Faced with an ugly, compacted or struggling lawn, how do you get the grass to breathe and grow again? Using one of the best manual lawn aerators is easy, inexpensive and a great way to learn more about the state of the soil and lawns in your yard.
A mechanical aerator can do the job, too, but not only can that be cost-prohibitive—especially if only used once a year or less—it’s noisy to operate, expensive to hire or run, and liable to breaking down.
If you’re serious about soil improvement, then we recommend you to look at the Yard Butler Manual Lawn Coring Aerator. For small lawn sections, the Yard Butler IM-7C Multi Spike Lawn Aerator can be recommended. And, as a quick and easy tool to use any time you’re in the garden, consider the Punchau Lawn Aerator Shoes.
Here’s a full list of the best manual lawn aerators we reviewed:
- Punchau Lawn Aerator Shoes—Best Aerator Shoes
- Yard Butler IM-7C Multi Spike Lawn Aerator—Best Spike Aerator
- Yard Butler Manual Lawn Coring Aerator—Best Core Aerator
- The Garden Weasel—Best Spike Aerator for Positioning
- The Truly Holey Manual Lawn Aerator—Best for Long Cores
Our Top Best Manual Lawn Aerators
Punchau Lawn Aerator Shoes—Best Aerator Shoes
The Punchau lawn aerator shoes are a good solution if you have small areas of soft ground that you want to loosen up without much effort.
The easiest and quickest way to keep your lawn in good shape is to use spike or lawn aerator shoes. This nifty invention allows you to strap spiked sandals to your boots, making them very easy to use. You can either walk back and forth across your lawn or even combine aeration with other gardening chores. As you walk, the sharp spikes poke deeply into the lawn.
These heavy-duty spiked sandals come with strong metal buckles and three straps that secure the hard plastic base to your feet so that they won’t slip as you walk. They’re designed to provide a reliable tight fit around all types of shoes, no matter the shape or size.
Weighing just over 1 pound each, the weight and shape will feel unusual but is little more than a hiking boot.
The 2-inch spikes puncture small holes within the top-level of the soil. With 13 spikes on each shoe, numerous holes will allow more water, fertilizer, and air to penetrate the ground.
The Punchau lawn aerator shoes are manufactured with durable metal and plastic. The shoes will work in most hard or soft soils. They are made strong enough to withstand stepping on rocks or stones hidden underneath your lawn.
- Easy to use.
- Minimal effort required.
- A quick fix.
- Sharp spikes can be dangerous.
- Risk of tripping.
Yard Butler IM-7C Multi Spike Lawn Aerator—Best Spike Aerator
Yard Butler has been in the business of making garden tools for over 60 years and guarantees its products for life against any defects in manufacturing or materials. With this in mind, the IM-7C Aerator should give you many years of service.
Aerating soil means allowing air, water, and nutrients to penetrate the soil. The simplest way to achieve that is with spike or tine aerators, which are pushed into the ground like a spade. Sharp spikes make it easy to push down with your foot and get the tool deep into the soil.
Especially when decaying litter has formed a thatch layer over the soil, a spike aerator like the IM-7C can penetrate the matting to let the soil breathe again. With this inexpensive tool, you can save time and money by needing less watering and fertilizer application for the same benefit in grass growth.
This durably constructed and inexpensive steel tool has four solid 3-inch spikes to open the soil and weighs just over 4 pounds.
The handlebar is cushioned in non-slip rubber, and a foot bar provides extra leverage.
- Simple, all-round tool.
- Good choice for rocky, root-bound, highly compacted or very sticky soil.
- Useful for high-clay soils.
- More effort than aerator shoes.
- Spikes will compress the soil.
- Only suitable to spot-treat smaller degraded areas.
Yard Butler Manual Lawn Core Aerator—Best Core Aerator
The core aerator from Yard Butler does the job effectively and is best-suited to rehabilitate an average-sized lawn.
To truly aerate the soil, and without digging it over, you can pull up cores of soil to drastically improve drainage and nutrient flow. Users report that they see rapid improvement with brown grass gaining color and growth, becoming lush again.
The Yard Butler coring aerator pulls two 3.5-inch plugs of soil out of the ground, and each tine, as the hollow spikes are called, is 0.5 inches wide. A foot bar allows you to use your leg for leverage, helped by a 37-inch handle long enough to hold well in your hands.
