Gardening Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day Lawn

Give Your Lawn a Pencil Test

To see if the soil under your lawn needs aeration, try to insert à pencil. Source:, montage:

Question: I’ve been arguing with my lawn treatment company. They insist on aerating my lawn (it’s part of the program they want me to sign up for), but I don’t feel my lawn needs it and don’t want to pay for something I don’t need. I put in a good layer of top soil before I installed the lawn three years ago and I figure it’s still well aerated. What do you think?


Answer: I suspect you’re probably right! It’s usually only clay soils that are really in need of aeration.

However, to be sure whether your lawn needs aeration or not, just do a simple pencil test. Take a plain wooden pencil and try insert it into the lawn. If it slides in easily, the soil under the lawn is certainly well enough aerated that no aeration is necessary. If it’s hard to insert, you should consider an aeration.

Always follow aeration with top dressing so that lighter, well-aerated particles fill in the holes rather than dense, compacted soil. Source:

Note that, to be effective, aeration must always be followed by top dressing with compost or top-quality soil that will work its way back into the soil and help air circulate not just immediately, but for years to come. There is not much gained by aerating, then not top dressing, as the holes cored into the ground by the aerator will simply fill in with the same dense soil that caused the problem.

If your lawn treatment company is trying to force you into a treatment the lawn doesn’t need, or doesn’t offer top dressing when it does aerate, you should look elsewhere for lawn care service.20180512A

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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