Dethatching is a popular lawn care activity. But is it really worth the time and effort?

Yes, dethatching your yard is worth it. This is because, for just $180, you will be able to improve moisture and nutrient availability for your grass. You will also be able to decrease the odds of pest infestations. This is so especially considering the fact that it is something that you only have to do once a year.

Here is what you should know.

Is Dethatching Your Yard Worth It

Thatch contains roots, crowns, shoots, stems, and dead blades of grass. When it is less than a half-inch thick, it isn’t harmful. In fact, it is beneficial.

It is almost inevitable that your grass will develop thatch. It is equally likely that without dethatching, this layer will grow. And it will eventually affect your grass negatively.

And so the question is: what exactly are the benefits of dethatching? Here are the ones that you should know.

It will improve soil aeration

When you dethatch a yard that has a thick and dense thatch layer, you are essentially removing a suffocating blanket over the soil. This is something that will allow air to easily reach the soil.

Useful bacteria and other useful organisms need air in order to survive. The roots of your grass also need to breathe. And so removing a suffocating layer of dead debris will improve soil health. It will also enable the roots of your grass to work better since they also work better when they have an adequate supply of air.

It will improve moisture penetration

Watering your lawn is important as it allows your grass to get ample access to moisture. And since moisture is what your grass relies on to make food and to move it around, this is something that is essential for the plant’s survival.

A thick thatch layer gets between your grass and the moisture that it needs. As a result, when you water your lawn, most of the water is likely to just wash off without reaching the soil.

And in cases where you moderately water the lawn, then most of the water will be absorbed by the thatch layer, way before it has the chance to reach the roots. This is something that is bound to lead to poor grass health.

It will eliminate brown and ugly patches

Thatch is brown in color. With time, this layer can take over your lawn to such an extent that you start seeing traces of brown debris on your lawn. This is bound to compromise the aesthetic appeal of your lawn.

Dethatching removes this layer.

It reduces it, and by doing so, it gives new grass a chance to spring to life. Therefore, in and of itself, dethatching can directly improve the aesthetic appeal of your lawn.

It increases nutrient availability

When you fertilize your lawn, especially after seeding or any other lawn maintenance activity, you expect the fertilizer to fertilize your lawn and for the nutrients that it supplies to be made available to the grass.

With a thick thatch layer, this doesn’t happen. This is because most of the fertilizer will get stuck in the patch layer. And since it won’t have the chance to reach the soil, any nutrients that it is designed to supply, won’t get to the grass. This will then lead to poor grass health as the grass will gradually become malnourished.

Dethatching reduces the effect of this barrier. It makes this layer less obstructive. And in doing so, it increases nutrient availability, especially during fertilization.

It discourages pest infestations

Dense thatch layers provide the perfect covers for insects and pests. They provide shelter. And in some cases, they even provide food. This makes thick thatch layers to be pest magnets.

Insects and other pests are a nuisance. They bite or sting loved ones. Some of them destroy the grass. Others stress the grass to a point where it becomes vulnerable to diseases. Dethatching makes thatch layers less desirable to pests. And in so doing, helps to protect the grass from attacks.

When does thatch become a problem?

Thatch is useful.

It can be beneficial to your lawn by:

  • Reducing the rate at which your lawn loses moisture. This will ensure that your grass always has an ample supply of moisture for food production and other important functions.
  • Shielding your lawn from the negative effects of extreme temperature fluctuations. It does this by providing an extra cover against the environment. It essentially becomes a blanket of dead materials, shoots, and other debris that is a poor conductor of heat. This is something that will enhance the health of your lawn.

But why would you want to get rid of such a useful layer from your lawn?

Thatch becomes problematic when it becomes thick.

Once it grows to over 1/2 inches thick, it becomes obstructive. It reduces moisture penetration, serves as a pest magnet, and makes it easy for new seedlings to grow.

How can thatch be harmful?

As mentioned above, thatch becomes problematic when the thatch layer grows to over 1/2 inches. At this thickness, it creates a dense layer that can interfere with the health of your lawn.

The thick thatch layer will:

  • Reduce moisture penetration. This happens when the thatch layer is so thick and dense that water simply washes off your lawn. It then reduces your lawn’s access to moisture, hence leading to poor lawn health.
  • Rob your grass of nutrients. Keeping in mind that the thatch layer sits between the grass blades and the soil, it is easy to see why a thick thatch layer will easily keep nutrients from fertilizers from reaching the roots of the grass. Your grass will slowly lose its good health due to malnutrition. And in extreme cases, it can start to die.
  • Suffocate your grass. This happens in cases where the thatch layer is not only thick but also traps moisture. The combination of the two then locks out air. The roots then suffocate and start to die.
  • Attract pests. Thatch can provide shelter to insects and other harmful organisms. These organisms can harm your grass. They can also become a nuisance as some of them may sting or bite human beings.
  • Harbor dangerous diseases. The layer is home to decomposing biological material. It tends to be wet and hot. And all of these things can create the perfect environment for disease-causing bacteria. Your lawn will thus be more susceptible to lawn diseases.

