Plug Aeration vs. Spike Aeration - Which is Better

Written by Ivy

Dec 28 2022

Plug Aeration vs. Spike Aeration - Which is Better

Lawn aeration guarantees that your grass receives enough water, nutrients, and loose soil for healthy root development. But should you use a plug aerator or a spike aerator for core aeration?

A spike aerator has pointed tines that pierce the soil to create holes and aerate your lawn, while a plug aerator has hollow tines that pierce the core and remove soil plugs. For small lawns with mild soil compaction, spike aeration is appropriate, whereas plug aeration is better for large areas and severe soil compaction.

You might not need to plug-aerate your lawn once more for a few seasons if you did it last season and haven't given it a heavy lawn roller treatment since. If you must, you might want to think about switching to a spike aerator.

The Main Difference Between Spike and Plug Aerators

When comparing a spike vs plug aerator, the style of tines is the key difference:

  • Long, sturdy tines on a spike aerator puncture the turf of your lawn to make it easier for water, oxygen, and nutrients to get to the roots of your lawn.
  • A plug aerator (also known as a core aerator) is a machine with hollow tines that removes round plugs of soil from your turf, creating larger holes so that oxygen, water, and nutrients can enter your lawn and get to your grass's roots.

What is Aeration?

Aeration, also known as aerification, is the process of perforating (poking small holes in) your lawn to alleviate soil compaction, prevent excessive thatch buildup, and increase the flow of oxygen, water, and nutrients to the root zone.

Your soil can be compacted by children playing, building projects, and bad weather, which prevents roots from having a place to grow. Simple soil aeration can help your grass spread out once more by releasing the soil's tension.

For both homeowners and lawn care professionals, the two primary methods of lawn aeration are spike aeration and core aeration. Which aeration method is best for you will depend on the type of lawn you have, the degree of soil compaction in your lawn, and your budget.

When lawn experts discuss aeration, they typically mean core aeration, also referred to as plug aeration. The most effective technique for maintaining a healthy lawn over time is core aeration.

If your lawn is only lightly compacted, however, and you're looking for a quick, low-cost DIY solution to encourage grass growth, spike aeration might be the way to go.

What is a Plug Aerator?

An earthen plug or core of turf and soil is removed by a core aerator, also known as a plug aerator.

An actual removal of soil plugs from the ground occurs with a core aerator, which results in more thorough aeration than a spike aerator.

In comparison to spike aeration, core aeration also offers much longer-term advantages. This type of lawn aeration is typically only required once every two seasons.

The plugs are typically left on the ground to decompose after being inserted into your lawn with a plug aerator.

By removing the soil plugs, you can effectively remove some of the topsoil from your lawn, which is a great way to aerate your lawn as well as provide your lawn with extra nutrition.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Core/Plug Aeration?

Mechanical plug aerators are the norm. Spike aerators, which are typically manual, are not like this. Some plug aerators are quite large, so renting is probably preferable to buying.

Since you only need to core/plug aerate once every two seasons, there is frequently no need to keep one in your storage area or shed.

Advantages of Using a Plug Aerator Vs Spike Aerator

The use of core/plug aeration has many benefits. These include:

  • more thorough aeration Your larger ground holes are allowing more of the air, water, and sunlight that grass roots require.
  • Core/plug aerators come in a variety of sizes, resulting in variously sized holes in the ground.
  • A core/plug aerator's tines are hollow, so they are able to take out plugs of dirt
  • With a core or plug aerator, you won't need to aerate your lawn as frequently. Typically, only once every two years is required for this.

Disadvantages of Core Aeration Vs Spike Aeration

Let's look at a few disadvantages of using a plug aerator on your lawn. These include:

  • It makes a small mess. After all, your lawn will still have soil plugs on it. Although they decay, many people don't like the way they appear when they are still in the open.
  • You'll have to deal with the hassle of renting a core or plug aerator each time you want to aerate because you probably won't want to buy one.
  • You need to invest a lot more time in plug or core aeration because it is a bigger project than spike aeration. It isn't something you can do in spurts whenever you feel like it.

