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How Well Do Pull Behind Aerators Work?

With a large lawn, you need a method to aerate soil compaction that won’t take too much time or break the pocketbook.

How effective are pull-behind aerators? Provided the pull behind the aerator is weighted properly, they are just as effective as a walk-behind corer. With enough weight, the spoons and spikes will work well to remove soil cores and decrease soil compaction. These new spaces then allow water, nutrients, and oxygen to permeate lawn thatch and reach the roots.

aerator behind lawn mower

Aeration is vitally important for a healthy lawn. 

While almost everyone utilizes walk-behind lawn aerators for smaller projects, they’re a nuisance to use if you have a large yard that’s at least an acre.

Sure, you could rent a professional lawn aerator, but those rental fees add up in a hurry.

Additionally, those gas-powered core aerators — while highly effective — are exhausting for the arms and better suited for small lawns.

In this article, I’m going to share the benefits of pull behind aerators as well as some key options you may want to consider while shopping.

How Well Do Pull Behind Aerators Work?

For folks who already have a lawnmower, a tow behind aerator is the best choice for large lawns, golf courses and athletic fields. They make it easy to quickly aerate a large space and break up the soil.

Walk-behind lawn aerators are a bit more aggressive, which causes folks to question whether a pull behind aerator can get the job done.

The key thing that determines the effectiveness of a pull behind aerator is how much weight is on it.

Most of the time, you will only want 2-3 inches of soil penetration. In dry conditions, you will need to put 300 pounds of weight on your lawn aerator to get a deep coring action. If the ground is wet, you can get away with as little as 120 pounds which will still give you good depth without leaving wheel marks on the lawn.

Keep in mind that it should be wider than your lawn tractor to provide more coverage and faster aeration with fewer passes. A 40-inch tow behind aerator will not turn as sharply and may mean that you cannot get as close to some objects.

Here’s how it works.

Benefits of Aeration

before after aeration

Puddles, worn areas and thinning grass are all symptoms of a yard that needs aeration. A well-aerated lawn allow air, moisture, and nutrients to penetrate into the soil and helps microorganisms to thrive. However, as the years go by, the thatch builds up, and repeated mowing, high traffic, heavy rains and dry summer spells cause the ground to become compacted.

The benefits of aeration include:

  • Improved root depth growth
  • Improved drainage after rain
  • Improved saturation of soil
  • Improved air movement and growth of beneficial microorganisms

If you have a lawn aerator, it is good to aerate once every fall. Some folks also aerate and seed in the early spring.

The quality of the soil dictates the quality of your lawn. If you have closely compacted soil, that lets your grass grow deep roots, you will enjoy a lawn that is lush and more resistant to short-rooted weeds.

Furthermore, your grass will be more resistant to both disease and drought.

Aeration removes cores from your soil, providing that necessary room for more root depth. The new core pathways also help with water absorption, allowing the water to settle deeply by the roots instead of instantly evaporating in the sunshine.

Of course, the main piece of aeration is to allow more air into the soil. Well-aerated soil allows for worms and centipedes to thrive. As the critters crawl through your soil, they further aerated it.

What is Lawn Aeration?

Aerating is rolling a series of spikes across the ground to create holes in the dirt. This helps break up compacted dirt and allows water and nutrients to penetrate to grass roots. It is an essential piece of any high-end lawncare.

How Often Should You Aerate?

Most lawns will only need to be aerated once a year. If you start seeing those symptoms of compacted dirt such as pooling water, browning when you mow or thinning grass, then it might make sense to increase the frequency.

Clay soil, for example, require twice-yearly aeration since they compact so easily and hold water so poorly.

Ultimately, soil type becomes the greatest determining factor of how often you should aerate. As a rule of thumb, you need to aerate 1-2 times a year.

Aeration And Overseeding

One of the best ways to improve the thickness of your grass and to get that deep, lush, park-like growth is through aeration and overseeding.

By first aerating the oil, you create ample room for water and air to penetrate. Then you seed and water on top of the freshly aerated soil, letting the new grass seeds fill bare spots in your lawn.

This is generally done with cool-season grasses like fescue and is best performed from August to October.

Plug Spoons vs. Spike Aerator

The two main pull-behind options for aerating your lawn are a plug spoon and a spike aerator.

Plug Spoons

pattern after plug removal on golf course
Pattern In Grass After Cores Removed

A tow behind plug aerator comes with hollow metal shafts or “plugging spoons”. These spoons slice into the ground and draw out small soil plugs (often 2-3 inches deep). They can dig up to 4 inches, although 3 inches deep is the recommended setting you will use.

As the tow plug aerator continues to move, the plugs are redeposited on your lawn’s surface. The holes they create encourages root growth, resulting in lawns that are green and thick.

For heavy clay or heavily compacted soils, tow plug aerators are a better choice (however, they cost more).

That’s because, even in the hardest conditions, removing cores of dirt creates a path through which nutrients may reach the root system.

