they’ll definitely pay off in the long run.

A mechanical aerator can typically be rented from local equipment supply centers.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

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