The Best Lawn Aerator

A look at the best tools for lawn aeration – plus how and when to use them

Lawn aeration is an important part of maintaining strong and healthy grass but it’s easy to get it wrong and damage the lawn.

Lawn aerators are tools used by gardeners that allow more oxygen into the soil beneath the grass.

After years of lawn growth and compaction from foot traffic, the soil can become so hardened that the grass’s roots struggle to grow. With poor root development, nutrient uptake is reduced, the grass is weakened and the outcome is a lawn far below its potential.

Not every lawn requires frequent aeration, it all depends on the level of compaction, soil type and how much thatch and other matter has been allowed to remain in the grass and for how long.

Lawn Aerator Tools – Your 2 Options

When it comes to using a lawn aerator, you have two types of tool to choose from.

Professional lawn experts working on large lawns will often use a motorised plugger, this is a type of aerator that digs out small plugs of lawn, around 70mm deep and 15mm or so in diameter.

Domestic gardeners often use spikes, either on a machine, a roller or on the underside of shoes (known as spike shoes).

The images below help to explain what they all are and how they work:

1) Lawn Pluggers

A petrol-powered plugger machine.

A closeup showing the plug remover machine

These machines are perfect for professional use but given the price tag, they’re rarely purchased by gardeners for domestic use.

For gardeners with large lawns, consider hiring a plugger from your local hire shop.

For smaller gardens, you can use a manual plugger, using these involves some hard work but the long term results make it worth the effort:

A manual plugger tool.

Another manual lawn plugging tool

A simple roller with spikes for aeration.

Another spike lawn aerator tool

Spike rollers and manual tools, similar to a garden fork, are the most commonly used tools among amateur gardeners.

Shoe spikes are our favourite, the ones with the slightly thicker spike, in the shape of a cone, are the best.

There is a noticeable difference between how pluggers and spikes function; spikes do not remove any grass, they compact the lawn horizontally as they’re pressed into the ground.

Pluggers remove a small section of grass without any compaction and are therefore more effective at aeration.

Cone-shaped spike shoes are better than shoes with thinner spikes.

A closeup showing shoe with thin spikes

Do You Really Need to Aerate Your Lawn?

This depends entirely on the state of the lawn and more importantly, the soil underneath.

If your soil is soft and fluffy, like in the image shown here, then no, you certainly don’t need to aerate your lawn.

Lawn aeration is recommended if you:

  • have heavy clay-based soil
  • have left thatch and dead matter on your lawn for years (i.e. never raked or sacrified it)
  • have a lawn that gets a lot of foot traffic and is very compacted

Some lawns are rarely aerated, yet they are green, lush and healthy.

If you’re laying a new lawn, you can aerate the soil by turning it over to a depth of 8 inches. Also mix in some lawn sand, fertilizer granules and soil enhancer.

Do this and you won’t need to aerate again for at least a few years. 

A light and well aerated soil.

When is the Best Time of Year to Aerate a Lawn?

The entire point of lawn aeration is to encourage root growth so the grass becomes stronger and healthier through deeper roots and increased nutrient uptake.

Grass typically doesn’t grow much when the temperature drops below 5 degrees and during the height of the summer, it may become dry, distressed and scorched.

Avoid aerating a lawn during the weather extremes of winter and hot summers.

The best time to aerate any lawn is in one of the growing seasons – springtime or autumn.

How Many Times a Year Should a Lawn Be Aerated?

For lawns laid onto heavy compacted clay soil, use lawn spikes such as spiked shoes or spiked rollers up to twice per year. Pluggers can be used once a year.

Lawns that aren’t particularly compacted or are laid onto sandy soil can still benefit from the occasional aeration.

Use spiked shoes or rollers once a year or a plugger every two years. 

What’s the Difference Between Sacrifying and Aerating?

As a lawn matures, cuttings, tiny leaves and twigs, weeds and other decaying organic matter collect in the grass.

This material is known as thatch.

A small amount of thatch can be beneficial, it breaks down into a fine matter rich in nutrients that feeds the grass.

Excessive amounts of thatch:

  • block sunlight which is crucial for grass blade and root growth
  • stop the roots getting oxygen
  • acts as a water barrier, soaking up moisture causing the soil underneath to dry out

Dethatching, also know as scarifying, is a process where the excess thatch is raked out and removed from the lawn.

Aerating focuses more on the soil, allowing more moisture and oxygen to get to the root area where it encourages root growth and nutrient uptake.

Both processes can be tackled at the same time, although many gardeners choose to scarify in the spring and aerate in the autumn or vice versa.

How often you scarify and aerate depends on the lawn, it’s growth rate, levels of thatch and compaction etc.

Can a Lawn Be Damaged By Excessive Aeration?

