57- Does my lawn need aeration?

Fall is a great time to aerate. Aeration, either core aeration or liquid aeration, can be very beneficial to a lawn, breaking up compaction and improving the environment for your grass. If you're on a budget, aeration can give you a lot of benefit for comparatively little money. How do you know if you need to aerate? How can you tell if your soil is compacted? Find out in this episode of Eco Lawn Science.

Liquid aeration has been gaining more and more popularity over the last few years. It really challenges mechanical aeration. Could it be the future? I share my thoughts on liquid aeration after 3 years of testing the products. 


Hey, hey, what is up everyone? I hope you're having a great day. This is Ete here with another episode of Eco Lawn Science. Today I want to talk about aeration and I also want to talk about the most recent version of aeration. So, for those of you who don't know, aeration has been around for quite awhile and it's this process where you run a machine, there's different types of aerating, but the most common one is called core aeration. And you'll see it, you know, as soon as the snow melts in the spring, you'll see it in the fall before the snow comes. People are aerating, aerating. You can rent aerators. You can hire companies to do it.

But what they are is, are these heavy little machines with tines on them, you know, three, four, five inch tines. And you run it over the lawn, and the tine goes into the soil, pulls out a big 4–hopefully–a 4-5 inch core of soil out of the ground, and then leaves it on top. So often when it's done, it looks like, you know dog poop over the entire lawn. It's kind of crazy. And then what happens is they leave those plugs on the soil and they slowly break down, you know, from wind, from water, and they kind of, you get your soil back, it breaks down over a few months, depending on the weather, and settles back into the soil. That's overall what aeration is.

It's usually a low cost–I would say a low cost service–here. So back East, I had a company in Jersey and it was actually an expensive, it was very expensive, to hire a company. Well when we went and did aerations. Here, when I come to Utah it's not even...you don't even make a quarter of the price so it's not, sometimes it's not even worth doing from a financial standpoint in Utah. Cause what happens is you got these boy scout groups or church groups will go out, rent aerators for fundraisers and they'll aerate everyone's lawn for 40 bucks. And I'm looking at that as a business owner going I can't even send my guy, my expensive equipment, et cetera, out there for 40 bucks. So, you know, that's just where it is.

But it's been around for awhile. You know, there's a lot of people swear by it. Some people say it doesn't help. The concept is if over time your lawn gets compact, your soil–you're running on it, you're riding bikes on it, you're having barbecues, your animals are on it–and so just the soil gets compact. And so think about it. If you have a deep root system, it needs to breathe. If the soil up top is so tight and packed, it's not going to be to get the oxygen it needs to help the roots, to get it down to the root zone. And so by poking these holes, you're loosening up the soil, allowing oxygen to penetrate to the roots, and that will benefit the lawn. That will encourage the roots to grow deeper and be more abundant and healthier. So that's the concept.

There's some other benefits. If you have a lot of thatch in your lawn built up, it can help break that up. You know, if you have a...if your water retention is low and appears like it seems like the water's running off your lawn, this could help. So there's a couple, a couple of places where this could help. Core aeration has been the standard of the lawn care industry for, I mean I've been doing it for about 20 years, so probably way before my time, so maybe 40, 50 years. I don't know.

I can tell you some people don't need it. If you go out and your lawn is nice and it's not compact and you do some tests and you, you put a probe in the soil and it drops down and gets you 8-10 inches nice and smooth, you probably don't need this lawn aeration. It's not for everyone.

But again, if you have high traffic and your lawn is just compact, your soil is not as good. Often you're going to want to do it annually. And I think especially in Utah, it's a great bang for the buck for the 50 or 80 bucks. It depends on the size of your lawn obviously. For what you spend, you get a fantastic return because you're putting that money to the root system and that's where I like to see the money go, not just to the top part of the blade.

What I want to talk today about is the newest version, which is this liquid aeration. Now it's been around for about 7-8 years, but it's only been about the last 2 years where it's really started to rise up and become a contender. 

I stumbled upon it about 8 years ago and I was very skeptical. How can a liquid product loosen the soil and replace, you know, the big mechanical machine? How can that be possible? And then secondly, if it is possible, as a company, how is anybody going to believe me? Because they're so used to these big machines. When you're done, you see the cores, you know it was done. With a liquid aeration, it's a liquid. You spray it, it dries up. You don't even know it was done, right. So it just, it just seems something so tangible to change it into a liquid, you know, even if it works, you know, how am I gonna convince people? How am I going to make it better?

