Maintaining a lawn is demanding, no question about it. Grass requires regular watering, mowing, and weeding to stay verdant and lush. If bare patches persist despite your best efforts, compacted soil is the likely culprit.
Compaction occurs when soil pockets deflate and air, water, and nutrients can no longer circulate around the roots. It often happens in lawns with heavy clay soil and lawns that receive a lot of foot traffic. To make matters worse, 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.
A yearly pass with a lawn aerator creates space for air and water to reach your lawn’s roots. This could be the key that unlocks the gate to greener pastures. Read on for what to look for in a quality tool of this type. Then find out why the models below are among the best lawn aerator options available.
- BEST OVERALL: Agri-Fab 45-0544 40-Inch Spike Aerator
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Gardzen Plug Aeration, Hand Hollow Tine Lawn Aerator
- BEST MANUAL: Yard Butler Lawn Coring Aerator
- BEST HEAVY DUTY: Agri-Fab 45-0299 48-Inch Tow Plug Aerator
- BEST SHOE AERATOR: PLANTNOMICS Lawn Aerator Shoes
Who Should Aerate Their Lawn
Before you run out and poke holes in your lawn, understand that not all lawns require aeration. But if one of the following scenarios applies to your lawn, you should consider aeration. Otherwise, let the green be.
- For newly constructed homes, aeration is almost always a good idea. Between the work crew’s trucks and heavy equipment passing over the soil, there’s a good chance you need to aerate your lawn.
- Is your lawn the neighborhood ball field? When a yard sees a lot of use, such as children, parties, pets, and other foot traffic, you should think about lawn aeration.
- For lawns built up from sod, a yard aerator can be a necessity. Until the sod can take root and make a connection to the rough soil underneath, it’s just a grass carpet sitting on top of the soil. Lawn aeration promotes that connection.
Your soil may not be breathing because there’s a thick layer of thatch on top. That’s compacted grass, leaf litter, and other materials. In that case, a lawn dethatcher might be all it takes. These tools simply scrape and remove the thatch without digging into the surface.
Depending on the method of aeration that’s best for your lawn, you may use one of two types of tools: a spike or a plug (also called a “core”).
Plug aerators penetrate the lawn with hollow tines that remove plugs of soil. Home landscapers can either leave these plugs in place to decompose or collect them with a rake or lawnmower.
Candidates for plug aeration include lawns where:
- Water pools in the grass or runs off onto sidewalks after a rainfall.
- Soil is difficult to dig into.
- 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 soak in deeper, and air to circulate. The result is a healthy root system below and a lush lawn above.
Spike aerators don’t remove soil from the yard. Instead, they puncture the soil with long spikes and allow air and water to reach the roots. They typically work well on less compacted soil and sod. They might not do the trick for dense soil.
Spike aerators tend to work best with 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.
Types of Lawn Aerators
The size of your lawn and the amount of physical labor you can handle will determine which type of aerator 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. These aerators most often have spikes, not hollow tines, which make them better suited to lawns without compaction.
A bit harder to find, push aerators require more effort to force the tines into the soil. If the goal is to break down compacted soil, opt for a handheld or tow-behind plug aerator.
Handheld aerator models typically work best on small lawns. They come in both plug and spike varieties. A dual-handle grip (placed high on the tool to prevent back pain) and a strong foot platform allow landscapers to step onto the tool to drive the hollow tines or spikes into the soil repeatedly across the entire lawn. Aeration with handheld tools takes a little more time and physical effort, but it works.
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. To dig deeper, tow-behind aerators come with a tray above the tines for adding extra weight.
Lawn aerator shoes let you aerate the lawn while you walk. But they’re a good idea only for mildly compacted soil and light maintenance. The sandal-like device fits over your shoes with adjustable straps and solid spikes on the soles.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Lawn Aerator
A nicely aerated lawn can be thick, vibrant and the envy of the neighborhood. But there’s a lot that goes into choosing the best lawn aerator. The following sections break down the most important factors to consider.
Durability is always a factor when shopping for yard equipment. Aerators see particularly rough use as landscapers drive them deep into the ground. For these reasons, the construction materials are an essential consideration.
In general, the best lawn aerator uses stainless, galvanized, or heat-treated steel for the spikes or knives that dig into the ground. These tough materials resist rust and stand up to rocks and other rough terrains. The same goes for shoe-style aerators: stainless spikes are best.
