Liquid Aeration vs Core Aeration: Which is Best For The Lawn?

By Brian Mounts | Apr 09, 2021
Core vs Liquid Aeration

Are you curious what the key differences between Liquid aeration vs core aeration are and why homeowners may choose one method over the other? 

A healthy lawn requires aeration from time to time as the grass needs adequate oxygen in order to robustly grow.  Overtime the thatch of the lawn can get thick and through use the soil may get compacted completing a liquid aeration or a core aeration will bring balance back to your lawn and allow it to flourish.

Here is a video I produced not long ago to explain the difference between the two. After watching you can read more supporting info in the article below.

What is Liquid Aeration?

Liquid aeration is a biological approach to aerating a lawn versus core aeration being a physical process.  Liquid aeration involves applying a product to the grass with a hose. Most liquid aeration products are comprised of three main components:

  1. Wetting Agent like Yucca plant or a synthetic soap material which assists in delivering the good stuff deep into the soil
  2. Nutrients for the microbial life generally this will be comprised of humates and higher end products will include kelp which has several fertilizing benefits for a healthy lawn.
  3. Lastly the liquid aeration products will contain enzymes or bacteria that are designed to decompose the dead grass and materials in the thatch and deeper in the soil.

What is Core Aeration?

Core aeration and spike aeration are two physical methods of creating small holes in the grass to open the soil and create channels in the soil for air, water, and nutrients to flow.  Core aeration devices can be manual or machine operated and create small plugs of dirt that are removed from the soil.  Spike aeration provides similar aeration as core aeration but it does not result in the soil cores that core aeration creates.

Benefits of Liquid Aeration

Liquid aeration is an excellent choice for aerating lawns during anytime of year and do not require a special aeration device.  Simply connect the product to your garden hose and apply the required amount of product and water it in.  It does require knowing how much surface area that you will be aerating and apply accordingly in order to not over apply the liquid product.

The results for Liquid Aeration will generally be longer lasting, but may take a little while to see significant impacts.  Liquid aeration is generally best when applied consistently year after year and will have a noticeable cumulative effect when used as part of a regular annual lawn maintenance schedule.

Benefits of Core Aeration

Core aeration accomplishes the job of aerating the soil and exposing deep channels for water, fertilizers, and oxygen to access the root zone immediately.  It is a much faster application than liquid aeration, but the benefits do wane faster and does not have the same cumulative effects of applying a liquid aeration year after year.  Due to removing the physical soil cores core aeration can be used in conjunction with a liquid aeration product to address ground that is severely compacted.

Reasons Liquid Aeration is Best

  • Easily applied with a hose
  • Maximum coverage area versus the limited surface area generated by the plug holes when using core aeration
  • Aeration without messy plugs or holes all over the lawn
  • Can be done in the summer unlike core aeration
  • Includes rich nutrients and minerals including: humates, kelp meal and enzymes and bacteria designed to aid in the decomposition of thatch.
  • Creates pathways in the soil to deliver the essential nutrition that grass, shrubs, and adjacent trees need for their roots to thrive.

Reasons to Use Core Aeration

  • Excellent at providing an immediate effect on improving water retention and reduced runoff.
  • Affordable, machines can be rented and manual versions that will last for many seasons are inexpensive.
  • Simple for do it yourself applications, generally can not do too much contrary to a liquid aeration.
  • A great first step followed up with liquid aeration for resolving heavily compacted soils.

Remember to rake up the core plugs and put them in your compost if you do not want the unsightly cores covering your grass.  They can also become a nuisance with some pets and little children.  If you do nothing the cores will eventually wash away in the rain or break back down into the soil over time.

Why Does a Lawn Need to be Aerated?

There are many reasons that your lawn will need to be aerated.  Aeration is good for your soil and lawn in general so making it part of your annual lawn maintenance schedule is good.  If you are already applying a pre-emergent, overseeding grass when necessary, fertilizing and irrigating the lawn, but still not achieving the perfect lush green lawn that you see your neighbors have, aeration may be the missing key.  An annual core or liquid aeration can significantly help in achieving the lawn you have always wanted.

These are the most common reasons homeowners need to aerate a lawn:

  • Soil compaction caused by heavy lawn traffic from adults, kids, and pets walking on the grass
  • Soil layering from sod installations
  • A new lawn installation on ground that formerly was not grass
  • The buildup of thatch material more than a ¾ of an inch
  • No aeration in past year. A regularly scheduled aeration is one of the secrets of homeowners with perfect luscious green grass every year.

It is generally easy to tell that a lawn needs to be aerated.  Is there a heavy layer of thatch impeding irrigation from reaching the soil or does water pool up on the surface?  The following items are things to keep an eye out for to know when you should aerate your lawn.

Signs Aeration May Help Your Lawn

  • The thatch in your yard has built up and is very thick and tough
  • Water collects and pools on the surface after irrigating or rain
  • The water runs off the lawn and is not getting absorbed into the soil and retained
  • Heavily worn areas are visible in your lawn, soil compacted due to walking so much on a path no grass will grow in the area.

When to Aerate the Lawn

You can aerate your lawn anytime the ground is not frozen with both core aeration and liquid aeration.  It is recommended to not perform an aeration when the weather is going to be extremely hot and so it is best to avoid aerating in the summer.  If you do you need to be conscious of drying out the soil rapidly especially with core aeration or spike aeration.  Most professionals will recommend aerating your lawn during the cooler fall months or early spring for aeration when the ground is reliably moist.

Professional Recommendation: Liquid Aeration Vs. Core Aeration

I always recommend homeowners take the time to incorporate into their annual lawn and garden maintenance schedule an application of a Liquid Aeration product.  While their a slight learning curve in how much to apply to a given area and each product is slightly different so you will need to read the individual instructions on the bottle and follow them to get the desired results overall the results are amazing, the process is not a lot of physical work, and you avoid having lots of little core plugs strewn across the lawn.

This does not mean there isn’t a proper place for core aeration or spike aeration, just if I am going to pick one winner it is liquid aeration.

Whenever working on a lawn that has not been aerated for two or more years, I would recommend deploying both solutions.  Use a core aerating machine to prep the soil and create all the deep core channels followed by a liquid aeration treatment to penetrate and work down deep in the soil and cover the entire yard not just the immediate areas next to each plug core.