Should You Dethatch or Aerate Your Lawn First?

Aerating and dethatching are vital for proper lawn care. They help with root penetration and enable air, water, and nutrient flow for optimal root growth. 

The frequency depends on soil type:

  • Healthy soil may only require dethatching once a season and aerating once or twice a year. 
  • For sandy soil, aerate once per season is adequate
  • For clay soil, twice a season is optimal.

Quick Answer

It’s recommended to dethatch before aerating to eliminate excess debris and encourage robust root development.

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Is Dethatching or Aerating Better?

Many readers ask if dethatching or aerating is better and my answer is that there are two completely different processes, each with its advantages and disadvantages.

To explain briefly, your lawn needs:

  • Aeration if it fails to thrive due to soil compaction,
  • Dethatch if it has accumulated excess thatch.

Should I Aerate or Dethatch First?

It is best to dethatch first before aerating your lawn. This way, you’ll remove the excess debris and promote healthy root development. Aerating is best done when there’s the problem of compaction. Learn about how soil compaction occurs.

Both dethatching and aerating your lawn will improve air, nutrient, and water penetration into the root zone of your grass.

  • Thatch is the main problem these two processes address. It occurs when your turf accumulates too much dead organic matter than what can be broken down. If you’re not sure what thatch is, this guide should help provide the necessary info.
  • It starts as a shallow layer of debris that makes your lawn feel spongy. If your lawn does not have enough microbial activity to break down the organic matter, thatch buildup occurs.
  • Soon enough, your lawn will start suffering from thinning and slow growth due to poor water, air, and nutrient penetration through the thick core of thatch.

However, if the amount of thatch is low you can just remove it using a dethatching tool or a power rake.

Dethatch or Aerate Before Overseeding?

Again, you should dethatch first, then aerate, before overseeding.

Both aerating and dethatching are recommended before overseeding because they improve grass-to-soil contact for proper germination.

In most cases, you’ll only need to dethatch to remove the debris that is covering the soil and preventing grass seed from germinating properly.

However, if you have compacted soil in your lawn, you may want to aerate the core to allow deeper penetration of water into the soil. Deeply and well-watered soil promotes healthy and deeper root development of the new grass seed.

After overseeding, topdress the area with about 1 yard of compost per 1000 square feet to increase the rate of grass seed germination in your lawn.

Dethatcher vs Aerator

A dethatcher vs. an aerator, which one does a great job? The two tools may have closely related functions, but in general, they almost go hand-in-hand. Here are a few differences to help you decide which one to use:

DethatcherAerator
A dethatcher works by removing the top-most layer of dead grass to allow the soil to breathe.A dethatcher works by removing the topmost layer of dead grass to allow the soil to breathe.
Dethatching loosens topsoil in preparation for overseeding.You do not necessarily need to aerate before overseeding.
A dethatcher works well when you have a lot of dead grass on top of the soil, making the lawn feel spongy.An aerator is best used when the core has a thick layer of thatch, usually more than 0.5 inches.
RECOMMENDED DETHATCHER
Sun Joe AJ801E 12-Amp, Electric Dethatcher and Scarifier...
RECOMMENDED AERATOR
Goplus Rolling Lawn Aerator, 18-Inch Garden Yard Rotary Push Tine...
Sun Joe AJ801E 12-Amp, Electric Dethatcher and Scarifier...
Goplus Rolling Lawn Aerator, 18-Inch Garden Yard Rotary Push Tine...
RECOMMENDED DETHATCHER
Sun Joe AJ801E 12-Amp, Electric Dethatcher and Scarifier...
Sun Joe AJ801E 12-Amp, Electric Dethatcher and Scarifier...
RECOMMENDED AERATOR
Goplus Rolling Lawn Aerator, 18-Inch Garden Yard Rotary Push Tine...
Goplus Rolling Lawn Aerator, 18-Inch Garden Yard Rotary Push Tine...

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Use both to maintain a perfect lawn year-round, year after year. Both should last you many, many years.

