Whether or not to remove thatch is a frequently debated topic among homeowners, and both sides have compelling arguments. So, what are the pros and cons of dethatching lawn? Should you dethatch your lawn at all?
If you are looking for the answers to these questions, you have come to the right place.
What's In This Article
- Firstly, What Exactly is Thatch?
- What is Dethatching?
- How Do You Know If You Need to Dethatch Your Lawn?
- What Are the Pros and Cons of Dethatching Lawn?
- How Can You Prevent the Excessive Buildup of Thatch?
Firstly, What Exactly is Thatch?
If you are new to lawn care, you may have frequently heard the term “thatch” and “dethatching.” In simple words, thatch is a buildup of a layer between the grass and the soil. It consists of dead and living organic matter such as roots, crowns, stem nodes, dead grass, and more.
In fact, most of the thatch is composed of lignin, which is a decay-resistant organic polymer. Hence, it builds up faster than it can be broken down by microorganisms.
But don’t get us wrong. A thin layer of thatch is beneficial to your lawn because it slows down water loss, protects the grass from excessive damage, maintains soil temperature, and more.
However, the problem usually arises when this buildup exceeds a thickness of ½ inch. Thick thatch will prevent new grass growth and give your lawn a spongy feel. Eventually, the grass will go pale, and your lawn will look like it got its soul sucked out. This is when dethatching becomes important.
What is Dethatching?
As the name implies, dethatching is the process of removing the excessive buildup of thatch from your lawn using a dethatcher or scarifier.
Typically, homeowners are advised to dethatch the lawn before the growing season of the grass begins to prevent unwanted lawn stress. If you dethatch during the dormant phase, the damage done to the grass may be unrecoverable. So, there is no fixed time frame and the ideal time to dethatch the lawn varies for every type of grass.
How Do You Know If You Need to Dethatch Your Lawn?
Several signs and symptoms can help determine if it is time to dethatch your lawn. Among these, the spongy and springy ground is a tell-tale sign. Some other common signs include:
- Seeing the blades of grass on your lawn get weaker
- The grass is becoming noticeably thinner
- Dry spots on your lawn
- Seeing an increasing number of weeds on your lawn
- The grass is growing pale
- Increased number of insects on the ground
- Fungal issues on the lawn
If you notice any of these signs, especially in combination with a spongy feel, it most likely means that your lawn requires dethatching.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Dethatching Lawn?
Generally, you will get very mixed advice regarding dethatching because opinions among gardeners and homeowners vary widely. Still, several pros and cons are usually agreed upon. Now that you know what “thatch” and “dethatching” are, let us look at some of the pros and cons of dethatching lawn.
The Benefits of Dethatching Lawn
1. It Improves Air and Water Flow
Thatch acts like a sponge and absorbs all the water, disturbing the soil’s moisture levels. When this happens, your grass starts to die out. At the same time, thick thatch will also reduce the flow of air. These two factors combined can wreak havoc on your lawn. Therefore, dethatching will allow your lawn to get access to water and air, which will help restore its natural green color.
2. Draining the Lawn Will Become Easier
Thick thatch can prevent the lawn from drying up, even days after it has rained. Think of it as all the crap that accumulates in the sink. It slows down the flow of water and prevents it from draining away. Thatch works similarly.
Of course, stagnant water accumulated on the lawn is not good for the grass. During warm weather, wet thatch provides a perfectly moist environment resulting in the growth of fungal infections. It is also like an open invitation to lawn pests. Consequently, all of this can have a very detrimental effect on your lawn.
Therefore, dethatching will remove this natural blockage and allow your lawn to drain better.
3. Your Grass Will Get More Nutrients
Like humans and animals, plants also require the proper nutrients to survive. The three primary nutrients that your grass needs include potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen. However, too much thatch will prevent the soil from absorbing nutrients properly, regardless of how perfect your fertilizer formulation is.
So, dethatching the lawn will naturally increase the nutrient uptake, and your grass will become lush green once again. It will also help stimulate the growth of new grass and reduce dry patches.
The Disadvantages of Dethatching Lawn
1. It May Increase Grass Damage Due to Foot Traffic
Contrary to what you might think, some amount of thatch can benefit your lawn. According to experts, a thatch thickness of between ¼ – ½ inch can be ideal for providing a protective cover from foot traffic. It will increase the softness of the ground and prevent the grass from rubbing against the hard soil due to traffic. So, complete dethatching of the lawn can make your grass prone to damage.
2. It Removes Insulation Against Extreme Weather Conditions
A small amount of thatch can also act as an insulative cover against extreme cold. This can result in the development of frost on the soil during the colder months. Similarly, during extremely hot weather, thatch prevents direct contact of sunlight with air and allows the soil to retain its moisture levels. This significantly reduces the amount of water required for the grass to thrive.
3. Dethatching at the Wrong Time Can Ruin Your Lawn
Dethatching is best done just before the growing season of the grass starts. If you dethatch your lawn when your grass is dormant and not in the growing phase, your lawn may not recover in time. This will result in significant lawn stress and completely ruin your lawn.
So, before dethatching, it is important to know the most active growing season for the type of grass on your lawn. Some grasses may grow more active during warm and humid months, while some are less dormant during the colder months.
4. It Can Be Expensive and Arduous
Dethatching requires you to purchase a manual or electric dethatcher. Both require frequent maintenance and a one-time investment. If you plan on hiring someone for dethatching, you may have to pay a high amount depending on the size of your lawn and the rates in your area. At the same time, dethatching can be arduous and energy-consuming if you plan on doing it yourself.
How Can You Prevent the Excessive Buildup of Thatch?
Now that you know about the pros and cons of dethatching lawn, let us look at some ways to prevent the thatch from building up in the first place. Some of the most helpful tips include the following:
Ensure Proper Aeration of Your Lawn
Remember that thatch is made of organic matter that decomposes slowly. Hence, aeration can increase microbial activity on your lawn and reduce soil compaction. This can help slow down the accumulation of thatch.
Monitor and Adjust the PH of the Soil
Small changes in the PH of your soil can reduce microbial activity, resulting in excessive thatch buildup. So, you need to regularly monitor the PH of your soil and take steps to correct it. The soil should neither be too acidic nor too alkaline.
Use Liquid Dethatchers
Of course, electric and manual dethatchers are most commonly used to remove thatch. However, they are particularly useful when the thatch buildup is excessive. For lighter layers of thatch, you can reduce accumulation by using a biological dethatcher (liquid dethatcher). These contain bacteria and enzymes and increase the decomposition rate of the thatch, preventing it from getting denser.
Try Not to Overwater
Usually, turf grasses do not require excessive amounts of water. Overwatering can result in the buildup of thatch. So you should water just enough, so the soil retains some moisture level. It is recommended to deep water the lawn with up to an inch of water once a week.
There are many pros and cons of dethatching lawn. The key is to balance the thickness of the thatch so your lawn can enjoy its benefits without having to deal with nasty side effects.
We hope this article answers all your questions about the benefits and disadvantages of dethatching. For more gardening tips and information, check out the related articles below.
- Scarifier vs Dethatcher: Which Should You Use?
- Should You Water the Lawn After Fertilizing?
- Mulching vs Side Discharge – Which is Best for Your Lawn?
Steve is a passionate gardener and particularly loves growing vegetables. His interest was spurred at eight years old while helping his parents take care of their extensive yard, lawns, and vegetable garden. Over the years, his childhood interest grew into a lifelong passion. Read more »