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How to Soften Hard Soil Lawns? – Grow Gardener Blog

Want to soften your hard soil lawn that’s not thriving at its peak beauty? If yes, then you are just at the right spot!

A flourishing and vibrant green land is a dream of every lawn owner. If the soil in your lawn is compact and does not allow water to seep down, it will disrupt the health and the habitat of the turf above it, causing multiple problems.

Therefore, today’s article will look at the causes and symptoms of lawns with trodden soil and how to soften hard soil lawns.

Aerating lawn. How to soften hard soil lawns
How to Soften Hard Soil Lawns? – Photo by Rasa Kasparaviciene.

How to Soften Hard Soil Lawns?

Today we’ll see how to soften hard soil lawns as we will discuss different methods to fix up all the compressed soil under your feet, and we’ll also look at some techniques that professionals use to make their lawns blush like heaven.

So, without further ado, let’s jump straight into it.

Cause of Hard Soil Lawns?

Before knowing how to soften hard soil lawns, let us first see what causes this hard soil. Because if you know what causes the compactness and hardness of the soil in your lawn, you will be able to solve the problem and prevent it from happening in the future.

So, what’s the primary cause of hard soil lawns?

Excessive Compression of Soil

I would place soil compression as the first and foremost cause because it is the primary reason behind compacted soil.

We know that there is some kind of continuous compression going on in almost every lawn. Two primary situations that result in soil compression are:

Foot and Vehicle Traffic

Whether it is due to a lawnmower, tractor, heavy machinery, cars you park on your lawn, or children and pets continuously playing in the green land by your house, moving something repeatedly over the soil, or placing something heavy on a lawn area for an extended period can cause soil to become hard.

Moreover, this process speeds up when the soil is wet, mostly during rainy seasons. Rain is a natural cause of soil compaction.

How to soften hard soil lawns, you say? You are going to get some satisfying answers. But first, you’ll need to counter the compression in your lawn due to vehicle and foot traffic.

Excessive Tilling

Compression can also be caused by excessively tilling the soil in your yard. That may sound weird at first because tilling is actually thought to soften hard soil lawns.

But as Hippocrates quotes: “Everything in excess is opposed to nature.”

If you do excess tilling, it results in compaction of the soil just under the tilled area. It is thin and does not affect grass or crop production.

Furthermore, I would like to highlight the actual purpose of tilling. Tilling is used to break up/turn the soil for planting, mixing up organic matter, and preparing the soil for growing crops.

According to the University of Minnesota Extension, breaking up the soil deeper than 10-12 inches can cause more harm than good. Why? Because this type of tilling disrupts the soil structure and leads to soil compaction.

Now you know what causes the soil in your lawn to become hard. Let’s look at some visual symptoms. There are a couple of signs that reflect the compaction of the soil.

How to soften hard soil lawns
How to Soften Hard Soil Lawns? – Image via Shahan Khan.

Visual Symptoms of Hard Soil Lawns

There are a few visual symptoms that can tell you about the health of your lawn:

  • Compacted soil that does not allow water to drain through the soil causes an accumulation of water, and water patches/puddles are formed.
  • Weeds; broadleaf weeds are also a sign of hard soil lawns. These weeds have a deep root system that, unlike grass, can survive effortlessly in compact soil.
  • Moreover, you can also guess that something’s off with your lawn if you see dull-colored grass instead of a vibrant green turf. The roots suffocating in hard soil cannot absorb water or nutrients, leading to discoloration.

Now that you know all the basics of compacted lawns let’s head towards the fix!

How to Soften Hard Soil Lawns?

There are various methods that landscapers use to soften hard soil lawns. Some of the common ones are:

  • Controlling foot and vehicle traffic.
  • Rototilling and Core aeration.
  • Amending the soil with organic matter.
  • Providing the soil with necessary structural components.

Controlling Foot and Vehicle Traffic

If the cause of compactness in your lawn is foot or vehicle traffic, you have to set up a different path for that traffic or be careful while parking or driving a vehicle on your lawn.

Setting up a different pathway — such as a pavement made up of stones or a footpath — for the people will make a permanent path for them to walk on. Thus, saving your precious lawn from unnecessary compression.

Pavement. How to soften hard soil lawns
How to Soften Hard Soil Lawns? – Photo by Evan Krause.

Also, while moving or parking cars on your lawn, avoid drifting the tires on the soil, especially if it is wet.

Wet soil tends to get compressed effortlessly. Therefore, try not to walk or ride on wet soil as much as possible.