Spike Aerators

Spike aerators use spiky stars (or tines) made of heat-treated steel to perforate the surface and the thatch layer of your grass, loosening compacted soils to allow your lawn to breathe.

For yards that are weakly to moderately compacted, a tow behind spike aerator that pokes holes into the earth helps relieve slight compaction. These are also a good choice for soils that crumble easily and that are high in loam or sand content.

Core Plug Aerators With Spring Assist

If your budget allows it, a spring-assisted core plug aerator is an excellent upgrade that delivers professional results.

For major aerating projects, it is far more successful than an ordinary pull-behind aerator since it is friendlier on the lawn.

The spring-assisted tines, articulate readily to generate more force. This creates defined ‘holes’ due to the additional thrust the springs add.

Even on extremely hard soils, the plugger consistently pulls out immaculate, complete plugs.

Unless you can get good aeration, your grass will be splotchy. Aeration is one of the key ways that golf courses maintain their lush turf. Getting thorough aeration improves soil drainage and helps improve the speed with which nutrients penetrate the roots.

Tow-behind aerators are the best choice for large yards; they perform well (as you’ve seen) and get the job done quickly.

See Related: How to use a pull behind box scraper

Does The Type of Tire Matter?

You are only going to use this tool once a year. Most of the cheap options will use pneumatic tires. Pneumatic tires are fine, but you will need to air them before use, so buy a portable air tank.

The no-flat tires offer the added convenience that you can simply connect it to your riding mower and pull it around the yard.

Weighing Down A Pull Behind Aerator

Hard, dry, compacted soil can be too difficult for the tines to dig in. Without weight, the aerator will skim across the top and no aeration will occur. To get a deep

All pull behind aerators are designed with a weight tray above the tines. The most common weights used are cinder blocks or sandbags, although you by specific weights for your model. High-end models have an enclosed weight tray.

Most small aerators will need no more than 150 pounds of weight to get good aeration.

Can Tow Aerators Be Pushed?

Generally, a spike aerator can be pushed or pulled. They tend to be a little squirrelly, so I would not try to push one with your riding mower. However, the plug aerators can only go in one direction due to the unique shape of their scoops.

Pull Behind Vs. Rental Aerators

A pull-behind model is affordable and convenient. You can hook up to it in spring and fall and aerate your lawn on your schedule. The rental core aerators are generally used while walking and are only suited for small to mid-sized lawns, whereas a pull-behind aerator is well-suited for large lawns. Plus you have the hassle of pickup and delivery. What could be a relaxing chore, becomes a hassle very quickly when you’re renting.

I personally hate renting equipment and so I put it off until the last minute. As a result, I end up fighting with all of the other procrastinating homeowners for the same tool.

Liquid Aeration Vs. Aerating

We’re seeing more liquid aerating products pitched as a solution to compacted soil. These purportedly work either as a surfactant (similar to soap) or by adding more organic material to the lawn. However, most of the suggested dosings are so diluted, that it is hard to imagine that they make much of a difference.

However, liquid aerating is a popular upsell by lawn companies since they can quickly apply it with their existing equipment and it leaves no mess.

One thing that homeowners dislike about aeration is the unsightly plugs left behind. However, these plugs disappear in a couple of days, and the year-round results are well worth the temporary unsightliness.

Should You Pick Up Plugs After Aerating?

The left over cores should stay on the lawn and work their way back into the soil. They contain nutrients, seeds and microorganisms that are good for your lawn. Furthermore, as it rains, these cores will dissolve back into the soil, redistributing themselves so you have a smooth lawn without divots. Don’t remove the plugs.

How Much Does It Cost To Have Your Lawn Professionally Aerated?

Most Aeration companies will charge about $15-$20 per thousand square feet. A standard American yard in the midwest is about 4,000 square feet, putting that cost at around $60-$80.

This means buying your own aerator will pay for itself in 1-2 seasons.

Can You Pull An Aerator With A ZTR?

Zero-turn radius mowers are hard to pull an aerator with. The balance is all off and they are already so squiggly, to begin with.

That said, with patience and skill, I and all of my friends have aerated our laws with a zero-turn. You just need a universal hitch to hook it to. If your mower doesn’t have one, there are aftermarket adapters available for adding a hitch.


Detail of aeration machine for football field

A tow behind core aerator, as previously said, is better for heavily compacted soils, whilst a spike aerator should suffice for light to moderate compaction.

If you’re looking for a plug aerator, seek one with individually interchangeable plugging spoons so that replacement is simple and inexpensive.

Choose an aerator with a hitch pin that readily attaches to your garden tractor or lawnmower, regardless of the type.


Zachary Drumm

Hey! My name is Zachary Drumm! This site allows me to test new tools, piddle around in the garage, and share the insights I get from flipping cars and houses. When it comes to tools, home improvement, and being a “shade tree mechanic,” you’ve come to the right spot. If I’m not in the garage creating content, you’ll find me outside, running, canoeing, and traveling. My goal is to empower more people to be self-sufficient.