Can You Dethatch and Aerate at the Same Time?

You can decide to dethatch and aerate at the same time especially if it is in the spring and you have lawn debris and compaction problems. It will help with establishing a better lawn for the season ahead.

A very important part of dethatching or power raking your lawn is cleaning up the debris. When aerating, you leave the thatch plugs on your lawn while you will need to remove the debris of dead grass from your lawn when dethatching.

Does a Dethatcher Aerate?

Most dethatchers are simple tools such as lawn rakes. Depending on the type, you can use it to dethatch your lawn if it is not heavily compacted.

However, using a mechanical aerator often produces better results compared to a dethatcher or a rake.

Some lawn machines come as a dethatcher and aerator combo, and can really come in handy for doing the two tasks at the same time.

Differences between power raking and Lawn Aeration. What is power raking? What is lawn aeration?

Lawn Aeration

lawn aeration steps
Stages lawn aeration. Before and after steps.

Aeration is the process of creating small holes in the lawn while pulling thatch plugs out of the soil. It helps solve soil compaction and allows the lawn to breathe better.

Aeration is done using a lawn aerator – a machine with special tines that plug the soil to relieve compaction. Aeration tines should be sharp and go deep enough to pull out the thatch plugs out of the core.

If you’re used to leveling your yard using a lawn roller, you can easily create a soil compaction problem. I would recommend that you aerate the lawn almost immediately after running the roller over the yard.

When and How Often to Aerate Your Lawn

This depends on your type of soil. If your lawn is growing on sandy soil, you’ll only need to aerate it once every 2 years. If you have clay soil, you should aerate your lawn 2-3 times per year. You may need to aerate more frequently if you have an unhealthy lawn.

Aerate during fall to give the thatch plugs enough time to decompose over the winter period, leaving behind all the nutrients for better growth come spring.

You can also aerate the ground just before your lawn soil temperature reaches 55 F in the spring. This will make it easier to put down a good weed pre-emergent to help control weeds such as crabgrass in your lawn. Speaking of which, here are some crabgrass management guidelines.

Liquid aeration is also available for lighter aeration work.

My Recommended Aerator

  • For smaller yards

You can hand-push this aerator around pretty easily, even on clay soil (water first to make it easier). Typically this unit is around $50 and worth it so that you can aerate whenever you need to.

Deal
Goplus Rolling Lawn Aerator, 18-Inch Garden Yard Rotary Push Tine...
894 Reviews
Goplus Rolling Lawn Aerator, 18-Inch Garden Yard Rotary Push Tine...
  • 【Bring New Life to Lawn】With the length of 1.2-inch tine spikes, this rolling lawn aerator will be able to roll deeper into the ground. As a result, the soil will get loose, making it easy for water, oxygen, and nutrients to diffuse into the soil pores. As time passes by, the grass and plants will grow more rapidly and splendidly.
  • 【Labor-saving & Lightweight Tool】The length of the handle is about 41 inches, which allows you to operate the push aerator without bending down. Also, the width of the spike is 18 inches to increase the range of soil turning. Thanks to its light-weight design and compact size, it is easy to push around even on rough terrain.
  • 【High-security & Space-saving Design】This lawn roller includes a 3-piece steel tubular handle sections, which should be connected with a snap-fastener to ensure safety while in use. Also, these sections are very convenient to disassemble, making it easy to store away when not in use.

