Does Liquid Lawn Aeration Work – Liquid Soil Conditioners?

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Robert Pavlis

Liquid lawn aeration is starting to be promoted more both by manufacturers of liquid aeration products and some lawn maintenance companies, but does it work? How does liquid lawn aeration compare to traditional core aeration?

I am also starting to see more DIY liquid aeration mixtures being promoted on the internet. How do these compare to commercial products?

Does Liquid Lawn Aeration Work - Liquid Soil Conditioners?
Does Liquid Lawn Aeration Work – Liquid Soil Conditioners?, source: CNR Lawn Care

What is Lawn Aeration?

It sounds as if it is a way of getting air into your lawn and indirectly that is correct. Lawns are popular because they make a great walking surface. The problem is that this foot traffic compacts the soil under the lawn. Compaction squeezes the soil particles closer together, forcing air out of the soil. This air is critical for all plants including grass.

Foot traffic causes compaction, which causes grass to grow poorly. The solution is to aerate the soil. This reduces compaction, allows more air to enter the soil and grass grows better. This is traditionally done with a mechanical device called a core aerator. Now companies are promoting liquid core aeration products to do the same thing.

Growing Great Tomaotes, by Robert Pavlis

What is Core Aeration?

A machine called a core aerator is run over the lawn as it pulls out short plugs of soil. It actually digs holes in the lawn and drops these cores on top of the lawn. Over the next week the cores slowly break apart and fill in the holes. The holes also allow the soil to expand sideways to fill the holes.

Core aeration is recommended by almost all government organizations, like the US extension offices and lawn research facilities, as the best way to reduce lawn compaction. However, the science does not support the use of core aeration. In most cases it either does not reduce compaction, or the loser soil returns to its former state after a couple of weeks.

Why Do We Need Liquid Lawn Aeration?

A lawn care professional told me that people don’t want it done because of the mess it leaves. Customers think the remaining plugs are ugly. That is kind of silly because the cores disappear in a few days, but some people are very fussy about their lawn.

To do core aeration you have to either hire someone or rent a machine and do it yourself, both are costly and inconvenient. Enter DIY liquid aeration products. Just buy them and spray them on your lawn – job done.

The attraction to liquid aeration products is the convenience factor and the fact that you can do it yourself.

What Are The Ingredients?

That is a good question that is not easy to answer. The content of these products is not usually made public but the main ingredients can be a combination of a surfactant, humic acid and seaweed extract.

Surfactants are a type of soap. Lots of garden DIY mixtures include dish soap to help the liquids stick to plants and soil, and the surfactant in these products would do the same thing, making it easier for the product to soak into the soil.

Microbe Science for Gardeners Book, by Robert Pavlis

The other products are food for soil microbes.

Liquid Core Aeration vs Liquid Soil Conditioners

There is another similar group of products called liquid soil conditioners. Based on ingredients, these products are the same as liquid core aerator products except they contain things like fertilizer, vitamins, plant growth hormones, and bio-stimulants. The claimed benefits of both products are very similar.

Benefits of Liquid Core Aeration Products

Almost all of the claims for these products center around the fact that they reduce compaction. Reduced compaction will do the following.

  • Break up clay deeply
  • Improve soil structure
  • Bioactivate soil
  • Increase water infiltration
  • Increase air penetration
  • Allow roots to grow deeper

There is no doubt that these are benefits of reduced compaction. But …. do these products really reduce compaction?

Some of these products also claim to reduce thatch. That is not surprising since the ingredients are similar to liquid thatch reducers, which I have discussed previously.

Do Liquid Aeration Products Reduce Compaction?

The claim is that by stimulating microbes, they will in turn reduce compaction. This will happen, but this process is a very slow process, taking many years, not weeks, as claimed for these products.

One popular product recommends applying “2 oz per 1,000 square feet”. Keep in mind that the 2 oz portion is 95% water, so you are spreading a pinch of organic matter over a very large area of soil. That will do nothing to stimulate microbial growth and it certainly won’t decrease compaction.

The Colorado Extension office says, “It is simply wishful thinking to believe that a highly diluted solution of either of these (surfactant or humic acid) applied to a compacted soil will in any way affect soil bulk density (i.e. compaction). There is no indication that ANY of these products has ever been scientifically evaluated for effectiveness.”

