If your customers don’t have the thick, lush lawns they’ve imagined, you can rack your brain trying to figure out the cause. While you interrogate them about their watering practices and second guess yourself on fertilization, the problem might be a lot simpler. It might be time to aerate.
Are there tracks in the lawn? Are there tons of weeds despite a good fertilizer with weed prevention? Are pests becoming a problem? Is water pooling in the lawn after heavy rains? Are there bare spots that you haven’t been able to help? The soil might have compacted, and it might just take a little aerating to make the lawn thrive. If the customer has clay soil or it’s a dry area, you’ll need to aerate more frequently. There’s a simple and pretty unscientific way to tell when it’s time to aerate. Grab a stick. If the soil is difficult to penetrate with the stick, you should aerate.
You should choose a nice, clear day to aerate. If the soil is wet, you will have a huge mess and a lot of explaining to do to customers. You’re also going to get compacted soil much more quickly if it’s wet. If it’s too dry, you won’t be able to penetrate the soil with an aerator. Pay attention to the weather. You should have nice weather for as long as possible (a week at least) after you aerate for maximum benefits.
If you don’t yet have an aerator attachment for your mowers, you can rent one. I recommend renting them before you buy one anyway. There are different types of aerators with different features, and the best way to determine which you prefer is to try them out. Aerators with spreaders allow the plugs (or cores) of soil to be spread throughout the lawn. It’s fine to leave them, but they should be raked to make the lawn look better right away. If you have a lot of clay soil yards or live in a dry area, you want longer spikes on your aerator. You also want more spikes to play the odds. The more spikes you have, the more likely at least some will penetrate harder, dryer soils. In particularly dry areas, it’s a good idea to water a day or two before aeration, just to promote penetration. Then simply mow in the same pattern you were going to mow anyway, with the aerator attached.
Aerating a lawn allows air, water, and nutrients to get to the roots of the grass. It allows earthworms to move about. Other good little organisms that take care of pests and naturally fertilize the lawn will thrive. You’ll also break through some weed roots, and the healthier lawn will have a better fighting chance against the weeds. You’ll have fewer problems with flooding, and the lawn will be more drought-tolerant. Bare spots will fill in much better.
Right after aerating is the perfect time to overseed if you are trying to repair bare spots or filling in during fall for a green winter lawn. By core aerating the lawn, you’ve perfectly prepared the soil to thrive on the seeds. This should be done as soon as possible after aerating, and it’s best to remove the pulled plugs from the lawn if you’re going to seed. It’s also a great time for water to get deep into the soil in dry areas, so watering after aeration is preferable. If it’s fertilization time, it’s also a good idea to aerate first if it’s needed.
In hot, dry climates, you might need to aerate in summer, fall, and at the beginning of spring, depending on how dry the winter was. Cooler weather grasses are better aerated early in fall. They are too fragile and will recover more slowly if aerated in the summer, and fall is the perfect time to prepare them for winter. If the soil is heavy with clay, you might need to aerate more often. It’s a good idea to keep your stick (knife, screwdriver, etc) handy to check if the soil has compacted.
Aerating will save your customers time and money watering in the summer as their lawns will be better able to withstand drought, and they will be thrilled with their healthier, fuller lawns. It’s well worth investing in a good aerator.