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  • For larger yards or for easier coring

Check out the Step N’ Tilt

Step 'N Tilt Core Lawn Aerator Version 3 (with Container)
274 Reviews
Step 'N Tilt Core Lawn Aerator Version 3 (with Container)
  • ASSEMBLY IS REQUIRED. Step 'N Tilt lawn aerator is fast and easy to use. Simply step and tilt. This patented lawn aerator (U.S. Patent No. 8,714,275, 11,147,202 and other patents pending) makes core aeration easy and enjoyable for do-it-yourselfers (DIYers) and professional landscapers. New and improved clog-resistant tines. Case-hardened for extra durability. The tines may be sharpened or replaced when worn.
  • For use in areas with grass only; tines will clog if used in bare soil. All core lawn aerators require that the soil be VERY moist. This Step 'N Tilt is no exception. Please aerate one day after at least one inch of rain or irrigation. If you have a sprinkler system, each sprinkler zone will need to run for 60-90 minutes. In other words, the soil must be very moist. Question: Why must I wait one day? Answer: Because it takes time for water to be absorbed into the soil, particularly clay soil.
  • Designed for operators between 4-feet and 6-feet 5-inches tall. Recommended minimum operator weight to use one set and two sets of tines are 80lbs and 150lbs, respectively. Recommended for aerating small yards or areas not accessible by motorized lawn aerators. It can be used to aerate large yards but will require significantly longer time and effort than a motorized lawn aerator.

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Lawn Dethatching

Thatch is a layer of living and dead grass shoots, roots, and stems that forms between the green grass blades and the soil surface.

About half an inch of thatch on your turf is beneficial because it contains microorganisms that break down organic matter into nutrients for your grass. But when it becomes too much, it becomes a major barrier between the atmosphere and the soil in your lawn.

How Much Thatch is Too Much?

When thatch is more than 0.5 inches, the core becomes too tough for water to penetrate and your turf will easily develop what is called shallow root syndrome.

This is when you’ll notice roots starting to coil up and growing closer to the surface where there’s easy access to water instead of growing deeper into the soil.

Issues With Too Much Thatch

  • Less tolerant to drought
  • Prone to turf diseases
  • Grow thin easily due to an inadequate supply of nutrients for healthy growth
  • Poor fertilizer penetration into the soil means poor feeding of grass
  • Poor penetration of air
  • Pesticides such as grub control may not penetrate deep enough to be effective in getting rid of the pests
  • Grass fungus becomes common due to the accumulation of harmful fungi feeding on the debris

The major reason for the slow decomposition of dead grass and debris on your lawn is usually too much use of chemicals for lawn care such as chemical weed killers or synthetic fertilizers.

Benefits of Dethatching

To fix this, you need to dethatch in preparation for overseeding or even aerating your lawn.

Dethatching to remove excess debris or dead grass helps your lawn in a few ways:

  • It allows proper contact between fertilizer and the soil for proper lawn feeding.
  • Dethatching makes sure new grass seed gets in contact with the soil when overseeding the lawn.
  • It allows for better oxygen transfer, making your lawn breathe better for the healthy growth of grass.
  • Makes the grass appear deeply green. Too much dead grass will quickly start to appear as though brown patches are forming in your lawn.

My Recommended Dethatcher

I really like the Sun Joe Electric Lawn Dethatcher, super easy to use on small to medium yards.

Sun Joe AJ801E 12-Amp, Electric Dethatcher and Scarifier...
18,757 Reviews
Sun Joe AJ801E 12-Amp, Electric Dethatcher and Scarifier...
  • [POWERFUL]: 12-amp motor rakes a 12.6" wide path to get your job done faster
  • [ADJUSTABLE DECK]: Tailor raking depth with 5-position depth control
  • [SCARIFIED]: Use the Scarified function to cut grass roots for thicker growth, healthier lawns

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For anything over .3 of an acre, I would recommend a pull-behind dethatcher. Such as the Brinly Toe Behind.

Brinly DT-48BH Tow Behind Dethatcher, 48-Inch
703 Reviews
Brinly DT-48BH Tow Behind Dethatcher, 48-Inch
  • Maximum Thatch Removal: For larger mowers and lawns, a 48" working width and 2 rows of 12 independently flexing spring steel tines comb through a lawn, lifting thatch up and out of the lawn where it can be mowed or mulched to promote a healthier root system.
  • Ideal for Large Yards: Wide 48" working width is perfect for larger mowers or bigger greenspaces - covering more ground for quicker results.
  • Long-Lasting Construction: All steel construction, tines are made of durable spring steel; in the unlikely event of a breakage, a safety rod is included to catch the tine and prevent contact with mower blades. No flat rubber-tread transport wheels for durability.

