Aeration-The Most Beneficial, Least Expensive Thing Your Lawn Needs

You have probably heard that aeration is good for your lawn, maybe you’ve seen it done, or maybe you have seen the process done at a golf course, you may have even aerated your own lawn. But did you know that for what it costs to do it, or even to buy an AERATOR to do it with, that it’s the most beneficial and least expensive thing that you can do for your lawn?

First, what is aeration? It’s the process of taking small plugs of soil out of your lawn and depositing them on top of the lawn. Why does this help? Depending on if you have a normal home lawn, a commercial lawn that maybe gets a little more traffic, a school lawn, baseball field, football field, soccer field, or even a golf course, the problems that aerating fixes, will be more severe with more foot traffic, and even some vehicle traffic.

Aerating is similar to taking a house plant that has become root bound and repotting it. The same principles apply. Taking the house plant out of its confined pot and giving it more room to grow is what happens to turfgrass roots when you aerate. The holes that are poked in the ground give the roots more room to grow.

Thatch is a combination of decaying grass clippings, miscellaneous lawn debris, stolons and roots that build up at the crown of the grass plant. Over time this thatch acts like a barrier and keeps water, air, fertilizer and lime from getting into the root zone of the grass to do its magic.

Thatch in grass

Thatch layer in turfgrass

By aerating (making thousands of holes) the lawn, you will help to reduce this thatch layer and allow fertilizer, lime, water and air to get into the soil and the root zone of the turfgrass. The plugs that are left on top of the ground (when using a core aerator) will decompose over time and through microbial activity help to keep the thatch in check.

The picture at left shows the soil with some roots growing in it, the thick thatch layer, the crown of the grass and the grass blades.

As you might imagine from looking at this picture, this thatch layer can get so compacted that it is similar to having a sheet of plastic laying on your lawn. When it does rain or when you water, the water would run off instead of soaking deep down into the lawn. The compacted root zone also restricts the growth of the grass plant leaving your entire lawn looking lethargic, weak and yellowish.

Core Aeration

Core aeration is the best type, this is when the machine actually makes a plug (core) and pulls it out of the ground and deposits it on top of the ground. We prefer the core aerators over the spike aerators for this reason. The spike aerator still will poke holes in the ground and allow space, but they actually do a little compacting of the soil at the same time.

What happens is the spike goes into the ground and makes a hole, but since it doesn’t pull a plug of soil out of the ground, it just pushes the soil to the sides and makes the hole. This compacts that portion of soil while making the hole. This is a small disadvantage, so if you are short on available cash to buy an aerator, the spike aerator is better than nothing, and this one is less than $100.00.

A good core aerator can be bought for anywhere from $141.00 for this lesser expensive Precision Brand plugger to over $390.00 for this better built, better quality Agri-Fab Brand 40″ plugger This is another case of “you get what you pay for”. But, from experience, we have learned that the plugger type aerator does a better job, and if the extra bucks that it’s going to cost doesn’t kill you, then get the plugger.

There is one advantage to this particular spike-aerator. That is that you can seed and aerate at the same time with this one piece of equipment.

You will first need to run over the lawn a couple of times with this aerator being sure that you cover all spots of the lawn without leaving any blank spots in the lawn where you skipped. Then fill the seed hopper, and being even more careful, cover the entire lawn until you have applied the required amount of seed. How much seed you will need to put down will depend on the type of seed, and whether you are trying to just fill in a little bit, or if your lawn was nearly all gone and you’re trying to re-establish it. Look at our seeding page for more information about how much seed to use and how much fertilizer is needed, and what type of fertilizer.

You can also buy an aerator that you just simply push like a push mower. This would obviously be a lot of work for anything more than the smallest of lawns, so it’s not going to be a popular type of aerator.

If you want to get a little exercise or you don’t have a riding lawn mower to pull a tow behind type aerator, you can even buy a set of aerator shoes that will put holes in the lawn with every step you take.

 

So, you can kill two birds with one stone, or (let’s not kill any birds) get two jobs done at once, simply by wearing these.

If you are a serious lawn care fanatic and you have a small tractor that you use for various lawn and landscaping chores around the property, you can get a three point hitch type commercial grade aerator that you can use your tractor to aerate with. This is the type that we use in our Landscape Company. They will do the best job of any that we have shown you so far. However, the disadvantage is the cost.

This unit will run you over $2,100.00 plus shipping to boot. That’s a lot of money to spend for a piece of equipment that you may not use more than a half dozen times a year. But, let’s say that you and your brother, good friend, cousin, etc. go in together to buy one. Then the cost is cut in half and it’s not like the unit is going to be used by one or the other of you each time the other wants to use it. It should be available for either of you when you need it. Of course, one of you will need to own a tractor.

