Landscape Techniques – Lawn Aeration


Aerate, in the context of landscape and grounds maintenance,
means “to supply the soil with air”. It is a contractor
technique to aid in maintaining and improving lawns. Aeration
improves the lawn appearance, usability, and it’s ability to
absorb water from irrigation. Aeration is important for the
garden as well as the lawn, but the techniques for garden
aeration are different than for lawns, and the subject for
another column.

An aerator is the equipment that performs the work and it’s a
machine every gardener and landscape maintenance contractor
should own. If you perform lawn maintenance or renovate lawns
you need an aerator. Aeration is a standard component of any
grounds maintenance program. For seasonal work you can rent the
equipment. If you have a larger customer base you should
consider adding an aerator to your contractor equipment.
Landscape companies will generally find it more profitable to
own the equipment instead of renting.

First let’s discuss the need for aeration and the benefits of
a regular aeration program in landscape maintenance.

Grass roots need air as well as water and fertilizer. The grass
can actually poison itself as a result of the various chemical
processes that occur in the individual grass plants if the
grass roots do not have enough air. Soil that lacks sufficient
air can result in; slow growth in the affected grass, excess
irrigation runoff due to poor permeability, shallow root
systems, and a lawn that’s highly susceptible to insects,
disease, and heat damage.

Soil compaction is the most common example of soil deficient in
air. The growth habits of grass in compacted soil are shallow
root development, a substantial decrease in the number of grass
plants per square foot, and an inability to properly use
applied fertilizers.

Soil compaction in lawns is caused primarily by pedestrian
traffic, whether it is children playing in a playground or
people taking shortcuts across a lawn. Stopping the use of the
affected lawns is generally impractical. A better solution
would be frequent aeration and, depending upon the composition
of the soil, the application of lawn and garden amendments such
as peat, sand, or gypsum.

The benefits of aeration are an increase in the:

– growth rate of the grass thus an improvement in its ability
to withstand and recover from pedestrian use
– ability of water and fertilizer to penetrate to the grass
roots soil’s absorption rate from irrigation
– root growth activity contributing to the strength and health
of the grass
– ability of bacteria present in the soil to break down and
decompose the thatch layer thus increasing the soils ability to
hold sufficient amounts of moisture between waterings
– grass’s ability to withstand low water situations and heat

Aeration is a technique best applied in late summer or early
fall for cool season grasses and in the spring for warm season
grasses. This can also be a good time to overseed and topdress/
amend the aerated lawn. One drawback to aeration is that it
increases the probability of weed infestation thus it can become
important to include pre-emergent and post-emergent weed control
measures. In addition to being beneficial to the lawn, these
services are an add-on profit center for the landscape
maintenance contractor. Aeration services are also often offered
by garden centers and nursery businesses.

If you have a severely damaged lawn or a lawn area that
undergoes heavy and frequent use you might consider aerating
these areas several times throughout the year. Remember,
aeration does damage the grass, so aerate “lightly” by using a
slightly wider tine spacing or only one pass.

An aerator that pulls plugs is more effective than one that
simply pokes holes. An aerator that pokes holes can further
compact the soil. Soil compaction decrease the available air
to the grass roots and causes excess irrigation run off. Either
remove the plugs or break them up (use a mulching lawn mower or
close the catcher chute on a standard mower). Always apply any
amendment immediately to achieve maximum penetration of the
amendments into the soil. The holes have a tendency to collapse
especially if pedestrian traffic is difficult to keep off.

Contractor equipment varies from dedicated aerators that pull
plugs to rototiller add-ons that simply poke holes. As
discussed, pulling plugs is better. You will also find the
dedicated aerator to be easier and more efficient to use.

Aeration is also a way for many landscape maintenance
contractors, gardeners, and garden centers to make more money.
Most offer the service to their customers as an additional
service. Pricing and costs will vary. Some charge by the
square foot, others by the job. The average price in Southern
California is about $45.00 per 1,000 square feet for owner
occupied single family residences. Other large landscape
maintenance contractors offer aeration as part of the
contracted service, especially for large residential
communities where the single billing cost for aeration could
be prohibitive. They calculate the cost of aerating and divide
the result by the term of the contract (usually one year, 12
months) thus charging the customer a portion (1/12th) of the
total cost each month. This makes the service affordable to the
homeowner association or property management company and brings
in more money to the contractor. The same technique could also
be used by smaller lawn maintenance and gardening companies.

Aeration should be part of your grounds maintenance and
irrigation service. Its an inexpensive way to improve your
customers lawns and make more money. It also makes it easier to
get those yearly increases in fees and keep customers longer.
Happy customers pay much better than dissatisfied customers.
Aerating really can make a big difference in the appearance of
your customer’s lawns! Competition in the Green Industry is
strong and added services like aeration will help to put you out
in front of your competitors.


About the Author:

Henry Thompson is a Contributing Writer for ProGardenBiz Magazine,
an online magazine for professional gardeners and landscape
contractors. Visit ProGardenBiz to find out how you can get a
free subscription, start-up guidance, business ideas and
inspiration at

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