Traffic compression also includes the compression caused by the use of lawn equipment such as lawnmowers. Therefore, while buying such equipment, always look for the best ones according to your needs.

Greenworks 10 Amp 14” Corded Electric Dethatcher (Stainless Steel Tines)
  • KEEP YOUR YARD HEALTHY : dethatch in early spring or early fall for cool-season grasses, and in late spring through early summer (after the 2nd mowing) for warm-season grasses.Speed : 3700 RPM, Motor : 120 V, AC only, 60 Hz, 10 Amps
  • POWERFUL MOTOR : 10A motor provides the power you need to tackle the toughest jobs
  • 14” DETHATCHING PATH : allows you to complete jobs faster and more efficiently
  • 3-POSITION HEIGHT ADJUST : provides greater control by removing matted layers to promote lawn health
  • STAINLESS STEEL TINES : stays sharp longer for reliable performance

Related Article: The 8 Best Lawn Mowers. (Buying Guide)

With that said, let’s head to the next fix.

Rototilling and Core Aeration

Rototilling and core aeration are the chief measures most landscapers recommend for softening hard soil lawns.

Let’s see what the main difference is:

  • Rototilling is a process that uses a lawn tool named a “rototiller” to churn up the soil. This process is quite helpful in loosening the shallow, compacted soil. However, different heavy-duty rototillers can even go a foot down the soil.
  • On the other hand, core aeration is a process in which a “core-aerator” digs out small chunks of soil out of the ground. This process creates several holes in the ground and allows the water and air to reach the roots more effectively.

How to Rototill Your Lawn?

Before you start rototilling your lawn, make sure you wear essential safety equipment such as glasses, gloves, and shoes.

After that, follow these steps:

  • Start the process by picking up unwanted sticks and stones from the turf area. Also, if you also want to remove insistent weeds, you’ll need to cut off the grass layer using a sod cutter.
  • If your lawn is bone dry, watering it a couple of inches deep before tilling would make the work much easier.
  • But, do not start the process on wet soil. First, let 70% of the soil get dry before tillage.
  • Now, start the process. I recommend setting up your rototiller to a 5-6 inches depth.
  • Don’t leave empty spaces between the strokes. Go in every direction and till the whole lawn area thoroughly.
  • After that, you can apply a layer (1-2 inches) of organic matter such as compost on your lawn.
  • Lastly, mix and level the area using a garden rake.
  • Now your lawn is ready to plant new turf.
Ribbon Organics OMRI Certified Organic Compost Size: 7.9 Gallons, 32-35 Pound Bag
  • Improves soil structure & aeration
  • Promotes water retention
  • OMRI Certified for Organic Use
  • Safe for use at any concentration
  • Pairs wonderfully with worm castings & other soil builders

And you can watch this comprehensive YouTube tutorial on core aeration:

Amending the Soil with Organic Matter

As I mentioned in the previous method of rototilling regarding how to soften hard soil lawns: after churning up the soil, you can mix the soil on your lawn with compost or worm castings.

These components work as natural, non-toxic fertilizers for the soil in your garden. A mixture of these components with dead leaves can act as a mulch mixture for softening the hard soil on your lawn.

Providing the Soil with Necessary Structural Components

Another arrangement that you can make to soften your hard soil lawn is to use crucial structural components for the soil. And what’s that?

Well… I may have mentioned earlier that compactness of the soil can also be caused if the structural components of the soil are depleted or there is a change in pH levels.

In both cases, we must add necessary constituents — such as Gypsum or Lime — to replace the soil’s calcium and maintain the pH.

Usually, if both calcium and pH levels of the soil are low, it is better to add agricultural lime. On the other hand, if only calcium levels are low while the pH is somewhat normal, we add Gypsum.

Jobe's Organics, 09365, Soil Additive, Soil De-Acidifier, Lime Soil, 6lbs, Gray
  • Organic granular for increasing soils alkalinity, pH; Low pH can cause poor fertilizer response and soil structure
  • Most plants grow well in a pH between 6 and 7, with 6.5-6.8 being ideal; below 6.0 Many nutrients cannot be absorbed
  • Adding garden lime will increase the pH and make those nutrients available again; test soil pH before applying
  • Helps plants like hydrangeas turn pink; creates a healthier, better-producing plant
  • Easy pour 6 pound bag; apply at planting, reapply 2-3 times a year to maintain desired soil pH


With all that said, let us conclude the talk.

I hope that now you know how to soften hard soil lawns. If you found today’s article helpful, consider sharing it with your friends and family.

Now… grow up a lawn that’s worth envying!

Happy growing!

Mahad H.