All About Hollow Tine Aerators
Hollow tine aerators pull dirt plugs from the ground, leaving holes that loosen the soil and improve water and nutrient flow to grass roots. There are three main groups of these aerators: manual, mechanical and tow-behind.
A manual tine aerators has two or three tines spaced along a horizontal bar which is attached to a long handle. To get the best ground penetration, push the aerator into the dirt with your foot along the bar and your hands at the top of the handle. Then pull it back out, letting the dirt cores fall to the ground.
The hole diameter depends on the size of the tines and soil conditions, but they are typically around a ½ inch or so. The hole depth should be around 1-3 inches and if you cannot get it in that deeply, you will need to water the lawn more thoroughly to soften the ground or use a mechanical or pull behind aerator.
Manual aerators are great for lawns under 500 sq. ft., for more frequent aeration in spots that compact quickly and to work in areas that are difficult for a mechanical or tow-behind to get to. It is a good idea for everyone to have one of these valuable garden tools. Although a lawn aerator can cost as much as $5000, manual aerators start at around only $20. Choose a high quality tool manufactured from durable materials and it will last several years.
For average to large residential lawns, most people prefer using a mechanical aerator. These are like a large, heavy lawn mower, weighing up to 300 lbs. As you move the machine along the lawn (choose one that is self-propelled to make it easier), the hollow tines roll into and out of the dirt.
They are much quicker to use and will produce deeper holes, around 2-4 inches. It is best to mechanically aerate in either the spring or fall. Aerate well before the summer so the grass can recover before the hot and dry weather starts. In the fall, aerate with around a month left of growing season, so the grass has time to benefit from the aeration process before going dormant. You want the ground to be soft but not soggy so the holes will be deep and long-lasting.
The best mechanical aerators cost a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, so renting one makes the most sense for someone who will just aerate their own lawn periodically. Most lawns can be done in a four-hour, half-day rental period, but if your lawn in very large, it may take longer. Rates are around $40-$60 for a half-day and $80-$110 for a full-day. Call early to request a rental since it isn’t uncommon for all the machines to be rented out on the weekends during the best times to aerate.
Tow behind aerators are attached to the back of a riding lawn mower or trailer and pulled over the ground, the hollow tined wheels rotating in and out of the ground as it goes along. Most models can be made heavier with the addition of water, sand or lead, which helps improve hole depth in heavily compacted ground. Most tow-behind aerators put in holes 3-4 inches deep that are around ½ inch in diameter.
Tow-behinds are wider than other aerators, from 2 ½ feet to 6 feet depending on the model. They are typically used on lawns of an acre or more and at golf courses and parks. Because of their width, they can be trickier to maneuver around obstacles. Also, it is better to aerate in long rows to avoid unnecessary turning. If you need to go over the lawn twice, you can go the other direction the second time for more comprehensive coverage. If you prefer, you can aerate in circles.
Buying an aerator that is a tow behind unit makes a lot of sense for someone who already has a lawn mower or tractor to pull it. They start around $150 and go up to $750 for models that will meet most needs. Since renting one of them will typically run $75-$125, after a few uses it pays for itself and you won’t have to worry about transporting it to and from the rental center.