How to Dethatch Your Lawn in the Spring

What You'll Need
Dethatching rake or dethatcher
Aerator or spike roller
Grass seed
Lawn fertilizer

During the winter, thatch is a good thing. This layer of organic material forms a protective barrier of sorts, a nutrient-rich stockpile of lawn clippings, leaves, and other ingredients that help seal in moisture and allow your soil to slumber. But in spring, thatch becomes an eyesore that prevents fresh, green grass from growing. Properly dethatch your lawn this spring, and start the season out with a yard ready to look its best.

Dethatching Guide

A rake dethatching a lawn.

Put frost and winter weather behind you before removing your lawn's protective coat. To make sure your grass is healthy, hold off until you've mowed once or twice in spring. Before dethatching, mow your lawn to about half its usual height.

Step 1 - Rake

Use a rake to comb through the thatch and remove it. A standard rake will work, but it's easier to grab the thatch with a dethatching rake (also known as a convex rake). Push into the grass with the rake and then pull it toward you while maintaining just enough pressure to drag the layer of thatch off without uprooting the grass beneath. If you have a large lawn, you might consider renting or buying a rolling dethatcher to speed up the process.

A woman uses a dethatcher.

Step 2 - Remove

If you don't use pesticides on your lawn, and your grass varietal is not prone to weeds, you can add the thatch to your compost pile or set it aside for use as garden mulch. Otherwise, bag it up and take it to the transfer station, or put it out with your trash.

Step 3 - Water

Thoroughly water the lawn after the thatch layer has been scraped away. The thatch prevents moisture from reaching the grass, so your soil will be sorely in need of a drink. Saturate the lawn with a good long soak.

Step 4 - Aerate

With the thatch gone, now is a great time to aerate your lawn. You can rent a professional aeration machine from most home improvement and garden stores, or use a spike roller if you're up for a slightly more physical approach. Give the earth a day to rest between the heavy watering and aeration.

Step 5 - Plant

Add grass seed as needed to any thin or patchy areas of ground cover. Apply a thick, even layer of seeds on top of the soil, and water thoroughly to encourage them to take root. Areas where grass is sparse are more prone to being overrun by weeds, so don’t skip this step.

Step 6 - Fertilize

Apply fertilizer to your lawn to give it the nutrients it needs to grow strong and green after a long winter buried under the thatch. Lawn fertilizers are available at home improvement stores and come in containers that include applicators. Make sure you know how large your yard is so you know how much fertilizer to buy.

Step 7 - Wait

Continue to carefully monitor your grass for the next few weeks to make sure the new seeds are sprouting and the lawn is recovering from winter. Water as needed when the grass begins to brown at the tips. Use this simple trick to know whether or not your grass is too dry: if you can see your footprint in the grass after you step, your lawn needs some water.

Step 8 - Keep Waiting

Allow the grass to reach a height of at least three inches before you mow it again. You want your grass to grow thick and rich before you start to cut it. This will help keep those little leaves healthy and beautiful for the rest of spring and through the summer.

Manage Lawn Thatch

A layer of thatch can strangle your grass and prevent your soil from getting the light, air, and moisture it needs to support plants. Make a habit of dethatching your lawn every spring to encourage new growth and keep your grass thriving until fall and winter weather strike again.