If you are a volunteer at your kids Little League or school, you might find this is just the tool you need to help them keep the fields in good shape.

Renting Equipment to Aerate

Still another option is to rent an aerator. You can rent a tow behind aerator for $50.00 to $75.00 from most rental stores. But, just do a little math and you can see that it wouldn’t take too many rentals and you could have bought one of your own. Plus not having the aggravation of having to drive to the rental store, load it, haul it back, etc.

Many rental stores will also have a walk-behind gas powered aerator. These are plug type aerators and do an excellent job. However, they will work you hard. If you’re not in good physical shape, we don’t suggest attempting one of these. You can buy one like this, Husqvarna 25.5″  for around $3,300.00

There are many options for equipment to aerate, here is another. A three point hitch type aerator for your tractor, in a spike type. Basically, it’s a large drum with spikes welded to it that you can use with your tractor.

Again, your tractor must have a three point hitch and be large enough to lift this unit weighing almost 400#. With this aerator and the 3-pt. hitch plugging aerator listed above, you can’t use just a small lawn and garden mower “tractor”, you will have to have at minimum a small Kubota/John Deere/Kioti tractor that would accept a front end loader, tillers, and other small equipment. You won’t be using what Sears calls a “Lawn Tractor”. Those are just lawn mowers.

And finally, one more option is a hand held plugging aerator. It’s simply a tool with two hollow spears on the end of it. Operating it is plain and simple, raise it up, push it down. Repeat this a few hundred times and you’ll be done. Again, for the person that doesn’t mind some vigorous exercise, or for those that have the smallest of postage stamp size lawns, this might be for you. This one sells for only $24.00 and you can even get replacement tines for it when you wear out what comes on it.

The bottom line of aerating is that it doesn’t matter what type of aerator you use, they will get the job done. The only difference is which type you use, how much money you want to spend and how much work you are willing to do. Aerating is the least expensive thing you can do to your lawn and will give you more benefits than some other lawn maintenance services you could have done.

Benefits of aeration

The benefits of aeration

And of course, if you’re all fired up to get your lawn aerated and you don’t want to buy or rent the equipment, don’t have the time or energy to do it anyway and would rather just have a nice lawn without the sweat, then call your local Lawn and Landscape Company to get it done. It will cost you anywhere from $45.00 to as much as a few hundred depending on the size of your lawn and the market you live in.

The timing for aeration will depend on a couple things. Usually when the soil is soft enough for the tines to go into the ground is the most important, for the equipment to work right. If you have an irrigation system, then this is not an issue. You can simply water enough to make the ground soft, and go to work.

If someone asked I can do this once a year, when should I do it? I would say Fall. The next best time would be Spring. But, remember, golf courses, pro football and baseball fields, soccer fields and other turfgrass areas that get a lot of foot traffic or vehicle traffic will aerate several times a year. It’s one of those things that won’t hurt anything to do it even monthly.

If you have any questions, feel free to email us and we will try to answer for you. If you have found this post helpful, please share with your friends on Facebook or Twitter. We wish you greener grass and lush lawns!

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Aeration and Overseeding

 Aerating/Seeding

5 Most Common Things That Are Killing Your Grass

1. Mowing too close – Quite often we are called out to take a look at someone’s lawn to diagnose why their grass is dying. And very often the first thing I notice is that the grass will be mowed very, very close. Depending on the type of grass, this could be the culprit for the grass thinning out.

Don't scalp your lawn

Scalping your lawn causes dead grass

If you have a cool season grass like Fescue, Bluegrass, or Ryegrass, these generally need to be cut higher than warm season grasses. I recommend cutting these no lower than 3″, they just look better when mowed taller, and will usually hang in through the Summer months a little better if cut at that height.

Many times people will say something like, “I cut it way down there low, so I don’t have to mow as often”. Mission accomplished!! Mowing cool season grasses that low will stunt them or plain old kill them. Do your cool season grass lawn a favor and cut it up higher, I promise it will look better, and survive longer!

Bermuda grass, Zoysia grass and other warm season grasses can be cut much lower and they will thrive. It’s actually better for this type of grass to be mowed 2″ or lower. Golf courses, football fields, baseball fields and soccer fields are routinely seeded, sodded or sprigged with warm season grasses like Zoysia or Bermuda. They are usually cut 2″ or lower, sometimes as low as 3/8″ on golf courses. Some golf greens are Bermuda, they are cut lower than 3/8″.

So, if you don’t know what type of grass you have, find out, then start mowing it at the recommended height for that type of grass in your area of the US.

2. Moisture Stress – Fescue lawns in the South need water. They will tell you when they are thirsty if you know what to look for. The grass will start turning a lighter shade of green, and then the blades will start wilting, shriveling up and the grass canopy starts to get thinner and thinner until the majority of the grass plants go dormant.

