Summer is almost here, which means it's time to start preparing your lawn and garden ready some serious outdoor fun. Whether your kids love playing on the grass or you simply enjoy sitting on the deck with friends and family, you'll probably want your yard to look its absolute best. By practicing proper aeration methods, you can begin the process of beautifying your plants.

What is Aeration?

aerating with pitchfork

In a nutshell, aeration is soil perforation. Aeration is commonly used to improve lawns and gardens by loosening compact soil and making vital nutrients like oxygen, water, and organic materials more accessible to plants. In lawn aeration, small holes are pierced through the soil to allow air, nutrients, and water to filter down to the roots below. In garden aeration, the soil is mixed prior to planting to loosen up compacted soils. Both types of aeration boost soil productivity and make for happier, healthier plants.

Why is Aeration Important?

Soil aeration is one of the most important things you can do to improve your lawn and garden. There is no point in spending money on fancy amendments and fertilizers if your soil is compacted because your plants won’t even be able to access the nutrients they provide. This is because soil particles can sometimes get so densely crammed together, they prevent vitamins, air, and water from properly circulating in the ground. Consequently, compacted soil can lead to stunted plant growth and poor water drainage, which, in turn, increase the plants' susceptibility to disease and leave lawns and gardens looking lifeless. Aeration is meant to loosen compressed soil, thereby facilitating nutrient exchanges, improving drainage, and boosting plant fertility.

Do You Need to Aerate?

compacted clay soil

If you are lucky enough to have loose, flawless soil that produces abundant lawns and gardens without any help, then you probably don’t need to aerate. If, however, you are like the rest of us, occasional aeration will be necessary. Those of you with clay soil will need to be extra diligent in aerating. Clay soil is known for its notoriously poor drainage and is made up of almost microscopic particles which compact more easily than those of silt, sand, or loam soils.

Foot traffic is also a contributor to compaction. Family gatherings, heavy riding mowers, and construction are some of the most common causes of soil degradation in household yards. To make things more complicated, most of the houses built in the last few decades have had their yards' soil removed and refilled during construction, often with less than stellar topsoil, or worse, with subsoil. Low-quality soil is particularly prone to compaction and often yields dry, weedy lawns.

How to Aerate Your Lawn

Lawn aeration is a fairly straightforward process. There are two main types of aeration tools: spike aerators and plug aerators. Spike aerators drive holes into the soil with a tine or fork. Plug aerators, on the other hand, pull plugs of soil out of the ground. Many people prefer plug aerators, as they guarantee aeration by removing some of the soil. Spike aerators, by contrast, can sometimes cause further compaction in the areas around the holes they create. Both types of tools are sold commercially and are available to rent from home and garden centers. Alternatively, you can call a lawn care expert to aerate for you.

How to Aerate Your Garden

digging fork

Garden aeration is a slightly different undertaking. The principles of soil compaction that apply to lawns also apply to gardens, but gardens are typically bare during the early spring and fall. This means you won’t have to work around any existing plants, like grass. To aerate your garden, use a digging fork, spade, rototiller, or trowel. The goal is to loosen the uppermost 6 inches of soil (or more) to provide plant roots with plenty of growing room. Consider mixing amendments or slow release fertilizers into your soil when aerating.

When to Aerate

It's important to aerate at the right times of the year. For instance, you'll want to aerate your lawn when the soil is moist but not too saturated, and never when it's dry. The same rule applies to garden aeration, though the early spring and fall offer the convenience of not having to maneuver around plants. Be warned, over-tilling your garden can disrupt the microbial life in your soil and ironically lead to worse compaction. Play it safe and only aerate once or twice a year.

Aeration is the First Step Towards a Healthy, Bountiful Garden

beautiful, healthy graden

Aeration is essential for happy, healthy lawns and gardens, but it's only the first step. Maintaining soil fertility, looking out for signs of diseases and pests, and practicing proper planting techniques are all necessary for achieving lush plant-life. If you're serious about superb soil, you'll want to learn more about nutrient balances and how they work to keep your garden thriving.