How to Aerate & How to Dethatch a Lawn

Aerate and detach lawn
Paul Maguire /

If you’re properly feeding and watering your lawn, but it doesn’t seem to be growing as well as it should probably you’re facing one of the following problems. Either the soil is overly compacted or your lawn is being suffocated by a thick layer of thatch. Or even both. These problems lead to your lawn suffering because the required water, air and nutrients can’t reach the roots.

In order to check if your soil is overly compacted try to insert a screwdriver into it. If the soil is too compacted you’ll find it difficult. The proper way to fix this problem is by aeration.

On the other hand, if the problem occurs because of a thick layer of thatch you’ll be able to tell by the way your lawn feels. It will be spongy and it won’t be easy to stick your finger through to the soil. Here, the suitable solution is to dethatch your lawn.

No matter the problem you need to take action fast. We at Fantastic Gardeners Melbourne collected our knowledge and experience in order to help you. Find answers to both questions on how to aerate and how to dethatch a lawn in the following lines.

What is lawn aeration?

Aeration, aerifying, or coring are different terms for the same procedure. This is the process of removing plugs or “cores” of soil and thatch from a lawn. It can be done manually, with different types of tools or via an aerating machine. Lawn aeration helps reduce soil compaction. It creates a channel through which nutrients, oxygen and water can penetrate into the soil and get to the roots.

How to aerate a lawn

Aerating a lawn can be done with several different tools and techniques. You can find them listed below and pick the one that you think can handle best.

Hollow tine fork

If you need to aerate and relieve compaction it’s best to use a hollow tine fork. It’s quite simple to use. You just need to get some weight behind it. It makes the holes and after that, you just pull it out. It easily removes cores and revives heavily worn areas.

The cores, which you’ve pulled out must not be left on the lawn. You can add them to the compost or let them dry and use them for top dressing. Using a hollow tine fork is fantastic for increasing the drainage in the lawn, getting fertilizer, air and water. With the hollow tine aerator, the hardest part is getting it into the ground. Therefore, sharpen the tines before use.

Rolling lawn aerator

The rolling lawn aerator basically spikes the lawn. When you’re spiking the lawn it needs to be done often because it needs to be easy. If you have difficulties you’ll probably give up easily and quit. Other than that, it’s pretty simple.

You just need to put the handle into your midriff, put your hand on the machine and just literally walk forward and let it do the work. When you reach the end of your lawn, turn around, spike it into the ground and let it do the work.

Lawn aeration sandals

Another way of aerating the lawn is using spiking sandals. All you need to do is to stick them into the lawn, put your feet in and make sure they’re strapped nice and tight around your shoes. Once you’ve got them on, don’t try to walk normally. It’s a bit like treading grape. Keep your foot flat.

Bonus tip:
Grab a bottle of ready to use weed killer. Thus, you will do two jobs at once. While you’re spiking the lawn you can also spray the weeds.

Petrol lawn aerator

It is usually used for very large areas. Every aerator is different, but most of them are pretty similar and simple to use. You just need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. It’s a bit of a challenge, but it’s a lot faster.

Aerator and scarifier machines are usually combined into one. Therefore the price is usually a bit high. However, you can always rent a machine, so this should not be an issue.

When to aerate lawn?

Anytime that you can pull a good plug, which should be at least a couple inches long. Three or even four inches are good options. However, what is the very best time? Well, you can aerate your lawn in the spring and the autumn.

The spring is a great time to aerate because it’s an extremely appropriate time to throw in some grass seed right after the aeration. Not that the grass grows in the wholes, but it just makes the lawn a little bit rougher. If you’re looking to seed in the spring, the aeration can be a great compliment to that seeding.

Another reason to aerate in the spring is if you have a thatch problem. Thatch can be good and bad. Too much thatch may cause shallow rooting and all kinds of other problems with the lawn. Aeration is a good way to control thatch if it’s not too bad or not too out of hand. If it is, however, you should proceed with dethatching. When you aerate you are punching holes into the thatch layer. This does help to thin it out, as well as, it brings microorganisms up to the surface and those microorganisms will feed on that thatch.

