Everything You Need to Know About Dethatching a Lawn

We'll walk you through the process of dethatching—and some considerations before you get started.

<p>Ken Wiedemann/Getty Images</p>

Ken Wiedemann/Getty Images

Each year around this time, the pressure is on for homeowners to have the perfect lawn come summer. Even if your lawn isn't in the best shape right now, following some spring lawn care tips can help you achieve a more attractive and healthy lawn for the summer season. Depending on the conditions, dethatching your lawn can be a super helpful way to get your yard back into shape. If you're not exactly sure what that means, keep reading for everything you need to know about dethatching your lawn and how to decide if it's the right choice for your green space.

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What does dethatching a lawn mean?

Gene Caballero, co-founder of the lawn care service GreenPal in Nashville, TN, tells me that dethatching a lawn involves removing the layer of dead turfgrass tissue, known as thatch, which can interfere with the absorption of essential nutrients and water by the soil.

And that thatch can take many forms. “It’s the layer of organic material like dead grass, leaves, and other debris that hasn’t decomposed from your lawn,” explains Janna Bradley at Landscape Management Network. She notes that proper dethatching is essential because it can improve soil quality and the health of your grass.

When should you dethatch a lawn?

There are several factors that can determine if or when it’s time to dethatch your lawn. “The best times to dethatch are early spring or fall when the lawn is most vigorous,” Caballero says. Also, he says you need to determine if the thatch layer is more than half an inch thick, since this is when it’s going to be problematic.

Inspect the grass to see if it's thin or patchy. “Using a sharp spade, dig up a small section of grass, and if a layer of brown material where the soil meets the grass is present, you’ll need to dethatch,” says Bradley. She tells me that her measurement test is a layer of thatch that’s more than an inch thick, and if so, it’s blocking nutrients and water from reaching your grass roots and needs to be attended to.

Steps to Dethatch Your Lawn

Mow the Lawn

Start by cutting the grass to about half its regular height. Bradley says this will make the dethatching process easier.

Check for Thatch

After mowing the lawn, carefully inspect your lawn. “If it’s green on top but brown on the bottom, feels spongy when walked on, or looks brown and dead after being mowed, it may have a thatch problem,” Bradley explains.

Choose the Right Tool

If you have a smaller lawn, Bradley recommends using a dethatching rake (like this one from Amazon). “This tool has sharp tines that penetrate the soil and pull up the thatch layer,” she says. Caballero adds that you’ll need to rake thoroughly to pull up the thatch layer.

If you have a larger area, Bradley and Caballero recommend a power dethatcher (like this one).

Dethatch the Lawn

“If you’re using a dethatching rake, vigorously rake the lawn to remove the accumulated thatch. And be careful not to damage the grass,” Bradley says.

If you’re using a vertical mower, she recommends following the manufacturer’s instructions on how to operate it. “The machine will cut into the soil and pull up the thatch layer,” Bradley says.

What to Do After Dethatching the Lawn

Clean Up

After dethatching, Bradley says you should run the lawnmower again to cut the fluffed-up grass and suck up the remaining debris.

Fertilize and Water

After dethatching, Bradley says it’s also essential to fertilize and water the lawn. “This helps the grass recover and promotes healthy growth,” she explains. Caballero agrees, saying it’s important to water the lawn deeply. “This is also the perfect opportunity to overseed and apply fertilizer, promoting robust growth and recovery of the grass,” he says.

How Often to Dethatch a Lawn

Bradley recommends dethatching your lawn every two to three years. “However, this depends on the type of grass and your growing conditions,” she explains. Bradley and Caballero agree that it should be done in spring or fall, noting that it should be during your lawn’s peak season—when it’s not too hot or too cold.

But Should You Really Dethatch Your Lawn?

However, is dethatching always a good idea? Taylor Olberding, co-owner of Heroes Lawn Care, tells me that he doesn’t really recommend dethatching, and says it’s only needed for older types of grasses that create thatch.

“Dethatching tears up your existing grass a lot and can cause more harm than good, especially if you don't have any thatch to begin with,” he explains. “You are essentially tearing out grass that is actively trying to grow, causing more stress, which can lead back to a poor lawn.”

Olberding says companies started selling battery-operated dethatchers—which led people to believe that dethatching was always a good and necessary thing.

“If you don't have more than a half inch of thatch, or live in a newer—under 20 years old—home with newer sod, odds are you don't need to dethatch, especially in a cool season climate," Olberding adds.

He admits, however, that dethatching is good if you are trying to prep your lawn for full property seeding with better grass types, and explains that it opens up the lawn for seed and soil contact with the seed.

“But, if your lawn is looking great and you have no issues, you definitely don't need to do it,” he says.  Most of the time, Olberding says he recommends that you double or triple aerate the lawn to help with compaction and nutrients—then overseed on that.

Related: Aerating Your Lawn: Everything You Should Know About this Landscape Game-Changer

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