Cleaning Up Your Own Backyard

Lawn Maintenance: All About Dethatching

by Warren Garcia

When you walk around on your lawn, you may feel a springy layer of grass. Did you ever think about why a plant that grows in blades can create that springy feeling? In fact, it's because turfgrass naturally creates a layer of thatch. As with anything in life, too much of a good thing can become a problem. Too much thatch can actually inhibit your lawn. Examine whether your lawn has a thatch problem, which will require dethatching to solve.

What is Thatch?

Grass consists of two parts. Below ground there's the root system, which anchors the plant and soaks up water and nutrients. Aboveground is the actual green shoot. In between the two is a layer of both live and dead grass blades, stems, and roots. This tightly-woven layer is thatch. The formation of thatch is a natural part of turf's growing process. Not only does this thatch layer make walking on the grass more comfortable, it provides a natural layer of mulch. It also insulates the grass crowns.

Signs of a Thatch Problem

According to Sunset Magazine, the thatch layer can grow to a half-inch of thickness and still be healthy for your lawn. Any thicker than that, though, and the thatch can prevent water and fertilizer from penetrating the soil. It can also block sunlight and even cause the grown of mold.

You can go around your lawn feeling the thatch layer to see if it's too thick. However, if your lawn feels spongy, that's a sign. What's more, you may see dry spots even though you water regularly, which means the water isn't penetrating past the thatch layer. Another sign is that only the top of the grass is green with an underlying brown layer.

Tools for Dethatching

A rake is a simple dethatching tool. However, professionals use two main types of dethatchers. One is a flail-type. This is basically a motorized rake. The more effective method is a solid knife-type dethatcher. This consists of sturdy, vertically spinning blades. Both types of dethatchers pull the thatch layer to the surface. However, the solid knife dethatchers also cut up the layer.

When to Dethatch

Dethatching typically needs to happen every year or two, or whenever you see signs of a thatch problem. It's better to dethatch in late summer or early fall because the lawn is well-established then. What's more, the lawn should be dry. Not only can a wet lawn damage the equipment, but the equipment can tear up the wet grass.

Determine if your lawn needs dethatching, then consult with your local lawn care experts about how best to approach the task. You can also hire lawn maintenance professionals to take care of the job for you.