This is one of the best things you can do for your lawn. It reduces soil compaction and thatch by removing small plugs of small plugs of soil throughout your yard. This allows more movement of air, water, beneficial insects and microbes.
When to aerate your lawn
You should core aerate in early spring, shortly after your warm season grass begins to green up. In the spring, be sure to irrigate your yard for the next week to ensure it does not dry out. The other time to do this is in the fall after it has started to cool down some. I do not recommend doing this in the middle of summer since grass can get stressed due to the extreme heat and lack of rain.
How to aerate your lawn
You can rent a machine to do this from nearly any rental store. If you have a large piece of property, there is a version you can drag behind a tractor or four wheeler. Do not use a tine aerator or spiked shoes, they actually compact the soil more. This can be a pretty physical task, so if you may want to look into hiring someone if this seem a bit much for you.
Use the machine in the same pattern as you would to mow your lawn. Make three to five passes in spring but only one to two passes if aerating during the fall. If you are aerating soil that is mostly clay, you will want to use a rake to remove as many of the plugs as you can. Other soil types are fine to leave on the lawn. The aeration cores left on your lawn will go away on their own when it rains or your water your lawn.
Why top dress
What soil to add
How to top dress
Top dressing is pretty simple. Get soil, throw soil, repeat, rake when finished. Below are a few ways to get this done.
The Hard Way
Wheelbarrow, a shovel and a rake. Simply move it to the area you want to spread it and use the shovel to fan it out. Estimate it will take around three pounds of top dressing per square yard. Keep the added soil to an added level of 1/4" to 1/3" inch. Much more than this and you will run the risk of killing some of your existing grass. When you are finished, you will need to use a rake to remove the soil that is resting on top of the grass itself. As you may notice, this will take a lot of time and Tylenol. The average size yard will take one person two or more days to finish.
The Better Way
If you can find one, rent a top dressing machine. While you still have to load the machine and rake the remaining loose soil, it will make this project unbelievable easier. The flaw in this plan is these are hard to find since most people do not do this to their yard.
The Easy Way
Hire a lawn company specializing in top dressing to do it. While this option is more expensive, it will save your weekend plus the days of recovery afterwards.
If your yard is healthy and full, don't worry about overseeding. Keep good cultural practices and doing what you were doing to keep it healthy in the first place. If your lawn is starting to thin or if there are other grasses growing, overseeding will help with both.
When to overseed
The best time to overseed is during the growing season for the seed you are putting down. For us this is between spring when temperatures are above 68 degrees and the early summer. You can still overseed in the middle of summer, but the grass will have less time to establish before winter and it will take more water due to the excessive heat. There is some debate on whether to overseed before or after top dressing. I tend to favor doing it after since there is a rick of burying it too deep if you overseed before top dressing.
Overseeding in spring and summer
Bermuda - Great for overseeding
Zoysia - Great for overseeding
Centipede - Only do this is there are are bare spots throughout your yard.
St. Augustine - Do not bother overseeding. If you have bare spots, use sod.
Overseeding in fall and winter
For all types of grasses, use a low growing rye grass to overseed your lawn in late fall. It will keep your lawn green all winter and will die off when it gets warm in spring.
How to overseed
You can overseed using a push spreader. Simply fill up the spreader, use the settings on the bag and keep a constant pace. Be cautious of where you spread the seeds (your flower beds) since grass will grow there.
JUST ADD WATER
Water your lawn immediately after and try to get a good five inches of water penetration into the soil. You will need to keep your lawn irrigated daily for the next half of a month to make sure the seeds germinate.
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What is core aeration?
Core aeration is the removal and replacement of small plugs soil and thatch from your lawn. This allows air, among other things, to travel easier through your soil.
Reduce Soil Compaction
This one is a given. By removing cores of soil from the ground, you have allowed more room for the top soil in your yard to spread out. It is still the same amount of soil, only looser. This by itself may not seem all that important, but it is for the reasons explained below. It is also easier on your joints.
Improve Water and Fertilizer Absorption
After aerating your yard, you should notice less water run off when irrigating your yard. Since the soil is less compact, it will now allow water, fertilizer, beneficial bacteria and air to move more freely.
Improve Overall Plant Health
The plants will be healthier since beneficial elements, such as water, fertilizer, etc., are more readily available for the roots to uptake. Additionally, since the soil is looser, the root system will be able to develop more easily thus making your plant more able to compete for water in times of drought from weeds.
Beneficial bacteria will be able to move more freely in the soil and decompose thatch buildup. Thatch is simply a buildup of dead plant material between the soil and grass. A thin layer of thatch, less than 1/2" is beneficial and should not be seen as an issue. Thatch does not hold water or nutrition that is easily attainable for grass, thus making your turf have to extend its roots further to reach the soil. This leads to the grass not being able to extend its roots deep into the soil where there will be more access to water during times of drought. Thatch is also a staging point for many yard damaging fungus and a breeding ground for insects. By reducing the thatch, you reduce the chance of both fungus and insect damage.
What type of aerator to use?
Hollow Tine Aerator
A hollow tine aerator is my only recommendation for aeration. The ideal aerator to use should have a 3/4" diameter tine, 4" deep with the spacing between tines 6" apart. If you are a DIY person, you can rent a motorized one for small areas or one to drag behind a tractor for larger areas. My experience with renting a motorized one was back pain for a week. The rentals rarely have an adjustable height and shake you like a jackhammer. Be sure you have some pain reliever and a hot bath ready.
This only leads to additional soil compaction. This will make the problem worse, so please do not do it.
When to aerate?
The best two times to aerate are just after the first mowing in spring and in fall before your grass goes dormant. Be sure to make three to four passes with the aerator in the spring and only one or two passes with it in the fall. Do not aerate when the grass is dormant since you will only make it a more inviting place for weeds. There are exceptions to this. If there is a high traffic area, feel free to aerate monthly in the growing season.
How to aerate?
First, move anything that can be broken out of the way. Anything that can't be moved, irrigation heads, landscape lighting, drain covers, etc., should be flagged so you don't accidentally break them. If you have an irrigation system, let it run through a lite cycle while you flag the head. The aerator will work better if the soil is a little wet. Next, use the aerator like you would mow your yard, basically. The difference is a mechanical aerator will drag you around, but it is designed to do so. There should also be two handles, one to engage the tines and one to lift the tines. Be sure to have them disengaged and lifted when going over concrete or tile or when generally moving the machine. Now just make your desired number of passes and your done. Your yard may look like a large herd of dogs went through it at the moment, but once the soil dries and it gets some water, it will go back to looking normal again.
What else should do you with aeration?
Top dressing your soil with sand or additional top soil is a great idea immediately following core aeration. The new topdressing will help fill in the holes and refresh your soil, improving pH and drainage.
If you are in an area when with highly alkaline soil like most of Baton Rouge, you will need to increase the acidity of your soil. Soil dwelling bacteria break down sulfur over time and lower pH, but they are not very quick. Applying sulfur based products after aeration gives more access to the bacteria causing a lower pH in less time.
Apply Barrier Products After
You should not apply any pre-emergent herbicides or long term insecticides to your yard until a few days after aerating. Usually these products create a thin barrier that prevents their target pest from affecting your yard. If you aerate your yard after you apply one of these, there will punch holes throughout your barrier and will have wasted your time and money putting them out in the first place.