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Best Dethatcher and Aerator Combo

Shopping for the best dethatcher and aerator combo can be overwhelming owing to the plethora of options available. However, I’ve narrowed the list down to 3 excellent models.

1. Sun Joe AJ801E 12-Amp 13-Inch Electric Dethatcher and Scarifier

Sun Joe AJ801E 12-Amp 13-Inch Electric Dethatcher and Scarifier

Slotting in at the #1 position on this list of best dethatcher and aerator combos is the Sun Joe electric model for several great reasons starting with its powerful 12 amp motor.

Adding to this, the Sun Joe AJ801E electric dethatcher and aerator combo carve a 13-inch wide path so you get more done in less time.

The Sun Joe combo offers twofold benefits – works as a dethatcher and aerator and is fitted with high-quality steel tines for maximum thatch pickup. It even comes with a collection bag to pick up and dispose of the thatch.

Pros:

  • Powerful 12-amp motor
  • 13-inch wide path
  • High-quality steel tines
  • Thatch collection bag
  • 5-position depth control

Cons:

  • Limited to 1 color option
Sun Joe AJ801E 12-Amp, Electric Dethatcher and Scarifier...
18,757 Reviews
Sun Joe AJ801E 12-Amp, Electric Dethatcher and Scarifier...
  • [POWERFUL]: 12-amp motor rakes a 12.6" wide path to get your job done faster
  • [ADJUSTABLE DECK]: Tailor raking depth with 5-position depth control
  • [SCARIFIED]: Use the Scarified function to cut grass roots for thicker growth, healthier lawns

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2. Rock & Rocker 16-inch 15 Amp Electric Dethatcher Scarifier

Rock & Rocker 16-Inch 15 Amp Electric Dethatcher Scarifier

The Rock & Rocker is yet another electric dethatcher and aerator combo that comes loaded with great features but without the high-end price tag.

For starters, it boasts a wide 16-inch cutting path, which allows you to remove more thatch without spending long precious hours performing the task.

Further, the Rock & Rocker electric dethatcher and aerator do a great job at removing the thick layer of dead plants and excess thatch from your lawn.

It is powered by a robust 15-amp brushed pure copper motor so you can rest assured it will serve you well for many years to come.

Adding to its long list of features is a depth adjustment control lever, which allows you to choose from 5 raking heights, starting from -0.47” (12mm below the soil) to 0.39” (10mm above the soil).

The Rock & Rocker dethatcher and aerator combo comes with a 48.4QT/55L large capacity collection bag and a detachable grass box to easily collect and dispose of lawn debris.

Pros:

  • 15-amp motor
  • 48.4QT/55L large capacity collection bag
  • 5 raking height adjustments
  • 16-inch cutting path
  • Tool-free quick-lock knob, folding soft-grip handle

Cons:

  • Doesn’t come with a comfortable padded handle
Rock&Rocker 16-Inch 15 Amp Electric Dethatcher Scarifier,...
1,252 Reviews
Rock&Rocker 16-Inch 15 Amp Electric Dethatcher Scarifier,...
  • [COMFORT & SAFETY] 3-rod handle height adjustment, meet users of different heights, long hours of work will not be tired; Double safety switch design to prevent accidental touch and ensure safety
  • [16IN LARGE WORKING WIDTH] Rock&Rocker electric dethatcher scarifier with 16" wide path in one single pass, very efficient, the widest working size of its kind in the market, and ideal for home garden lawns
  • [2 IN 1 FUNCTION] Dethatcher removes the thick layer of dead plants, scarifier stops thatch growth. Regular lawn care lets the lawn breathe better, for healthier turf growth. Get your lawn in the top green

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3. Kapoo Lawn Dethatcher and Aerator

Kapoo Lawn Dethatcher and Aerator

The Kapoo lawn dethatcher and aerator combo is equipped with an 11-amp motor so you can expect nothing less than efficient cutting. It comes with a sharp 12-inch blade and a large 8-gallon capacity bag.