Also, consider the framework of tow-behind aerators. Powder-coated frames, trays, and other components will help resist rust and aerate your lawn for years to come.
When choosing the best lawn aerator, shoppers need to consider whether they’d like to power the aerator themselves or tow it behind a lawn tractor.
Manual lawn aerators, such as the shoe style and the step-on design, require users to repeatedly drive the spikes or knives into the ground and pull them out again. The manual labor may be tolerable for small yards, but large lawns likely need a tow-behind model.
Tow-behind models are by far the most convenient for large lawns, but they do take some time to set up. Users have to attach the aerator to the tractor and place the appropriate amount of weight on top to ensure the spikes penetrate the soil. The right weight varies considerably between lawns, so there are no rules of thumb to follow.
Weight and Mobility
Weight and mobility can be tricky to balance when it comes to lawn aeration. On one hand, an aerator needs to be heavy enough to get into the soil. On the other hand, a bulky, hard-to-maneuver aerator might not be of much use.
Large tow-behind aerators can weigh more than 90 pounds. It’s important that they’re heavy so they can really dig down into the soil. But, they’re hard to maneuver around garden beds, and the setup time might not be worth it.
For those smaller yards, a lighter manual option might be a better fit. These models often weigh less than 5 pounds, which makes them easier to lift out of the soil. They’re incredibly mobile, so they’ll work in the tiniest plots of grass.
Some of the best lawn aerators have additional features which may make them more desirable in certain scenarios.
- Knife or spike length. The farther the spikes drive into the soil, the more air and water make it to the roots. But tines that are too long make the aerator difficult to operate. The optimal length is around 3 inches.
- Aerator/spreader combs. These models have hoppers that carry seeds and spreaders that distribute the grass seeds while the knives are aerating the soil.
- Handle shape. On manual models, look for an ergonomic handle design.
Our Top Picks
If it seems like a lot of complicated information to sort through when shopping for the best lawn aerator, the following list will help. It consists of some of the best lawn aerators on the market. Be sure to keep the top considerations in mind when comparing these products.
Those who prefer spiking their lawns over removing plugs should take a look at this spike aerator from Agri-Fab. It features 10 individual spikes and a weight tray with a 100-pound capacity to pierce compacted soil for better air and rain flow to the lawn’s roots.
The unit offers a few features that make it particularly attractive. A transport lever adjusts for rolling across sidewalks and driveways. A universal hitch works with ATVs, UTVs, and lawn tractors and folds away for easy storage. The 7-inch flat-free tires will stand up to rugged use.
- Single bar tow-behind design
- Ten galvanized steel rotating spikes penetrate 1.5 inches deep
- Spikes don’t bend easily even in hard soil
- Holds up to 100 pounds to push deeper into soil
- Might take hours to assemble
- Spikes don’t penetrate deeply
Not all yards require big, heavy-duty aerators. For smaller yards (or smaller budgets), Gardzen offers an attractive option. This unit features durable all-steel, powder-coated construction and 3-inch hollow tines to pierce through tough soil.
Gardzen’s ergonomic design with a T-handle, rubber grips, and a wide foot plate make manual aerating more comfortable. At just under 3.5 pounds and almost 36 inches tall, this easy-to-handle aerator stands at a comfortable working height. It comes shipped in four separate pieces with all the hardware and tools required to assemble it.
- Hollow tines remove soil
- Steel construction
- Comfortable handles
- Easy to assemble
- Clogs easily
- Only two tines, so best for smaller lawns
DIY lawn-care experts know the value of a quality manual aerator. Whether it’s for a small yard or tight grass pathways, the Yard Butler is up to the task. With a durable all-steel one-piece construction, it’s strong enough to sink the 3.5-inch tines into tough compacted soil while the wide foot plate provides plenty of leverage.
The Yard Butler measures 37 inches high, so users can maintain a comfortable posture while they work. At just over 3.5 pounds, it’s also easy to lift with the padded T-shaped handles.
- Manual two-prong tool that’s 37 inches tall
- Cushioned grip to reduce fatigue
- Removes two ½-inch plugs that are 3.5 inches deep
- Tapered to allow new plugs to push previous plugs out
- Soil plugs might get stuck in the corers
- Takes a while to do an entire lawn
For large yards or those with extremely compacted soil, a heavy-duty aerator like this model from Agri-Fab might be the best bet. The 48-inch-wide path on this tow-behind plug aerator makes quicker work of expansive lawns. Heavy-gauge galvanized steel knives with 32 spikes get the job done.