Wilting Fescue Grass Lawn

Fescue Grass beginning to show signs of moisture stress

Most cool season grasses are going to require more water/rainfall than warm season grasses like Bermuda, Zoysia, Centipede and other similar grasses. The nature of warm season grasses is that they grow best in warm or hot climates and temperatures, so part of their biology is that they will grow better and survive better with less watering or rainfall.

If you start to see your own lawn looking like the one in this picture, it’s time to water!

3. Too Much Shade – The warm season grasses we have mentioned already grow best in full sun conditions. Usually, Bermuda or Zoysia and their other cousins will grow up to the shade line, or drip line of a tree and slowly thin out. The grass will essentially show you where it’s limit is on how much sun it needs. So, if you have a Bermuda lawn it’s not going to grow under the trees. As a tree matures that you have planted in the lawn, the bare spot under it is going to be in proportion to the size of the tree.

Too much shade

Areas like this are difficult to grow grass in. These parts of the lawn are best left to landscape beds

Fescue, ryegrass, bluegrass and creeping red fescue will grow in the shade but will suffer from the next problem that arises with grass growing in deep shade. It’s not just the shade, but competition with the trees for water, too many leaves falling on the grass and choking it out and lack of lime and other nutrients that are robbed from the soil by the trees.

Growing grass in the heavy shaded areas of any lawn is usually very difficult, no matter what the type of grass. Many times it’s best to just give up the idea of having grass in these areas and turn them into landscape beds, gravel areas or another option.

4. Fungus or Insects – Lawns that are dying off with no obvious signs to the untrained eye are often dying from a Fungus or insect problem. These problems will usually start killing off grass and before we are called to investigate, the grass has large dead spots all over, which are usually not going to recover without reseeding.

Brown Patch Fungus on Fescue Grass

Brown patch fungus on Fescue grass

For Fescue grasses in the South, one of the biggest problems we have with Fungus is Brown Patch. It will start in a small circle as small as a quarter, and slowly start increasing in size until it has killed out circles of grass 2 to 3 feet in diameter. Then, the homeowner sees the problem and calls us. Fungus can be controlled with applications of fungicide, either as a preventative application before it ever shows up, or as a curative application after it does show up. However, our experience has been that once it gets started and kills off sections of a cool season lawn, that section doesn’t recover during that year and has to be over seeded in the fall.

Insects will start chewing on either the grass stems or roots of grass plants and cause the same type of slow killing off of the grass plants as the Fungus does. Only insect damage is usually not in a circular pattern. It will just be a large section of grass that looks thinner, weak or just overall not as healthy as the rest of the lawn. Army worms are a common problem we have in the South, they will attack both warm season grass and cool season grasses. You might go for several years without having a single army worm in your lawn, then have them invade by the thousands for a few years in a row.

Brown Patch Fungus on Fescue Grass

Brown patch fungus on Fescue grass

army worm damage in a bermuda lawn

Army worm damage in a bermuda lawn

Army Worms in lawn

Army worms invading lawn

Army worms are fairly easy to eliminate, an application of insecticide will do it, sometimes two applications are needed. But the biggest issue is to get the insecticide applied as soon as you see any army worms on the lawn. Waiting even a day or two can give them enough time to do major damage. The picture shown is what army worms look like.

Grub worms are the larva of a common “June Bug” as most people call them. Asian beetles are another common name. They grow in the ground and will eat  the roots of plants, but that’s not the only damage caused by them. Moles will start running through the lawn looking for them and do major damage to the lawn by tearing up the turf, cutting ruts in the lawn and killing lots of grass.

 

An insecticide application will also control them but needs to be done at two times of the year when the grubs are at the closest to the surface of the lawn. The insecticide does a much better job of killing them at this point.

Another good idea is to do some mole control at the same time that you do the insect application. Moles will do so much damage to a lawn at times that it looks like someone has taken a roto-tiller to the lawn.

5. Improper Applications of Fertilizer/Insecticide/Herbicides – We will get called several times a year to diagnose another problem, we call it killing the lawn with kindness. Or in other words, the homeowner has decided to make applications of fertilizer, insecticides or herbicides to the lawn, but didn’t read the directions.

lawn damaged by too much fertilizer

Fertilizer damage to a lawn

All bags or bottles of any pesticide will have the directions for proper use and application rates on the label. Please read the label first before applying any product to your lawn. At the least, you could damage your own lawn. At worst, you could kill grass in your neighbor’s lawn, the ditch in front of your house, or worse yet would be if you have a pond or other waterway on the downhill side of your lawn. You could kill fish or even pets with an improper pesticide application.

