Taking Care of Your Lawn

A landscaped yard.

Anyone who has a great interest in their lawn, and are active in the care of it, knows what thatch is. Although it may not be noticeably visible, especially if the lawn is a bit long, rest assured that it is there.

Thatch is the detritus of lawn care. It is a layer of lawn clippings, grass stems, roots, and other debris that settles into the ground. It either decomposes or will accumulate over a period of time. It will be prevalent in a lawn where grass has been allowed to grow tall, grass clippings have not been raked off, and lawns that have not been aerated. It is most common in warm weather. Creeping grass such as Kentucky Bluegrass, Bermuda, Zoyia, and bent grass are susceptible to thatch, and need to be dethatched more often than other types of grass. Dethatching is simply the process of removing the thatch from your lawn.


Dethatching can be accomplished in a few ways. The hardest — but safest method — is to remove the thatch by hand with a thatch rake or garden rake. If you are into physical fitness, and have plenty of time on your hands, this is the best way to go. If, however, you have a very large lawn, the best bet is to rent a power lawn dethatcher.

The first step in any law dethatching operation is to identify the need to thatch. Thatch that is only ½ inch in height should best be left in the yard. This amount of thatch will protect the lawn in times of drought, high heat, or water restrictions. Thatch only ½ inch tall acts like insulation for the soil, and provides screening from the sun's hot rays at the height of summer. It also helps hold in moisture during dry times.

If thatch is over ½ inch tall, problems can arise. The thicker thatch will make the lawn suffer by being too large a buffer between the soil and the grass. This will prevent sufficient amounts of water to reach the root base, and any nutrients cannot penetrate the thick thatch. Too much thatch can also create an excess of bugs living in the lawn, such as chinch bugs and other pests, and is a good medium for lawn diseases and fungi.

Best Time to Dethatch

If you have determined that the thatch does need to be removed, the best time to do so is in either the early spring or later in the fall, so that the grass has time to recover from any damage done to it during dethatching. Several things should be done before you begin.

First, mow the lawn to about half of its normal mowed height. Next, you will need to set the blade depth of the lawn dethatcher. The dethatcher is much like a regular lawn mower in the sense that it is an engine mounted on wheels. The difference is that the blades run vertical to the ground versus horizontal on a regular mower. There are also several blades on the dethatcher.

If you rent the dethatcher, someone at the store can advise you on the depth of the cutting blades. Generally, the blades will be set to cut at least a half inch into the soil, thus loosening the thatch from the yard. Set the blade distance to approximately 1 to 2 inches in distance. Make a few test passes with the dethatcher to determine if your settings are correct, and when dethatching, make criss-cross passes in the yard for the best coverage. When finished, remove all the dislodged thatch from the lawn.


Aeration of the lawn is a process that involves punching holes 3 to 4 inches deep in the lawn to allow water, oxygen, and nutrients to penetrate the soil and reach the root base. It is usually done once or twice a year, depending on the traffic on the lawn. Aeration helps to strengthen grassroots, and of course, strong grassroots make for a green, lush lawn. It is generally accomplished by pushing hollow cylinders into the lawn and forcing out plugs of soil to the lawn surface. Some people use spikes to accomplish this, but spikes do not force out the plugs of soil, and does not allow for sufficient expansion of the soil. Aeration also is a big help in breaking up the buildup of thatch.

A lawn aerator can be rented and used by any DIYer. If you wish to purchase your own, a typical pull behind will run around $230.00. The night before you plan on aerating your lawn, water thoroughly to loosen the soil, especially in high traffic areas where the soil has become more compact.

When aerating your lawn, focus on high foot traffic areas which typically have slower growth and have lower resistance to wear. When you have finished aerating your lawn, apply herbicide. Aeration makes a weak lawn more susceptible to weed growth. Remove all the plugs from your lawn after you have finished aerating.

If done on a regular basis, dethatching and aeration will make your lawn a happy one. It will reward you with lush, vital growth, and you will be the envy of everyone in your neighborhood.