Lawn Aeration: Spike vs. Plug Aerators

Overhead view of a lawn aeration machine on grass.

Your lawn's soil can become compacted over time, making it difficult for your grass to thrive. That’s why most landscapers, including The Grounds Guys®, recommend that homeowners aerate their lawns at least once a year. (Some soil types will require more frequent aeration.) When it comes time to aerate, the two methods for getting the job done are spike aerators and plug aerators.

Aeration: Why It’s Critical for Your Lawn

Heavy foot traffic and plain old time can gradually compact your soil. Compacted solid makes it hard for the roots of your grass to receive oxygen, water, and nutrients. The solution? Aeration.

Lawn aeration creates small holes or openings in the soil to allow important elements like air, water, and nutrients to hit the grass roots more efficiently. Some of the most important benefits of aeration include:

  • Reducing soil compaction
  • Improving drainage
  • Enhancing nutrient absorption
  • Promoting thatch breakdown

Aeration is performed using a special device called an aerator. Numerous types of aerators are on the market, but they fall into two main categories: spike aerators and plug aerators (also called core aerators).

What are the differences between spike aerators vs. plug aerators? Let’s find out.

What Are Spike Aerators?

Landscaper putting on spike shoes for lawn aeration.

Spike aerators are any type of aerator that uses solid tines to make holes in the ground. Think of jabbing a fork into cookie dough, and you’ll get the picture. Unlike plug aerators, Spike aerators do not remove soil from your lawn and typically do not penetrate as deeply as plug aerators.

Spike aerators typically work best on smaller lawns with no rocky or clay soil.

When it comes to performing spike aeration, you have options. A pitchfork can do the job for extremely small lawns. For larger lawns, you can use spike shoes, a rolling push aerator, or a tow-behind spike aerator. You can usually pick up a pair of spike shoes at your local home improvement store for under $20.

Rolling push aerators can be physically challenging to operate, especially since it’s a good idea to go over your lawn twice. Many home improvement stores offer rolling push aerators for rent. If you want a tow-behind spike aerator, you’ll likely need to buy it. Prices start around $100 and go up from there.

What Are Plug Aerators?

Close up image of core aeration machine.

When professional landscapers perform aeration, they almost always use plug or core aerators. These devices have hollow tins that pull soil plugs out of the ground and leave them on the lawn. While core aerators can make a lawn look a little messy in the short term, they do a great job of loosening soil and allowing nutrients and other essential elements to reach grass roots.

Choosing the right time of year to use a plug aerator on your lawn is important, as the process can stress your grass. The best time to aerate is during the active growing season. For cool-season grasses, that’s the fall. For warm-season grasses, aerate in the spring.

The three most common types of plug aerators are manual, gas-powered, and tow-behind. Manual aerators are the least expensive option but also the most physically challenging to use. They look like a modified pitchfork with hollow tines, which you press into the ground with your foot. Manual aerators work best for spot aeration, as you wouldn’t want to use them on a large lawn.

Entry-level tow-behind core aerators can be purchased for under $100, but you’ll need a lawn tractor to hook them up. Gas-powered core aerators will set you back at least $1,000, but you can also rent one at a reasonable rate at many home improvement stores.

Spike Aerator vs Plug Aerator: What’s Our Pick?

When it comes to aerator core vs. spike, there’s just no contest. We recommend you choose a core aerator. Why? Spike aerators can loosen soil in the short term, but since they don’t actually remove soil from the ground, they usually end up compacting soil even more in the long run. Core aeration, on the other hand, allows water, air, and nutrients to penetrate deeply into the soil, allowing your grass roots to grow deep and strong.

At The Grounds Guys, we don’t believe in cutting corners or taking the easy way out. We focus on doing what's best for your lawn's long-term health. That’s why we only perform core aeration for our customers.

Of course, core aeration can be more physically challenging for the average homeowner. If you would rather hand off your lawn aeration to the pros, contact us today.

We are committed to doing the job right. That’s part of the Neighborly Done Right Promise™. In addition to lawn aeration, we perform services such as fertilization, seasonal cleanups, weed control, and more. We also offer ongoing lawn maintenance to ensure your grass always looks its best.

Ready to give your lawn a facelift? Find your local The Grounds Guys today and request a free estimate.