Why You Need to Aerate Your Lawn

This machine allows nutrients and water to better reach the grass roots. (welcomia)

I tend to be the type of homeowner who’s willing to try just about anything. Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to learn the location of the main power switch in my home and the water cut-off valve at the street. If my home improvement activities get too dire, I turn off one or the other and wait patiently for back-up to arrive.

I live in a 50-year-old house that I’ve owned for four years, with a yard that’s never seen much TLC. So I decided to aerate my lawn this spring as a prelude to its gradual rehabilitation. I rented an aerator from a local rental store for the bargain price of $60 for the weekend.

When my male colleagues laughed at this prospect, I made sure to ask the man at the rental place if a 130-pound woman could handle the machine. While he insisted it would be no problem, I suspect he chuckled when I drove away with it.

I should have suspected trouble when it took two men to load the bright blue machine in the back of my Honda Element. In fact, the BlueBird aerator weighs in at nearly 300 pounds – and that’s without the two 36 lb. removable weights that it comes with for extra traction.

Fortunately, a friend who found out about my weekend project cut two pieces of lumber to make a ramp to help get the machine in and out of my car.

Walk behind grass aerator. (welcomia)

What is Lawn Aeration

To the initiated, an aerator resembles a lawn mower only a little wider, squatter, and heavier. The undercarriage looks like a medieval torture device, with a spinning cylinder of rotating coring spikes, much like a round hair brush on steroids. The idea behind aerating your yard is to break up the compacted soil which in turn:

  • Enhances the transfer of water, oxygen, and nutrients into the soil.
  • Promotes microorganisms that help breakdown thatch.
  • Reduces the runoff of fertilizer and pesticides.
  • Encourages root system growth.

It would have been helpful if the rental center could have located the operator’s manual. Instead, I was given a short verbal course, with particular emphasis on how to stop the machine.

Once in my yard, the BlueBird behaved more like a Brahma bull than its feathery namesake. Pushing it wasn’t a problem, since it happily propelled itself around the yard with little assistance while I trotted along behind trying my best to keep up.

But when you actually had to turn the Bird is when things got tricky. Hairpin turns are not its specialty and the wide turning radius made for some unexpected detours and startled animals. And you better hope you don’t get it mired in a soft spot, because the next thing you know, the Bird is on its way to China.

Aerators encourage root system growth. (welcomia)

Because the machine is so powerful, it only took about 15 minutes to aerate the entire yard. But my aerating activity made so much racket that my neighbor came out to see what was going on. That was his misfortune because he then got roped into helping me load the BlueBird back into my car.

That said, I’m sure a professional lawn service could have done a better job, but I wasn’t about to pay a couple of hundred dollars for what I could do for less than half that amount plus a bottle of Advil. And I did inform the man at the rental place that an aerator was better suited for someone more substantial, which I suspect he knew anyway.

Hole by Aerator
Holes made by grass aerator. (KaraGrubis/Getty Images)

But the good news is, a few weeks have passed, and I can already see the difference in my yard. At last my grass can breathe and is on its way down the road to recovery.

Further Reading


  1. I admire your courage. I’ve wrestled those things a few times and it is a CHORE…glad it made a difference though!

  2. Thanks for the insight! I’m great on taking on “do-it-myself” projects and this is one I certainly will leave to the professionals! Improvements aren’t always as simple or quick as reading about them.

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  3. Aeration should be done during the peak growing season. For cool-season grasses such as Fescue, aeration should be done in the early fall. For warm-season grasses such as Bermuda and St. Augustine, aerate during midsummer. Once per year is usually enough, and if you top-dress with organic material after aerating, you won’t need to aerate as often.

  4. To keep the cost and the work load down I found that if you have a friend or a neighbor that takes care of there yard you could share the cost of the rental. Every penny counts.

  5. Did you do this on an established lawn? I have St Augustine grass and for the most part it is fairly healthy but I have issues with brown and yellow spots. Treated it for grub worms but the spots are still prominent.
    What do I need to do to have a green healthy yard all year round?

  6. AAA Lawn Care in Grand Rapids, Michigan sends a technician to my home. He arrives in one of the company’s trucks with an aerator in a closed trailer. The aerators (plug type) they use aerates a swath approximately 3 feet wide. I run my irrigation every day, so the lawn is always moist, leaving 3″ plugs that lay on the turf grass as the machine moves along. This company also takes care of all my lawns aerating and fertilizing needs on a regular basis. If anyone out there wants a lush green lawn, aeration, fertilization, herbicide and pesticide control, irrigation, as well as mowing at the proper height consistantly are the keys to success.

  7. Meredith, to really get your $$s worth I would have criss- crossed the lawn 2 – 3 times. In thin spots over-seeding will accelerate fill-in…that is if you mist thin areas lightly and frequently.
    Late summer and early fall are best times — early as possible if autumn leaves are a factor.
    Second-best time? That’s early spring when soil isn’t frozen. If over-seeding in spring, avoid harming seedlings by applying weed control products (including crabgrass preventer)!


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