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Lawn Care Guide                         Aerating and Dethatching

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Warm Season Grasses
 Bahia  Bermuda  Carpetgrass
Cool Season Grasses Bluegrass  Fine Fescue  Tall Fescue


Aerating is probably one of the most important, yet most neglected tasks that is really necessary for a good looking healthy lawn.  Over time the soil and layer of thatch next to the soil compact. The more compact the soil is the harder it is for water and nutrients to penetrate it. Aerating is essential to help loosen the soil so that water and nutrients can soak in and not just run off.

There are two key types of aerators that can be used. The Spike aerators and the core or plug aerators. I wonít spend too much time on the "Shoe" aerators I have seen sold. Please donít waste your time or money on that! The Spike aerator either has a spike or a triangular shaped wedge that pokes a hole in the ground. These do no help much if you have compacted soil, as a matter of fact they probably aggravate the problem as the act of inserting the spike further compresses the soil around it!

Core or plug aerators actually remove a "plug of soil. There are the best aerators, removing the plug of soil give the compressed soil around the hole space to expand into, decompressing the soil. There is the added benefit that the aerator will cut through any built up thatch, disturbing it and aiding it along in the decomposition process. One objection to plug aerators is the plugs of soil that they leave behind. They are somewhat unsightly. If they are objectionable then the recommendation is to rake them in after aerating so that you break them up and the soil sifts it way back to the lawn bed.

 Northern Tools Aerator

These types of aerators are typically more expensive then the spike type, but are well worth the extra cost. The average cost of one of these is $200.00, Northern Tools periodically runs a sale on a pull behind the tractor type for $129 which is an EXCELLENT buy at that price. Of course you also have the option of renting a Power self propelled one at an equipment rental yard.

The best time to aerate is in the spring for the warm season grasses and in the fall for the cool season grasses. It is best to do your fertilizing and the additions of any other supplements at the same time.

When aerating you want to first travel in one direction, lets say north to south. Run the aerator in parallel paths next to each other so that you cover the entire lawn in adjacent runs with the aerator. Next repeat the process but in an East to West direction so that you are in essence creating a cross-hatch pattern. Again, make sure to cover the entire lawn in parallel paths that are adjacent to each other.


Certain lawn types respond well to de-tatching, typically grasses that grow in clumps and do not spread via rhizomes can be easily dethatched with no negative side effect. The grasses that spread by rhizomes such asBermuda, Centipede, and Bluegrass eventually develop an interlaced network of rhizomes that make up the bed of the lawn, running the tines of a pull behind de-thatcher through pulls that network apart and typically leaves the lawn looking pretty horrific. As a rule of thumb you should dethatch when the layer of thatch reaches 1/2 inch in thickness. One good way to see how much thatch has built up is to pick up one of the plugs after core aerating and measure the amount of thatch that is on the plug. The plug left behind by the core aerator is a good snapshot of what you turf looks like and an excellent way to measure how much thatch you have.

If your lawn has reached the point where it needs dethatching, I would recommend that you hire a competent yard care company that has a power de-thatcher that will cut through the rhizomes rather then pull through them. make sure that when you dethatch you do so in the spring for summer grasses and in the fall for Cold weather grasses. That is the time of year when the grass growth is at it's highest and your lawn will recover much quicker. 

One last note on dethatching, if you aerate regularly the tines of the aerator  will cut through the thatch, opening it up and giving it a chance to decompose. This gives nature a chance to solve the problem of thatch for you and increases the amount of time between detatching.