When Should You Aerate Your Lawn?

You may be wondering when to use spike and plug aerators now that you are aware of the main distinctions between them and what each device accomplishes.

The majority of professional landscapers and lawn care specialists concur that aerating your turf is most effective during the growing season. As a result, your growing zone will determine the best time of year for you.

What is Spike Aeration?

Spike aeration is essentially core aeration without the hollow cores. If core aeration resembles using a hole punch to make a hole in paper, spike aeration resembles cutting a hole in the paper with the tips of scissors. No soil is taken out when you spike aerate. Instead, the solid tine is pressed into the soil on all sides.

In the short run, spike aeration helps to loosen the soil and reduce compaction, but over time, it worsens compaction.

4 Types of Spike Aerators

1. Pitchforks

Pitchforks aren't an efficient option for a larger lawn, but they're excellent for smaller areas (less than 1,000 square feet) or for spots that get heavy foot traffic and need extra care.

  • Using a pitchfork to aerate is simple. Simply insert the tines 3–4 inches deep and tilt the fork forward and backward to loosen the soil.

Pitchforks are best for: Postage stamp-sized lawns with slight soil compaction or particular areas in need of special care.

Price: $35 to $60 (but you probably already have one in your garage).

Rental cost: Only money can be used to buy pitchforks.

2. Spiked Aeration Shoes

Spiked lawn aeration shoes are the least expensive spike aeration option. You can use them in small spaces, but aerating with spiked shoes takes time and effort in larger spaces. Many lawn professionals advise against using spiked shoes because it is not a very effective method of aerating the soil.

  • Thoroughly cover each area of your lawn while puncturing the ground with each step.

Spiked aerator shoes are best for: very small areas with light compaction.

Price: $10 to $20.

Rental cost: The only way to get spiked shoes is to buy them.

3. Rolling Push Aerators

Rolling push aerators look like large spiny paint rollers. They perform well in small, lightly compacted spaces. A rolling spike aerator is not the best choice if your lawn is moderately sized or larger, or if your soil is rocky or highly compacted: It requires a lot of physical effort to use, and the aerator may be damaged.

  • An aerator with rolling push spikes functions similarly to a push mower. At least twice, in one direction and the other perpendicular to that direction, you should walk over your lawn.
  • Select a model with a steel tray for additional weight to maximize tine penetration.

Rolling push aerators are best for: fewer, smaller lawns with light soil compaction.

Price: $40 to $65.

Rental cost: Every day, about $13.

4. Tow-behind Spike Aerators

Tow-behind spike aerators are on the expensive side, but they save time and labor and are excellent for larger lawns and fields. To maximize contact with the soil, make sure to buy one with a weight tray.

  • Tow-behind spike aerators resemble tow-behind core aerators, but instead of corers, they have 10–12 star–shaped blades that plow through the ground.

Tow-behind spike aerators are best for: larger lawns that have only light to moderate compaction.

Price of a tow-behind spike aerator: $100-$175. Prices range, but a high-quality model should cost at least $135.

Rental cost: For the most part, tow-behind spike aerators are only sold.

How Spike Aeration Works

Since spiked tines are solid, unlike core aeration, there won't be any plugs in your lawn after spike aeration.

The distance between each hole should be around 2 inches. A spike aerator typically penetrates the ground 1 to 2.5 inches deep. As opposed to core aeration perforations, the spike marks in your lawn will be less substantial.

Core Aeration vs. Spike Aeration

What Type of Lawn Should Be Spike Aerated?

Spike aeration works well for lawns that:

  • Have mild to moderate compaction
  • Are small to medium in size
  • Don't have many rocks, stones, or debris in the soil that could interfere with spikes
  • Have a mild thatch problem (a thatch layer of just over half an inch)
  • Don't have a high clay content

Does My Lawn Need to Be Aerated?

In order to avoid compaction and maintain dense grass growth, lawns typically require aeration every year.

  • Aeration may be necessary twice a year for lawns with high clay content or high foot traffic.
  • You might only need to aerate every two to three years or just spot aerate when necessary if your soil is sandy or if you don't have any drainage problems.

