Growing up we were told to stop poking holes in things, to prevent ruining the item. Now as an adult we find ourselves doing just that in our yard but for beneficial reasons!
Poking holes in your lawn, a process known as aerating, is one of the best maintenance practices you can perform. It helps to reduce soil compaction and improves the movement of air, water, and nutrients into the soil to grow thicker, healthy lawn.
As the DIY mentality of homeowners grows, more and more people are opting to purchase their own lawn aerators instead of constantly paying money for a professional lawn aeration service or to rent equipment to do it themselves.
So on to the big questions…how do you pick the right lawn aerator and which model do I think is the top contender? Keep reading to find out!
Quick Look: Here are the top lawn aerators in 2019
- Agri-Fab 45-0299: pulls deep cores, easy to use, low maintenance, high quality brand
- Brinly PA-48BH: simple to operate, priced right with good warranty
- Precision Products PA42GY: easy to put together, very good model for uneven ground
- Ohio Steel 48CP: close to commercial grade, gentle on lawn, but expensive
- Yard Butler Tool: my favorite handheld aerator
- John Deere Plug Aerator: heavy duty frame with easy to operate handle
How I Rated the Lawn Aerators
It’s easy to get confused and overwhelmed when you start thinking about how to pick a lawn aerator for personal use or even what kind of lawn aerator you need.
After being asked these questions repeatedly, I decided to figure out exactly which one(s) I thought are the best lawn aerators and compiled this guide as a reference for readers.
I conducted extensive research to provide you with my own honest reviews of the best lawn aerators on the market. I read and compared 100’s of lawn aerator ratings and reviews, looked at the specifications of each model, and asked myself the following questions.
- What are the pros and cons of each?
- Does a model have any unique features worth mentioning?
- What is the cost?
- Does the performance and features of more expensive units warrant their higher price tag?
- Which machine is more reliable or has a better warranty?
- Does it come with a good instruction manual or is there one readily available online?
After I finished all of this investigating, I believe the following features are the most important to consider when looking to buy the best lawn aerator for the money.
As with most lawn and garden equipment, your lawn aerator comes with a manufacturer’s warranty.
Generally speaking, these are limited warranties that cover defects in materials or workmanship on the unit itself. They do not cover damage to the equipment due to user error, or natural wear and tear incurred through normal use.
Each manufacturer offers a different coverage plan. From my research, a 2-year warranty is the industry average and adequately covers flaws in materials or the manufacturing process in most cases.
Some basic maintenance is required to keep your lawn aerator in tip-top shape and ensure the longest life span possible.
Every time you use your aerator make sure to:
- Remove any soil cores that remain in the tines after you finish.
- Use your garden hose to rinse dirt or mud off the aerator.
The following are recommended by the manufacturers as periodic maintenance requirements:
- Plug points can be individually sharpened with a small grinder when they lose their edge.
- Oil the spool assembly and shaft as needed.
- Oil the wheel hubs as needed.
At the end of the season clean your equipment thoroughly and lightly oil all of the metal parts prior to storing it for the winter.
When it comes to deciding how much to pay, think about the needs you are trying to meet and how far you can stretch your budget.
- Are you limited by a budget?
- What size yard and how much lawn do you have that needs to be aerated?
If you have a smaller yard and really don’t need all the bells and whistles of a fancy model then skip the more expensive options, opting for a handheld aerator. You’ll expend more energy doing the task yourself but will improve the health of your lawn overall.
If you have a bigger yard and access to a lawn tractor or ATV a tow behind model is best suited for your situation.
Gas powered aerators you push around the lawn are expensive, easily costing thousands of dollars depending on the brand you choose. They are good options if you own rental properties or a lawn care business. For most homeowners, they aren’t worth the extra money.
This purchase is going to be an investment; one that you want to get your money’s worth. Make sure any product you are looking at is made by a reputable manufacturer and is built using dependable, high-quality materials.
It is also important that your aerator will provide consistent, desired results over and over again to reduce compacted soil. Buying a high-quality model increases the likelihood of reliability across its lifespan.
Plug Aerator vs. Spike Aerator
Lawn aerators function through one of two different actions: by removing plugs or cores of soil or using spikes to create openings in the soil.
Plug aerators – also known as core aerators – have hollow metal tines to remove cores of soil as they are moved across the lawn. This opens up holes, removing thatch and reducing compaction while allowing better movement of water, air, and nutrients into the soil. The results of plug aeration are more effective over the long term.
I highly recommend core aerators over spike aerators
Spike aerators have solid metal or plastic tines that puncture the ground.
Its major drawback is the wedge-shaped tines can CREATE additional ground compaction in the area directly surrounding the punctures.