However, if used incorrectly or when the soil isn’t moist, this core aerator does tend to clog up easily.
Also, it can create soil litter on the lawn that may be unsightly. To combat this, you may want to disperse the extracted plugs after coring, using a rake or a lawnmower. This will return nutrients to the soil, so it’s better than removing them altogether.
Of note is that Yard Butler uses high-quality steel, which is recommended for durable and strong tools.
Using this kind of core aerator—also called “plug aerator” or “coring tool”—is simple:
- Insert the sharp ends into the soil.
- Press the tool down to the hilt by standing on the crossbar.
- Continue working this way to unplug the entire area.
- Space the tool at the same intervals as the width of the two cores as you widen the coverage.
- Optionally, run a lawnmower over the area to break up the extracted coils.
- Opens the soil effectively.
- Simple DIY tool.
- Avoids the need to use any machinery.
- Assists with dethatching of lawns.
- Can clog easily.
- Pushing the tool into the soil requires a little effort.
- Cleaning up cores afterward is extra work.
The Garden Weasel—Best Spike Aerator for Positioning
The Garden Weasel doesn’t have a handle but a simple rubberized grip. This makes it easy to position the tool and press your foot down on the stirrup. Some gardeners will find it easier to work their lawn this way.
Made with carbon steel, the Garden Weasel Core Aerator is stronger and more durable than stainless steel and won’t be easily damaged.
- Simple tool.
- Easy to store.
- Good construction.
- No T-bar to press down with.
- Rubber handle is hard to use for longer periods.
If the T-bar design of the Yard Butler spike aerator reviewed above does not appeal, then you should take a closer look at the Garden Weasel.
The Truly Holey Manual Lawn Aerator—Best for Long Cores
The Truly Holey Aerator is a good choice if you have small areas of soil with not too much clay that you’d like to give a good working over with a core aerator.
This core aerator from Four Seasons—a lawn aeration specialist—at 7 inches has a longer core than competitor products, and also has “non-clogging ejectors.”
The tubes are fabricated with an opening, so it’s possible to eject the cores of dirt, either by knocking the tool on the ground or by poking into the openings with a pointy tool, such as an old screwdriver.
How well this will work will depend on the soil type and wetness. Like with most tools, it’s important to determine the best-use scenario and technique, and so the Truly Holey aerator is recommended for gardens with light soils.
The tool is very solid, made from heavy-duty steel and is powder coated in white, making it easy to locate in the yard.
- Less likely to clog.
- Able to eject soil cores easily.
- May not work well on all soil types.
What You Need to Know About Aerating Your Lawn
Why You Should Aerate Your Lawn
You need to aerate your lawn if you find that grass roots don’t penetrate more than 1 or 2 inches. When the soil is tough and compact, and the roots are small and under-nourished, the soil won’t allow water and nutrients to reach down far enough into the soil to promote root growth.
To check for yourself, remove a square foot section, at least 6 inches deep, and inspect the roots to see how far down into the soil they extend. Allow for a seasonal effect, with cool-season roots not fully developed in late summer but normally at their greatest depth toward the end of spring.
Other reasons to aerate, experience shows, is when your lawn is walked or driven on regularly, or if you have heavy, clay soil. As a quick check, you can do a “screwdriver test” by sticking one into the soil by hand. If you meet noticeable resistance, then you have a problem, and aeration will help.
Thatching is another reason to aerate your lawn. If the lawn feels spongy when you press down on the grass, grass clippings have matted up into thatch. You may need to dethatch or aerate your lawn. Because dethatching with a machine or even by hand can cause your lawn a lot of stress, aerating is a good method.
What’s the Best Time of Year to Aerate?
Well-established grass seed producer Pennington recommends that you aerate at least annually if you have clay soil. Otherwise, and depending on use and traffic, every 3 to 5 years may be sufficient.
The best time is always during, or right before, grasses reach their peak time for natural growth. You want grasses to recover quickly and fill in the areas exposed by the aerator.
For cool-season grasses found in Northern lawns, early fall or early spring are normally the best times for aerating. For warm-season grasses typically common in the South, that time is late spring or early summer. But don’t leave it too late, because aeration should coincide with active growth.
What Is Aeration?