Additionally, the Kapoo lawn dethatcher and aerator feature a central adjustment system and 4 different working depths to choose from.

In terms of safety, the Kapoo lawn dethatcher and aerator don’t disappoint with a double safety switch to ensure a safe start each time you power on the tool.

The Kapoo lawn dethatcher and aerator is a maintenance-free tool that tips the scales at just a little over 23 lbs, making it a joy to use for young and old and everyone in between.

Pros:

  • Powerful 11-amp motor
  • 8-gallon large collection bag
  • Double safety switch
  • 4 working heights
  • Maintenance-free and lightweight

Cons:

  • The quality of the wheels could be improved
Lawn Dethatcher & Scarifier, 12 Inch Working Width, 11 Amp...
165 Reviews
Lawn Dethatcher & Scarifier, 12 Inch Working Width, 11 Amp...
  • Powerful: 11 amp motor and 12 inch blade which improved large-size metal steel to ensure efficient cutting; 8 gallon large-capacity grass collection box, 95% grass harvest rate.
  • 4 Wrok Heights: The lawn dethatcher is equipped with a central height adjustment system, with 4 working depth (-0.35"/-0.24"/-0.12"/0.12"), which can adapt to lawns of different heights.
  • Safety System: Double safety switch ensures safe start. the lever handle is easy to grasp and manipulate.

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Dethatcher and Aerator Rental

If you don’t want to buy a dethatcher and or aerator, you can rent a dethatcher and aerator combo at your local home improvement store or gardening center.

You can even visit sites such as RentaYard.com to rent farm equipment and have it delivered to your home.


FAQs

Do I Really Need a Dethatcher?

The answer depends on where you have excess thatch in your lawn. But you typically don’t need to dethatch your lawn every year but every 5 years or should suffice only if your lawn needs it.

It’s a good idea to check your lawn every year and keep tabs on the amount of thatch accumulated. If the thatch layer is greater than 3/4 inch, then your lawn should be dethatched.

Can You Aerate Your Lawn Too Much?

Yes, it’s easy to go overboard with aeration, and doing so can do more harm than good for your turf. If you over-aerate your lawn, it will result in uneven soil and in worse cases will stress out your turf.

But on a brighter note, it’s really tough to over-aerate your lawn because your goal is to remove just the excess layer of thatch.


Final Thoughts

Dethatching and aeration are two different processes that require the use of two different tools. You don’t have to dethatch or aerate your turf often but just when the need arises.

8 thoughts on “Should You Dethatch or Aerate Your Lawn First?”

    • I’ve had st Augustine for 10 years now and never had to dethatch. I can see if parts start to die off then u want to remove and replace.

      Reply
  1. I purchased a sunjoe Scarifier/Dethacher. I might not have needed to use the Scarifier but I did get rid of a ton of dead grass and thatch.

    Should I wait a few days before aerating and overseeding?

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Hi Matt, thanks for the comment and sorry for the delay in replying. I’m assuming you waited a few days before aerating. I would say that you don’t really need to wait after dethatching.

      Reply
  2. Great article. for aerating in the fall, how late is too late for aerating? And … I would assume to aerate after the short mow so I’m not sucking up plugs and nutrients.

    I’m in NE WI, avg temperatures going into November are 30s-40s overnite, 40s to 50s during the day (in the forecast), just coming through a cold spell of highs in the 40s.

    Thank you, Mike

    Reply
    • I would say its probably too late in the season for you now to aerate but you can probably still get it in. Don’t mow too short though.

      Reply
    • You should scarify before overseeding for sure. Do it right away so that the ruts you have created during scarifying the soil don’t fill back in. You want the seeds to sit nicely in the ruts and then you can lightly cover over. For seeding make sure you are keeping the ground moist for at least 14 days for proper germination and growth.

      Reply

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