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Over the Garden Fence

Lawn Core Aeration and More

Late summer and early fall are great times to work on the lawn. One of the best practices that will benefit the lawn long term is core aeration. Homeowners can rent the coring machine or have a lawn service provide the service for your yard. A coring machine will remove a plug (core) containing a bit of grass, thatch and soil about 3 or so inches deep and leave that core on the surface of the lawn. The machine will work much better and be easier on the user if the soil is already moist.

Most know that core aeration will relieve soil compaction. There are two additional benefits that come along. By coring the lawn, there is a dramatic increase in total soil surface area. These cores then allow additional air and water into the soil profile. The more air and water is available, the better the grass root growth. Better root systems then do a better job of feeding the above ground parts and are more drought resistant. After the coring is done, just leave the plugs on the lawn to dry a couple of days and mow normally. The plugs will be broken up and act as a mini topdressing. This will aid in thatch management. As weeks pass, you can see that grass roots have filled in the cores as there is ample air and water available.

There are other management practices that complement the core aeration and benefit the health and look of the lawn. Topdressing with a quality black dirt, composts or compost blends will provide additional benefits. Organic matter will conserve and hold moisture, feed the microbial life that in turn will work with the grass plants roots to provide needed nutrients over long periods of time. Another easy way to improve the look and health of the lawn is check out the lawnmower. Consider raising the mowing height even just one notch. Research shows that a taller grass blade promotes deeper growing roots. Another benefit to the lawn will be the appearance of the lawn if the mower blade is sharp. Consider that a sharp blade means the mower engine has to work less, creating less air pollution too.

As the leaves begin to fall and accumulate on the lawn, frequent mowing will allow the mower to handle the leaves and cut them up fine enough to left on the lawn. There will be those times when leaves will build up and removal is needed. Rather than mow and bag them for city pickup, consider the benefit of a compost pile or use the leaf and grass mixture as a mulch in perennial beds or turn them under in the vegetable garden. This mixture of leaves and grass make a great addition to the compost pile with the greens supplying the nitrogen and water and the browns the carbon.

A fall weed control practice could also be done. Weed seeds have likely germinated and plants are present right now. Controlling them now means you should not be seeing those bright yellow flowers in the dark green lawn next spring.

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.