Aeration creates openings in the lawn to help air, water, and nutrients get into the soil down to the grassroots, to lessen soil compaction and to help reduce thatch closing the surface.
Essentially, an aerator conditions the soil by pulling out cores or plugs of soil, or by either spiking or slicing into the soil.
What Aeration Will Do for Your Grass
Aeration will benefit your lawn in many ways:
- The activity of soil micro-organisms will increase, which will decompose thatch.
- More water, nutrients, and oxygen will move into the soil.
- Rooting will improve.
- Rainfall or irrigation will infiltrate better.
- Fertilizer and pesticide run-off from overly compacted areas will decrease.
- Roots will regrow and reach deeper, getting nutrients to grow a greener, thicker lawn.
Does Aeration Solve Thatching?
When cut grass accumulates in the lawn and forms a compact top layer over 1-inch thick, aerating can help. Dense thatch may harbor disease and pests, such as grubs or crabgrass seed.
Thatching also reduces the effectiveness of watering and fertilizers. Rather than growing down into the soil, the grass roots will extend into the thatch with little benefit, and so become easily stressed by heat, drought, and cold.
The Best Methods to Aerate Your Lawn
Core aeration is the most effective method for advanced lawn care. The aeration tool is fully pushed into the ground so that hollow tines or “spoons” can remove columns of soil and deposit them on the surface of the lawn. This lets water and nutrients reach down to the grass roots.
Spiking or Slicing
If the soil isn’t in a degraded condition, spiking can be sufficient to maintain good grass growth by loosening and creating holes in the ground. Spiking uses solid tines to create holes in the soil. A similar method, slicing, uses rotating blades to cut narrow slits in the soil.
Spiking and slicing don’t remove soil, but instead, move it about. These have an aesthetic effect, of course, but aren’t as effective as coring is for nutrients, air and water to enter the soil.
How to Aerate Your Lawn
Step 1: Find out What You Are Dealing With
Start by testing the moisture within the soil—a space or trowel is perfect for this. Ideally, the soil should be moist enough to make work easier.
Step 2: Get the Moisture Right
If the soil sticks to the trowel, you should wait for the soil to dry out more because aerating will be difficult. If it hasn’t rained, then it may be best to thoroughly water the lawn two days beforehand, to get the right level of soil moisture.
Step 3: Aerate the Professional Way
Make two passes with the aerator, with the second at right angles to the first. You can leave the plugs that you’ve pulled on the lawn, so they decompose and return the nutrients to the soil.
Step 4: Mow and Water
You can speed this process up by mowing the lawn once the plugs are dry. Again, make two passes, to ensure even break-up and spreading of the plugs. Water the lawn afterward, to help further dissolve the removed soil. Use a weed eater around the hard to reach corners.
Also, try and get rid of weeds before they go to seed, this will help to prevent further spread.
Buyers Guide for Manual Lawn Aerators
To choose the best aeration tool, consider your situation and what you’re trying to achieve.:
- Size and condition of your lawn.
- Tool types.
- Penetration depth.
- Number of spikes.
Size and Condition of Your Lawn
Well-trodden areas of grass will naturally more compact soil, which is where a manual aerator works well, particularly when some areas can be harder to get into.
Sometimes, only specific patches in a yard need attention, so a spike aerator like the Yard Butler IM-7C or the Garden Weasel is adequate. This is because the soil contains more clay or because it’s more exposed to direct sunlight. It’s not unusual to have seepage causing water to stagnate and drown the grass—another reason to improve soil drainage.
Type of Tool
The core aerator is the recommended tool by professionals, like the Yard Butler Manual Lawn Coring Aerator. By opening up tubes into the ground, water and nutrients can reach the roots. Even so, it can be very hard to use in heavy clay soils or soils with stones, rocks or tree roots underneath the soil surface.
Core spikes work better when you use them through grass or weeds—or at least dense thatch. If you’re just poking it into bare soil, especially containing a lot of clay, the cores can clog up more readily.
To aerate by hand in hard-to-penetrate soils, therefore, the Yard Butler Multi Spike Lawn Aerator is easier to get into the ground. Whether it should have a T-bar handle or a simple grip on a single shaft, like The Garden Weasel, is a matter of personal preference, depending on how compact the soil is.
