How to aerate soil?


aerate tree roots

We tend to think that whatever water falls on our lawn and garden will also get down to the roots of our trees and shrubs, but in many cases that’s simply not true. Tree and shrub roots go down much deeper than lawn roots, and if you have compacted or clay soil your soil is most likely going to be too dry (or too wet in some cases) for healthy plant growth.

When soil is compacted, there is no oxygen in the root zone. The soil is tight instead of porous so water or rain cannot penetrate down to the sub-surface. As a result, trees will send their feeder roots close to the surface, often competing with grass for space and water. These feeder roots are microscopic but can become very dense, which creates more of a water barrier near the surface of the soil.

Compacted soil can lead to shallow rooting, which makes trees and shrubs unstable in harsh weather. (image courtesy of

Trees and shrubs growing in compacted soils are under constant stress, and never achieve their full potential. Obvious signs of this stress are poor growth, fewer flowers, disease, abundance of non-beneficial insects, leaf drop, and dying plants.

Many tree and landscape companies offer special drainage or sub-surface watering devices (at great cost) as a way to get water to go deeper. Some companies even offer soil remediation: digging out the existing soil around the tree roots and replacing it with a more porous medium that is well aerated, and allows easy water penetration. But are these costly solutions really the only way to have healthy trees and shrubs?


Like the soil in your lawn, the soil around trees and shrubs needs good aeration and drainage. It also benefits from the addition of organic matter and micronutrients. The easiest way we know of to improve soil aeration is by applying our liquid soil conditioner, Aerify PLUS, regularly around your trees and shrubs. Start with a heavy application, about 4 oz per 500 sf of root area, and then do monthly applications at 2 oz. If you are already applying Aerify PLUS to your lawn, just double up around the trees and shrubs for a few initial applications, then treat the shrubs and trees well whenever you apply Aerify PLUS to your lawn.

Whenever possible, maintain a mulch layer of 2-3 inches or more of organic material (compost, shredded bark, wood chips etc.) around the whole root or drip zone of your plants. This organic matter will help keep the soil surface soft and permeable, and will encourage earthworms- nature’s best soil aerators.

As always, if you have any questions please email us at [email protected] and we would be happy to help!

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5 Ways to Help Trees Grow in Compacted Soil

Are you having trouble growing your trees in compacted soil?

Facing compacted soil as a homeowner can be frustrating when planting trees.

Soil compaction is one of the leading difficulties of trees growing in suburban settings. The simple application of pressure from vehicles, foot traffic, and even raindrops causes soil to become compacted. The greater the pressure is, the greater the soil compaction.

When soil is compacted, it reduces the amount of water, nutrients, and air in the soil, making it difficult for the tree’s roots to grow.

According to the Department of Horticulture at Cornell University,

Soil compaction is the single most difficult and harmful environmental or abiotic condition that a tree or shrub can experience.

Arborists estimate that 40% of all commercial and residential properties suffer from soil compaction near trees. The Artistic Arborist Inc., a full-service tree and plant health management firm stated:

“Roots growing in compacted soil must exert more energy, robbing above-ground growth. Compaction diminishes water infiltration and drainage capabilities creating damp soils that foster anaerobic disease organisms, soil erosion, and further compaction.”

Urban Soil Compaction Problem

Trees in harsh environments along sidewalk in NYC

Soil compaction is a big problem for urban trees and plants. But what is it about the makeup of soil that causes this problem?

The ground you and I walk over is only half of what you see and feel; that is, mineral particles (like sand), silt, clay, and organic matter.

The other half of soil is or should be pore space. In other words, empty air. It is the room for air and water movement that is essential for soil to do its job.

Pore space is as crucial to the life of your tree as the nutrients in the organic matter.


It is important because living plants need air and water around their root systems as well as above ground. They need beneficial microorganisms and worms to be able to thrive there. The ground, it turns out, is a living thing.

Pressure Causes Compaction

The fact that our soil has pore space means it’s collapsable under heavy weight.

The soil particles become pushed tightly together, so there is nowhere for air and water to move or microorganisms to live.

The soil may stay wet for longer than the plants need, causing root rot. In addition it is more difficult for trees to become established because their energy must be spent sending out their roots.

Beings the size of humans and animals don’t do much harm to the soil. However, lots of foot traffic, lawnmowers, heavy rains, big machines, and paving materials all do their part to make tree growth difficult.

All of these things are present in abundance in urban environments. Compaction is more likely when soils are made up of heavy clay or loam, but even sandy soil doesn’t stand a chance in the city.

Is Your Soil Compacted?

Compacted soil is likely if you live in an environment with a lot of these things.

However, there are easy ways to tell. If you pull up a section of soil and it looks grayish and dull and feels very dry, it’s probably suffering from compaction.

Likewise, if it’s hard to push a spade or a stick into the soil, you probably have a problem.

Are Your Trees Suffering?

Another way to tell if your soil is compacted is by the health of your trees.

In other words, if your trees seem to be doing poorly and you don’t know why it could be soil compaction.

Compacted soil stresses trees, so they are more susceptible to pests and environmental stresses like droughts.

If you see poor growth and fewer or smaller leaves, or even branch die-back, it could be the soil.

If you give your trees some extra care and they still don’t respond, you may have to fix your soil compaction problem.

