Aeration Plugs (Everything You Ever Wanted to Know!)
Aeration plugs! Yes, we’re going to talk about plugs: those strange little cylinders of dirt that are laying on your lawn after it’s been aerated.
Consistently achieving a lush lawn requires more than just watering, proper mowing, or even fertilizing. In Cincinnati especially, where we have compressed, clay soil, there’s a huge need for lawn aeration. So, let’s demystify the importance of aeration in lawn care and, more specifically, the role of these aeration plugs in revitalizing your lawn.
Table of Contents
- Why is Aeration Necessary for Your Lawn?
- Benefits of Lawn Aeration
- Okay, But What are Aeration Plugs?
- Types of Aerators That Produce Plugs
- Proper Techniques for Using an Aerator
- Post-Aeration Care
- Frequently Asked Questions About Aeration Plugs:
- Final Thoughts
- Related Resources
- Need More Help?
Why is Aeration Necessary for Your Lawn?
Soil compaction can be the result of foot traffic, heavy equipment, natural settling, or even just the poor soil texture based on your soil type (especially around new construction). And with all the clay we have in our Cincinnati soil, our yards have more compaction than most.
The denseness (or loss of spaces) within the soil becomes a barrier preventing essential nutrients, water, and air from penetrating to the grass roots. And you can probably guess, a suffocated root system means an unhealthy, patchy lawn.
Other signs of soil compaction are water that ponds (blocks) an area after it rains, thinning of your lawn, and even weeds that thrive more in compacted soils like bindweed, chickweed, and dandelions.
Benefits of Lawn Aeration
Luckily, there are many benefits of aeration that can help reduce these problems and lead to a lusher, healthier lawn.
1. Enhanced Penetration
These plugs ensure that oxygen, water, and nutrients easily seep into the ground, promoting robust root growth. Even a healthy lawn will benefit from aeration. Don’t wait until you notice an issue.
Aerating is the quickest, most effective way to provide a pathway for air, water, and nutrients to reach deeper into the soil.
2. Revitalized Root System
The subsequent holes created from aerating allow roots to breathe, expand, and thrive, helping guarantee a resilient lawn throughout the season and may even decrease the amount of watering required by you.
Turf grass in general does not have a very deep root system especially if your lawn relies too heavily on fertilization. Aeration plugs promote deeper, more robust root growth for your turf grass resulting in a much healthier lawn.
3. Thatch Reduction
A layer of dead grass and roots, known as thatch, builds up naturally over time and can impede growth. Aeration, specifically aeration using plugs, helps decompose this layer, preventing potential lawn diseases and pests.
A thick layer of thatch can hold moisture close to the surface which can cause grass roots to stay shallow. As mentioned above, aeration plugs allow your lawns root system to flourish and grow deeper.
Okay, But What are Aeration Plugs?
Aeration plugs are small, cylinder-shaped sections of soil that have been mechanically removed from your lawn. The hollow tines in a plug aerator penetrate the ground and remove a plug that contains grass, thatch, soil, and roots. It then deposits that plug back onto your lawn. This process not only alleviates soil compaction but also enhances overall lawn health.
While spike aerators punch holes into the ground, plug aerators extract the soil, which proves more effective. Spikes can sometimes exacerbate compaction, while plugs provide space in the soil for expansion and growth. Aerator plugs are typically preferred by lawn professionals and more effective at promoting healthy turf grass.
Types of Aerators That Produce Plugs
These are the two basic types of aerators to consider whether you’re a professional or homeowner handling a DIY project.
Manual Core Aerators
These are handheld devices perfect for smaller yards or specific problem areas. They’re cost-effective but can be labor-intensive. These can be difficult because they use your body weight and may require extensive effort unless you manually aerate right after a rain or on moist soil.
Machine-driven Plug Aerators
Ideal for larger areas, these mechanized tools make the job quicker and more efficient. While more effective, they can be more expensive, whether purchased or rented. These aerators range from those you pull behind your mower, to walk-behinds, to ride-on or stand-on motorized aerators.
