How to Dethatch a Lawn: +Why You Need To and When You Should

Dethatching a lawn is a fairly simple process that can be a weekend DIY project with the right tools. But if you’ve never done it before you’re probably wondering how to dethatch a lawn and when’s the best time to do it. 

If this is why you’ve come here, then we’ve got the perfect guide for you. We’re going to outline not only how to dethatch a lawn, but also teach you how to do it properly so you don’t permanently damage your soil (because that can happen) and how to determine when your lawn needs to be de-thatched.

How to dethatch a lawn without causing damage

First Things First; What is thatch?

Thatch is naturally occurring organic debris that accumulates over time.

It’s a mix of living and dead plant material and forms around the base of grass where the stems meet roots and soil. Sometimes this organic material breaks down on its own quickly, but other times it needs a little push. A small thatch layer is actually healthy for your soil, but too much will be detrimental.

Why You Need To Dethatch Your Lawn

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As mentioned above, a small layer of thatch is beneficial to your lawn’s general health. But more is definitely not better in this case.

Too much thatch will interfere with moisture and air reaching down into the roots of your grass. You may start to notice a browning in color and general weakening in your grass. 

If this goes too far, then the thatch could ultimately damage the soil.

Unhealthy soil is unlikely to breed healthy grass, even after it has been dethatched. This is why it is important to not allow the thatch to grow too thick in your lawn. Otherwise you’ll find yourself in desperate need of a pricey landscaping overhaul #nobueno

When You Should Dethatch Your Lawn

Ok, so now you know that removing thatch is an important step if you want a healthy and happy lawn, but when do you need to do this and how often?

When it comes to frequency, dethatching too often can be just as bad as never doing it.

You want to make sure you don’t over agitate the grass and soil by dethatching when it isn’t necessary. The best way to know when to detach is to measure the amount of thatch that has accumulated in your lawn. 

You can do this by digging up a small amount of grass and soil. Then use a ruler to take a measure of the thatch. If it has accumulated to be more than 1 inch, then it is time to dethatch. If it has accumulated to more than two inches, then you should call professionals. 

There’s a bit more to the timing than just the accumulation though. You should aim to dethatch around your grass’s peak growth time. Your grass is more likely to recover healthier if you detach while it is growing, than during a time of year where it isn’t. 

  • Cool-season grasses, like Kentucky Bluegrass, should be dethatched in late summer and early fall.
  • Warm-seasons grasses, Bermudagrass should be dethatched late spring and early summer.

Never dethatch a lawn when it is dormant, or you may damage the grass and soil beyond repair.

The Different Ways to Dethatch

If your thatch is less than two inches and you want to learn how to do it as part of your regular lawn care regimen, then you should know there are a few different ways to approach the process and they will require specific tools. 

Manual Dethatching

This method uses a manual thatching rake. This heavy and customized rake with short-tined blades to help you dig in and pull up the most thatch possible.

A thatching rake has two sides; one with straight tines for for pulling up the thatch, the other side has curved tines for cultivating the soil before applying seed if needed. This is an important distinction as many homeowner mistakenly use the curved side to remove the thatch which could end up damaging your grass.

The process is similar to using a rake. You pull the rake toward you with the straight tines down to remove the thatch. Pushing the rake away will remove the thatch from the tines and clear it for the next sweep. As you can imagine, this takes time.

This process is best for small areas or folks who want to make a regular habit out of dethatching before things get out of hand.

We want to make sure before you get started that manually dethatching an entire lawn with a rake can be incredibly labor intensive. This is especially true if you’ve never dethatched your lawn before.

If this is your first lawn-dethatching rodeo and you don’t want to end up worn out for a week we suggest you use one of the following methods to get started instead of dethatching your lawn by hand.

A Power Lawn Dethatcher Makes the Job Easier

If a week spent raking your grass and a sore back don’t sound like very much fun, then you’ll probably want to invest in a lawn dethatcher.

These simple tools make the job so much easier. Similar to a lawn mower you simply push it across your grass and the specially designed tines do all the work for you.

In our opinion, the small investment is worth it due to the time you will save and the impact it will have on the health of your lawn (not to mention saving your back). Especially if your thatch is thicker than 2 inches.

Power Rakes Are Efficient but Can Harm Some Grass

A power rake is designed for aggressive dethatching. Like a power dethatcher on steroids, it is fitted with rotating rake-like tines that help you to dig into the soil and pull up the thatch. These power rakes could be too harsh for certain types of grass that can’t handle more aggressive raking so be mindful of this before choosing to use this type of equipment.