Here are five ways to help your tree grow in compacted soil:

  1. Select an Optimal Planting Area
    Develop a planting area that is large enough to contain the root structure. Keep in mind that you want your planting pit to be three times the size of the rootball.
  2. Look For Drainage Problems
    After you have dug out the planting pit, fill the hole with water. It is crucial to make sure that the water drains from the hole. Standing water indicates a poor planting area. At that point, you may need to select a different site or take additional steps to ready the site for your tree.
  3. Properly Cultivate the Soil
    By turning or cultivating your soil below the rootball, you will provide your tree with the necessary aeration and drainage that it needs in compacted soil. If you’re trying to help an established tree that is suffering, mix good compost into the top 10 inches of soil around your tree. You can further cultivate the soil by adding earthworms. Worms help to aerate the soil by eating their way through compacted soil and restoring some of those healthy spaces.
  4. Choose Your Mulch Wisely
    Mulch is important. Use high-quality mulch without a weed protection mat. Weed protection mats prevent the natural decomposing of the mulch from reaching the root zone, which is the opposite of what you want. Good mulch acts as a very slow-release fertilizer for your tree. We recommend double shredded hardwood for your trees. Make sure to spread the mulch in a ring around the tree, but avoid stifling your tree with mulch. The addition of mulch will keep your tree base free of lawnmower compaction.
  5. Install Root Aeration Tubes

    Rootwell Pro-318 Deep Root Watering System

    Placing Rootwell Pro-318 deep root aeration tubes around your trees in compacted soil will strengthen your tree’s ability to live. The Rootwell Pro-318 system provides nutrients, water, and oxygen to the root zone allowing roots the best chance of survival.


Growing trees in compacted soil may be a challenge, but not an impossible one. With the right tools and knowledge, your trees will flourish and reach their full growth potential.

Delivering Oxygen Where it Counts: Tips for Growing Healthy Roots

If you’re like most people, you know that plants consume carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the atmosphere. Plants are widely known as the planet’s primary oxygen producers. The Amazon rainforest produces about 20% of the world’s oxygen, earning it the nickname “The Lungs of the Earth.” What many people don’t know is that plants breathe oxygen too.

During photosynthesis, plants produce sugars to power their biological processes. To utilize these sugars, every cell in the plant needs access to free oxygen. Most plant roots are adapted to absorb oxygen from surrounding soil. Want to grow healthy plant roots? Delivering oxygen is crucial for success.

Wait! Who Cares About Healthy Roots?

If you want thriving, robust, long-lived plants, YOU DO! Among other things, roots are primarily responsible for absorbing nutrients and moisture from the soil. They also act as a storage compartment for food and vital minerals. Roots circulate nourishment throughout the plant, helping it grow flowers, leaves, fruits and vegetables. Without healthy roots, your plants are in serious trouble. So… how can you keep those roots growing healthy and strong?

Technology to the Fescue. Errr…. Rescue.

Over the last three decades, scientifically proven techniques have emerged for promoting healthy plant roots. One of the most exciting developments is root pruning pots. Unlike their plastic and clay counterparts, these specialized containers are made entirely of fabric. Innovative fabric construction provides benefits unrivaled by traditional materials.

The Benefits of Root Pruning Pots

Moisture Control — Overwatering is the #1 killer of potted plants. Why? Because roots can’t breathe when they’re submerged in water. Fabric pots are permeable to both air and water. This revolutionary property helps them prevent overwatering and deliver optimum moisture to the root zone.

When water is poured across the surface of the soil, it spreads outward to the sides of the pot. Once it reaches the edge of the container, water passes through the fabric and evaporates into surrounding air. That’s a double dose of good news for roots. They get life-sustaining moisture, and they’re protected from drowning.

Air Penetration — Just as moisture constantly flows outward, air constantly flows into root pruning pots. The process delivers vastly greater amounts of oxygen when compared with plastic and clay pots. All that oxygen promotes healthy roots. And healthy roots lead to fitter, faster-growing plants.

Root Pruning — In a plastic or clay pot, plant roots grow toward the boundary of the container. Once there, they begin circling the vessel in search of oxygen-rich soil. But plastic and clay pots aren’t oxygen-permeable. So the roots grow to unhealthy proportions, getting tangled in the process. The result is a root-bound plant that is stressed or dying from lack of nutrition.

In a fabric pot, the process is completely different. When roots approach the edge of a fabric pot, they form dense, finely branched structures. Notably, they do not circle or become root-bound. The process, known as “root pruning,” produces root structures that are perfect for absorbing oxygen, moisture and nutrients. The result is not only healthy plant roots, but a dramatically healthier plant.

Root Pruning Pots:

The Ultimate in Oxygenation

In addition to root pruning and moisture control, fabric pots deliver plentiful oxygen to the root zone. For your growing plants, that’s a breath of fresh air. Fabric pots are scientifically proven to create incredibly healthy roots. With bigger plants and vastly superior yields, the results are simply breathtaking.

The vast majority of plant care advice focuses so much on watering that you would think that’s the only thing that matters! Let me introduce you to soil aeration – an important but often overlooked technique in house plant care.

It is generally accepted as good practice for lawn care to be aerated occasionally, and we’ve all heard that earthworms are crucial for soil health. So in connection the soil health of your potted house plants is dependent on how you keep its structure in balance, due to lack of earthworms. Plant roots naturally cause the soil to become more compacted as they repeatedly absorb water. You must balance this by loosening the soil gently with a chopstick – this is the new (affordable) tool you should be using along with a watering can!