You will also need to know the size of your lawn or property either in square feet or acres, and know how to determine that number. Without this number it is impossible to make a proper application of any pesticide. If you don’t have the proper equipment to apply the pesticide with, you are best off to call a professional to do this for you. It could be cheaper and easier for you and your health.

Can Your Lawn Look Like Wrigley or Progressive Field?

Progressive Field, Home of the Indians

The Indians Progressive Field

Yes, with the right grass, proper maintenance and attention to your lawn’s needs.

In West TN, we live in the “transition zone” of the United States, or sections of zone 7 – 7A. This means we can grow both warm season and cool season grasses. Both Wrigley Field and the Indians’ Progressive Field have Kentucky Bluegrass on them which is a cool season grass. You might guess by their name that a “cool season grass”, grows best in the cooler climates with less humidity. Bluegrass will grow in our area of NorthWest Tennessee, but it does require more maintenance than Fescue and it’s not as hardy as some Fescue varieties.

Hardiness Zone Map

New USDA Hardiness Map

Bluegrass is common in the northern states from KY to New York, Ohio, etc. Their climate is suited much more to fit Bluegrass than ours. In the North, they don’t have as much humidity as we do in the South. Humidity is one of the biggest killers of our cool

Wrigley Field Bluegrass

Chicago Cubs Wrigley Field

season grasses in our area. Mainly caused by brown patch and other fungus’.

So what would it take to get your lawn to look like a professional field? The grass type is just the beginning. After you either sod or seed, you will have to apply fertilizer and weed control 5 to 7 times per year to keep the lush green grass and weed free look.

Irrigation is another key, you don’t have to have an automatic irrigation system, but it will lessen your work load . You can water by pulling water hoses and sprinklers around if you have more patience and energy than you do money. But however you do it, your new, lush green grass will need regular water, if you’re not willing to do it, don’t waste your time and money reseeding your lawn.

The first step is to determine if your lawn is smooth enough already to have a smooth cut after the new grass grows in. If you have lots of dips and holes coupled with high spots, you will not be able to have a smooth cut. Your mower can only cut as even as the grade is on your lawn. So if it’s real rough now, it’s still going to be real rough after you reseed it, unless you do a total renovation reseeding, and do something to level out the grade so you can have a smooth lawn.

Total renovation of the lawn will include tilling it up, leveling it, then seeding, fertilizing and strawing it. You can learn more about how to do these on our website SEEDING PAGE.  Simple aeration and overseeding will require far less work, time and money but should only be done if your current grade or smoothness of your lawn is acceptable. If you are having a sore back from hitting potholes in your lawn while mowing, you will want to do the total lawn renovation, and level it as best as you can. It will be worth it in the long run. There’s nothing like mowing a nice smooth, lush, green lawn and enjoying the smell of fresh cut grass.

Getting a first class “pro field look” starts after the seeding is done and your new grass comes up. The seeding/establishment part of it only takes a few weeks, the maintenance that you will do from here on will determine what the lawn looks like in the long run. The “pro look” of your lawn will take a few seasons, so don’t give up if it’s not where you would like it to be after your first seeding.

Lush dark green color comes from regular fertilizing and weed control. The fertilizer gives the green, the weed control keeps the junk weeds out which usually have a lighter green color, size and texture. These junk weeds will do more to trash up your lawn than anything else.

You notice light and dark stripes in the professional fields. This is what we call “striping” in the Lawn Care Business. This is done by mowing in alternate directions, and by using a roller behind your mower you can enhance these stripes even more. Some mowers do a great job of striping, while others not so much. You can practice by just mowing in a straight line down your lawn, then turn around and mow straight back up towards the house. You should be able to notice a difference in the color of the two passes.

Lawn Stripes

Lawn Striping done with a Scag Mower

Mowing Fescue tall, at 3″ or taller helps to enhance the striping also, but you can stripe grass even as low as 1″ or less. Golf courses do it at as little as 3/8 of an inch.

Keeping a great looking lawn starts with getting a good stand of grass, of the right type, keeping it fertilized and clean of weeds, proper mowing, keeping it watered when it needs it, and a few other maintenance items you will have to do. Like lime applications, fall leaf removal, aeration and the occasional overseed to thicken it back up.

If you do these things on a regular basis, over the course of a few seasons, you can have a pro-field look. It’s not easy, and you will have some patience and spend a few dollars on maintenance products or hiring someone to do it for you. But if you want that look, that’s what it will take.

Lawn Care is Hard

Lawn Care Is So Hard!

Remember that these pro fields are maintained by a crew of professional grounds keepers with an unlimited budget, with every piece of equipment you could possibly need, provided for them. They have someone managing the team that has been maintaining pro fields for years, sometimes generations, so they know what they are doing. Don’t get discouraged if your efforts don’t produce a Wrigley field in the first season.

Got questions? Drop us an email and we will be happy to help.