For the homeowner, the choice often boils down to lawn size and budget. Machine-driven plug aerators are more costly and used mostly by professionals.
Proper Techniques for Using an Aerator
- Preparation: Start by mowing your lawn slightly shorter than usual. Water your lawn a day before aeration to soften the soil if possible, but avoid making it muddy. Depending on the type of grass(es) in your lawn, the best time of the year may be early fall or mid-spring to early summer. Avoid aerating mid-summer or when unusually hot and dry as it may lead to more stress to your grass and prevent you from getting optimal aeration plugs.
- Pattern: Just like mowing, aerate your lawn in straight lines to ensure even coverage. With a handled walk behind core aerator, it may be hard to turn at the end of the straight lines. If so, you may find it easier to conduct an overlapping oval pattern.
- Double Pass: For severely compacted areas, go over them twice, with the second pass perpendicular to the first. Again, this type of extra-compacted soil occurs frequently in the Cincinnati area.
- Depth: Ideally, aeration plugs should be about 2-4 inches deep and 0.5-0.75 inches in diameter.
- Spacing: Aeration plugs should be about 3-6 inches apart. This ensures effective aeration without excessively damaging the lawn.
- Disposal: Plugs should just be left on the lawn where they’re pulled up and deposited from the aerator.
- Watering: If possible, water your lawn after aeration. This aids in the quick recovery of grass and starts the breakdown of the cores laying on the lawn. If you can time it with a favorable forecast that calls for rain even better.
- Mowing: Give the grass a chance to grow to 3.5 inches or more before mowing again. A good tip is to also make sure the soil cores are dry before mowing or you’ll just end up with a bunch of soil cores stuck to your tires!
- Fertilizing: Post-aeration is an excellent time to fertilize as nutrients can easily penetrate the soil and go deeper into the newly formed cores. Or, this would be the time to apply a top dressing of compost or top soil if the area is small enough in lieu of a synthetic fertilizer.
- Foot Traffic: Stay off your aerated lawn for a few days to a couple weeks to help prevent the compaction you just helped alleviate.
- Herbicides: If you’ve over-seeded your lawn, don’t apply herbicides until after the new grass has been mowed a few times.
Frequently Asked Questions About Aeration Plugs:
Ideally, leave them where they are. They’ll break down in a few weeks, returning vital nutrients to the soil. You can move them around with a rake to try to break them up a bit if you want but the best course, and actually easiest course, is to let them lie where they are and break down naturally.
Depending on weather conditions and the soil type, most plugs break down and integrate with the lawn within 2-4 weeks. This is actually an important part of the process as the nutrients in the aeration plugs slowly are released back into the newly aerated lawn.
No, clay plugs won’t harm your lawn. They’ll crumble and mix with the topsoil, improving its texture over time. In fact, if you see mostly clay plugs then that’s a positive thing because it’s difficult at times to get deep enough cores in heavy clay lawns. Your lawn will thank you for it.
To have a thick and green lawn, especially in places like Cincinnati with hard clay dirt, it’s not just about watering, cutting, and feeding. It’s also about taking advantage of aeration plugs. These tiny dirt tubes let the grass roots get more air, water, and nutrients.
Even if they just seem like small bits of dirt, they’re super helpful for your grass. So, when you see these on your lawn as the result of an aeration program, don’t get rid of them. Follow our recommendations and think of them as the unsung heroes that make your grass grow healthy and beautiful.
- Lawn Aeration page
- How to aerate your lawn for the best results
- The proper way to mow your lawn
- How often should I water my lawn?
- Most common lawn care problems
- Lawn care guide for every season
- What is lawn maintenance
- Common lawn problems
- Get a free estimate
Need More Help?
Need help with your lawn aeration? Just contact American Landscapes here for a free, no-obligation estimate. Or call us at (513) 947-8727.
You can also learn more about our lawn care applications and treatments, landscaping, and outdoor lighting services by reading our blog. In addition to fertilizer and weed control, we provide mosquito control, lawn aeration, lawn seeding, and much more.