Lawn Care Madison WI

Aerating & Dethatching Your Lawn In Wisconsin

Aerating & Dethatching Your Lawn

Aerating your lawn often goes hand in hand with dethatching it, but you may need to aerate even if thatch buildup is not a problem. Aeration is the process of breaking up compacted or poorly draining soil to increase the amount of air-and most important, oxygen-that reaches the roots of the turfgrass. Roots need oxygen to thrive, and the microbial life and earthworms so necessary to maintaining a healthy lawn also need air to survive. When soil becomes compacted, either from foot traffic or heavy rains, the soil particles are squeezed together and the air is pushed out. Water fails to penetrate, drainage is slowed, and fertilizers merely wash off. The lawn’s roots grow shallower and shallower, and the lawn weakens and ultimately dies.

Fortunately, diagnosing a compaction problem is as easy as diagnosing thatch. Become suspicious if water stands in pools. Grab a screwdriver and take a walk around your lawn. Starting with areas that are trafficked highly or are spindly and sparse, push the screwdriver into the ground. Does it penetrate fairly easily up to the handle? If you feel the need to run for the hammer to pound it into the ground, don’t bother. You’ve got a compaction problem, and you need to aerate your soil. Some gardeners aerate their lawns once a year, and that’s not a bad idea.

Autumn is preferable, but spring is a good second choice. As with dethatching, proper aeration requires renting a special machine. If you have a small lawn, an alternative is to buy a hand core aerator, which looks like a gnarled garden fork. You press it down into the ground with your foot,extract it, and tap out the plugs. It takes more time and energy, but it’s essential for areas where a power aerator won’t fit. Core aerating is the most intensive way of breaking up your lawn bed, and it should be an annual or biennial event. On a more regular basis, you can fight compaction by spiking your lawn. Many people wear golf shoes every time they walk out on their lawn, but this practice sounds better than it actually is. True spiking takes a tool that punctures thin, long holes into the ground allowing for better drainage and increased oxygenation. Spiking tools are readily available at most home-improvement centers and are worth the investment. Regular spiking is a good short-term method for improving your soil’s condition.

How To Aerate

Aeration is best performed with a specialized machine called a core aerator, available at most rental yards. The process itself takes only an hour or so for most lawns and requires little in the way of physical strength. Core aerators drive hollow metal tubes into the turf and soil, then extract plugs and deposit them on the lawn surface, where they can be reabsorbed or removed. Follow these simple steps to aerate your lawn to reduce soil compaction and improve the flow of air and nutrients to the turf. Doing these steps can lead to problems, hire a professional landscaping company such as Landscaping Madison WI.

  • Using a core aerator, make a single series of passes across every area of the turf, allowing the machine to set the pace.
  • Extracted plugs are unsightly but quickly dissolve when the lawn is watered. If you prefer, rake and remove them before applying a layer of organic mulch 1/2 in. (12mm) thick.
  • Always water your lawn after aerating it. The water will penetrate deeply into the core holes, and wash the organic mulch deep into the soil.


OIder lawns, particularly if over the years they received quick-greening fertilizers (which tend to spur top growth without providing much root support), are likely to have developed thatch. Thatch is the dead and dry remains of turfgrass roots, stolons, and rhizomes that don’t decompose as quickly or easily as they should. Spotting thatch is easy. Take a walk across your lawn. Does it feel springy? If so, you have some thatch. Does it feel very springy, and do your feet sink deeply into the lawn? If this is the case, you’ve got a lot of thatch, and its time for professional lawn care. Now get down on your hands and knees and inspect the lawn closely. You should be able to see soil between the blades. If you don’t see soil, but you see instead yellow straw like material, you have thatch. Some thatch is normal, too much is not desirable. Insert a metal ruler or tape measure into the turf until it hits soil and note the depth of the thatch only.

Some measure of thatch helps a lawn retain moisture and can block pests from attacking grass roots. A lot of it is an indicator of a general breakdown in the decomposition process that is essential for healthy turfgrass growth. In rich, healthy soil, thatch is broken down fairly quickly by microorganisms and, most important, earthworms, who munch it up and reduce it to precious humus. Ironically, many of the commercial fertilizers, fungicides, and pesticides that get added to our lawns drive up the acidity of the soil and send earthworms and other microbes packing.

Without them, thatch does not break down, pure and simple. This dynamic can be reversed by aerating and “sweetening” the soil to a 6.5-7.0 pH range and by topcoating with rich organic matter such as peat moss. This remedy, however, can be made only after you have dethatched your lawn.

How To Dethatch Your Lawn In Madison

  • With the dethatching machine running, make a single set of passes across the lawn, allowing the machine to set the pace with its drive wheels.
  • After the machine has completed its work, rake the thatch into a pile and remove it. Thatch generally does not make good compost.
  • A second raking at a right angle to the first will remove the last of the thatch from the lawn. Remove and dispose of it.
  • Complete the process by watering the lawn thoroughly. It quickly will fill in the bare spots created by the dethatching.
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