Spike Vs. Core: Which Lawn Aerator Should You Get?

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Spike Vs. Core: Which Lawn Aerator Should You Get?

Most gardeners take pride in a green, healthy lawn. And even if you are not fond of yard work, you probably still appreciate the boost to your home's appearance that a lush, thick lawn provides. Lawns are not maintenance-free however. To keep your lawn looking its best, you need to water, fertilize, treat pests and mow. And periodically, you need to aerate.

Why Aerate?

The soil under a lawn tends to become compact and hard over time, especially if there is a lot of foot traffic across the grass. As compaction occurs, it becomes more difficult for the grass roots to spread and grow, causing the roots to knot and twist in the upper layer of soil. Heavy clay soil, common throughout much of the Southern and Southwestern areas of the country, is particularly prone to compaction. Compacted soil is problem, and it is usually aggravated by thatch.

Thatch is a layer of partially decomposed grass clippings, roots and debris that accumulates between the ground and the top of the grass. Thatch and compacted soil make it very difficult for water and nutrients to reach the grass roots, which will eventually become very shallow, penetrating just into the nutrient-poor layer of thatch.

Symptoms of a lawn suffering from thatch and compacted soil include bare areas, thin growth, grass that does not respond to fertilizer and water running off the lawn rather than soaking in. You can determine if thatch is a problem by using a small hand trowel to dig up a small core of grass and soil. Examine the layer of material between the soil and the growing grass. If this layer of partially decomposed material is one inch or thicker, your grass will suffer as water and nutrients will not reach the roots.

Aerating the lawn will help relieve compacted soil and will also help with thatch build-up. Fall is the best time to aerate your lawn, but if your soil is high in clay content, an additional treatment in late spring will help keep the soil loose enough for healthy root growth.

All About Lawn Aerators

A lawn aerator is a garden tool that makes holes in the grass and ground, providing access for water and nutrients to reach the grass roots. There are two basic types of aerators, spike aerators and core aerators.

Spike Aerators

Spike aerators use sharp stakes or spikes to make holes across the lawn. This breaks through the layer of thatch and hard surface soil, but tends to press the soil outwards, creating more compaction around each hole. The holes tend to close up fairly quickly, so the benefits of a spike aerator can be short-lived. If your lawn is small, is not suffering extensive damage from soil compaction and has only a minimal layer of thatch, a spike aerator will be sufficient for breaking up the hard surface layer of the soil.

Spike Shoes: If you have ever flipped through the pages of a gardening catalog, you may have seen aerating shoes for sale. These are plastic platforms with long, nail-like spikes attached and straps to attach the aerator to the bottom of your work boots or tennis shoes. Once the spike shoes are strapped on, you simply walk about your lawn, covering the entire lawn twice in alternating directions.

Spike shoes can be difficult to keep fastened to your shoes, so be prepared to tighten the straps frequently. Use them when the ground is moist, but not excessively wet. They will do little for a lawn that is deeply thatched or compacted, but if you have a very small lawn that is in good condition already, spike shoes will help keep the lawn healthy. Consider spike shoes to be a preventative measure, not a treatment. To keep your small lawn in good condition, try the Lawn Aerator Shoes from Improvements.com. 

Hand Aerator: If keeping spike shoes on your feet is not for you and you have a very small lawn that just needs the soil loosened, a small aerating hand tool will do the job and give you an arm workout at the same time. The Yard Butler Lawn Spike Aerator is a steel handle and shaft with sharp spikes on the end. Walk across the lawn pushing the Yard Butler deeply into the grass every six to eight inches for best results.

Push Aerator: If your lawn is a medium to large plot, a rotary spike aerator will make aerating easier. These look like a manual lawnmower, but have a row of circulating spikes that dig into the soil as you push the aerator across the lawn. You must add a concrete brick to the weight tray so the aerator will be heavy enough to do the job. For a medium lawn that is not heavily thatched or severely compacted, the Push Spike Aerator will keep your grass healthy.

Core Aerators

Core aerators are by far the best method for aerating lawns that are deeply compacted. The core aerator removes a thin plug of soil from the lawn, usually leaving the plugs lying on top of the grass where they quickly break down. By removing a plug of soil, the hole is large enough to remain open, does not become compacted around the sides and lets water and nutrients through to the grass roots. Choose a core aerator for a lawn that is showing signs of compaction stress or that has never been aerated.

Manual Aerator: For a small lawn, a manual, push-down aerator will give you a workout while improving your lawn. The Yard Butler D-6C Core Lawn Aerator is simple to use. Just step down on the platform driving the coring spikes into the grass, then tilt and pull back to remove the plug from the soil. 

Mower Attachment: If you have a lawn large enough to own a riding lawnmower, you can purchase a core aerator attachment to pull behind your mower. The Craftsman Lawn Aerator requires concrete weights to be added to the tray, attaches to the rear of your riding mower and removes 3.25 inch plugs of soil to revitalize your lawn. 

Power Aerators: Power core lawn aerators are operated similarly to a power lawnmower. These units are excellent for large yards, are powerful and effective and make quick work of aerating the lawn and cutting through thatch. For the lawn connoisseur, the Greenworks 27022 14-Inch 10 Amp Electric Dethatcher will be a joy to use. Moreover, it has a zero carbon footprint and a full four-year warranty!

It takes time and effort to have a green, healthy lawn. If you want the nicest lawn on the block, aerating once or twice per year will give you grass to be proud of.

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