A 175-pound weight tray pulls enough weight for some of the most stubborn soil. A pair of 9.75-inch flat-free tires supports travel over rough terrain, and a transportation lever lifts the knives clear of sidewalks and driveways. The universal hitch fits ATVs, UTVs, and lawn tractors as well.
- 48-inch-wide tow-behind design
- 32 narrow-tipped tines that dig 3.5 inches deep
- Holds up to 175 pounds to push deeper into soil
- Angled lever can be reached from lawn mower
- Assembly parts come mixed together
- Lever doesn’t always stay in upright position
A lush, vibrant lawn doesn’t have to mean hard work or heavy equipment. With this PLANTNOMICS Lawn Aerator Shoes, DIYers can step their way to a better lawn. The 2-inch spikes make way for air and water to seep into the soil with each step.
These aerator shoes with hook-and-loop straps fit easily over boots or sneakers in a variety of sizes. At 5 inches wide and 12 inches long, and with an open toe, they’ll accommodate longer shoes and boots, too. Just beware that the manufacturer recommends them for folks under 220 pounds.
- 12-inch spiked platforms for manually walking and aerating
- Helpful heel guard for extra balance
- Adjustable straps to fit any shoe
- Durable steel spikes are close together for great aeration
- Hard to penetrate dry soil
- Can take a while to walk over entire lawn
Lawn aerators give space for water, nutrients, and air to enrich the soil, so the lawn’s roots will spread deeper and wider. The Agri-Fab Aerator is our top choice for homeowners looking to create a greener, healthier lawn that they can proudly sit back and enjoy. For smaller yards, we recommend Gardzen’s manual lawn aerator.
How We Chose the Best Lawn Aerators
These recommendations for the best lawn aerators span a number of styles and designs that can help users improve the health of their lawn. Each product fulfills the requirement to create spaces in the lawn where additional water, air, and nutrients can reach the grass roots more quickly to help the grass thrive.
We narrowed our research to include three basic designs: plug, wide spikes, and tall spikes. High-traffic or hard soil will benefit from lawn aerators that remove entire soil plugs from the lawn, while other average lawns may do well with one of the spike aerators on our list. The most heavy-duty lawn aerators require the assistance of a tractor or lawn mower to tow the unit to effectively pull up the soil plugs. However, we also included several manual options like push bar aerators and shoe spikes. These styles work well for small lawns or tight spaces.
The Benefits of Aerating Your Lawn
The central purpose of aeration is to improve the circulation of air, nutrients, and water through the soil. These conditions are crucial for maintaining a healthy lawn.
- Aeration improves soil conditions in yards covered in thick thatch, which keeps water from absorbing into the soil. The tines or spikes on an aerator dig through the thatch and help it break down more quickly.
- Lawn aerators offer similar advantages to yards where pets relieve themselves, which tends to occur in the same spots. This results in damaged or dead turf, and aeration helps the grass grow back, with the help of fertilizer and grass seed.
- Aeration is also useful for breaking up compacted soil, which can result over time due to heavy rain and foot traffic. Lawn aerators create holes in the soil that function as air pockets for improved circulation.
The following section aims to answer any remaining questions you may have about the best lawn aerator. Look for the answers to your questions below.
Q. Which is better, spike or plug aerators?
Ultimately, plug aeration is better than spike lawn aeration as it physically removes mass from the yard instead of merely poking into it.
Q. What is the best month to aerate my lawn?
The best month to aerate your lawn depends on the climate, but the first month of spring weather is best. It’s also a good idea to aerate again in the fall after leaf cleanup.
Q. Is it best to aerate the lawn before seeding?
Yes, aerating allows seeds to penetrate the surface for the best possible germination.
Q. How deep should I aerate the lawn?
Three to 3.5 inches is more than sufficient in most cases.
Q. Should I mow before or after aeration?
If you use a plug aerator, mowing afterward can help bust up the clumps left behind.
Q. How often should I re-aerate my lawn?
Twice a year is usually sufficient, but anytime you notice the lawn is more compact is a good time to poke a few holes.