Aerating A Lawn With A Sprinkler System [Avoid Damage]

aerate lawn sprinkler system

Compacted soil cannot absorb moisture efficiently enough. For this reason, aeration is one of the vital aspects of lawn care.

Mowing, playing, and walking will eventually lead to packing down the soil and may prevent your grass from growing healthy, strong roots which means you will have to aerate your lawn even if you have a sprinkler system buried beneath the surface.

Moreover, a thick layer of thatch (for example, grass clippings) that builds up on top of your lawn can also keep water from reaching the soil and prevent the grass from spreading effectively. You need to aerate your lawn every year to let the soil breathe and the excess water to flow out.

But what about aerating a lawn with a sprinkler system?

Every lawn needs regular aeration, including those with a sprinkler system. There are steps you can take to avoid costly damage to sprinklers, pipes, and the lawn aerator. Map out where the water lines run, learn how deep they are, and mark the sprinkler heads with flags these steps will help you avoid causing damage.

aerate grass with a sprinkler system

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Can You Aerate A Lawn With A Sprinkler System?

This is a good question, and the answer is yes. Moreover, you have to do it, as it is the only way to let air and water will reach down into the soil to the roots of your grass. Nevertheless, you should do it in a way that will not cause damage to your in-ground sprinkler system.

You need to ensure your irrigation system is protected during the entire aeration process.

Make sure you know where the water lines are installed and at what depth then use small flags to mark the sprinkler heads, it will make the process safer and faster.

Will An Aerator Damage Sprinkler Heads?

A lawn aerator can easily destroy your sprinkler system if used incorrectly.

For this reason, you need to make sure it does not get too close to sprinkler heads and other sprinkler equipment. It will also be a good idea to map out your irrigation system before aerating to help avoid causing any damage to it.

Aerators dig into the soil with a series of hollow tubes and remove small amounts of dirt.

After a single pass, your lawn will be full of small holes, which allow nutrients, water, and air to reach deep into the ground, enhancing the growth of the roots of your grass.

How Do I Protect My Sprinkler Heads?

Sprinkler heads are probably the most vulnerable part of any in-ground irrigation system. They are prone to damage from pets, kids, lawnmowers, and even cold air. But how can you protect your sprinkler heads?

Getting a few sprinkler donuts is the best way to do it. You can choose between cheap plastic donuts or durable concrete ones, which will not float away in heavy rain.

Either way, they are both designed to protect your sprinkler heads and prevent any damage to them.

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Map Out Your Sprinkler System

Creating a landscaping plan with all your flowers and shrub showed on it is a fun task since it is quite easy to draw what you can see.

But what about the sprinkler system hidden in the ground?

Do you know the exact location of your irrigation system locks, sprinkler heads, and water pipes?

Understanding the design and layout of your sprinkler system is essential so you can locate its elements just in case you have to quickly repair it. Besides, such a map will help you to aerate your lawn without damaging the irrigation system. So, how to do it?

Steps To Creating Your Irrigation Map

The first thing you need to do is locate all the sprinkler heads on your backyard and mark their location on your landscaping site plan.

Besides them, your site plan must include the location of the following components:

  • Hose bibs
  • Irrigation valves
  • Back-flow preventer
  • Pressure regulator
  • Shut off valve for turning off your sprinkler system
  • Irrigation controller
  • Irrigation sub-meter or water meter
aerate lawn with a sprinkler system

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Mark The Sprinkler Heads With Flags

Most homeowners aerate their lawns before winter sets in. But before you start, make sure to protect your sprinkler system, and especially your sprinkler heads, from potential damage caused by the lawn aerator.

It is not uncommon for them to get bumped, run over, or otherwise destroyed.

It is essential for the person running the lawn aerator to be able to see each sprinkler head in your backyard.

Marking them with a few bright flags is probably the best  and most common way to make them visible to everyone and prevent costly damage…

Know How Deep Your Water Lines Are…

In-ground irrigation systems are usually installed between 6 and 10 inches below the surface of the lawn to comply with municipal bylaws.

Most lawn aerators do not reach 6 to 10 inches so there should not be any danger to your irrigation system.

However, if your sprinkler system is older, it might not be submerged deep enough, so you should check its depth before aerating your lawn.