If you choose spike aeration, you will need to aerate more frequently because spikes do not aerate as deeply or thoroughly as cores do. Target areas that are susceptible to compaction when spike aerating two to three times a year during the growing season.

For information on the precise aeration requirements in your area, speak with your local extension service.

Testing Your Lawn for Compaction

An easy test to determine whether your grass needs to be aerated? Make a 6 inch deep cut into a square foot of grass. Your soil may be compacted and require aeration if grass roots are only growing 1 to 2 inches deep.

Alternatively, give your lawn the old "screwdriver test." Coring is probably unnecessary if you can easily push a screwdriver three inches into wet soil without using excessive force or jabbing.

Signs Your Lawn Needs Aeration

Your grass won't hesitate to tell you if compacted soil is a problem. These lawn symptoms are good indicators that your lawn needs aerating:

  • Your lawn has a sponge-like feel and dries out quickly.
  • It's difficult to touch your soil.
  • When it rains, your lawn doesn't drain effectively, and puddles appear where none previously existed.
  • The color and thickness of your grass are changing.
  • Diseases like brown patch are starting to affect your grass.
  • Many people walk across your lawn.
  • You recently had construction work done, or your home was just built.
  • The sod from which your lawn was constructed may have been improperly mixed with the subsoil, making it difficult for grass roots to penetrate it. In order to promote root growth, aeration disrupts the layered soil.

Aeration is a natural way to encourage good microbial growth, promote thatch decomposition, and increase oxygen flow to roots, which will get your grass growing faster and looking healthier—even if your lawn isn't in dire need of it.

When to Aerate

Aerate your grass while it is actively growing to ensure quick recovery and filling of the holes in your lawn.

  • For cool-season grass lawns with types like tall fescue and Fall is the ideal time to aerate Kentucky bluegrass. While early spring or early fall can be used to aerate cool-season lawns, fall is recommended because weeds are less likely to grow in the holes.
  • For warm-season lawns with grasses like When grass is growing the fastest, in the late spring or early summer, Bermudagrass and Zoysia should be aerated. Because of this, the lawn will recover quickly.

To avoid stress on your lawn, aerate during the appropriate season for your area. Avoid aerating when the weather is particularly hot in the summer or chilly in the winter when the grass is dormant.

Spike Vs Plug Aerator

We all understand and appreciate lawn aeration's purpose, which is to increase air and water flow in the soil while releasing compaction brought on by traffic. What approach do you choose then? What aspects do you take into account when selecting an aeration method?

Spike aeration is a method of enhancing soil drainage in your lawn by making small holes with a roller spike aerator, a spading fork, or a shoe lawn aerator.

To break up compacted soil and increase drainage and aeration, plug aeration entails digging out soil cores with a core aerator.

Check out the following comparisons between spike and plug aerators.

1. Size of Lawn

You need to determine whether the aeration method is the best one for your lawn size before choosing it.

Large lawns with a lot of traffic typically experience more compaction. The best way to release the pressure is therefore through plug aeration.

Small lawns with little traffic, on the other hand, might not require plug aeration because the soil isn't as compacted. In the latter scenario, spike aeration would still be effective because it would make holes so that water could seep to the ground.

In sports venues with high traffic, like golf courses, tennis courts, and football practice fields, plug aeration is frequently used. As a result, the grass is better able to absorb nutrients and water.

2. Amount of Traffic

High traffic lawns, as previously mentioned, have a much higher level of compaction. The best method for relieving stress on your lawn is core aeration, also known as plug aeration.

When the grass recovers from aeration, plug aeration is preferred by most sporting venues, including golf clubs, because it results in a lovely lawn.

3. Results Desired

The outcomes produced by spike vs. plug aerators differ depending on the aerator used.

Your lawn may respond differently to various kinds of lawn plug aerators. A gas-powered aerator, for instance, will deliver better results than a manual plug aerator.

The same is true of spike aerators. You can choose lawn aerator shoes, which leave behind tiny holes as you walk across your lawn.

