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How to aerate a lawn to boost growth: Expert tips and advice

Image of a grass aerator being used on a green lawn

Aeration is crucial for a healthy, lush lawn – we explain how and when to get stuck in with the right tools

Your garden needs to breathe, and for your garden to breathe, you need to aerate your lawn. Luckily, the vital process of aeration couldn’t be simpler: aerating a lawn just means poking holes in the ground.

To aerate your garden or lawn, you need to use either an aeration tool or a garden fork to spike the ground. This loosens the soil and creates drainage holes to allow water, oxygen and nutrients to penetrate the ground and reach the roots of your plants and grass.

With a few simple tools, a little effort and some top tips from our experts, you’ll soon be enjoying a much healthier lawn.

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Why aerate a lawn?

Aeration is crucial for any garden. “Aerating improves soil compaction, enhances root growth and increases nutrient absorption”, explains Georgina O’Grady, managing director at  Evergreen Direct. “It also reduces thatch build-up, leaving you with a lush and vibrant grass covering.”

An illustration demonstrating three aeration stages on a white background.Aeration is also a key first step when improving a garden. Peter Chaloner, managing director of Cobra, specifically calls for aeration as one of the best things you can do to revive a lacklustre lawn. “Lawns can suffer from compaction after winter, causing grass to become yellow and weeds to grow”, he says. “We always recommend taking the time in spring to prioritise improving lawn health so that it thrives during the warmer months.”

How do you know if you need to aerate your lawn?

If the ground feels hard and it’s difficult to dig in with gardening tools, the soil is too compacted and may not be allowing water and nutrients to get to your lawn’s roots. You may also notice puddles forming where water can’t drain into the soil. These are all signs the lawn needs aerating.

Also look out for layers of dead grass, known as thatch. If your lawn looks brown, thatch build-up may be blocking water, nutrients and sunlight from reaching the grass beneath.

How to prepare your lawn for aeration

First, break out your lawn mower and mow the grass to a shorter length than usual.

Then, before you begin aerating, Georgina O’Grady advises checking for anything – such as pipes or wires – that you don’t want to damage: “Mark any underground utilities, sprinkler lines or other obstacles and clear the lawn of debris.”

If you have moss or thatch lying on top of the lawn, consider scarifying with a rake or scarifying machine. “This way”, says Guy Jenkins, manager of Johnsons Lawn Seed, “when the sun finally shines, your grass won’t have any competition for its rays.”

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What type of aeration tools are there?

There are two main types of aeration tools:

  • Spike aerators, including basic spiked shoes, simply poke holes in the ground
  • Core aerators have hollow prongs or tines that remove small cylinders of soil, creating bigger holes. These can be manual aerators, which you drive into the ground with your foot, or powered aerating machines, similar to lawn mowers.

“Selecting the right aerating tool ultimately depends on the size of your lawn”, says Georgina O’Grady. “I recommend manual aerators or spike shoes for smaller lawns, but larger areas will likely require high-powered core aerators.”

Certainly, using a fork or a manual aerator will be a tough job if you have a lot of lawn to cover, but powered aerators can be expensive, especially since they won’t be used very often.

John Clifford, garden expert at Gardenstone, suggests that your choice of tool will come down to personal preference, but agrees that “a garden fork or a manual spike aerator will be absolutely fine for a smaller lawn”.

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How to aerate a lawn

Aerating is very simple: just take your tool of choice and use it to make holes across the entire lawn.

If you’re using spiked shoes, you just need to walk up and down the lawn. If you’re using a garden fork or manual aerator, you should aim to cover the whole area with holes about six inches (15cm) apart.

Machine aerators typically look similar to a lawn mower and, as with a mower, you simply push them back and forth until you’ve covered the whole lawn.

“It’s best to make the holes about six inches deep”, says Guy Jenkins. “Remember to break up hard lumps, especially in dense clay soil, and brush away excess soil from the lawn area into flower beds or borders. Finally, fill the holes with horticultural sand or a free-draining top dressing material.”

When to aerate a lawn

Before aerating, check the levels of moisture in the soil. “The ground should be moist – neither too dry nor too wet,” says Georgina O’Grady. Preferably aerate the day after rain has softened the ground – or you could water it yourself the day before getting stuck in – however, after heavy rainfall, there’s a danger the garden will become waterlogged, with water sitting on the surface instead of draining into the ground.

According to Claire Baglin, landscaping category manager at Toolstation, the type of soil in your local area affects how often you should repeat the process: “Lawns that have hard or clay soils should be aerated every year”, she says, “but in most cases, it can be done every two years. The best time of year to do this is April, during the lawn’s peak growing season.”

Guy Jenkins advises regular aeration, especially if local conditions are very wet. “Although grass is a relatively hardy plant, it won’t grow if it’s left soaking in puddles for a long time. If you have a lawn or any other grassy area that’s prone to waterlogging, use a powered aerator to prepare larger areas. If you already have a lot of water standing on your lawn, you should aerate the ground carefully, trampling as little as possible. This will help the water to drain away faster.”

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Maintaining a lawn after aeration

After you’ve aerated your lawn, you’ll need to give it some tender loving care. First, water it again. Then choose the best lawn feed for your garden.

“Apply some fertiliser to boost the lawn with some extra nutrients”, advises Claire Baglin. “You can also top-dress the lawn with a thin layer of soil mixed with sand and loam (clay mixed with sand) to help encourage growth.”

Once you’ve completed aeration, Georgina O’Grady suggests overseeding with fresh grass seed to fill bare spots and build up the density of the grass, making sure to water the lawn regularly. Check out our guides to the best grass seed and the best garden sprinklers to keep things looking lush.

As always when mowing fresh grass, let it grow longer and set your mower to a higher height to allow the grass to establish itself.

A persons hand inspecting lush grass

For more in-depth tips on mowing the lawn – from choosing the right lawn mower to getting those perfect stripes in the grass – check out our guide to mowing a lawn. If you have a smaller garden, you might choose between a cordless mower or a robot mower. Or, for larger gardens, you might consider a petrol mower or even, depending on size and terrain, a ride-on mower.

Whatever the size and condition of your garden, aeration is key to a healthy lawn. “All of this helps your lawn to be healthier”, says Claire Baglin. It will be “less compacted, and more able to combat weeds, lawn disease and extremes in temperature.”

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