The best time though is autumn. The reason why you should aerate in the autumn is the fact that this is when the lawn is doing most of its root zone growth. In the Spring lawns grow on top but in the autumn they spread their roots in preparation for the winter. So, aerating is going to loosen hard compacted soil and is going to basically allow the soil to relax and the roots to spread and so get more root growth. So, the very best time to aerate a lawn is in the autumn.

What is thatch?

Underneath the grass and above the soil is the thatch layer. Thatch is a buildup of dead grass, leaves, roots and anything organic that lands on the lawn. Some thatch (½ inch or less) is beneficial for your lawn. It acts like mulch and provides insulation from temperature extremes.

It also provides a protective layer of cushioning and helps keep moisture in the soil.

However, when it gets thick enough it blocks the nutrients, water and air from getting down to the roots. So, slowly over time, the lawn can actually suffocate. It can also lead to increased pest and diseases problems. So, while you think you’re doing a good job with that rake, you’re actually not doing as much as you can for the lawn.

How to dethatch a lawn

Now that we’ve covered the aeration process, it is time to give you the details on how to detach your lawn and what to use in the process.

Thatch rake

Manually dethatching causes the least amount of stress to a lawn. Therefore, for small lawns or thatch less than 1 inch thick, consider removing thatch with a rake. The set of blades on the one side of the thatch rake has a little bent on it.

That’s for cultivating the soil and loosening it up. On the other side of the rake, the blades have nice, straight edges. Those are the thatch blades, meant to pull the thatch out of the lawn. Usually, the thatch rake is adjustable. It can be as aggressive as you want it to be. However, it’s best to set it in the middle.

After you’ve adjusted it proceed using it as a regular rake. All you need to do is to use a little more pressure. If done correctly, you should feel the thatch separating from the soil and see it being lifted to the lawn surface.

Power rake

The power rake is also known as a dethatcher or vertical cutter. It is a large, heavy machine, which needs some muscle to manoeuvre. It has vertical blades or rigid wire tines, which slice into the thatch and lift it to the lawn surface. To use the dethatcher, first, start the engine.

After that set the cutting depth. Usually, you don’t want the blades to cut deeper than ½ an inch into the soil. The blades should also be set to a specific spacing according to your grass type. If you’re renting the machine, the rental agency should be able to give you some advice.

Bonus tips:

  • Mark irrigation heads or other hidden objects in the lawn to avoid damaging them.
  • For best results, always dethatch in at least two directions at 90° angles to one another.
  • To prevent future thatch we recommend proper watering, mowing, fertilizing and regular aeration.

When is a good time to dethatch a lawn?

The lawn should be dethatched when it is actively growing and the soil is moderately moist. We recommend dethatching in early spring or late autumn to allow the lawn to recover. Lawns with deep thatch exceeding three-quarters of an inch may be best to dethatch in two treatments.

One in spring and one in autumn to avoid a major shock to the lawn. Before you start dethatching don’t forget to mow your lawn to half its normal length. Also, make sure it’s dry. Wet conditions can cause extensive damage to the grass.

After dethatching the lawn:

Your lawn, naturally, will look ragged. Don’t worry, if you follow these simple steps you’ll have a beautiful, healthy lawn in less than a month.

  1. Use a rake to collect the thatch scattered over the grass. Use it for compost or as mulch. Keep in mind that this should be done only if no products were applied on the lawn at least 4 weeks prior to dethatching.
  2. Reseed if there are bare spots left on your lawn after dethatching.
  3. Fertilize and water well. This will ensure the growth of a healthy grass.

If you follow our tips pretty soon you’ll have the best looking lawn in the neighbourhood. However, you can still meet some difficulties because both, the aerating of the lawn and the dethatching are not easy tasks.

We have a team of experienced professional gardeners who have been trained for these and many other lawn maintenance jobs and are ready to help you. So, if you don’t have the time, the equipment or the nerves to do this yourself, don’t hesitate to give us a call. At your request dethatching the lawn and aerating it can be included in our lawn mowing services in Melbourne.

Need help aerating your lawn? Let’s get in touch and discuss how we can help!

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