Benefits of Aerating Soil:

  • Allows oxygen to more easily flow through entire root ball
  • Allows water to more evenly moisten the soil
  • You can use the chopstick as a gauge for how moist the soil is to better inform you about when to water

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: Doesn’t soil aeration hurt the roots?

A: Yes, you will inevitably break some roots but soil compaction will kill many more by suffocation. Roots grow back quickly. Also, you’re not supposed to stab it vigorously and repeatedly – it’s 1-3 gentle pokes into the soil for every inch of pot diameter.

Q: Do all plants need soil aeration?

A: Most tropical foliage plants enjoy well-aerated soil so I aerate them approximately every other watering. Succulents and cacti naturally grow in sandier, compacted soils so you don’t need to aerate their soils unless you’re noticing that they don’t hold water as well as they used to (but this could also be solved by repotting).

Q: I’ve never aerated my soil and my plants have been going strong for years. Is there a reason for that?

A: When you pour water onto your soil, listen closely and you’ll hear the snap, crackle, and pop as the water moves through the soil, displacing and disturbing tiny pockets of air. If you’re able to never let the soil develop any dry pockets while at the same time, not creating the damp environment where root rot can occur, then you’re effectively aerating the soil as you water.


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Dissolved Oxygen: The Hidden Necessity

Out of all the substances found on Earth, none are as precious and integral to biological life as water. As we all know, water is made up of oxygen and hydrogen atoms, but between the water molecules is a different form of oxygen: molecular oxygen.

Molecular oxygen—more commonly known to gardeners as dissolved oxygen—is the oxygen used by aquatic creatures and the aerobic organisms living in and around a plant’s rhizosphere.

When it comes to aquatic life applications, water quality is rated based on its dissolved oxygen content. The more dissolved oxygen, the better the water quality. This standard should be applied to water used for plants, too—especially plants in hydroponic systems.

The Importance of Dissolved Oxygen in Horticulture

Good-quality water that includes a high-dissolved oxygen content is crucial to successful indoor horticulture. The most significant benefit of water with a high dissolved oxygen content is the stimulation of beneficial aerobic organisms.

Most beneficial microorganisms living in and around a plant’s rhizosphere will only survive, thrive and reproduce in an oxygen-rich environment. Too little dissolved oxygen creates a compounded negative effect—as the beneficial organisms die out because of the lack of dissolved oxygen, the ideal conditions for anaerobic pathogenic organisms are also created.

Read: How to Improve Plant Growth with Micro-Organisms

Almost every pathogenic disease related to the plant’s rhizosphere is anaerobic and can be avoided by providing sufficient levels of dissolved oxygen.

Another benefit of highly oxygenated water is that dissolved oxygen regulates the availability of certain nutrients—for example, some studies have shown the number of nitrifying microbes increases with the level of dissolved oxygen. Without sufficient dissolved oxygen content, the nitrogen cycle in your soil can be compromised.

Physical Factors That Affect Dissolved Oxygen in a Garden

Two physical factors that affect dissolved oxygen content relative to indoor horticulture: temperature and salinity. Salinity is less crucial than temperature because by the time a medium or nutrient solution’s salinity level is high enough to affect the content of dissolved oxygen, the chances are good that the plant will have already shown signs of over-fertilization or toxic salinity.

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Temperature, however, is the most crucial and controllable factor associated with dissolved oxygen. Temperature inversely controls the solubility of oxygen in water—in other words, as temperature rises the dissolved oxygen content falls and as the temperature decreases the potential dissolved oxygen content increases.

If this wasn’t bad enough, the damage is intensified because this inverse relationship with oxygen and water is exponential. This means that when temperatures rise in your grow room, the dissolved oxygen content in your hydroponic system or grow medium exponentially decreases as a result.

This is the number one reason temperature control of the nutrient solution in a hydroponic nutrient reservoir is so crucial.

Read: Hydroponics – Pros and Cons of Hydroponic Gardening

Temperature Control for Water

The first way to control the temperature of your water is to control the temperature of the room itself—soil containers, hydroponic systems, hydroponic reservoirs and anything else in the grow room will eventually take on the ambient temperature of the room.

This is one of the reasons you see plants grown outdoors in 100°F heat. They survive, even flourish, while indoor gardens that reach 100°F usually end up with severe casualties. The plants grown outdoors can withstand 100°F+ temperatures because their roots and the moisture around them are insulated by the ground.

The dissolved oxygen and beneficial aerobic organisms in the soil are unharmed by the heat and continue to function, allowing the plant to continue growing. Now take a look at your indoor plants in the same kind of heat.

Their roots are in some sort of soil container or hydroponic system and they are surrounded by the ambient air in the room. Plants, roots, medium and everything else will eventually become the same temperature as the room—in this case, 100°F+.

Read: The Best Temperatures for an Indoor Grow Room

Once the water in the soil or hydroponic system gets hot, the dissolved oxygen content is so low that beneficial aerobic organisms will die off and pathogenic anaerobic organisms will find favorable conditions to thrive and destroy your plants.

A little-known fact in the indoor gardening industry is that the stress imposed on plants by high temperatures is usually the result of a decline in dissolved oxygen in the medium or hydroponic system—this harms beneficial microbes and in turn, harms the plants.

By implementing air conditioners, exhaust and intake fans and air-cooled reflectors, however, an indoor horticulturist can effectively control the ambient temperature—which will help to maintain sufficient dissolved oxygen in the medium or hydroponic solution.