Nebraska extension says, “There is no evidence any of these products have been scientifically evaluated for effectiveness. Bottom line – its wishful thinking to believe such a solution will have any effect on compacted soil.”

A lab experiment using a commercial liquid organic polymer solution (a product similar to the ones being discussed here) found no effect on soil aggregation. This reference was used by a company promoting a liquid aeration product as evidence that their product worked.

Why would a company reference a negative study? Because most people won’t read the study!

When humic acid was added to putting greens they resulted in lower moisture levels suggesting the claims for better water infiltration are false.

Liquid Aeration products will have almost no effect on compaction, and therefore the benefits listed above are all false claims.

None of the products I looked at had scientific references showing that their products worked.

The theory is sound. Add organic matter to your lawn and it will stimulate microbes which in turn reduce compaction. But you have to add a lot of organic matter and the process is very slow.

If you really want to try and aerate your lawn this way, spread 1/4″ (0.6 cm) of compost over the whole lawn, each spring.

DIY Liquid Aeration Products

If there is a commercial product for it, people will develop homemade replacements. There are a number of homemade liquid aeration solutions being promoted. Some use diluted baby shampoo – that adds the soap part. Hydrogen peroxide is also used, but how can diluted 3% peroxide spread over a large area do anything? Some suggest just spreading dry humic acid which probably works as poorly as the liquids, unless you use a lot.

Lots of homemade lawn tonics contain all kinds of stuff from the kitchen. None of these are going to significantly reduce compaction.

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Robert Pavlis

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

21 thoughts on “Does Liquid Lawn Aeration Work – Liquid Soil Conditioners?”

  1. My lawn definitely has compacted soil without a any experience began researching mechanical and liquid aeration.
    Read several articles about plugging which sounded expensive and in the process came across articles regarding liquid. The attention magnet easy and cheap. I did an Amazon search and as usual came across a multitude of providers.
    Each product had the same claims and 4.0 + ratings from over a thousand reviews.
    Been burnt before by Amazon and now skeptical of any product. Especially reviews.
    Did my RESEARCH of .gov and University studies then read your article.
    Confirmed if it sounds to good to be true you
    WILL GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.
    I’m going the core aerator route.
    Thanks for the information.
    Would liquid aerator be beneficial while tilling a vegetable garden?

    Reply
    • Red thread typically forms when there is a lack of readily available nitrogen. Applying a fungicide will deplete ALL beneficial fungi and bacterial that is responsible for converting applied nitrogen into usage plant form… Simply stated, applying a fungicide will make your problem worse as you have indicated.

      Simply make a light application of a good quality balanced fertilizer and feed the microbes that are there with an organic source of fertilizer and coax them back to health.

      Sometimes the best fix is the easiest.

      Reply
  2. Clearex Nutrient salt build up clearing solution–does this work? What are the active ingredients and how are those supposed to work?

    Reply
  3. do you have a debunking article over gypsum and in general Ca there are claims that ssays that Soil health is just related to the Ca quantity cotained.

    i would also ask you about sap test if you had already an article

    Reply
    • Nothing on either topic. I don’t know much about sap testing.

      Several myths about gypsum. It does not break up clay unless soil is sodic. Calcium levels are not a critical factor for soil health. Many soils in North america have lots of calcium. There are some theories around about keeping Ca and Mg ratios in appropriate levels to one another, but I don’t think this is widely accepted.

      Reply
  4. Somewhere I read that a way to do core aeration for a small lawn is to use a garden fork and go over the lawn, pushing the fork into the ground . Pushing it in with your foot and wiggling the fork to lift it up losens the soil andmakes a hole. It’s tedious but for a small patch of lawn it is doable. I have done this each spring, and have seen neighbours doing it. What do you think?

    Reply
  5. I have mudbugs (crayfish) and earthworms in my yard. It seems like they could help with compaction if there was enough of them. 🙂

    Why don’t these companies get in trouble for fase claims – lies?

    Reply
    • Earthworms aren’t so great for native plants according to one bit of research I happened across. I don’t have it saved to cite it, sorry. The point was that they cause the soil to dry out more rapidly than it normally would, which favors some of the invasive non-native plants more than the native ones.

      Reply

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