With several routine landscaping activities, it's pretty common for homeowners to be misinformed about lawn dethatching. We often get questions like: "is dethatching good or bad for my lawn?" and "how much thatch is healthy?". Like many things in life, remember that thatch is healthy in moderation.
Is Thatch Bad for Your Lawn?
For reference, thatch is made of crowns, fibers (vascular tissues and roots), and stem nodes. It is also composed of Lignin compound, which is resistant to decay and may cause the thatch to take over your healthy, green lawn before you know it. Experts say that a thin thatch layer (no more than ½ inch) is beneficial to your lawn, as it helps insulate it from extreme temperatures and protects it from heavy foot traffic.
Similarly, it also reduces weed germination as it keeps the weed seeds from reaching the soil and maintains the soil's moisture. Lawns with thatch that are thicker than an inch may deal with several problems after a while. (Related: Is Dethatching Good for Your Lawn? (And Why You Need To))
Pros and Cons of Dethatching Lawn
Dethatching lawn can be beneficial, as it allows better air, fertilizer, sunlight, and water penetration to reach the soil deeply. But, it also comes with a unique set of disadvantages to consider. Let's discuss them in detail below.
Advantages of Dethatching Lawn
Here are some of the benefits of dethatching lawn:
Allows air, sunlight, and water to penetrate the soil better: Detaching allows the air, sunlight, and water to penetrate the soil and reach the roots better. As such, your roots grow deep and strong. This helps improve the general health of your turfgrass. Keep in mind that grass with an established root system is more resistant to drought and scorching conditions.
Gives the lawn adequate nutrients: Since dethatching your lawn removes excess plant components on the grass' surface, this opens up your turfgrass for better nutrient absorption. Your lawn must access the proper nutrients to aid its growth and development.
Decreases the lawn’s susceptibility to diseases: Your turfgrass may be prone to various lawn diseases, especially if it has thick thatch on the surface. This makes it ideal for fungi like Sclerotinia homoeocarpa (dollar spot) to thrive on your lawn. Regular turf dethatching will decrease the likelihood of your lawn developing such fungal diseases. Similarly, other disease-causing pests such as booklice and mites also tend to thrive in thick thatch environments.
Allows better fertilizer penetration: Since thatch serves as a vegetative barrier on your lawn, dethatching allows you to remove this barrier and allows the fertilizer to penetrate the soil deeper. This helps your turfgrass to stay healthy and be filled in rapidly.
Better herbicide penetration: If you use systemic herbicides, this typically enters your weed plants through the roots – which are then distributed throughout the plant. These chemicals will need to reach the soil first, though. So if you have a thick thatch on your lawn, applying commercial weed killers may not be as effective as you’d expect them to be (due to the barrier).
Encourages overseeding success: Since thatch tends to mix with the lawn's topsoil, this confuses the new grass seed as it takes it for the actual soil. Remember that thatch cannot hold the nutrients as the ground does. So if the new grass seed germinates in your thatch layer, you can expect it to die and wither in no time. If you want the overseeding to succeed, opt to dethatch your lawn regularly.
Disadvantages of Dethatching Lawn
Here are some of the drawbacks of dethatching lawn:
It may dry out the soil: A thick layer of thatch limits the sunlight and heat penetrating the soil. As such, it slows evaporation and retains the moisture in your soil for extended periods. A typical dethatching process exposes your soil to direct sunlight and heat, increasing evaporation levels. It is common for turfgrass to eventually die out due to drought conditions or a lack of proper moisture in the soil.
Dethatching can be expensive: Cost is another essential consideration to keep in mind. For extensive yards, dethatching may cost you anywhere between $250 and $1,000 (or more). Total costs will depend on how much work your lawn needs and if you want to have the lawn aerated. Homeowners with small yards or intermittent problems with thick thatch layers may consider this an unnecessary investment.
Dethatching is an arduous process: It is no secret how dethatching a lawn can take long hours and hard work. Imagine having to rake your yard under the sun for several hours. If you do not have the time to commit to this task, it would be best to hire a professional to take care of the process.
Increases lawn vulnerability to frost: In the colder months, thick thatch prevents the chilly air from reaching your soil. As a result, it somehow keeps the lawn soil warm. If your lawn has thatch in the winter, it may be less likely to fall victim to frost damage. After dethatching, it may be less tolerant to the cold and suffer from frost damage.
Exposes the lawn to turf injury: Improper lawn dethatching may lead to excessive turf injury, which is common in grass types that spread through stolons (but don't have it). This is especially true if you use aggressive tools like a power rake or a vertical lawn mower. Misusing these dethatching tools may cut through the above-ground runners, making it challenging for your grass to bounce back.
Equipment is necessary: In most cases, you will need to use a dethatcher for the lawn for your dethatching needs. You can rent a dethatching machine or invest in one, which can be pretty pricey. A dethatcher or a power rake will also be needed for its engine to operate. Since it is designed solely for dethatching purposes, it doesn't have any other use.
Dethatching can be easy to overdo (if you're not careful enough): As previously mentioned, a thin layer of thatch can benefit your lawn's growth... so be careful not to overdo the dethatching process. Keep about ¼ to ½ inch of thatch to protect your yard from direct sunlight exposure.
The grass may appear rough after dethatching: Since dethatching can be pretty stressful on your turfgrass, it's common for your lawn to look rough after completing the process. Give it time to recover, and you'll see your grass return to its former glory.
If you want to keep your grass healthy, lush, and thick – you will need to understand how to dethatch it properly. Always keep a light layer of protective thatch on your lawn, as this will aid in its development.
Once you see thick thatch layers forming, consult a professional to have it dethatched as soon as possible before it ultimately suffocates your green grass.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is it a good idea to dethatch wet grass?
Technically, you CAN dethatch your lawn even if it is drenched in water. However, it would be best if you didn't do it. Using dethatching tools will cause physical harm to your grass. In addition, the tines of your tools can be clogged with wet thatch making it less efficient, and the work gets more complicated. Therefore, avoiding to dethatch damp grass is the best for you.
When is the best time to dethatch the lawn?
When the grass is actively growing, late summer or early fall is the best time to dethatch the lawn. Use a thatching rake with sharp teeth that rips the thatch from the grass during the early spring and on smaller areas. In the late spring, detach for southern grasses.
When should you NOT dethatch your lawn?
Cool-season grasses should be dethatched in the early fall because that is when it grows the best (early September in zone 5). Avoid mowing in the middle or end of the summer. Dethatching your grass in the fall will help you have fewer weed problems.
Should I dethatch my lawn every year?
While some thatch might be beneficial, too much can prevent water and fertilizer uptake. Therefore, for optimal results, you should dethatch your grass annually.
Is dethatching better than raking?
Dethatching grass is not a task best accomplished with a traditional yard rake. You'll need a certain kind of rake made specifically for dethatching to dethatch with a rake.
What are the drawbacks of too much thatch?
Excess thatch, especially those that are more than one inch thick, decreases the health of your lawn in the following ways:
Reducing the number of nutrients your grass receives.
It decreases the amount of oxygen and water that penetrates the soil.
It prevents the base of the grass edges from receiving sunlight.
Everything mentioned above may result in the grass not being uniform.
It could result in illnesses by blocking moisture from getting to the grass blades and creates an impenetrable barrier that keeps soil from receiving nutrients and disease-fighting agents.