Water Chillers

Water chillers have become an increasingly popular tool for the hydroponic gardener. Any hydroponic system that is susceptible to heat from the environment or employs large submersible pumps should be equipped with a water chiller, which is essentially an air conditioner for water.

These handy devices—available at virtually any hydroponics retailer in a variety of sizes—are particularly useful when a hydroponic gardener is also supplementing CO2.

Read: CO2 & Your Crop – Why It’s Important and How to Use It

Optimal ambient temperatures for CO2 enrichment are higher than normal ambient temperatures, so water chillers allow growers to maintain cool temperatures in their hydroponic systems while increasing the room temperature to maximize CO2 absorption.

Water chillers also help to battle the unwanted heat created by the large submersible pumps used in some hydroponic systems.

Aeration of a Plant’s Root Zone

Aeration is how a gardener replaces the dissolved oxygen that is used up naturally during a plant’s growing process—or more specifically, the oxygen used by microbes within the plant’s rhizosphere.

Aeration of a nutrient solution—carried out by vigorous circulation or by an air pump connected to an air stone or diffuser—will help replace used dissolved oxygen. As the water bubbles up or circulates it comes into contact with the surrounding air, allowing it to absorb some of the molecular oxygen from the atmosphere.

Soil growers can amend their soil with perlite, pumice, coco coir or hydroton to create air pockets that will provide pathways for air to enter the medium.

Oxygen Additives

There are numerous oxygen booster additives available at your local hydroponics store that can help improve the dissolved oxygen content of your nutrient solution.

Make sure you read the bottle carefully: some of these oxidizers are designed for cleaning hydroponic systems (with plants removed!) and should not be added to the regular feeding program.

Another good choice for oxygen supplementation is hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is one of the most common ways to boost dissolved oxygen content in your nutrient solution, but it is also one of the additives most argued about in the hydroponic community.

Here’s my rationale: hydrogen peroxide occurs naturally in rainwater and has played an integral role in plant and microbial evolution since the beginning of time. Unfortunately, many growers tend to over-apply hydrogen peroxide, which is counterproductive—high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide will create an oxidation effect, which actually kills beneficial organisms.

As long as the hydrogen peroxide is well diluted and used in moderation, though, I see no harm in using it as a dissolved oxygen booster.

Of all the factors that determine success for an indoor horticulturist, none are as elusive as the dissolved oxygen molecule—its significance is out of all proportion to its physical size and any gardener who has battled root rot or experienced diminished yields due to excessive heat will vouch for its importance.

Dissolved oxygen supports the healthy life cycle of beneficial microbes, which are the hidden pillars of a garden’s success. By implementing temperature control, aggressive aeration and the supplementation of oxygen-boosting additives, indoor growers can maintain high populations of beneficial microbes, avoid potential problems and maintain optimal conditions in their gardens.

Read next: Maximizing Crop Flavor and Aroma in Hydroponics

How to aerate your houseplant’s soil (and why you should)

The latest in plant care tips for keeping your foliage happy and healthy, brought to you by premium plant delivery service Léon & George.

Did you know that loosening up your plant’s soil before watering allows better and more even distribution of moisture? And that it also helps oxygen flow more easily through the plant’s roots? Most people think of watering when it comes to basic plant care, but what they don’t realize is that aerating the soil is also a small task that can make a big difference. Follow these easy steps and enjoy healthier, happier houseplants:

Step 1: Find a chopstick

Step 2: Gently poke a few holes through the top of the soil (you may strike a root or two, don’t worry)

Step 3: Give your plant a thorough watering around the base towards the center, allow all the water to drain through the bottom of the nursery pot

Worried about damaging the roots? Rest assured that even though you might break some roots in the process, this is nothing compared to what overly-compact soil might cause.

If your plants are staged in a decorative pot, empty out any excess water from the bottom and fluff up any soil toppings like moss or rocks. Within a few hours, you should notice a more refreshed look on your foliage.

Houseplant whisperer Derryl Cheng of @houseplantjournal prescribes doing this approximately every other watering for best results.

As always, keep an eye on your leafy friends to notice any changes or trends!

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When we think about soil and potted plants, the conversation usually turns to water rather than air. Believe it or not, water is only part of what’s going on in your dirt. You have to think about how much air is down there as well.

Roots are designed to absorb water for the plant but they still need access to air in order to be healthy. Since the plant doesn’t have lungs, the only way for its cells to get oxygen is to absorb it from the surroundings. Even though they are underground, that includes the roots. This is why most plants will do very poorly in heavy, clay-based soils. Basically, you can smother your roots if there isn’t enough air pockets in the soil, regardless of how carefully you water.

In nature, soil is kept well aerated by all the various worms and burrowing insects that are living below the surface. For your houseplants, you won’t have these natural helpers working for you, leaving soil maintenance and aeration up to you.

Signs of an Aeration Problem

First of all, how can you tell you have an aeration problem with your potted plants? When the roots are struggling for air, you will have the same symptoms as you would when your houseplants have had too much water. Your plant will start to wilt and leaves will show some yellowing. Of course, make sure you are not actually over-watering as well.

Aerate with Natural Materials

The easiest way to keep potted plants aerated is to add materials to their soil that help create air spaces.