I strongly recommend homeowners to steer clear of spike aerators if at all possible because of their tendency to compact the soil further. They perform okay for seeding brand new lawns but should be avoided if your turf is already established.
Types of Lawn Aerators
When you’re trying to decide which lawn aerator to buy you need to understand the different types.
You can purchase one you tow behind a garden tractor, one you push like a mower, simple aerator shoes you wear on your feet, a handheld model, or a gas-powered aerator.
As with other types of lawn equipment, one may be better suited for your yard than others.
Homeowners generally purchase tow grass aerators than any other type.
Two-behind models are constructed out of metal, typically consisting of a series of tines that rotate as the unit is pulled across the lawn. This pull behind aerator attaches to a lawn tractor, ATV, or riding mower.
A tray above the knives holds weight to increase the effectiveness and length of the cores pulled.
Rolling aerators are reminiscent of reel lawn mowers; a unit that spins as you push it across the grass. A large wheel with spikes on it rotates as you walk, the spikes digging into the soil.
At first glance, push aerators seem like an economical way to aerate, but they typically have spikes instead of hollow tines to pull cores.
As I’ve mentioned before I believe plug/core models are the better choice.
Lawn aerator shoes use solid tines to punch holes in the soil. A dozen or so spikes are attached to the bottom of a plastic sole, which straps onto your shoes in a similar fashion to snowshoes.
You then walk around the lawn – or wear them when mowing to multitask – to create the openings in the grass.
Some people like the ease and price of lawn aerator shoes but I don’t recommend them either. In my opinion, they do little more than increase compacted soil because of their design.
Completely reliant on your effort, a manual lawn aerator resembles a gardening fork but have open tines or spikes to create holes in the soil. They are inexpensive to purchase and can be hung on the wall with your other hand tools.
Handheld aerators work best for small yards since the process is labor-intensive and time-consuming.
Popular with professional/commercial users, gas-powered models are quite similar in design to a garden rototiller. A gasoline engine sits over the top of the knives, providing the weight needed to pull cores. The operator walks behind the self-propelled unit, guiding it across the grass.
Narrower in width than tow-behinds, and somewhat unwieldy to maneuver, gas-powered aerators are also loud and emit exhaust fumes. They do however make quick work of grass aeration and don’t require a tractor or ATV like towable models do.
Difference Between Cheap and Expensive Models
There is a perfect lawn aerator out there for all needs and every budget.
The difference in cost between models depends on what brand you purchase and a variety of other specs.
Cheaper models typically come with shorter, limited-warranties. Parts may not be replaceable so if they break you have to purchase a whole new unit instead of repairing it, and they have lower grade carbon steel that is more prone to rusting.
The wheels are also typically plastic.
More expensive models will offer a longer warranty that may cover more parts.
Individual tines may be replaced if they break, instead of replacing the entire axel or unit, and the tines, weight tray, and other parts are constructed using powder-coated stainless steel for more durability and less rust.
They also come with air-filled tires or pneumatic, flat-free wheels.
Best Selling &Top Rated Lawn Aerator Brands
- Precision Products
- Ohio Steel
- Yard Butler
- Billy Goat
- Yard Tuff
How Much Should I Expect To Pay?
There is a wide variation in price between simple handheld models, tow behind aerators gas-powered, walk-behind units. This difference in price corresponds to the size and number of tines, the materials used in manufacturing, and the type and power of the motor, etc.
The best aerators for lawns I’ve recommended in this guide range in price from $25 to $500, with an average price of around $330 for the models you tow behind your mower or ATV.
Best Lawn Aerator Reviews
Agri-Fab 45-0299 48″ Tow Behind Plug Aerator
- 32 galvanized knives on a heavy-gauge steel deck pull cores up to 3” deep in a swath 48” wide.
- Flat-free tires require less maintenance and allow for smooth transportation.
- Universal hitch fits a variety of tractors and ATVs regardless of brand.
- Lip on storage tray is shallow, must adequately secure weight placed on it.
- Lever to raise and lower aerator knives can be difficult to operate when sitting on the tractor.
At the top of my recommendation list is the Agri-Fab 45-0299. Many features combine to make it the best plug aerator.
The 48” wide tow-behind aerator is made in the United States using heavy gauge steel and comes with a 3-year limited consumer warranty. 32 self-sharpening tines sit underneath a weight tray with the capacity to hold 175-pounds for better soil penetration.
Flat-free tires mean you never have to check tire pressure or add air before using the equipment; 10-inch diameter wheels provide for a smooth, easy to maneuver pulling experience.
The included universal hitch on the Agri-Fab allows you to hook the aerator behind any lawn tractor or ATV regardless of brand.
