Thatch. What is it? What causes it? How does it negatively affect your lawn? How do you get rid of it?
All lawns have thatch. As a mater of fact, some thatch is actually beneficial for your lawn. However, once the thatch gets too thick, it prevents water, fertilizer, lawn seed, and beneficial organic material from reaching the soil. And this is a bad thing if you want your lawn to be healthy and beautiful.
Thatch can come about by over fertilizing the yard. The fertilizer can kill off microorganisms and earthworms that will generally live off the thatch and eat it. Thatch can also become a problem by cutting off too much of the grass at a time and not bagging it. Longer clippings will take much longer to decompose and can build up over time, choking your turf.
How to Combat Thatch Buildup
Prevention is always the best way to handle thatch. Here are a few things you can do to keep your thatch at bay.
- Mow frequently. Mowing weekly during the active growing season and cutting no more than 1/3 of the blade off at a time prevents “clumps”. It also, as a bonus, doesn’t traumatize the grass blade by cutting too much of it off at one time. The grass will recover from the mowing much easier.
- Mulching. Bagging the clippings is OK, but what is happening by doing that is that with clippings, goes the nutrients in the clippings. A better alternative is to use a mower with a true mulching deck. This will break down the clippings much better and faster and the nitrogen is recycled back into the turf (which keeps your lawn growing!).
- Don’t over fertilize. Always read the labels and follow instructions. If you are not sure, it’s always wise to consult a professional at a local nursery. Here in the Amarillo, we suggest Coulter Gardens or Panhandle Greenhouse. Both locations have very knowledgeable staff members eager to help. They both also have great weed control / fertilization programs designed specifically for our area.
- Water deeply, less often. The idea is to grow the roots deep. You do this by watering less frequently, but for a longer amount of time. Shallow watering encourages shallow root systems, which can aid in building thatch much quicker.
What if you already have a ton of thatch that you need to get rid of? Luckily, there are a couple of solutions to this problem.
If you dig out a small section of your soil, you can get a good idea of how much thatch you are dealing with. How much thatch you have will dictate the course of action.
If you have less than half an inch of thatch, you really don’t need to do anything. Again, a small amount of thatch is beneficial for your yard and it will manage itself.
If you have anywhere from 1/2 inch to an inch of thatch, aerating on an annual basis will keep the thatch at bay and will also keep your soil loose and able to receive more water, nutrients, and oxygen.
For those lawns that are over an inch of thatch, dethatching is going to be the answer. Dethatching is the process of physically raking out the dead grass and other matter that is in the lawn. This is an extremely stressful activity for your lawn and should be done only during certain times of the year. For cool season grasses such as fescue and bluegrass, early spring and late fall are the optimum times. For warm season grasses such as bermuda, late spring is the right time. Your grass should be starting to actively grow when you dethatch.
Dethatching can be done with a special tool called a cavex rake, and it is definitely time consuming and laborious for lawns that are heavy in thatch. Alternatively, you can use a dethatcher (also called a power rake or a vertical mower). These machines are available at your local hardware or bigbox stores. You can also rent a dethatcher from your local lawn mower store, such as Profitts Lawn And Leisure.
Dethatching Step by Step
The process is fairly simple, but will generally take you the better part of an afternoon to complete and will definitely leave your compost bin or dumpster pretty full at the end.
Before dethatching, it is best to avoid feeding your lawn and putting down any weed control for 1 to 2 months. Tt’s best to wait until after to feed the lawn.
- You want to start by mowing your lawn a half inch to an inch lower than you usually do. Bag the clippings this time, as the more you can get off the ground, the better.
- The second step is to lightly water the lawn. Do no saturate the lawn, but just get it moist.
- Now you are ready to use the dethatcher. Follow the guided instructions provided to you by the rental store. Once you understand how the machine works, start by using the dethatcher at a high setting and test a spot in the lawn. Set the tines to barely scratch a concrete surface. Go up and down the yard as if you were mowing it.
- Then, once you have gone over the entire yard, you want to set the tines a little bit lower and go over the yard again in the opposite, perpendicular direction. This will really get some dead out. Do not go too low, however, you don’t want to risk damaging the actively growing grass.
- After you have completed dethatching, you’ll have a lot of dead grass and matter to rake up. As an alternative, you can also use your mower with a bag to suck everything up (you will fill the bag many, many, many times).
- Once you have done that, water the yard immediately. Again, this is a stressful event your yard has just gone through.
Immediately, the beneficial results of dethatching will be evident. Your lawn will be able to breathe again and will be ready to fertilize and grow strong for the coming mowing season.
Please feel free to contact us with any questions regarding dethatching or any other lawn subject by phone or email. We would be more than happy to help.
And yes, Dependable Lawn Pros does offer dethatching service to our customers. If you think your yard may need this service, requesting your free quote is quick and easy!