Although it takes some knowledge and a concerted effort, effectively dethatching a lawn is critical to its health and appearance.
What is thatch?
Thatch is the exacerbating level of debris that accumulates on the ground below your grass. Consisting of dead vegetation, earth, twigs and all kinds of ‘who knows what,’ it slowly consolidates into a semi-solid mat that inhibits growth.
What is so worrisome about thatch?
A minimal amount of thatch is normal and to be expected. However, all too regularly, the layer of thatch reaches disturbing proportions quickly. At that stage, the individual components that make up the thatch cease decomposing. You know what happens. Twigs, straw, leaves and clippings and debris from nearby plants bind together, compressed into a stifling, compressed mass. Stagnant and solid, thatch offers zero benefits to the grass.
Rather, when that thick level of thatch starts accumulating to an inch or so, only bad things happen. Your lawn begins to be effectively choked off from water, fertilizer…even sunlight. Rather than flourish, the grass is stuck on ‘PARK’ or worse yet, ‘REVERSE.’ The thicker the layer of thatch gets, the quicker it grows. The last thing a lawn wants is a thick, tough, spongy layer inhibiting its growth.
When should dethatching occur?
Pay attention to your lawn’s surface on a regular basis. If you can’t see your soil easily, it is likely time to dethatch. Always be prepared to detach in late winter.
How to dethatch a lawn
For those planning to dethatch themselves, the most effective tool is a thatching rake, designed specifically to dig into the thatch layer and pull it up off the ground. Rake the grass and dig deep enough to get into the thatch layer so you can loosen it.
It is imperative to thatch your entire lawn systematically. A properly dethatched lawn will often appear ‘beaten up.’ That is normal; the lawn will recover healthier than before. That said, be wary of excessive damage that can be done by power raking equipment.
Professional lawn care companies are generally extremely capable of properly dethatching a lawn. You may want to consider their services. Simply, be wary of them overdoing it.
Can thatching be prevented and the need to dethatch be eliminated?
Yes. Do not over-fertilize and regularly rake up all fallen plant materials and any other excess material. Pine straw, bark, leaves, and sticks on your lawn are the enemy. Grass clippings can become valuable fertilizer, but only if they do not over-accumulate. A mulching attachment on your lawnmower can help disintegrate the clippings into tiny particles that actually aid in the growth cycle.
What can aeration do for your lawn?
Aeration is one of the most important things you can do for turfgrass and is oftentimes overlooked. It naturally helps break down the thatch layer, and in addition, it allows oxygen to the roots. Consider holding a plastic bag over your head—that’s what a lack of aeration does to the plant. Learn more about aeration in Does Your Lawn Need Aeration?