How to Core Aerate Your Lawn

Core aerating your turf is an essential step on the path to achieving a golf course lawn. Over time, your lawn can become compacted by heavy foot traffic or dense, clay soil, leading to poor lawn drainage and a waterlogged lawn

A flooded lawn prevents oxygen from reaching grass roots, suffocating your turf and encouraging fungal diseases. Core aeration for lawns improves water penetration and available nutrients. Core aerating your lawn also stimulates microbial activity in the soil, which leads to greener, healthier grass. 

If core aeration for your lawn sounds like something you need to put on the to-do list, we’ve got your back. We’ll take you through all the steps of core aeration and a few tips to make the process as easy as possible. 

What Is Core Aeration for Lawns?

Core aeration removes small plugs from your soil (around 2"- 4”) to help open up your lawn and break up compacted soil. These soil plugs will eventually decompose, returning high-quality nutrients to your soil. Depending on the size of your lawn, you might choose a core aerator machine for larger spaces — but if your lawn is smaller, a manual lawn aerator will do the trick too. If you want to use a core aerator machine to save some time and energy, you can rent one at your local equipment rental or buy one from a big-box store. 

aerating lawn with machine

When Is the Best Time to Core Aerate Your Lawn?

The best time to core aerate your lawn is usually in late March, when your lawn is coming out of its winter dormancy. How do you know when this is? Well, there are certain signs you can look out for: 

  • The ground isn’t frozen and hard 
  • The weather is warm consistently (hitting temperatures of 65°F)
  • The grass is actively growing — you can see signs of lighter green grass blades
  • Other plants in your yard or on your lawn are beginning to bud. 

  • Warm-season grasses benefit significantly from core aeration in the spring through to summer, and cool-season grasses can be aerated in the fall. If you’re unsure, check your grass type and area to work out when the best time is to core aerate your lawn.  

    TOP TIP: Before you start core aeration for your lawn, use a fork or other garden tool to test your soil. Push in the tool and pull it up to see how moist the soil is. If your tool has soil stuck to it, the ground is too wet to aerate. You might need to wait a few days for the soil to be ready. If the soil is fine and powdery or you struggle to even push the tool into the ground, the soil is too dry. 

    Lawn Core Aeration Preparation

    core aeration process

    The principle of core aerating your lawn is simple, but there are a few bits of preparation you can do to make the whole process run smoother. 

    • Water your lawn a day or two before core aeration. This will help allow the tines (which pick up the plugs) to penetrate deeper. 
    • Rake and clean your lawn if it's heavily thatched 
    • If you use irrigation, mark where your sprinkler heads are with frisbees or small flags. A core aerator is a heavy piece of equipment, so you don’t want to risk running over sprinkler heads or other lawn features.
    • If you’re renting a core aerator, rinse the tines before use. You don’t know where it’s been before. Washing the tines will help prevent the spread of disease and weeds.
    • Core lawn aeration, even with a machine, is still physically demanding. Ensure you wear proper shoes and gloves to be comfortable and safe. 

    Lawn Core Aeration Method

    Now, we’ll look at how to core aerate your lawn using a core aerator machine. The manual method is similar. The only difference is you’re pulling out the plugs yourself and leaving a gap between holes of about 4”. (It’s also much harder work!)

    Using your core aerator machine, you can either do passes in a straight line back and forth or make passes in overlapping ovals around the lawn. Turning the core aerator around at the end of each straight line isn’t much fun, as it’s a heavy bit of equipment that will slow you down.

    Instead, opt for the overlapping ovals method. This method will allow you to keep the core aerator moving the entire time. When you turn on your second oval, slightly overlap on each pass to cover the whole lawn. By overlapping each pass, you’ll reduce the times you need to stop, streamlining the core aeration process. 

    TOP TIP: For slope sections of your lawn, avoid running the aerator in any direction which might cause you to lose control of it. Pass your aerator in a diagonal direction (from the bottom upwards) or slowly work up and down the slope to maintain control.

    The Core of the Problem

    The Core of the Problem

    After you’ve core aerated your lawn, you’ll notice a load of soil plugs lying around. It’s a bit of a debate in the lawn care world as to whether you should pick these up or let them break down into the soil.

    If the soil plugs are sandy in texture, there’s not much reason to pick them up. They’ll break down quickly once dried out and provide free organic material for your grass. In contrast, if the soil plugs are clay-like in texture, you might want to pick them up as they’ll get harder as they dry out. 

    Lawn Fertilization & Top Dressing

    Three jobs in one? Sounds like a good idea. Post-core aeration, top dress your lawn with a leveling mix and add fertilizer and biostimulants. Conducting a soil test can give you a strong indication of what your lawn needs, but for an all-around winner, try Lebanon Turf’s Complete 14-7-14 combined with Mirimichi Green’s Essential-G™

    Lebanon Turf’s Complete 14-7-14

    Mirimichi Green’s Essential-G™.

    Complete 14-7-14 granular lawn fertilizer contains a broad range of nutrients, including the three main macronutrients your lawn needs to thrive: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Nitrogen provides turf with a deep green color, and Complete 14-7-14 contains 14% fast-release nitrogen to produce green-up in just 5-7 days without causing overgrowth. Combined with 7% phosphorus for deeper root growth and 14% potassium to help your lawn tolerate stress, this lawn fertilizer is excellent for all grass types. 

    Essential-G™ is an eco-friendly biostimulant. A biostimulant is any substance or microorganism that can be applied to plants to boost natural plant processes. Essential-G™ produces more fertile soil, increases the number of nutrients available, drives root growth, and improves water absorption. If you’re also overseeding your lawn at this time, adding Essential-G™ will accelerate turf seed or sod establishment. Plus, this lawn biostimulant will also boost the effectiveness of Complete 14-7-14, so using them together is a match made in heaven. 


    Related: What Is a Lawn Biostimulant and Why Are They Important?


    Core Elation

    Core or plug aerators (manual or machine) aren’t the only types of aerating equipment. Spike aerators can be used for small lawns — it’s just core aeration without the hollow cores. For spike aeration, you can use a pitchfork or spiked lawn aeration shoes to simply “spike” the soil. Spike aeration will loosen the soil and reduce compaction short-term but will increase compaction long term. If you have mild soil compaction and a tiny lawn, spike aeration might be for you, but most lawns will benefit from deep core aeration. Core aeration is no walk in the park but will give your lawn sustained, dense growth in the long run, so yes, it is worth the effort!

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