What increases the likelihood of thick thatch forming?

Thick thatch is very bad for your lawn. So, what causes it?

Here is what you should know.

  • The species of the grass. Some species of grass are just more susceptible to developing thick thatch than others. As a result, grass species like Bermuda grass, and Kentucky bluegrass need way more attention than others — as far as thatch monitoring is concerned. Others, like perennial ryegrass, are less likely to have a harmful buildup of thatch. Therefore, avoiding thatching can be as simple as choosing the right type of grass.
  • Overfertilization. When you apply an excessive amount of fertilizer to your lawn, your grass won’t be motivated to sink its roots as deep into the soil as it should. This, coupled with the accelerated rate of growth that the excess supply of nutrients will cause, will increase the odds of ending up with denser and shallow root systems.
  • Insecticide and fungicide application. Insecticides affect a broad range of organisms. This includes organisms, like earthworms, that usually help to break down the thatch layer. And in the absence of these catalysts, the layer tends to grow at an accelerated rate.
  • Soil acidity. Acidic soils tend to have less microbial biological activity. This is a problem for lawns since it often means that the thatch layer will be developing at a faster rate than it is broken down. Inevitably, it often leads to thicker thatch layers that eventually become problematic.
What increases the likelihood of thick thatch forming

How do you know that your grass needs dethatching?

You can tell whether your grass needs dethatching through observation. Your lawn may need dethatching if the grass:

  • has changed its color from a healthy green color to a poor shade of green, then dethatching may be necessary
  • starts becoming weak
  • starts developing thin grass blades

If you notice the above signs, and there is no other reasonable explanation for the changes, then it is time to confirm that dethatching is indeed to blame for the poor health of your lawn.

To do so effectively:

  • Cut a small wedge in your lawn. Dig the wedge deep enough until you dig up part of the soil.
  • Take a measuring tape and then measure the thickness of the thatch layer in inches
  • If the layer is below 1/2 an inch thick, then your lawn’s thatch isn’t to blame. But if it is, then thatch development might be to blame.

When should you dethatch your lawn?

You should time your dethatching in such a way that it maximizes the time that the grass has to recover.

For the best results, you should dethatch warm-season grass in early summer or late spring. This ensures that the grass can handle the dethatching trauma since it will happen right before its active season begins.

For cool-season grass, early fall makes the best grass. Doing it early on will ensure that it has an extended period of conducive weather to be able to handle the damaging effects of dethatching.

When should you dethatch your lawn

What happens if I don’t dethatch?

When you don’t dethatch, the thatch layer will keep on growing in thickness. This will present a few challenges.

Infestations

For starters, your lawn will start attracting pests. This is because the thatch will provide opportunities for food and shelter to these pests.

Weak and thin grass

New grass will also have a harder time thriving. This is because they will have a harder time reaching the ground. They won’t have easy access to moisture. And they will also have a harder time getting access to nutrients. You will then end up with weaker and poorly looking grass shoots.

Poor drainage

Your yard will also have a hard time draining water. This is because a thick and dense thatch layer will reduce moisture penetration. Water will have a harder time getting absorbed by the ground. And this will also increase the odds of lawn complications like lawn bubbles.

With time, your lawn will lose its aesthetic appeal. Watering your lawn or fertilizing it won’t have as much of an effect as it once did. And the thatch will slowly strangle your lawn.

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FAQ’s

Yes, dethatching can hurt your lawn if you overdo it. Here are the reasons why.

  • Thatch is not always bad.

When it is below 1/2 an inch thick, it reduces moisture loss from the yard. It also stabilizes your yard’s temperature. This is good as it helps to protect the roots of your grass from the negative effects of extreme temperature fluctuations.

  • Dethatching is an aggressive lawn maintenance process.

It involves ripping part of your lawn out. It is extremely traumatic for your yard as some of the grass will get injured in the process.

Therefore, if you do it more than once a year, your lawn won’t have time to recover. And this can become morbidly detrimental to your lawn’s health.

Yes, you should seed after dethatching.

Dethatching involves yanking parts of the thatch layer. While the process is beneficial to a lawn, it often leaves the grass with ugly patches.

Seeding introduces new grass to these areas. And when it eventually grows, it fills up the patches. And your lawn’s beauty and appearance will be restored.

A dethatcher is different from a power rake.

Power rakes tend to be bigger than dethatchers. They also use more powerful motors. And are perfectly suited for use on commercial lawns thanks to their aggressiveness.

On the other hand, dethatchers are smaller, less powerful, and less aggressive. They are perfect for removing thatch on small to mid-sized lawns.

Therefore, while they primarily remove thatch, they are different in terms of power, use cases, aggressiveness, and the level of expertise needed to safely operate them.

Ben McInerney
Author: Ben McInerney - is a qualified arborist with 15 plus years of industry experience in Arboriculture. He ran a successful tree service before turning to writing and publishing. Ben is dedicated to providing users with the most accurate up-to-date information on everything trees.