Should you rent or buy a lawn aerator?

Posted by Woodrow Aames ~ August 5, 2011

The right lawn care tools simply bring your landscaping ideas to fruition. But do you need to own them all? Buying an aerator makes sense if you have a large lawn area on soil that bakes hard or is already compacted by nature. Most people, however, rent aerators from $40 - $150 a day from places like Ace, Home Depot, United Hardware, Sunbelt or other regional lawn care centers and home improvement stores.

The prime consideration when deciding between renting and buying, ultimately, is whether you have hard packed soil, lots of area and are physically comfortable hauling one around. Some aerators can be pulled by a lawn mower or tractor, too, depending on weight and horsepower. Let's start by looking at rentals. Here are some prices in the Seattle area:

Mini-aerator: Compact model, 106 lbs. and removes 2 1/4 by 1/2 inch plugs. Teeth strike straight in and pull the plug straight up. $35 for two hours rental, $90 a day.

Lawnaire 28": 404-lb self-propelled push aerator that covers 24,000 sq. ft. per hour. Punches out 12 holes per-square-foot. $75 for two hours rental, $165 a day.

Bluebird tow behind 36": Requires 16+ horsepower tractor. Aerates 1.9 acres an hour. Two independent rotors and 32 interchangeable closed-spoon 1/2" tines. $45 for two hours rental, $105 a day.

How to you know that your lawn needs aerating?

Your lawn can't survive for long without access to water, oxygen or food. No matter how much nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium nutrients you lay down with a feeder, the roots of your lawn won't receive them if there's a heavy thatch buildup or compacted soil blocking passage. Your lawn needs to breathe.

Tell-tale signs that your lawn needs help include an excessive run-off of irrigation water, thin or bald patches and abbreviated growth. Nothing worse than pouring a ton of effort into landscaping only to watch it wither. When you consider it takes a day or so to aerate, why not brace up and do it?

Buying an aerator

There are hollow tined or spiked aerators. Spiked aerators punch holes in the ground. Hollow tined-plug aerators pull up plugs of soil and leave them on the lawn. The argument for hollow-tined models is that the removed plug leaves room for nutrients to circulate, while the punch-in holes from spikes merely push compressed earth into other compressed earth - leaving you with hard-packed soil all over again.

You can buy an inexpensive Agri-Fab 16-inch Spike Aerator for around $50 at Sears. It's a 50-spike, push model. If you have a mower or lawn tractor, there's the Brinly-Hardy 48 inch tow-behind plug aerator sold at Home Depot for $179.

Buy or rent, the price is about the same. I'd rent one the first time and see how well that model performs. Then buy it the next year.

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