How to Buy a Lawn Aerator Best for Your Needs

If you take pride in your lawn and want to keep it as healthy as possible, you might want to add a lawn aerator to your collection of equipment.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: Josh Plueger, Offutt Air Force Base/Flickr

The peak of winter is the perfect time to ponder plans for the coming summer, because there’s not a whole lot else to do when there’s two feet of snow outside (which is the case as I write this). In times like these I like to look ahead to the warmer months and make plans for lawn care.

If you take pride in your lawn and want to keep it as healthy and vibrant as possible, you might want to expand your list of lawn care tools to include a lawn aerator. A lawn aerator is pretty much what its name suggests—a tool designed to aerate the soil in your yard, allowing oxygen and nutrients to enter the soil while also improving drainage. This can be necessary if the soil in your lawn has too much thatch (dried plant remains) or is heavily compacted by frequent activity.

A typical aerator is a rolling device with a row of specially designed spikes that rotate and penetrate the soil as the machine travels across your yard. Although they are simple in essence, they’re also a little more complicated than they appear at first glance. Here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for a lawn aerator.

1. Spike or Plug?

Here’s your main consideration: There are two types of aerators—spike aerators and plug aerators—and they are suitable for different types of lawns. A spike aerator is designed to simply punch holes in the soil to improve aeration, whereas plug aerators actually remove some soil (“plugs”) from the ground.

Generally speaking, people prefer plug aerators to spike aerators, though it depends to some extent on the lawn soil type. Clay soils can become compacted in other ways by the use of spike aerators, so a plug aerator is the better option, but for lighter soils a spike aerator can be a viable option.

2. How Wide Is the Aerator?

Obviously, the width will determine how much soil you can aerate on a single pass. A unit that is 4 feet wide will aerate 33 percent more soil on each pass than a unit measuring 3 feet wide, which can add up to significant time savings for large lawns. Aerating an area 12 feet wide would require just three passes with a four-foot aerator as opposed to four passes with a three-foot aerator.

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3. Hand Pushed or Tractor Powered?

Some small aerators are designed to be pushed by hand, while others are designed to be towed behind a lawn tractor. Hand-pushed aerators offer the advantage of simplicity (all they need is muscle power to operate) and are less expensive as well, but they’re more tiring to use and naturally aren’t as wide as aerators pulled behind a lawn tractor. For small lawns, a hand-pushed aerator could be a good choice, but for large yards, a larger unit for a lawn tractor is probably the way to go.

If you already own a lawn aerator, let us know what you think of it.

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