A small lawn can also benefit from spike aeration done with a pitchfork. To make holes in the ground, insert the pitchfork about 3 inches into the ground and tilt the handle back and forth. This a little bit loosens the soil.

4. Budget

Spike aeration is an inexpensive way to achieve aeration without needing a plug aerator if you're on a tight budget and can't afford a core aerator.

Shoe spike aerators are a tool you can use to enhance the drainage on your lawn.

Pros and Cons of Spike and Plug Aerators

Spike Aeration


  1. Works well for small lawns
  2. It is relatively cheap compared to plug aerators
  3. It is less messy (doesn't leave plugs behind)


  1. It compacts the soil more at the point of entry
  2. Compared to plug aeration, it is less efficient.
  3. Time-consuming and labor-intensive.

Plug Aeration


  1. It is a more permanent solution for aeration
  2. Reduces compaction on the soil
  3. Cores break down and enrich the soil.
  4. It leaves a uniform lawn that is visually appealing in the long run
  5. Works well for high traffic areas and large lawns


  1. It is messy; plugs are left behind
  2. It can be expensive
  3. If the holes aren't sprayed, it might promote weed growth.

FAQ About Aeration

1. What Lawn Improvements Can I Expect from Aeration?

Aeration will increase the quantity of beneficial organisms in your yard, such as earthworms, which keep your soil loose and nutrient-rich for long-term grass health. It will also reduce your lawn's susceptibility to pests and diseases, get rid of yellow and brown spots, and reduce the likelihood of pest infestations.

Your grass should grow greener and faster than it did previously, with deeper roots and stronger shoots, as aeration encourages new growth. After aerating, your lawn will be lush and the holes will have closed in three to four weeks.

2. How Long Does It Take to Aerate My Lawn?

A medium-sized, 10,000 square foot lawn can be aerated in an hour to an hour and a half using a walk-behind or tow-behind aerator. In as little as 30 minutes, if you want to hire experts, they can complete the task.

The bad news is that it will probably take all morning or longer if you use a manual core aerator or spiked shoes, and depending on how big your lawn is, you might have to take breaks.

3. How Long Will Aeration's Benefits Last?

Well, that depends on your soil type and lawn's characteristics. While clay soils may cause your grass to start losing its color as soon as eight months after being aerated, sandy soils may allow your lawn to thrive for up to five years after a single aeration. Contact your local extension service to find out how often aeration is best for the lawns in your area.

4. Will Aerating My Lawn Damage My Irrigation System?

Not if you exercise caution. Before you aerate, be sure to clearly mark your sprinkler heads with flags, stakes, or spray. You'll avoid having an aeration tine ram into your irrigation system in this manner.

5. What Should I Do After Aerating My Lawn?

After aerating, thoroughly water your lawn. Additionally, now is a great time to overseed, apply fertilizer and compost, and amend your soil (i.e. if your soil is too acidic, now is the time to apply lime).

For the first two to three weeks after overseeding, you'll need to water your freshly aerated yard twice daily or once daily as the grass sprouts. For grass seeds, it's crucial to maintain moist soil. Change to deeper, less frequent waterings after your grass has germinated to promote deep root growth.

Want to ensure that your grass grows uniformly? Before overseeding after aeration, wait a month so that the holes have healed.

Pre-emergent herbicides can be used to stop weeds from sprouting up in aeration holes if overseeding won't be done right away.

6. Can I Combine Core Aeration With Spike Aeration to Give My Lawn Some Extra Care?

You can, but exercise caution to prevent overaerating.

To give your lawn a thorough aeration, core aerate once a year. Then, you can spike aerate if your lawn requires an additional boost during the growing season. Unlike the larger holes and plugs from core aeration, the thin tines from spike aeration won't detract from the aesthetic appeal of your lawn.

You should stick to core aeration if your long-term goal is to reduce compaction.

Conclusion: Choosing Spikes Or Plug Aerators

Aeration is the best option if you want to give your grass a revitalizing breath of air and a natural dose of nutrients. A lightly compacted lawn can be quickly fixed with spike aeration. However, plug aeration will give your grass what it needs for consistent, dense growth and a long-term solution for lawn health.