The Best Lawn Aerator for Every Size of Yard
To find the best lawn aerator for your lawn care needs and budget, start with our top tips and recommendations.
Maintaining a lawn is demanding, no questions about it. Grass requires regular watering, cutting, and weeding to stay verdant and lush.
If despite your best efforts, problems with bare patches persist, compacted soil is the likely culprit.
Common in lawns with heavy clay soil and/or lawns receive a lot of foot traffic, compaction occurs when soil pockets deflate and air, water, and nutrients can no longer circulate around the roots. Drainage suffers as well, and a thick thatch layer—a mix of dead stems, leaves, and roots—often develops between the soil and the grass, only making matters worse.
Using a lawn aerator once a year to create space for air and water to reach your lawn’s roots can be the key that unlocks the gate to greener pastures. Read on for what to look for in quality tool of this type and to find out why we chose the below models as our top favorites among the best lawn aerator options available.
Key Considerations When Choosing a Lawn Aerator
Spike vs. Plug Aerators
Depending on the method of aeration that’s best for your lawn, you may use one of two types of tools: spike and plug (which is also called “core”).
- Plug aerators have hollow tines that penetrate the lawn and remove plugs of soil the home landscaper can either leave in place to decompose or collect with a rake or lawnmower. A spike aerator makes punctures without removing any soil. The one you choose depends largely on the condition of your soil. Candidates for plug aeration include lawns where water pools in the grass or runs off onto sidewalks after a rainfall, where soil is difficult to dig into, or where frequent foot traffic has hardened the soil. Whether your lawn has all or just one of these indicators, it will benefit from a plug aerator. The holes create spaces in the soil that allow roots to expand, water to penetrate deeper, and air to circulate. The result is a healthy root system below and a lush lawn above.
- Conversely, spike aerators lack the strength to penetrate dense soil and can cause more trouble in a compacted lawn. Instead of removing soil, spike aerators simply puncture it, which forces soil out of the way and creates a denser soil structure. Spike aerators are usually best suited for looser soil, especially if your goal is to increase root exposure to fertilizer or create spaces for grass seed to settle without running off the soil’s surface.
Pushing vs. Towing vs. Handheld
The size of your lawn and the amount of physical labor you can handle will determine which aeration method—pushing, towing, or handheld—works best for you.
- Push aerators work best in small areas, especially those with obstacles like playsets and trees that require a little finesse to navigate. This type of aerator most often has spikes, not hollow tines, making it better suited for lawns without compaction issues. Push and electric plug aerators are harder to find, likely because they require more effort to force the tines into the soil. If your goal is to improve compacted soil, opt for a handheld or tow-behind plug aerator.
- Handheld aerator tools come in both plug and spike varieties and are typically best for small lawns. A dual-handle grip (placed high on the tool to prevent back injury) and a strong foot platform allow you to step onto the tool to drive hollow tines or spikes into the soil repeatedly until the lawn is completely aerated. Aeration with handheld tools takes a little more time and physical effort, but it works. You’ll definitely get a workout.
- If you have a riding lawn mower, you probably have a large lawn. In this case, a tow-behind aerator might make sense. Connect the lawn aerator to the tow hitch on the mower and quickly cover a lot of ground. For deeper penetration, tow-behind aerators come with a tray above the tines that can hold extra weight, like cinder blocks or bricks.
Lawn aerator shoes aren’t exactly shoes. They’re more like sandals that fit over your shoes with adjustable straps and solid spikes on the soles. The idea is you can aerate the lawn while you mow. The truth is, they do more harm than good. Solid spikes don’t remove soil as they penetrate it, but force it down and to the sides, increasing compaction issues.
Our Top Picks
1. TOP PICK: Yard Butler ID-6C
The Yard Butler is the most labor-intensive of the aerators on our list, but it’s especially effective for small and medium-size yards with compacted soil. With this handheld aerator, you’ll walk the yard, applying pressure with your foot to sink two hollow tines into the soil. Lift the aerator and continue moving across the lawn, repeating every 4 to 6 inches. The plug inside each tine is forced out as you press the tool into new soil. A dual-handle grip, sturdy construction, and a 37-inch height help reduce back and arm strain.
2. BEST FOR LARGE YARDS: Brinly PA-40BH
If you have a yard large enough to require a riding lawn mower, the Brinly PA-40BH plug aerator might make sense. Twenty-four hollow tines spread across the 40-inch wide aerator remove 3-inch plugs and make fast work of medium to large yards. A weight tray holds up to 150 extra pounds to force the tines deeper and its 10-inch tires will never go flat. The aerator connects quickly to any riding mower with a universal pin hitch. If you’ll be crossing over sidewalks and driveways with the aerator to access another part of the yard, you can raise and lower the tines with a lever to prevent damage to these surfaces, as well as the aerator.
3. ALSO CONSIDER: Brinly SA-40BH
Ten steel stars on the 40-inch wide Brinly SA-40BH tow-behind spike aerator slice through soil up to a depth of 2 inches, making seeding and fertilizing more effective in loose soil. A universal hitch makes connecting the aerator to any riding lawn mower a breeze. For deeper penetration, add up to 110 pounds of weight to the tray above the rotating stars.