Depending on how thick your thatch is when you first decide to get started, you may need a power rake if your thatch is more than 2 inches thick and super matted to get the job done. That being said, we would recommend that you rent one for the day instead of purchasing one since one you get it taken care of, it will be easy to maintain with one of the methods mentioned above.

Power rakes have the potential to permanently damage your grass, requiring a full lawn replacement so this is best left to the professionals.

What to Do After Pulling Up the Thatch

Whatever method you’ve chosen, it is important to follow up the dethatching with some lawn care.

Rake or mow and collect all the thatch debris away and water your lawn appropriately. These are important steps towards ensuring healthy regrowth after dethatching.

Additionally, it is now prime time to do some seeding! Choose a premium grass seed to help reinforce your lawn’s health and stability. Distribute the seed evenly across your lawn and you’ll have lush, green, healthy grass in no time. 

If this was your first time dethatching, it may have been a big job. We recommend keeping up regular checks on the amount of thatch in your lawn and raking it regularly to prevent extra work the next time around.

These routine maintenance jobs will help to keep things healthy over a longer period of time and will keep down the expense of hiring professional lawn care.

What Are Some Steps to Keep Your Lawn Healthy Between Dethatching?

There are some helpful lawn care tricks you can use to keep everything healthy and to hopefully cut down on how often you need to dethatch your lawn. 

  • Test your soil: Take a soil sample and check for healthy pH balance and nutrients. Experts recommend doing this test every few years. Knowing your soil’s composition will help you to choose the best fertilizers and supplements for your lawn.
  • Aerate your lawn annually: If you have a heavy or compacted lawn, then annual aerating will help to loosen things up and allow air, water and fertilizer to better reach the roots of the grass.
  • Fertilize well: Use high quality fertilizer to ensure the optimal nitrogen levels in your lawn. Be careful not to over fertilize though. 
  • Mow and water regularly: Keep a regular schedule regarding mowing and watering your lawn. Be sure not to overdo it, particularly if you’ve had a rainy season.

Should You Dethatch Your Own Lawn?

Many homeowners will take pride in maintaining their own lawn. Following the steps above can help you to best take ownership in your lawn care and ensure that everything stays in tip top shape while you do it. But if all of this is new to you and you find that you have a lot of thatch buildup, then it may be best to put pride aside and leave things to the professionals this time. You can always take over the responsibility once it’s under control.

However you decide to approach your lawn care, just remember to be gentle in your start, seek guidance from pros if you need it, and soon you’ll have the lush and beautiful lawn of your dreams. 

Lawn Dethatching FAQ’s

What is the best way to dethatch a lawn?

The best way to dethatch your lawn is with a powered dethatching tool or by hand with a thatch rake. If you have a smaller lawn, less than 1,000 sq ft, using a thatch rake is manageable. Anything over 1,000 sq ft would be best done with a mechanical powered dethatching tool.

Can dethatching hurt your lawn?

Dethatching your lawn can be hard on certain grass types like tall fescue or rye grass. These bunch type grasses don’t have the ability to recover as quickly as kentucky bluegrass or bermuda grass from dethatching. It is best to plan to overseed after dethatching tall fescues and rye grass.

If you plan on putting down a preemergent or crabgrass preventer on your lawn and also need to dethatch, it is best to dethatch first. Dethatching after you put down your weed preventers and preemergent will disturb the barrier that was created.

How often should you dethatch your yard?

  • Kentucky bluegrass should be dethatched every couple of years either in the spring or early fall.
  • Bermuda grass should be dethatched every spring just as soon as new growth appears.
  • Tall fescues and Rye grass should don’t require routine dethatching. Dethatching these grass types is appropriate when you are overseeding to allow for better seed to soil contact.

Should I dethatch before aerating?

Yes. Dethatching will remove debris from your lawns canopy before aerating.

Aerating will push thatch and whatever else that is hung-up in the thatch layer into the soil. In this layer there may be dormant weed seed that once pushed into the ground may germinate. For this reason we like to remove as much of this material first with dethatching.

Is raking the same as dethatching?

Raking with a traditional leaf rake can remove some thatch from your lawn. Thatch specific rakes make this process much easier and more effective as it has special tines made for removing the thatch and getting through the grass and lifting debris from the soil. If your thatch is compacted or has built up over time you run the risk of breaking a traditional plastic rake.

How do you measure thatch?

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