With the hot months of summer behind us, it’s time for homeowners to turn their attention to what’s shaping up to be a very wet autumn. Yards with underlying soil compaction issues, impenetrable grass or serious thatch accumulation can see poor drainage and sickly grass. Fortunately, core aeration can solve these lurking problems before they flare up into far-reaching headaches.
Why core aeration?
Core aeration can help homeowners fix a number of critical issues.
The first is soil compaction. Lawns that see a lot of traffic can run the risk of soil compaction. This can be from neighborhood children cutting through, animals patrolling their territory or people driving heavy equipment over the lawn. If you have any of these events occurring regularly on your lawn, you may be at risk for compaction.
Compaction reduces the amount of space in between soil particles. That space is called pores, and they allow water, air and vital nutrients to penetrate the soil and feed your grass and plants. To make things worse, roots must work even harder to implant themselves in compacted soil. Since water can’t move as freely through the soil, it drains more slowly, leading to puddling and pooling.
Impenetrable grass poses another problem for some homeowners. When lawns grow too much or contain a prolific weed, the plants can grow too close together. Their root systems compete, and the abundance of plant matter on the surface causes similar problems to soil compaction: gasses, water and nutrients can’t reach as far down as they need to. Ironically, if the lawn is too successful, it can strangle itself, and you’ll end up with yellowing mess where you once had a verdant plot.
Thatch can be another thorn in homeowners’ sides. Thatch is the decaying remains of a lawn — the stems, roots and shoots that have died off — as well as living material that blends with it. A certain level of thatch can be healthy for a lawn, as it helps retain water during dry times and heat during cold times. Experts recommend between half and three-fourths of an inch of thatch.
An overabundance of thatch hinders the whole system by blocking sunlight and keeping water and needed nutrients out of the soil. If your thatch is more than three-fourths of an inch, your lawn may not get the resources it needs. Measure your lawn thatch once or twice a year, and if you find a thatch issue, contact lawn renovation specialists who can help. If you have a variety of grass that produces more thatch, like Kentucky bluegrass, you should keep a close eye on your lawn’s thatch.
Dangers of poor drainage
As you can see, most of the dangers discussed involve impediments to water flow. Lawns with poor soil permeability flood at higher levels than lawns that have had regular core aeration treatments, leaving owners with costly solutions, potential home damage, possible plant and insect infestations, and lawn damage.
Costly drainage solutions
If your lawn floods, the solutions could prove extremely costly.
A sump pump, which pulls water from a lawn and moves it to a specially designed basin can run on average $1,132, according to Home Advisor.
French drains can also protect you from water buildup. A trench directs storm water to a trench above permeable pipes, which also soak up groundwater, and those pipes run away from a flood-prone area. French drains cost between $1,000-$1,500, according to Fixr.
Dry wells will also give relief from pooling water. They are essentially holes in the ground that allow groundwater to soak through, relieving other areas of the burden. The average cost of a drywell is $3,632, according to improvenet.com.
So the tabs for a potential solution to a flooding lawn can run into the thousands and involve a lot of hassle dealing with installation. Some even mean permanent changes to the structure of your lawn. But the problem may just be a lawn that needs a core aeration treatment, which can be done quickly by well-trained professionals.
The phrase “foundation damage” strikes fear in the hearts of most homeowners. Foundation repairs can quickly run into the thousands, and replacing an entire foundation could cost as much as $40,000.
Water is the root cause of most foundation damage. Soaked soil, especially after a dry spell, expands, pushing unequally against the home’s foundation and leading to cracks, crumbling and sometimes outright foundation failure. Excessive water from poor or uneven drainage can also erode the soil beneath a home. And hydrostatic pressure from damp soil puts pressure on basements, bowing walls and causing leaks in even the smallest cracks.
Even if poorly drained soil doesn’t damage a foundation, it can still cause unsightly discoloration on exterior bricks or paneling.
Mosquitoes thrive in standing water. They lay their eggs in it, and the hatchlings spend their first 10 days of life feeding on organic matter in the standing water. Mosquitoes breed prolifically; the females lay up to 200 eggs, and experts at the University of Florida say they can lay between 0.7 million and 1.3 million eggs on an acre of floodwater. Obviously the most effective control method is prevention by eliminating standing water on your property.
In recent years, the U.S. has seen a growth in mosquito-borne diseases. About 600 cases of the Zika virus, which can cause encephalitis in fetuses, have been reported in U.S. territories, and experts expect to start seeing cases in the continental U.S. soon. Forty-seven states have had cases of the West Nile virus, another disease transmitted by mosquito bites that can cause flu-like symptoms that last up to 60 days. The dangers even extend to household pets, as dogs can get heartworms from bites by mosquitoes carrying the worms.
Additionally, a poorly drained lawn can foster unwanted growths. Algae-like patches can sprout up that block the sun from reaching your lawn, on top of looking unsightly and giving the lawn slippery patches. Lichens, liverworts and slime mounds can also form.
The most obvious effect of a poorly draining lawn is damage to the grass. As we know, pores are critical to a lawn’s survival. If the lawn is inundated with water, those pores fill with water instead of the gasses the grass needs. Deprived of those nutrients in the root system, lawns can drown. Once the water finally does recede, affected patches may not recover without interventions like replanting.
How does core aeration work?
Lawn aeration can be performed by several types of equipment, even something as simple as a pitchfork. However, tools that simply drive spikes into the ground only push soil aside, leaving the opportunity for it to expand back into the same spaces once it gets wet. To get it done properly, you want to hire trained professionals using specialized equipment who will do a thorough job of an actual core aeration. The pros will have access to machines that resemble either riding or push lawn mowers.
Core aeration removes impediments to water flow, nutrient distribution and root growth by pulling “cores” out of the soil. The cores are about half-inch chunks of soil or thatch. The cores stay on the top of the lawn, and they break down in about a week.
Core aeration doesn’t just remove soil though, it also pulls up thick thatch, mitigating its stranglehold on your lawn. Without crowded thatch, your lawn will receive more sunlight and more water, fostering better growth. Similarly, it can mitigate the effects of overgrown lawns, thinning out the overabundant grass and weeds and allowing the remaining plants to thrive without all that competition.
Once the cores are removed, the lawn gains new channels through the soil. The new channels reduce compaction by giving the lawn more space to breathe, literally. With the new channels, the lawn will better accept water, fertilizer and critical gasses from the atmosphere.
Core aeration also gives the root systems room to grow into, allowing them to grow deeper and more robust than ever before. After the core aeration, fertilize and water the lawn thoroughly. You should see the roots growing into the core holes within about a week and a half.
After a core aeration, you should also see an immediate improvement in your lawn’s drainage as water flows more easily and more deeply throughout the soil system. It should be a welcome relief to any homeowner who feared foundation damage, bacteria growth or a drowned lawn.
When is the best time for a core aeration? Right now. Early fall is an ideal time, since it’s right when you should be thinking about fertilizing your lawn. Particularly if you experienced an especially dry summer that likely led to soil compaction in your lawn. An early fall core aeration sets your lawn up for success going into a growing season. Spring is also a great time for an aeration, and if you live in an environment prone to compaction and flooding or your lawn is a turfgrass that produces heavy thatch, two core aerations a year may be appropriate.