All About Aeration

This week's tip sheet is all about aeration of our turfgrass. And in doing a bit more research on this subject, I looked back at a few things I have written over the years, and was interested in just how much really has changed when talking about the importance of core aeration on Houston-area turfgrass. But the simple statement is this: If you want healthy grass in the Houston area, because of the predominance of clay soils, aeration is so important.

What I have determined is that: 1. All Aeration Is Good. 2. Some are Ultimately Better Than Others. 3. There Are Different Levels of Financial Commitment.

So, let me break it down for you into three distinct categories.

1. Liquid Aeration
2. Spike Aeration/Manual
2. Core Aeration/Machine

A Liquid Aeration is the use of a liquid organic and in some cases liquid chemicals to loosen the hardpan soil. Thus, the water and nutrients will percolate further into the soil. Medina Soil Activator, Molasses, Water-In, Liquid Aerify and other liquid applications apply to this category. Be careful though, because there are many on-line versions of liquid aeration that are not very cost effective. If you have to spend $75 in product to treat 1500 square feet, I think you can see the problem.

Spike Aeration/Manual is the method by which people poke holes in the ground all by themselves. People can do this with a Tree Root Feeder, a piece of steel rebar or even those funky shoes with spikes on the bottom. All of these methods are better suited for people with very small yards, and obviously more cost effective for those postage stamp sized lawns that may have trouble getting a core aeration machine into the area. Be forewarned here as well, because the shoes with spikes don't really help St. Augustine yards, mainly because it's pert near impossible to walk across a thick stand of St. Augustine in such shoes - unless you want to look like a total doofus tripping every other step. If you had a Zoysia or Bermuda type grass, you could use such shoe-like device, because turf profiles such as these are much shorter.

The best method for aeration, by far, is a Core Aeration. And in today's technologically-advanced world machine aerators are becoming even more advanced. Still, nothing can beat the standard CORE AERATION machine that lawn services use and that you can rent from home improvement stores. And there are core aerators that you can buy to hook on the back of tractors and riding lawn mowers.

And more to the future, I am blown away by the new advancement called Dry Ject. This is a method that uses air pressure to create the hole for aeration, but it does two things very differently than any core aeration machine. 1. It creates a "Fractured" hole that goes deeper and in different directions. 2. They can inject, because of the air pressure, whatever type of supplement or permanent soil amendment right behind the fracture of the hole. It's an amazing system that you have to see to believe. The only problem is, there is only one company in the Houston that does such work - Southwest Fertilizer. On the surface it's definitely more expensive than anything else mentioned to this point. Actually the cost is somewhat relative if you really put the pencil to paper. That's because you may not have to do a Dry Ject system as often. You're often getting somewhat expensive permanent soil amendments put down behind the hole fracturing, and it's being injected into those fractured holes in a way you and I could never do by hand. So, while it may cost $300-450 to do a Dry Ject on the average lawn, compared to $175 for a lawn service to do a core aeration, it could be similar in cost if you realize the core aeration should be done twice in a year while the Dry Ject only once. It's obviously more cost effective to rent a core aerator for $75 for a day, split the cost with a couple of neighbors and knock everyone's house out on the same day. The problem is you have to have the kind of truck that can transport the core aerator and YOU have to do the work, and I promise you the workout is like no other, manipulating these unwieldy core aerators over your lawn.

So, in my opinion, there is still only one thing better than core aeration, but it can be cost prohibitive - that being the Dry Ject from Southwest Fertilizer.

I should take this time to note that on Sat., Feb. 24, Southwest Fertilizer is giving away a free Dry Ject service to a lucky GardenLine listener. You will have to register at Southwest Fertilizer any time between now and Sat., Feb. 24 at 1 p.m.

You do not need to be present to win, but you do need to register at Southwest Fertilizer.

Here's the breakdown of Aeration and some methods I am aware of and that are available to you:


  • Medina Soil Activator
  • Medina Plus
  • Water In
  • Aerify

  • Ross Root Feeder
  • Steel Rebar
         (Any Garden Tool - that can poke holes)

  • Rent a Core Aerator
  • Hire a Lawn Service to do Core Aeration
  • Hire Southwest Fertilizer to do Dry Ject

    There are lots of questions about Aeration I will try to answer in a rapid fire succession. If your question has not been answered, please feel free to call the program or send me and email for follow-up purposes.

    How often do I aerate?
    That depends on how bad of shape the soil is in. Once a year is a good starting point. Really unhealthy soil could use it twice a year until things get better. Really healthy soil can wait on an every other year basis.

    When's the best time to aerate?
    Any time! There are better times than others, but just do it whenever you get the chance. The best times, are right before the spring fertilization, and right before the winterizing treatment. In theory, it's always best to do it right before you want to make any of the applications per the fertilization schedule.

    Which method do you prefer?
    I have always been partial to core aeration, because I've seen the results. The liquid ones just don't get as far into our clay soils as advertising would have you believe. But I'm also jazzed about the possibilities of the new Dry Ject system from Southwest Fertilizer.

    Do you have a preference of amendment/soil amendment that goes down after the aeration?
    I do not. They are all good, so it just doesn't matter, as long as you do it.

    What's the most cost effective way?
    Rent one from a home improvement store and split the costs with neighbors. That is, unless you have a very small yard, such as a courtyard with grass where it might be impossible to get a machine in there. Thus, the liquid or manual aerations would be more cost-effective and just down right logical.

    Finally, the word is AERATION (Air-A-Shun)… It is not Airyation nor is there a word in the English language known as Aeriation (Air-E-A-Shun). Yes, this is a pet peeve of mine, but now you know.

    Until next issue, here's to Great Gardening from the GardenLine, heard exclusively, 6-10 a.m. Saturdays and 7-10 a.m. Sundays, only on NewsRadio 740 KTRH.

Randy Lemmon is the host of the GardenLine radio program on Newsradio 740 KTRH. Randy has been doing GardenLine in one capacity or another since December of 1995, for all three of the now Clear Channel AM stations - KTRH, KPRC & KBME. When Randy took over GardenLine, he replaced long-time Houston radio veteran and GardenLine originator, Bill Zak. For those who remember that far back, GardenLine was a weekly radio staple on KTRH from 10 a.m. to Noon Mondays through Fridays - along with a Saturday show as well. Now GardenLine is heard exclusively on Newsradio 740 KTRH on weekend mornings.