Pros and cons of dethatching lawn

Has your lawn started to look dull with dull foliage and dead spots? If so, maybe you should consider dethatching it. Thatch may not seem like a problem initially, but over time, it may be detrimental to your lawn. Thatch often leads to poor air circulation and a decrease in sunlight penetration to your grass and the ground below. If you are wondering what you can do about your gradually worsening lawn, read on.

Here in this article, I’m going to discuss thatch, dethatching, the pros and cons of dethatching lawn, and lots more. I’m sure the information I’m sharing with you will help you identify your next move to make your lawn better. 

too much thatch

Table of Contents

What is thatch?

Well, thatch is a layer of dead leaves, grass, and weeds developing between the lawn and the soil. Unless you rake your lawn on a regular basis, you will notice some thatch in your lawn. Actually, in most cases, this thatch is quite beneficial to your lawn, and it’s not necessary to remove it completely.

Based on the thickness of the thatch and the length of time it has been allowed to amass, plants and grass in your lawn can wind their way through it, eventually creating a thick layer of thatch substrate. This accumulation of thatch tends to retain moisture. Over time, it breaks down and returns the nutrients to the soil. Besides supporting the growth of the lawn, it also reduces the amount of fertiliser you need for the lawn.

soil surface covered in thatch

What is dethatching?

As the name implies, dethatching means removing the accumulated layer of thatch. The thatch, sometimes, becomes so dense that the surrounding plants and grass suffocate. Thatch should be removed in this case. While dethatching sounds like a simple process, it involves strenuous work, mainly because thatch often gets tangled with plants and grass, making it challenging to remove. 

How to know whether or not you should dethatch your lawn?

If you can see that your lawn is healthy and the layer of thatch is less than ½ inch in thickness, you don’t have to dethatch it. However, if the thatch layer is more than ½ inch in thickness, you can go ahead with dethatching to improve the health of your grass.

Many lawn owners consider dethatching as the last resort, as it has to be done sometimes to save their lawns. However, since thatch has its own benefits, you should consider the pros and cons of dethatching your lawn before you commit to the process.

Let’s get into the details of the pros and cons of dethatching.

healthy lawn with thatch

What are the pros of dethatching your lawn?

Now that you have a clear understanding of what thatch and dethatching mean, let me guide you through why you may want to consider dethatching for your lawn.

Pros of dethatching your lawn

  • Dethatching helps aerate soil. When you remove the dead plant material, that is thatch, you are creating space for air, sunlight, and water to penetrate the soil. In other words, you’re creating a healthier environment for your lawn.
  • Dethatching enhances fertiliser absorption. When you dethatch your lawn before applying fertiliser, it loosens the soil’s topmost layer, thereby making it easier for the fertiliser to reach the target.
  • Dethatching makes your grass appear normal and lush. When there is a thick layer of thatch build-up in your lawn, it leads to discolouration or thinning in patches throughout the lawn, making it appear dull and gloomy. A simple dethatching is all your grass needs to return to normal.
  • Dethatching helps in disease prevention. Pests and diseases don’t affect healthy grass. If there is thatch accumulation, the grass can’t stay healthy for a longer period and is prone to infection by insects or other agents. Therefore, getting rid of the accumulated thatch will keep your grass healthy and free from disease.
  • Dethatching supports new growth. When thatch in your lawn develops to become dense, grass seeds confuse it for soil, and eventually sprout up in the thatch layer. Since thatch isn’t suitable for seeds to thrive, seedlings tend to die quickly. However, if you dethatch your lawn, the grass seeds will find the soil and hence develop properly. Moreover, dethatching the lawn is known to improve turf density, which consequently helps fight thatch accumulation.

What are the cons of dethatching your lawn?