  • Shredded bark
  • Sphagnum moss
  • Coconut fiber
  • Sand
  • Fine gravel
  • Vermiculite
  • Perlite

You may be questioning the last two items on our list. The fact is that both vermiculite and perlite are natural materials, even though they sound synthetic. Perlite is easily mistaken for little balls of white styrofoam. Both of them are varieties of expanded minerals, meaning they are made from exposing substances like mica to high heat until it “pops.” This creates a very porous and light compound to loosen up your usual mix of soil. It’s not artificial, and it’s safe if these materials end up in your outside soil too.

Consider Repotting

Sometimes even the best potting soil mixtures can get packed down, losing their aeration qualities by getting compacted. Every time you water a plant, the soil settles down a little more. Without any natural disturbances to mix things up (like the worms we mentioned earlier), the soil just stays settled.

This can be the time to repot, and give your plant a whole container of fresh soil mix. A good potting blend will already have a nice balance of drainage materials mixed in, or you can add some extra bark or vermiculite to keep things really light.

While you are doing this, it can’t hurt to give your houseplants a little more leg room and go for a bigger pot. If they are still doing fine in their current container, feel free to just freshen up the soil and put them right back in.

Be Careful Not to Over Aerate

While having loose aerated soil is vital, you can’t overdo it at the expense of the nutrients. Many of the materials mentioned earlier are fairly inert and don’t add minerals to the soil. In other words, if you have really loose soil filled with perlite or sand, that is great for the aeration but will not have the organic content a plant needs for nutrients.

Plants may get their food primarily from the sun via photosynthesis, but there is more to proper nutrition than just fuel. And the only place a plant can get these additional minerals is from the soil. A typical plant will need to have a supply of calcium, phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium, magnesium and a lot more in order to stay healthy.

And when you don’t have enough organic material in the soil to provide this, then you either replace with fresh soil or start using some fertilizer. There are a number of options out there for good houseplant fertilizer and you should read a few labels before making your choices.

Most commercial products will have 3 numbers on the label, giving you a ratio of the compounds inside. The first number is nitrogen (N), the next is phosphorus (P) and the last is potassium (K). Standard all-purpose mixtures will have the numbers all the same, such as 5-5-5 or 10-10-10. For any houseplants that you grow for their lovely green foliage, you should use a little extra nitrogen. On the other hand, flowering or fruiting plants thrive with more phosphorus.

Compost or aged manure is a great way to add more nutrients too, but can be a bit awkward to use for indoor houseplants. Sticking with commercial blens is easiest. Just follow the directions for mixing and application.

There is one warning to the discussion about nutrients though, and that is to remember that not all plants require precisely the same mix of chemicals in their soil. In particular, some desert plants are perfectly fine with very sandy soil that is practically bare of nutrients. Adding too much fertilizers in this case would do the plant harm.

What About Outside?

Compaction in the soil can happen outside too, even if you have a healthy population of worms and insects living in the garden. It can be the biggest issue with the lawn, and all that close-growing grass means you don’t have much access to the soil to do anything about it. Rather than soil amendments in this case, it makes more sense to go with a more mechanical approach.

Powered machines that look like mowers or roto-tillers pass over the lawn, poking holes as they go. This helps bring air below the surface and will improve the health of the lawn, especially in the spring when there is a layer of thatch on top from the dead grass and debris.

Now you are fully familiar with aerating your potted plants, as well as some of the other details about keeping your soil happy for your houseplants.

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110shares How to Aerate Soil in Potted Plants (And Why You Should Do It) was last modified: May 1st, 2019 by The Practical Planter

In the garden, things are a little different, but some of the techniques are the same. A spike aerator works fine to help with compaction, or simply sinking a shovel into the soil, lifting and leaving it in place (no turning) will open up avenues for water and air. The garden should then get a thin layer of quality soil to loosely slip into the gaps. And, the garden beds should be mulched well.

As for container gardens, potted plants can be aerated with a chopstick. The pointy end of the chopstick should be shoved into the soil, and it will open up corridors for air and water to get in. This may cause minor root damage, but ultimately, it’ll be less than what compacted soil will do.

What to Do to Prevent Compaction


Preventing compaction in lawns can be a little bit tough because they are where our children and animals play. Additionally, we (or someone) walk up and down the lawn all summer behind the lawn mower, compacting the soil with our footsteps. It’s probably going to need aeration from time to time.

The garden, however, can be maintained in a way so as not to need aeration. Gardeners should avoid stepping in garden beds. The beds should be mulched, which prevents it from being compacted by the rain or drying out in the sun. The mulch will also attract worms and microorganisms who like to feed on the organic matter, and this soil life naturally aerates. Rather than tilling, continue to add matter atop the garden bed.


Aerated soil will equate to happier plants with plenty of oxygen. That can be as important as water, sun, and nutrients.

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The Importance of Aeration in the Roots and Nutrient Solution

Posted March 16th, 2016 by Garden & Greenhouse in Hydroponics Articles, July 2016

Most people don’t think of oxygen as something plants need but, rather, something that plants create. Though it is true that plants create oxygen as a by-product of photosynthesis, it may be surprising to find out that plants, more specifically the living cells found within the plants, require oxygen for converting sugars into energy. Plants naturally create oxygen during photosynthesis which means any green portion of the plant (leaves and stems) has access to plenty of oxygen. However, all plant cells need oxygen, including the plant’s cells that are found underground. The cells found in the roots of a plant can’t get oxygen from photosynthesis so rely instead on absorbing oxygen from the environment around them to survive. Buried roots absorb oxygen from small air spaces in the soil. You may have heard the term “drowning” a plant. This refers to a plant that is overwatered and whose roots are unable to receive oxygen. When the cells in the roots do not have access to oxygen, they will die and this can cause the entire plant to die as well. This is why it is so important to make sure the soil and/or nutrient solution is properly aerated to maintain enough oxygen for the plant cells found in the root mass.

