Lawn Aerator Options: Which One’s Best for Your Yard?

Aerating is one of the best things you can do for your lawn because it breaks through thatch and helps water and nutrients reach grass roots.

Aerate Your LawnAlan Kidd/Shutterstock

Do you really need to aerate your lawn?

Aerating is one of the best things you can do for your lawn. The heavier the soil and the more traffic it gets, the more important lawn aeration is. Aerating breaks through thatch, the thick layer of dead plant material that can accumulate at the base of grass blades. It also breaks up the soil surface, allowing water and fertilizer to penetrate the ground and get to grass roots.

How do you know if your lawn needs aeration?

Puddling after rain is one symptom that your lawn needs aeration. Bare spots and smooth, sun-baked patches of dirt are another.

How often should you aerate your lawn?

It’s good to aerate the lawn every 5 years—or more often if it gets a lot of foot traffic. See our tips for reviving thinning grass.

What is the best way to aerate your yard?

There are two ways to aerate a lawn: spike aeration, done by poking holes in the ground with a spade fork or shoe lawn aerator; and core aeration, which removes small cores of soil either manually or with a gas-powered core lawn aerator rented from a hardware store. Spike lawn aeration is better than nothing—at least it breaks the surface of the soil to help rainwater penetrate. Shoe lawn aerators (basically long spikes attached to shoes) are an option, but you have to repeatedly take higher steps than normal to avoid scuffing. This tests your patience. (And it’s really not the best way to aerate the lawn anyway.)

Core lawn aeration is better. Rather than just poking entry points, core aeration removes 2 to 3-inch plugs of soil every 3 inches. It’s a perfect opportunity to top-dress the aerated lawn with 1/2 inch of compost, which then fills the gaps. Eventually, the soil plugs on top of the grass break up and fill remaining gaps.

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You can do core lawn aeration with a manual device pressed into the soil with your foot. This is helpful for aerating smaller areas, such as a path worn across the lawn by the family pet. Be sure to wear work boots to protect the bottoms of your feet from the pressure of constantly stepping down on the device. A gas-powered lawn aerator is your best bet because you can do an entire lawn in 20 minutes. Get together with your neighbors and rent one for everyone to use for the day—it’s cheaper that way.

You can aerate anytime during the growing season but fall is usually the best time. If the weather’s been dry, it helps to water the ground the day before—but not to the point where it becomes soggy or mucky.

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Luke Miller
Luke Miller is an award-winning garden editor with 25 years' experience in horticultural communications, including editing a national magazine and creating print and online gardening content for a national retailer. He grew up across the street from a park arboretum and has a lifelong passion for gardening in general and trees in particular. In addition to his journalism degree, he has studied horticulture and is a Master Gardener.