Brinly PA-48BH Tow Behind Core Aerator
- 4 independent, rotating tine sections allow it to move easily across uneven terrain.
- Each plugging spoon is serviceable individually versus replacing the entire plugging shaft.
- Raising the tines when seated on the tractor can be cumbersome when fully weighted.
- Wheels are in an outboard position when lifted, can bend easily if caught on obstacles.
Brinly has been a trusted manufacturer of quality lawn and garden equipment since 1839; this tow behind aerator demonstrates their dedication to reliable, durable equipment.
Independently rotating tines allow the 32 heat-treated, 16 gauge steel plugging spoons to remove up to 3” cores with minimal damage to your turf even when driving on uneven terrain or turning corners. The single transport lever is easy to reach from most tractor seats to lift or lower the tines, switching between transport and aeration mode.
A full 2-year warranty covers the all steel design, including the weight tray with 200-pound capacity, individually serviceable tines, universal hitch, and no flat wheels.
Precision Products PA42GY Aerator
- All of the aerator plug assemblies move independently to let you aerate while completing turns in the lawn.
- Minimal assembly compared to other units, reducing time spent and risk of injury in attaching tines to shaft.
- Shorter tines only pull soil cores to a depth of 2.5 inches.
- 90-day limited warranty is one of the shortest warranties of all the recommended models.
The 42” wide body on the Precision Products model has thirty-two 13-gauge steel plugging spoons that penetrate as deep as 2-1/2 inches.
An 11 gauge steel tray frame can hold up to 150-pounds to aid in pulling cores from clay soils, and heavily trafficked areas that are frequented by children and pets to improve nutrient and water movement through the soil.
The single-action level engages and disengages the tines easily from your seat on the tractor.
10-inch pneumatic wheels easily navigate a variety of terrain, seamlessly transitioning from lawn to driveway. A steel reinforced towing bar with an adjustable height hitch attaches to a variety of mowing tractors.
Ohio Steel 48CP Pro Spring Activated Core Plugger
- Powder coated steel frame is resistant to cracking, peeling, abrasion and rust.
- 200-pound capacity weight tray helps pull deeper, consistent cores.
- Patented spring-assisted design is gentler on your lawn and more effective.
- Pneumatic wheels are difficult to inflate if they go flat.
- Some owners claim tines break or get lost easily, requiring replacement parts to be purchased.
Manufactured in the United States, the Ohio Steel 48CP aerator boasts a patented spring-assisted design to create more defined cores and pull perfect plugs consistently.
Heavy duty steel tines resist damage from rocks and large roots for worry-free use.
Manufactured with an 11 gauge powder coated steel frame and ¾” solid steel axle, this aerator is professional grade at a fraction of the price.
40 core points aerate up to a depth of 2.5” with a coring width of 48” to quickly tackle large lawns. Solid steel tray is designed to hold up to 200 pounds of weight for increased efficiency.
Yard Butler Turf Core Aeration Hand Tool
- Heavy-duty, powder-coated steel construction provides a tool guaranteed to be reliable.
- 37” tool height reduces strain on back; foot bar provides extra leverage.
- Most economical option of all of the aerators, appropriate for a wide range of budgets.
- More time consuming and tedious than other units with more plugs.
- Tines have tendency to clog with soil plugs rather than ejecting them regardless of soil moisture level.
The only manual/handheld aerator to make this list, the Yard Butler Lawn Core Aeration Tool proves itself worthy for use on small lawns.
Made from durable steel, this handheld tool removes two cores ½” wide and up to 3” deep to reduce soil compaction while dethatching your lawn.
A longer handle design helps to reduce back strain, allowing you to aerate a greater area with less fatigue. The foot bar provides extra leverage to penetrate high clay content soils or thick layers of thatch.
Powder-coated steel ensures a lawn and gardening tool built for a lifetime of use.
John Deere Tow-Behind Core Aerator
- Weight capacity of the pure steel tray is 250-pounds, providing ample power to pull cores.
- Heavy-duty steel frame and tray create a sturdier, heavier unit for better performance.
- Handle to lift and lower wheels has tendency to bend when tray is fully weighted down.
- Heavier weight requires a more powerful tractor or ATV to pull unit across lawn.
Known for quality agricultural and lawn equipment, John Deere doesn’t disappoint with their tow-behind aerator.
48 plugs are made from heat-treated 16 gauge stainless steel and rotate independently on 4 individual sections of tines to achieve maximum coverage (48-inch width) with minimal damage to your lawn while pulling cores up to 3” in length.
A fully enclosed steel weight tray on one of the best lawn aerators holds up to 250 pounds to increase effectiveness and pull deeper cores.