Oxygen and Microorganisms

Another reason why oxygen around the root mass is so important is that beneficial microorganisms rely on
oxygen-rich environments to live and reproduce. On the other hand, pathogenic organisms do not survive well in oxygen-rich environments. In fact, most pathogenetic microorganisms only thrive in oxygen-depleted environments, which is why they are considered anaerobic organisms. Oxygen around a plant’s rhizosphere directly affects the population of beneficial microorganisms that provide multiple benefits to a plant, including increasing nutrient uptake and protection from pathogens.

Aerating a Soil

A well aerated soil will do two things: maintain high levels of oxygen around the root mass and create adequate drainage so that the soil can be moistened but not overly saturated. Many prepackaged potting soils already have some ingredients added that are designed to help aerate the soil. However, many indoor horticulturists will still amend these prepackaged soils with additional aeration ingredients. For growers who are building a soil from scratch, adding aeration ingredients is crucial to maintaining a healthy amount of oxygen in the soil during the growing process. There are many different ingredients that can be added to a soil for additional aeration. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages. Which aeration ingredient(s) to use will ultimately be determined by the grower’s preference, budget and access to ingredients. The following are some commonly used aeration soil amendments:


Perlite is made from expanded volcanic glass and is probably the most popular aeration additive for soil. Perlite is extremely lightweight which makes it easy to transport and mix. Perlite’s physical composition is very porous and practically repels water while it holds oxygen. Many professional horticulturists will create a mixture of 75% prepackaged potting soil and 25% perlite. This mix is great for any gardener who wants a fast-draining soil. A fast-draining soil can be advantageous for gardeners who like to feed their plants multiple times per week. The biggest disadvantage of perlite is the dust created when mixing (a dust mask or respirator should always be worn when mixing perlite). Wetting the perlite before mixing can also help curb this problem. Another disadvantage of perlite, in outdoor applications, is that it tends to float to the surface after multiple waterings; it is so lightweight that it will blow away in a strong gust of wind.


Pumice is a volcanic rock that is extremely porous. Pumice is much heavier than perlite and, because of this, is rarely used in prepackaged soil mixes. Although it is heavier and a little harder to work with, I tend to favor

pumice over perlite. Unlike perlite, pumice provides a small amount of nutritional benefit to the plants. Additionally, pumice doesn’t float which means it stays buried in the soil mix even after extensive waterings.


Vermiculite is a natural mineral that, for horticultural purposes, is pre-expanded by heat. Vermiculite adds aeration to a soil mix and can also help with water retention. Vermiculite is the most popular ingredient of homemade soilless mixes and cloning media. As with perlite, it is extremely important to use a dust mask or respirator when mixing vermiculite; small particles in a grower’s lungs could cause serious health issues down the road.


Coco-coir is actually the inside husk of coconuts and is created as a by-product of the coconut industry. Coco-coir has an amazing ability to hold moisture while also hold a lot of oxygen. Coco-coir has become an increasingly popular option for aeration in a soil mixture. A soil amended with coco-coir will feel spongy and loose which is the perfect conditions for vigorous root growth. The main disadvantage of coco-coir is quality control. All sources of coco-coir are not equal; some require heavy rinsing to remove excess salts while others are ready to go right out of the bag. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for with coco-coir; less expensive usually means a higher concentration of excess salts which will require rinsing before it can be safely used for plants.

Each of these aeration amendments will help a horticulturist create the same thing: a well aerated soil. But what if you aren’t growing in soil? How can the plant’s roots receive oxygen in a hydroponic system where there is no soil? In many hydroponic systems, a portion of the oxygen needed by the roots can still be absorbed from the air. For example, a flood and drain hydroponic system will automatically draw some air into the root mass as the water drains from the tray. However, a good amount of the oxygen required by the plant’s roots can be provided by the dissolved oxygen found in the nutrient solution.

Dissolved Oxygen in a Nutrient Solution

Dissolved oxygen in a liquid refers to the molecular oxygen found between the water molecules. In other words, it is not the oxygen that is part of the water molecule H2O but rather oxygen that is free to be absorbed by the plant’s roots. Maintaining enough dissolved oxygen in a nutrient solution is crucial for plant health in a hydroponic system. There are two factors that affect the dissolved oxygen content of a liquid: salinity and temperature. For horticultural purposes, salinity is not as important of a factor because, long before the salinity in a solution affected the dissolved oxygen content, it would have already become toxic for the plants. In other words, the plants would show signs of nutrient lockout or toxic shock long before the dissolved oxygen content of the liquid was affected. Temperature, on the other hand, is very relevant to the way it affects the dissolved oxygen content of a liquid for hydroponic gardening. As the temperature of a liquid increases, its ability to hold dissolved oxygen decreases. Put another way, the temperature of a nutrient solution directly affects the way the solution can hold dissolved oxygen.