Yes.

Lawn aeration is only one of many procedures that can help a lawn to thrive but it isn’t a magic bullet that’ll cure problems caused by lack of sunlight or lack of soil nutrients etc.

Grass grown in shade is often sparse, of poor quality, lacking colour and prone to moss, weeds and disease. The same applies to lawns grown in poor quality soil.

While aeration can help, it won’t compensate for lack of sunlight or nutrients.

Excessive aeration of the lawn will not help if the problem isn’t lack of aeration. In fact, a lawn that is growing very slowly or poorly may take longer to recover from aeration.

If you’re struggling to establish a lawn in a shaded garden, our in-depth guide to growing grass in shade is an excellent read where we reveal practical solutions that actually work.

Products We Like:

We hope you found our guide to lawn aerators and aeration insightful.

Below you’ll find a selection of products we recommend:

 Soil Home Testing

If you’re struggling to grow your lawn, the first step is to check the soil’s nutrient content.  You can then fertilise based on the results. With this on-site kit, there’s no waiting for external sample analysis, you get the results in a matter of minutes.

This type of testing is the key to growing the perfect lawn, plants and/or vegetables.

 Shade Tolerant Seeds

Graminex shade-tolerant grass seeds contain a mixture of six different grass species. This pack is created specifically for shady areas of the garden and the broad mix of grass seeds creates the perfect balance for optimal growth, colour and disease resistance.

With Graminex, there is no need to buy different seed packs, saving you money.

 Lawn Aeration Shoes

These spiked shoes are designed specifically to increase soil aeration. Used once or twice a year, they will increase water and nutrient uptake which can help to stimulate root growth and depth. With better grass growth, moss and weeds will be suppressed.

Made in the UK, these spikes are conical in shape, this creates a larger hole for better aeration.

 Our Favorite Mower

This is our favourite mower for large areas; it’s petrol-powered, comes with a mulching bag and most importantly has six cutting heights from 25cm up to 75cm. This makes the Hyundai mower perfect for lawns in large shaded gardens.

This self-propelled petrol mower makes cutting grass easy with reduced effort.

 Organic Lawn Fertiliser

Does your lawn contain excessive amounts of thatch and moss? MO Bacter contains a bacteria that consumes both live and dead moss as well as rotted cuttings and thatch. There’s no need to rake out the thatch, let the bacteria consume it.

No scarifying, no dethatching and no raking. MO Bacter makes lawn care easy.

General Lawn Fertiliser

Westland’s Growmore Garden Fertiliser is a general fertiliser comprising 7% Nitrogen, 7% Phosphorous and 7% Potassium. This fertiliser is perfect for preparing the soil near tree and shrub roots where there is competition for both water and nutrients.

Use slow-release granules like this as a good all-round fertiliser.

 The lawn Guide Book

Our favourite book: The Lawn Guide by Sharples and Hayman is a great read, learn how to prepare a garden for laying turf or seed. Where this book truly excels is in its lawn maintenance advice and tips which are extremely detailed and second to none.

Want to know how to grown the perfect lawn in any condition? This is the the book for you.

 Seaweed Lawn Tonic

We always prefer organic fertilisers and use them where possible in our gardens. Pet safe, fast-acting, natural and easy to apply, this seaweed lawn tonic is an effective alternative to traditional fertiliser, feeds and tonics. Use on lawns and flowerbeds.

Use regularly during the growing season to promote healthy top growth and roots.

FAQs:

What are the key benefits of lawn aeration?

You can expect better water and nutrient uptake, stronger and deeper root development, less surface water runoff and a healthier optimised lawn.

Which is best - lawn aerating or scarifying?

Both procedures can help to optimise a lawn so it grows healthy. Scarifying removes excess matter from the surface will aerating allows more oxygen and moisture into the root area.

How often should a typical lawn be aerated?

A typical lawn can benefit from aeration once every year or two. There is rarely any benefit to aerating more frequently than this.

What are the best tools to aerate a lawn?

Petrol powered pluggers are the most effective and they can cover a huge area quickly. Manual pluggers and lawn spikes are popular with amateur gardeners.

Explore More of our Lawn Guides Below:

All LAWN GUIDES

See all of lawn guides published here at DIY gardening, from how to grow grass in shade to dealing with pet urine damage, wear and tear and moss control. Start Here

Best Moss Killer For Lawns

We’ve tested and reviewed the best lawn moss killers you can buy. Get rid of moss and let your lawn grass thrive and grow with our expert help. Start Here

HOW TO GROW GRASS IN A SHADED GARDEN

Quite possibly the most in-depth and comprehensive guide to growing a grass lawn in shade you will ever read. Start Here

This guide to the best lawn aerator and how to use it was created by the team here at DIY Gardening

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