Still, the biggest risk is to your sprinkler heads, so do not forget to mark them.

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Can You Aerate Your Lawn With a Pitchfork When You Have a Sprinkler System?

Walking on your lawn with spiked shoes or stabbing it with a pitchfork or similar tool can damage the grass.

It is not true aerating; instead of creating small holes in your lawn, the spikes create dents. Moreover, the pitchfork can damage your sprinkler system, so it is best not to use it unless it’s an emergency and you are dealing with a flooded lawn.

These dents tend to increase the compaction of the soil and collect more thatch, keeping your grass from getting the air and water it needs. Furthermore, the microorganisms that live in the soil cannot break down excess thatch, so it starts to rot, causing various diseases.

You should use a core or plug aerator to aerate your lawn properly.

You may be able to rent a mechanical aerator from a garden supply or home improvement stores or use a manual one.

The lawn aerator makes small holes in the dirt, pulls the plugs out, and throws them on top of the grass. Remember to avoid areas marked with flags when using this machine.

sprinkler aerate without damage

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Is A Spike Or Plug Aerator Better?

As you already know, aerating improves the ability of your soil to absorb moisture and provides the roots of your grass with better access to oxygen.

Core or plug aerators remove plugs of soil with dozens of hollow tines, leaving many small holes. They are most effective when used at least once a year for three or more years.

Spike aerators create spaces for water and air by puncturing the soil with solid spikes that are often installed on a roller. They provide more of a temporary benefit because of compaction that may occur around the sides of the holes these machines leave.

Soil Condition

To function properly, plug aerators need specific weather and soil conditions. You should not start aerating your lawn if the soil is dry since it may crumble inside of the holes.

The best time to aerate is when the soil is damp but not too wet. Otherwise, it may lodge inside the corers of the machine, causing the aerator to compact the soil instead of loosening it.

Soil Composition

Both plug and spike aerators are designed to alleviate the adverse effects of compacted soil. They are especially helpful and essential for lawns with heavy clay soil, as clay soil is a lot more likely to regularly become compacted.

Nevertheless, plug aerators are usually a better choice when it comes to relieving compaction in lawns with clay soil because the solid spikes used on spike aerators may actually worsen the situation.


Plug aerators improve the structure of your soil by removing a small part of the soil from the root zone of the lawn. However, it may also put stress on your grass.

To avoid stressing your grass, you should only aerate your lawn during the active growing period.

Spike aerators are appropriate for use at any time of year since they have less of an impact on the health of your grass.

The best time to aerate warm-season grasses such as Zoysia, Buffalo, or Bermuda grasses is during late spring or early summer.

Cool-season grasses, including Ryegrass, Fescues, and Bluegrass, perform best when aerated during the early spring or fall.

Should I Pick Up Plugs After Aerating?

Once you have finished aerating your lawn, do not throw away the plugs.

The plugs can actually help the grass grow naturally and usually decompose on their own within two weeks. The plugs contain the vital microorganisms that help to break down the thatch layer, so it is best to leave them on top.

How To Take Care of Your Lawn After Aeration

You may need to take the following steps to maximize the growth of your grass after aeration:

  • The grass must remain untouched for at least four weeks after aeration (use some tape or your irrigation flags to block access to the lawn)
  • Do not remove plugs after the aeration process. They will decompose over time, enriching the soil with nutrients and minerals
  • Water your lawn once per day for two weeks after the aeration
  • Avoid using the lawnmower until your grass is taller than four inches.

Check out my full article on what to do after you aerate your lawn.


A good sprinkler system is a vital component of lawn care, but it is also a complicated mechanism with a lot of parts vulnerable to damage.

Still, it does not mean you cannot aerate your lawn.

Moreover, you should do it, since regular aeration is the only way to ensure your lawn can reach its full potential for beauty, thickness, and health.

But how to avoid that damage? It is not that complicated!

First, use bright flags to map out your sprinkler system. Next, install sprinkler donuts to protect the sprinkler heads. Finally, choose the right type of aerator and start aerating your lawn!

I hope you have found some helpful information within this aerating a lawn with a sprinkler system article that helps you grow the beautiful lush green lawn you dream of. (Maybe you’re not obsessed enough to dream about lawn care but i certainly am and do!).

Please have a browse of some more articles, thank you.


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