So let me tell you about some of the hard things about core aeration. A, the labor is intense from a production standpoint. If I can have a truck go out and fertilize 25 lawns in a day, if I have a truck about the same length of time in a day, they may aerate only 10 lawns, you know, and you're not charging double the price for the aeration. In fact, it's about the same price as a treatment. So financially, aerations are not profitable like lawn treatments.

They're very hard on the body. You have this big machine, you have to drop the tines, raise the tines, work it around. I mean, you get a shoulder workout. They're exhausting. There's a physical labor expense with aerations– and it's not fun to do–that is so high. And then there's so many times when you're limited, you know. If the weather's bad, shut it down. If it's too hot and dry, shut it down. And so you're just really limited.

The thing I love about the liquid aeration, it removes all that. You don't have the heavy machinery,. You don't have the overhead of all that extra labor. Liquid, you can do 25-30 lawns a day with the right equipment as opposed to, you know, 10 or 12 on a core aerator and you're just really beating your body up. The liquid, you can go out and spray 20, 25, 30 lawns in a day. So as far as a production standpoint, I'm loving it so far.

But let's talk about the product. Does it work? Ask 10 people: half of them are going to swear by it and half of them are going to say it's absolute garbage. What do you do? I just test it. I said, all right, well it sounds phenomenal. Like I've already mentioned on the production side, it could save me money. It could benefit my clients. It doesn't leave those cores everywhere. It makes the lawn look nicer. Let's try it out.

So about 3 years ago, I started running it. I tried...there's a few brands. I don't really want them to get into specific names. But anyway, I ended up finding one called Aerify Plus. It's on Amazon and I liked it. I saw great results. Now how did I know it worked? Here's kind of what I'm going by: I tested it on lawns I have been managing for over 7, some of them 8 years. And I tested out on lawns that had...First, I tested on lawns that already had core aeration every year. And so I just replaced it the one year and I applied this product and the next year the lawn looked as good. I didn't no-... It didn't look any worse. The roots were healthy, everything was great. So I found out by just replacing it, we're still in good shape. 

So there was another group of clients that I've had for about 5-6 years and they don't normally get aeration. And so I just mixed it in and applied it just as a test. And then the next year I found out that was the best year that those lawns looked over the last 6 years, was the year I used the product. So I'm pretty convinced and I'm excited about it. And so in 2018 we started switching from core to liquid and lawns look great. And then 2019 we did that and I think we only had about three people out of, you know, a couple of hundred that wanted the core aeration. We're at a point now where that's all we're offering for many reasons.

And one more thing I forgot to mention, it's actually cheaper because it's a lot less expensive for me to apply this product versus have a guy go out with a core aerator, and the labor time, I have decreased the price. So if you were paying 100 bucks for an aeration for a decent-sized lawn. For liquid, you might be at 75, you know, 60 somewhere in there. So you're still getting the benefit, but you're getting a discount. I'm saving money. It's kind of a win win.

The whole point of the aeration again is to loosen the soil, break up the hard spots, to allow oxygen to penetrate. And so now that I've seen it, of course it's going to work, of course a liquid with the right components in it can do that. And I think it actually could do it better because it actually goes in and it just starts dropping deep in. You apply it at a heavy rate onto the soil and as it soaks in, it gets down to that root layer and just starts loosening up, starts opening up the soil so everything could just start breathing better. And so it works fantastically. And they're usually combined with different type of microbes, some humates, and kelp, some organic soil conditioners. So they, it's kind of a really cool product depending on which brand you get.

And just quickly some of the other benefits that some of these companies are claiming. Some of them I have seen. Some of them I don't have enough research to know. It helps the detoxify buffer chemicals and salts that are bound up in the soil. It helps your fertilizers, your compost teas, work better. It improves your fertilizer availability in the root zone. It also can help stimulate root growth. And there's a few other things. So some of those I have seen work and some of those I'm still waiting. I need to have more time with them.

But yeah, I'm sold on liquid aeration. There are some cases where we still do a core aeration. Sometimes we'll do both, especially with a new property that's just the soils in awful shape. I may core aerate it right away and then spray it down with the liquid aeration and then hopefully in the fall, switch it to just liquid and then moving, moving on to the next year we can do it with just the liquid.

I think that's it for me on this one. I'm excited about liquid aeration. As a company, it's a game changer for us. As a homeowner, you're going to be able to save money and still get the great result. You're not going to have those cores on your lawn and there's a lot more flexibility in timing. I think it's a great tool. I'm excited about it and I hope more people give it a try and embrace this product.

So anyway, that's my take on liquid aeration. You go ahead and Google it. Look around yourself. But I'm excited about it. I believe in it and I hope this helps.

Hope you guys have a great day and I'll see you on the next episode.

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