What is The Difference Between a Spike Aerator and a Plug Aerator

A plug aerator is one of several machines (but the one that I recommend you use) that can be used for soil aeration.

Aeration is an essential part of a good lawn care program and helps to encourage the growth of attractive, healthy grass.

In order to understand what a plug aerator is and when you should use one, let’s first talk about the basic idea of soil aeration.

What is Soil Aeration & Why Do You Need To Understand It?

Soil aeration is a term that describes the process of making small holes in the soil.

When the soil has been aerated, it is easier for nutrients, water, and air to get down into the roots of the grass.  Aeration breaks up soil that has been compacted – which happens to almost all lawns.

It also cuts through the thatch layer that can build up and interfere with the grass’s roots.

Some lawns are more likely to need aeration than others.

For instance, a lawn that has grown from sod may have a layer of fine soil that was added with the sod and a layer of coarse soil underneath it. These layers can interfere with drainage.

Water can be trapped in the fine soil layer. Aerating allows water to drain properly and prevents the soil compaction that can damage the grass.

Soil can become compacted through heavy use.

For instance, if your yard is frequently full of children or pets playing, or gets a lot of foot traffic, chances are it needs to be aerated yearly.

Newly built homes may also have soil that has become compacted due to the equipment used during the instruction phase.

For cool season grasses, aeration should be done during the fall.

When you are using a plug aerator, you will be pulling small amounts of soil out of the ground. If the grass is growing, it will easily recover and fill in the holes left behind by aeration.

The deeper the plugs and the uglier it looks, the better!

Types of Aerators

A plug aerator is usually a wheeled machine that can be pushed across a lawn. It is also referred to as a core aerator – which I consider to be the best type of lawn aerator.

It has sharp metal tines that penetrate the soil and remove small cores or plugs, leaving holes in the soil. The plugs should be about 2 or 3 inches long and half an inch in diameter. They should be spaced about 2 or 3 inches apart.

Here is a picture of the Agri-Fab Plug Aerator (tow behind model)

Agri-Fab Plug Aerator

The other main kind of aerator is a spike aeretor – which I do not recommend and honestly, don’t really consider it an aerator.  I wanted to bring it up though because I see many websites selling them as true aerators.

Unlike the plug aerator, a spike aerator does not remove any of the soil.

Instead, it uses wedge-shaped spikes to pierce holes into the soil. This method has some drawbacks, however: because of the way a spike aerator makes holes, it can actually cause even more soil compaction. A plug aerator is generally a better choice, especially for heavy, thick soil with a lot of clay.

Here is a picture of the Agri-Fab Spike Aerator (tow behind model)

Agri-Fab Spike Aerator

A manual plug aerator is fairly simple to use, although it can be a slow process.

It will generally take several hours to aerate a standard lawn.  A manual aerator generally has a step bar with several tines attached to it. To use it, you step down on the step bar with one foot, driving the tines into the soil. Next, you raise a handle that pulls the tines back out of the soil, taking the soil plugs along with them.

As you repeat this process, the next set of soil plugs will push the first ones out of the aerator, and the plugs will be left behind on the lawn.

Once you have gone over the entire yard with the aerator, you may want to break up the soil plugs that have been left on the ground. This will give the lawn a better, more uniform appearance. To break up the soil plugs, you can simply split them up with a strong rake.

To ensure the best results for your lawn, you should start with a lawn that is damp

Aerate on a day following a rainfall, or water the lawn thoroughly the day before you plan to aerate. You may also need to make several passes over an area, especially if it is very compacted due to heavy use.

To save time and get the best results, check different parts of your yard and focus your aeration efforts on the parts that need it the most.

If you have a large yard that needs extremely thorough aeration, this process may be too time consuming for you to do it yourself and it may be best to rent a powered aerator or hire a company that uses one.  Let alone the toll that aeration takes on your body, it is tough work!

A powered aerator works in essentially the same way as a manual aerator, but it works much faster. Powered aerators are essentially self-propelled as the tines move the machine forward.  It is still a good workout.

Here is a great video from The Home Depot that should give you some tips on aeration.  You’ll see at the end how tired he is 🙂


Generally though tow or push plug aerator will work well for small to medium-sized residential yards.

There are many aerators available that are both high-quality and affordable.

Once you have begun using a plug aerator on your soil, you will see just how attractive and healthy your yard can become!