Temperature of the Nutrient Solution

For most hydroponic systems, the ideal temperature range for the nutrient solution falls between 65-72 degrees F. Temperatures below this range will slow growth rates and temperatures above this range will not be able to hold enough dissolved oxygen to sustain proper growth. There are a few different ways a gardener can maintain a proper temperature. Many horticulturists experience nutrient solution temperatures that are too warm. Simply removing the nutrient reservoir from the garden space can help to maintain a more consistent, lower temperature. Water chillers (much like air conditioners for water) are devices that can be used by indoor horticulturists to help maintain cooler temperatures in the nutrient reservoir. On the rare occasion that the temperature of the nutrient solution is too cold, a grower can incorporate a submersible heater; much like the ones used for aquariums. Before setting up a hydroponic system, horticulturists should give serious consideration to how they are going to control and maintain the temperature of the nutrient reservoir.

Aerating the Nutrient Solution

The temperature of the nutrient solution determines the amount of dissolved oxygen the solution can hold; however, once that dissolved oxygen is used by the plant’s roots, it needs to be replaced. The most common way to achieve this is with an air pump and air stone which pumps air directly into the nutrient solution. This breaks the surface tension of the liquid and injects air directly into the solution. Assuming the temperature is in the desired range, the air being pumped into the solution will be able to replenish the dissolved oxygen content.

Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2)

Hydrogen peroxide is another way to replenish the oxygen in a nutrient solution. Hydrogen peroxide is water with an additional unstable oxygen molecule (H2O2). Hydrogen peroxide is a hot topic among gardeners because some believe it works wonders while others warn against using it altogether. I believe hydrogen peroxide can offer horticulturists benefits as long as it is diluted and used in moderation. Hydrogen peroxide can be found in rainwater and has played a significant role in plant evolution. For this reason alone, I cannot say that it is a bad thing. However, when used in too strong of a concentration or when used too frequently, hydrogen peroxide can damage beneficial microorganisms and can become counterproductive. If a gardener takes the time to dial in temperature and aeration, he or she will most likely never need to supplement the solution with hydrogen peroxide.

Oxygen around a plant’s root mass is crucial to the function of the plant’s cells and the microbial world

responsible for nutrient uptake. If oxygen levels decrease, plant growth will be hindered. On the other hand, if oxygen levels are maintained, the plant’s cells and the microbes found in the soil will remain healthy. By amending a soil with aeration additives, a horticulturist can avoid “drowning” his or her plants and ensure the plant’s roots have access to the needed oxygen. Hydroponic gardeners who maintain temperatures in the desired temperature range while aerating the nutrient solution will ensure the solution maintains adequate dissolved oxygen content. Maintaining high levels of oxygen around the plant’s roots, either in soil or a hydroponic system, is vital for growing a successful garden.

Eric Hopper resides in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula where he enjoys gardening and pursuing sustainability. He is a Garden & Greenhouse contributing editor and may be contacted at [email protected]

Want more information? Try these articles:

All About Hydroponic Nutrients

Factors that Influence the Absorption of Hydroponics Nutrients

How Often and How Much to Flood with a Nutrient Solution

Matching a Nutrient Solution Formulation with Need

Relearning Hydroponic Nutrient Solutions

There’s a lot to concentrate on if you’re to keep your plants healthy and reap the best harvests: The right light, proper humidity, correct temperatures for their growth stage, preventing powdery mildew… and providing dissolved oxygen to your plants’ roots.

What is dissolved oxygen?

We know that the water molecule is made up of hydrogen and oxygen atoms bound together, but there’s a different form of oxygen hanging out between those water molecules: Molecular oxygen. Molecular oxygen, also known as dissolved oxygen or DO, is used by plant roots for growth.

Most water sources naturally contain some DO; the amount contained in outdoor bodies of water varies depending on pollution, water temperature, water aeration (moving streams contain more DO than still lakes) and other factors. Even ordinary tap water contains some DO (usually 5 to 7 parts per million, or PPM) at room temperature. (In your grow room, you’ll be controlling the amount of DO in the water you use, usually ranging from about 7 to 10 PPM.)

Why do plants need DO?

The plants in your grow room’s hydroponic system need dissolved oxygen (DO) in their water if they are to thrive and provide the best yields. Plant root systems use oxygen for aerobic respiration, and with a hydroponic system, most oxygen used in root uptake is in the nutrient solution. If plant roots don’t get enough oxygen, they become less permeable, take in less water, and can no longer absorb nutrients properly. Toxins also begin to build up. If oxygen deprivation continues, plants begin to “starve” from lack of nutrition. Roots begin to die, and plant growth is stunted. Ultimately, pathogens can take over and cause plant death.

Water purity affects DO levels in water

Standard tap water usually contains other elements, like chlorine, which reduce the amount of oxygen tap water can hold. Water’s salinity is also a factor: The higher the salinity, the less soluble the oxygen, resulting in lower DO levels. Normal nutrients you add to the water do the same thing. Contaminants like bacteria will also reduce the amount of DO available to plant roots. For all of those reasons, many growers opt for reverse osmosis filtered water, with just enough nutrient solids added to meet plants’ nutritional needs. (Dehumidifier water can also provide a “free” and endlessly renewable supply of water that may be preferable to reverse osmosis filtered water.)

Temperature affects DO levels in water

Temperature also affects how much DO water can hold. The lower the water temperature, the more oxygen it can hold; the higher the temperature, the less it will hold. Water that is fully oxygenated or 100% “saturated” with DO at the grow room temperatures optimal for plant growth will be in the ~7 to 10 PPM range.