The universal hitch adapts to fit a range of lawn tractors, mowers, and ATVs. Covered by a 1-year warranty, this aerator does a great job letting water, air, seed, and nutrients reach the roots.
Question: Do you really need to aerate your lawn?
Answer: Yes, you really need to aerate your lawn. As the grass grows and traffic moves across it, even the healthiest lawns will build a layer of debris or experience some level of compaction that inhibits water and fertilizer movement down into the soil.
Aerating your lawn opens up this layer of debris and compacted soil making the ground more penetrable, resulting in a thicker lawn that effectively utilizes irrigation, fertilizers, and pest management treatments.
Question: How often should you aerate your grass?
Answer: How often you aerate your yard depends on the type of soil you have and how badly it is compacted. The recommendation for most homeowners is to aerate annually with the timing dependent on the type of grass growing.
For homeowners that have a significant amount of ground compaction or soils with significant amounts of clay, this recommendation is bumped up to twice annually for the best grass growth.
Question: What is the best time of year to aerate and overseed?
Answer: The best time of year to aerate and overseed depends on the type of grass you are growing and your local climate. You want to schedule core/plug aeration during or right before grasses reach their peak growth so they can recover quickly.
In northern lawns where cool-season grasses are growing it’s best to aerate in early fall or early spring. In southern lawns growing warm-season grasses, aeration should occur in late spring or early summer. In both cases, overseeding should follow immediately thereafter.
Question: How do I prepare my lawn for aeration and seeding?
Answer: To prepare your lawn for aeration and seeding start off by mowing the grass to a height of 1.5 to 2-inches, making sure to bag the clippings as you mow or rake them up to remove them.
Water your lawn the day before aerating to moisten the soil without having it soaking wet. Lastly remove all moveable objects such as lawn furniture and children’s toy from the lawn and mark obstacles such as irrigation heads, valve boxes, drainage pipes, and shallow utility lines with wire flags so they can be avoided.
Question: Should you aerate your lawn before seeding?
Answer: Yes, you should definitely aerate your yard before overseeding. Not only does aerating reduce soil compaction, allowing for better root growth, but it also opens up the thatch layer to put seeds in direct contact with the soil. This allows for better moisture absorption and root development as the grass seed germinates.
Question: What’s the difference between dethatching and aerating?
Answer: The difference between dethatching and aerating is dethatching removes a dead layer of stems and roots – known as thatch – while aerating opens up holes in the ground using spiles or pulls soil cores out completely.
While they utilize a different method they both serve a similar purpose: allowing air, water, and nutrients to better make their way into the soil.
Question: Can I mow right after aerating?
Answer: No, you shouldn’t mow right after aerating. It’s best to mow the lawn to a height of 1.5 to 2-inches just before aeration. Not only does this make the aeration process more effective, it gives the grass a while to recover before it needs to be mowed again.
Question: How deep should I aerate my lawn?
Answer: How deep you aerate depends on the thickness of the thatch layer and the amount of soil compaction. For most lawns aerating to a depth of 2 to 3-inches should be sufficient as long as the thatch is less than 1-inch thick.
Lawns that are heavily compacted or have a significantly thicker layer of that can be aerated to a depth of 4 to 6-inches but may need to be done by a professional to achieve this depth.
Question: Can you aerate too much?
Answer: Yes, you can aerate too much. Once a year is sufficient for most lawns unless you have heavy clay soils or see a serious compaction problem due to traffic.
Aerating too often can reduce the thatch layer too much. It’s recommended to maintain a thatch layer of ½” to protect the growing point of the grass blades, to reduce soil moisture loss, and to regular soil temperature.
Question: What happens if you don’t aerate your lawn?
Answer: If you don’t aerate, over time the soil becomes compacted and a layer of debris builds up on the soil surface. Both of these things severely impact the movement of water, air, and nutrients into the root zone of the soil resulting in decreased or poor grass growth.
Question: Do you rake after aerating your lawn?
Answer: No, do not rake after aerating your lawn. Allow the plugs of soil to fall where they may on the ground and then dry down on their own.
Over the course of 2 to 4-weeks, they will break down as you mow or irrigate, returning beneficial soil microorganisms and organic matter to the lawn.
Choosing the right lawn aerator to meet your needs doesn’t have to be a tedious or overwhelming process.
Using this guide will help you understand the difference in types of aerators and what features are important to look for, simplifying your search.
- 3 Year Limited Consumer Warranty
- Made in the USA with some imported materials
- Simple-to-use cantilever transport handle for easy raising and lowering.
I recommend the Agri-Fab 45-0299 as the best pull behind plug aerator for homeowners with a medium to large yard and access to a lawn tractor or ATV. Moderately priced and well constructed, this model will easily pay for itself after a few seasons of use.