The Science of Aerating

The Science of Aerating

What does aerating do? Is it really necessary? How does soil become compacted in the first place? Here’s what you need to know to understand why and when you should aerate your lawn.

Weight and Turf Wear

Whether it’s from foot traffic or vehicles, placing weight on turf has three negative effects:

1. Direct wear on the blades of grass through crushing and bruising

2. Damage to the root system through soil displacement

3. Compaction, which eliminates spaces and air channels in the surface soil

All three types of damage are inter-related. If the ground is compacted, the root system won’t be deep enough to recover from soil displacement. If the root system isn’t in good shape, it can’t support the top half of the plant to repair damage. Damage the blades, and the roots can’t get the fuel they need to grow into the soil.

Why Does Soil Compact?

In nature, soil is aerated by insects, worms and other organisms that burrow through the soil. That’s fine for wilderness areas, but human activity can out-pace this natural soil care.

For residential lawns, heavy foot traffic is a major contributor. Sometimes, it’s just part of having kids play in the yard, while other times it can be avoided by adding a walkway to keep people off of the grass.

Soft cleats do less damage than the metal cleats of the past, but more aggressive designs have led to increased soil displacement and compaction, especially on golf greens. This has lead to a sort of arms race with companies introducing more aggressive designs that improve performance, only to be banned when groundskeepers have to deal with increased lawn damage. Even with this problem, most turf damage on golf courses is caused by carts.

Compacted soil is good if you’re trying to make a sturdy support for footings and foundations, but the soil compactor will need to roll over the lawn to get into the work area. Add in trucks, backhoes and other heavy equipment going to and from the work site, and newly constructed areas can end up with hardpan extending to the surface of the soil. If you’re installing sod around new buildings, it’s imperative that the underlying dirt is aerated so that new roots can penetrate and grow into the soil.

The Effects of Compacted Soil

Compaction causes non-capillary spaces to disappear while capillary spaces increase, changing how water flows through the soil. In the summer, water will drain off quickly, leading to drought injuries. In the winter, the soil will hold water, keeping temperatures lower for longer. This extends dormancy in warm season grasses. Compacted surface soil also causes water to pool instead of flowing into the ground, causing direct damage to plants and promoting mold growth.

Wear tolerance is usually solved by overseeding with a resistant grass variety, but it’s also influenced by compaction. Without a good root system and support for the grass’ crowns or runners, the leaves take longer to recover from damage no matter how hearty the variety is.

Access to oxygen is needed for root growth and to support microorganisms that digest thatch and break down materials into plant-usable nutrients. When spaces inside the soil are removed, this oxygen diffusion decreases.

Some weeds thrive in compacted soil, including dandelions and nettles, pushing out turf grass. Aerating reduces the need for herbicides.

Core vs Liquid Aeration

A core or spike aerator only penetrates the first few inches of soil. This is where most compaction happens, and it’s the layer of soil that has the greatest effect on the health of grass root systems.

Liquid aeration uses chemicals to soak into the soil and break it up. This treatment can reach deeper than core aeration, but it’s not effective for surface compaction and can take several applications to be effective. Even if liquid aeration is needed, the lawn will usually need to be core aerated first to get the chemicals to penetrate the soil.

Keep Your Billy Goat Aerator In Action

These problems can be solved with a couple passes by your Billy Goat aerator, and with help from, you can be sure your equipment is ready to work. We’re a certified dealer for Billy Goat and their manufacturing partners. That means you can get parts for your aerator and its engine shipped to your door from one source no matter where you are in the U.S. or Canada.

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