Next time: Methods of DO production, effects of root oxygen starvation, and effective aeration and nutrient delivery.

Aeration Basics: What, Why, How

Summer is almost here, which means it’s time to start preparing your lawn and garden ready some serious outdoor fun. Whether your kids love playing on the grass or you simply enjoy sitting on the deck with friends and family, you’ll probably want your yard to look its absolute best. By practicing proper aeration methods, you can begin the process of beautifying your plants.

What is Aeration?

In a nutshell, aeration is soil perforation. Aeration is commonly used to improve lawns and gardens by loosening compact soil and making vital nutrients like oxygen, water, and organic materials more accessible to plants. In lawn aeration, small holes are pierced through the soil to allow air, nutrients, and water to filter down to the roots below. In garden aeration, the soil is mixed prior to planting to loosen up compacted soils. Both types of aeration boost soil productivity and make for happier, healthier plants.

Why is Aeration Important?

Soil aeration is one of the most important things you can do to improve your lawn and garden. There is no point in spending money on fancy amendments and fertilizers if your soil is compacted because your plants won’t even be able to access the nutrients they provide. This is because soil particles can sometimes get so densely crammed together, they prevent vitamins, air, and water from properly circulating in the ground. Consequently, compacted soil can lead to stunted plant growth and poor water drainage, which, in turn, increase the plants’ susceptibility to disease and leave lawns and gardens looking lifeless. Aeration is meant to loosen compressed soil, thereby facilitating nutrient exchanges, improving drainage, and boosting plant fertility.

Do You Need to Aerate?

If you are lucky enough to have loose, flawless soil that produces abundant lawns and gardens without any help, then you probably don’t need to aerate. If, however, you are like the rest of us, occasional aeration will be necessary. Those of you with clay soil will need to be extra diligent in aerating. Clay soil is known for its notoriously poor drainage and is made up of almost microscopic particles which compact more easily than those of silt, sand, or loam soils.

Foot traffic is also a contributor to compaction. Family gatherings, heavy riding mowers, and construction are some of the most common causes of soil degradation in household yards. To make things more complicated, most of the houses built in the last few decades have had their yards’ soil removed and refilled during construction, often with less than stellar topsoil, or worse, with subsoil. Low-quality soil is particularly prone to compaction and often yields dry, weedy lawns.

How to Aerate Your Lawn

Lawn aeration is a fairly straightforward process. There are two main types of aeration tools: spike aerators and plug aerators. Spike aerators drive holes into the soil with a tine or fork. Plug aerators, on the other hand, pull plugs of soil out of the ground. Many people prefer plug aerators, as they guarantee aeration by removing some of the soil. Spike aerators, by contrast, can sometimes cause further compaction in the areas around the holes they create. Both types of tools are sold commercially and are available to rent from home and garden centers. Alternatively, you can call a lawn care expert to aerate for you.

How to Aerate Your Garden

Garden aeration is a slightly different undertaking. The principles of soil compaction that apply to lawns also apply to gardens, but gardens are typically bare during the early spring and fall. This means you won’t have to work around any existing plants, like grass. To aerate your garden, use a digging fork, spade, rototiller, or trowel. The goal is to loosen the uppermost 6 inches of soil (or more) to provide plant roots with plenty of growing room. Consider mixing amendments or slow release fertilizers into your soil when aerating.

When to Aerate

It’s important to aerate at the right times of the year. For instance, you’ll want to aerate your lawn when the soil is moist but not too saturated, and never when it’s dry. The same rule applies to garden aeration, though the early spring and fall offer the convenience of not having to maneuver around plants. Be warned, over-tilling your garden can disrupt the microbial life in your soil and ironically lead to worse compaction. Play it safe and only aerate once or twice a year.

Aeration is the First Step Towards a Healthy, Bountiful Garden

Aeration is essential for happy, healthy lawns and gardens, but it’s only the first step. Maintaining soil fertility, looking out for signs of diseases and pests, and practicing proper planting techniques are all necessary for achieving lush plant-life. If you’re serious about superb soil, you’ll want to learn more about nutrient balances and how they work to keep your garden thriving.

Soil Aeration

There are many facets to maintaining beautiful landscapes and overall tree health, but one of the most important is soil aeration. Soil that has been compacted over time does not allow water or oxygen to thoroughly penetrate plant and tree roots, subjecting them to tree decline by making their root system vulnerable and low in nutrients.

LMC can help reverse soil compaction and improve root systems through their soil aeration services. LMC’s Certified Arborists and Landscape Professionals will help stimulate soil health through the removal of soil plugs several inches deep to your property’s turf and top-dress the aerated turf with highly enriched compost that will promote turf root growth, nutrient and water absorption, and improve water drainage.

Vertical mulching is a form of aeration for your trees whereby the procedure opens up poor or compacted soils to get air and water to the roots. Vertical mulching involves drilling several two-inch-wide holes into the ground under the tree’s canopy as deep as possible and backfilling these holes with a peat moss and shale material.

The soil aeration services provided by LMC will also foster an environment that allows for organisms like earthworms and bacteria to thrive, ultimately increasing the nutrient retention of your trees and plants. As a result, plant and tree health thrives, offering shade and enjoyment for years to come.

For more information regarding soil aeration services, please contact the experts at LMC.

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