  • Dethatching eliminates vital nutrients from the soil. You now know that thatch is a result of foliage decomposition. If you remove it too soon, you may be preventing the nutrients in that organic matter from making their way back to the soil. A healthy layer of thatch perhaps returns the vital nutrients to the soil, thereby minimising fertiliser costs.
  • Dethatching damages the soil balance. Dethatching is known to disrupt the ideal pH and nitrogen level of the soil in your lawn, eventually damaging its overall health. If you wish to avoid this problem, make sure you apply a good amount of compost or any other organic matter after dethatching.
  • Dethatching is a strenuous process. The process is backbreaking as it involves many hours of raking the lawn under the sun.
  • Dethatching can kill beneficial bacteria. Dethatching exposes the soil in your lawn; in other words, the beneficial bacteria in the soil dry out and die. Moreover, the soil is exposed to harmful bacteria. However, there is a remedy. You can dethatch your lawn during the autumn when the conditions are more appropriate for lawn work.
  • Dethatching may damage grass blades. When you perform power raking, there is a risk of applying too much pressure or raking too vigorously, thereby damaging the roots and blades of your grass. 
  • Dethatching increases susceptibility to frost. All through the colder months, thatch acts as a blanket so that cold air cannot reach the soil. Consequently, a lawn that has a little thatch is less vulnerable to frost damage. However, after dethatching, the lawn becomes less cold-tolerant and may suffer from frost damage.
grass clippings

How to prevent thatch buildup?

Now, you should have a clear understanding that a little thatch does more good than harm to your lawn. However, allowing excessive thatch accumulation is not a good idea. In order to avoid thatch buildup, you must take the following preventative measures… Here are a few tips for you:

Aerate the lawn

Keep in mind that thatch is organic matter that is yet to decompose. Therefore, core aeration of the soil in your lawn relieves soil compaction and boosts microbial activity, thereby preventing the accumulation of thatch. The thatch breaks down faster as the soil becomes more populated with decomposing bacteria. Hence, it may not accumulate to detrimental levels. 

Avoid overwatering

A select few turf types of grass require very little water to grow. If overwatered, they may develop thatch. Now, that doesn’t mean you should avoid watering your lawn. You have to be sure that you water your lawn enough to retain some moisture in the soil. Only then, thatch can decompose and will not pile up. I recommend watering the lawn deeply, that is, one inch of water once a week. The key is to keep the soil moist and prevent waterlogging.

Apply a liquid dethatcher

I admit that the most commonly used dethatching tools are rakes and vertical mowers and they are used when there is excessive thatch buildup. Well, if you find that the thatch layer in your lawn is still light, you can prevent it from accumulating by using a liquid dethatcher or biological dethatcher. These contain enzymes and bacteria that accelerate the rate at which thatch decomposes, eventually stopping the layer of thatch from becoming dense and damaging.

Regularly monitor and adjust the soil pH

When there are changes in the soil pH, it sometimes results in reduced microbial activity. This leads to thatch build-up. To prevent excessive thatch, you have to monitor your soil pH and correct it accordingly on a regular basis. For example, if you find that the soil in your lawn is too acidic, you can add lime to raise its pH level.

grass seed watering

Conclusion

Having discussed the important points about thatch and dethatching, I’m sure you now have an idea of whether or not you should dethatch your lawn and what the pros and cons of dethatching are. Let me give you a quick recap of the important points:

  • A small layer of thatch is actually good for your lawn.
  • Resort to dethatching only if the thatch layer is more than ½ inch thick.
  • Weigh the pros and cons of dethatching before you embark on the process.
healthy lawn after being seeded

People also ask

Which is the best time of the year to dethatch the lawn?

The best time to dethatch the lawn is when the soil is moist and the grass is growing vigorously. It’s because dethatching can probably leave your grass looking stressed and the lawn looking ragged. If you have cool-season grasses in your lawn, you can resort to dethatching during the spring or autumn season and in the case of warm-season grasses, summer months are ideal.

What should you do after dethatching the lawn?

If you have plans to reseed, it’s perfect to do it after dethatching your lawn. After you seed the lawn, consider topdressing. Use the removed soil from the plugs for topdressing. However, a lot of thatch debris has to be removed. You will have new regions created as a result of dethatching and it’s a great opportunity to add organic matter to adjust and amend your soil. 

What about dethatching wet grass?

Technically, you can dethatch wet (dripping wet) grass in your lawn, but you shouldn’t. Using dethatching tools on wet grass means you are exposing your lawn to physical damage. Moreover, wet thatch may clog the tines of dethatching tools, thereby making them less effective and your job more strenuous. Hence, it’s best to avoid it. However, remember that dethatching is highly effective when your lawn is slightly moist. What you can do is, lightly irrigate your lawn a couple of days before dethatching for best results.

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Oliver Wright
Oliver Wright

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