How to Aerate a Lawn by Hand And What Tools To Use

Lawn aerating shoes

The Basics of Lawn Aeration

Growing and maintaining a healthy vibrant lawn requires hard work and maintenance. Common maintenance tasks include watering, fertilizing and mowing. 

There is another task that you don’t often here homeowners discuss and that is aeration. Aeration is very important as the grass and root system needs a steady supply of oxygen, water, and nutrients to thrive.

What do people mean when they talk about aerating a lawn?

Lawn aeration is the process of making small holes in your lawn which allow water, oxygen and vital nutrients to penetrate into the roots of the grass. When done correctly the grass roots grow stronger and penetrate deeper down into the soil.

When is the best time of year to aerate your lawn?

This depends on the grass type that you have. Different types of grass are ideally aerated at different times of the year. 

If your lawn is sown with a warm season grass seed variety like Bermuda grass, then aeration in spring is recommended.  

If your lawn is sown with a cool-season grass variety like Kentucky Bluegrass, then aeration during the fall is recommended. 

The reasons for these above time frames are fairly common sense. During winter the ground is often frozen in many areas and in Summer the ground may be baked hard by the sun also making it a difficult task.

How often should you aerate your lawn?

lawns that have sandy or loamy soil  should ideally be aerated every 2 to 3 years. Lawns that have a high clay composition or which are heavily compacted by foot traffic or other factors may require aeration on a yearly basis. 

Tools for aerating your lawn by hand

Manual methods have both pros and cons. The primary benefit is cost, the tools needed are affordable and many lawns are small enough that you can’t really justify using a machine.

The major disadvantage is that manual aeration by hand can be time consuming and labor intensive. Although below we explore methods that can reduce the effort required. 

Using a manual Core Aerator

Straight forward and easy to use, this tool is designed with a handle and a foot bar. To use you hold with both hands and drive it into the soil and use the foot bar if needed. The foot bar is useful for areas that are compacted and difficult to penetrate.

The manual aerator is designed to be used on moist soil and works by penetrating the soil and upper level of lawn with sharp cylinders which make holes/perforations into the turf and remove small plugs of soil when extracted. 

Using a manual spike aerator

This method is similar to the manual core aerator, but instead of using cylinders which when extracted removes plug of soil it has spikes. The spikes drive small holes into the lawn to loosen the soil. The holes produced by these spikes allow for better penetration and distribution of oxygen, water, and nutrients.


A very basic and time consuming method that nevertheless still works. The method is basically like spike aeration. The major plus is that all it requires is a pitch fork or similar tool, the thinner the tips are the better as you don’t want to leave large divots in the turf.

The major downside to this method is how time consuming it is, especially if a large lawn area is involved. 

How to aerate your lawn by hand – a step by step guide

We’ve covered off the tools, now it’s time for the actual process of aerating the lawn. Below we break it down into a nice and simple step by step guide. 

Determine the type of grass

Find out the type or variety of grass that you’re working with. The variety determines the best time for you to aerate. A quick recap in case you missed it earlier is warm season grass is best aerated in Spring and cool season grass in the Fall. 

Check the soil type

Soil type will determine how often you show aerate your lawn. Soils with a higher clay content will need aerating more frequently than those soils with a sandier composition. A general guideline is clay soil every season and other soil types every two to three years.

Decide which manual aerator you’ll use

This is a personal choice and will be decided by a number of variables like budget and time. The three main options are a core aerator, a spike operator and a fork. There is a fourth option that we don’t recommend but which you may see promoted on other websites and that is spiked shoes. 

Preparing your lawn 

Make the job easier and prepare your lawn before aerating. Make sure the area is clear of debris and leaves. We recommend mowing the lawn prior to beginning. Also consider leaving a sprinkler on over night to make the soil moist and easier to penetrate but not to the point of water pooling on the surface. 

Focus on the compact areas

While aerating you’ll notice some areas of the lawn are more compact than others. It’s a good idea to focus more on these area and potentially even go over them twice. 

Written by Jenny Harland

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