The spike length of the tools reviewed varies from 3 inches for the Punchau Lawn Aerator Shoes to 7 inches for the Truly Holey Manual Lawn Aerator.
Long cores can be hard to push into the soil and so won’t empty properly. If they’re too short, they may not reach the grass roots adequately.
The ideal length is long enough to reach well-developed roots but not longer than necessary. You may need to dig up a spade-width of turf to find out what your lawn requires: hold your aerator against the cross-section to check that the spikes or cores reach as far as the tips of the roots.
Number of Spikes
The core aerators with 0.5 or 0.75-inch tubes, such as the Yard Butler Manual Lawn Coring Aerator, only have two cores to push into the ground, which is as much as you would want to take on.
For spike tools, that is the Yard Butler IM-7C, and the Garden Weasel, the number of spikes vs. their length is the trade-off. The right balance lies between effort and coverage. Four spikes is the magic number used for these aerators.
Spike and core aerators are handheld tools, so you want them to be easy and comfortable to handle for what can become a very physical job. Users appreciate, for instance, that the grips on the IM-7C and the Coring Aerator from Yard Butler are padded and made with a non-slip material.
The handles must be orientated in a way that makes pushing and pulling comfortable. The T-bar that these two products use will be easier on your back.
Manual lawn aerators with a handle will experience quite demanding work over their lifetime. Not only can the spike hit hard objects underground, but the constant pressing, pulling and leveraging makes choosing a well-built tool made from quality steel very important. You don’t want the handle to break off as soon as you give it a good workout.
Tips for Using Manual Lawn Aeration Tools
Water Your Lawn First!
You shouldn’t expect your new aerator to work on a lawn if it hasn’t rained for weeks or if you haven’t watered your lawn.
If your lawn is dry, set up a sprinkler in the morning and then let it go for at least an hour or more. Then, let the water settle into the soil and leave the aerating for later that afternoon.
How to Prevent the Cores from Clogging Up
Keep a bucket of water to hand and rinse the cores out every few minutes to keep them clean and slippery. If you use the aerator on damp ground after rain, avoid pushing it directly into the bare ground. As long as you have a water bucket nearby, it should seldom clog.
Cleaning Up a Core Aerator
You don’t want soil staying in the hollow tines to go dry and hard—it’ll turn into concrete!
At the end of the day:
- Use a solid stick or a long screwdriver to clean out the soil from the tines.
- Wash the tool with water and some soap.
- Use a brush to remove all soil afterward.
Soak the Coring Tips
Put the coring tool into a bucket with water when you finish for the day. The water will help prevent any soil within the coring tips from drying out and, therefore, preventing the coring tips from getting plugged up.
This is a good idea even when you leave it sitting for more than a few minutes—over lunch, for example.
Keep the Mosquitoes Away
Mosquitoes love standing water, so if they are a problem where you are, add a little dish soap to the bucket if you use that for soaking your tool.
Time to Overseed
Once your lawn has been aerated, it’s a good time to overseed with grass seed.
Also, if there are any really bare patches, fall is the time to get some new grass seed germinating in these areas to ensure the new grass is ready for the following summer.
Seeds and nutrients will have direct contact with soil through the holes you created, and you would’ve exposed the roots. Together, this will help with quick seed establishment and thicker, lusher growth in your lawn.
Lawn Aerator Sandals Tips
- Surfaces: Don’t walk on hard surfaces like concrete in these shoes.
- Straps: Tuck in the straps to prevent tripping up.
Spike Aerators Tips
- Best situation: For unhealthy patches.
Core Aerator Tips
- Plug: Push the core all the way down to make sure the new plug will rise from the bottom, pushing the last plug up and out—otherwise, it will get clogged up.
- Cores: Don’t remove the remaining cores deposited because they contain valuable micro-organisms. Leave them on the lawn surface to break down naturally, or run a lawnmower over them to break them up mechanically.
By making aeration an annual routine, you can help ensure your lawn will remain lush and green throughout the year. Or, at least do the regular screwdriver test to check for soil compaction, and then aerate as required.
To ensure you have the right tool to hand when you need to aerate, get yourself a core aerator. If you just need to do the occasional patch repair around the yard, then a spike aerator may be sufficient. Walking around the lawn with shoe aerators can be helpful to keep a lawn in good shape. What will work best for you?
Our recommended choices for the best manual lawn aerators are: