Beginners Guide to Lawn Dethatching

If your lawn feels firm or spongy when you walk on it, great chances are that your turf needs to be dethatched.

Dethatching is an age-old lawn maintenance process that allows nutrients, air, and water to reach your plant’s roots, making your lawn less susceptible to drought as well as drought and disease damage. 

Dethatching cool-season grasses should be done in early spring or early fall. Warm-season grasses, on the other hand, are best dethatched in late spring to early summer, after the second mowing when the turfgrass is growing most actively.

Read on to find out about the tools you need to dethatch your lawn, the pros and cons of dethatching, and the best time to dethatch your lawn. 

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What is a Dethatcher?

Beginners Guide to Lawn Dethatching - Man using a dethatcher or power rake on Lawn
Man dethatching lawn with a power rake

Just like a mower including an electric mower or gas-powered lawn mower, a dethatcher is a handy tool to have in your lawn care arsenal. But what exactly is a dethatcher? 

A dethatcher is a tool that’s fitted with tines just like a garden rake and is designed to remove excess thatch from your lawn and all the dead grass.  

There are several different types of dethatchers including manual dethatchers, tow-behind dethatchers, and powered dethatchers, which are mostly used for commercial applications. 

  • Manual Dethatchers – this type of dethatcher is a heavy, short-tine rake fitted with curved blades. These curved blades dig into the thatch at the soil level and pull it up as you rake. If you have a light thatch or are performing general thatch maintenance, manual dethatchers are a great option. However, they don’t work well for an excessive thatch layer. 
  • Power Dethatchers – also dubbed as power rakes, these are tools that look similar to mower-like devices or lawnmowers and are equipped with rake-like tines that dig into the thatch and pull it up. Power rakes are an ideal choice for thinner thatch layers but not for thick layers of thatch, so make sure you know when to power rake your lawn.
  • Vertical Mowers –  vertical mowers or verticutters slice down through the layer of thatch and into the soil with their vertical blades, often pulling the thatch and grassroots. If you have thick thatch layers in your lawn, verticutters are an easy thatch removal tool. 

Dethatchers are available at most lawn and garden stores and powered dethatchers at equipment rental stores. 

Beginners Guide to Lawn Dethatching

What Does a Dethatcher Do?

Just like the name suggests, a dethatcher is designed to remove thatch buildup from your lawn.

Thatch is a buildup of living and dead grass clippings, stems, and roots that form between the grass blades and the soil surface. 

A layer of thatch can also contain decaying flowers, leaves, and other garden debris. However, it’s worth mentioning that all that isn’t bad and is only a problem when it’s more than 1/2″ thick. 

Contrarily, a thin layer of thatch that’s less than 1/2″ thick can be beneficial to your lawn as it serves as an organic mulch to help conserve soil moisture, prevent any considerable fluctuations in soil temperatures, and help insulate it from extreme temperatures and foot traffic. Here are a few more tips on managing thatch in lawns.

How Does a Dethatcher Work?

The tines or metal blades of a dethatcher move across the grass and pull up the layer of thatch to the surface of the turf. After pulling the thatch to the surface, you can either bag it up or make compost. 

Most people prefer dethatchers with knives or blades over those that use rake-like tines because they easily cut through the thatch layer. 

The tines or blades of a dethatcher cut through the lawn’s thatch layer, loosening the thatch and bringing it up to the surface of the lawn. 

What Causes Excess Thatch?

Thatch is a loose, woven layer of dead and living stems, shoots, and roots that develop between the zone of green grass and the soil surface. 

Thatch starts to build up when your lawn produces organic debris faster than it can be broken down. The bulk of a layer of thatch is made up of grass plants that are most resistant to decay like stem nodes, crowns, fibers of vascular tissues, and roots. 

You may also notice some leaf clippings in the layer of thatch, but this isn’t an issue because soil microorganisms easily break them down. 

The amount of thatch development varies across grass types and as such has a different effect on lawn health.

Lignin is a compound that accounts for roughly 25 percent of thatch and is resistant to decay by microorganisms. This is one of the main reasons why thatch builds up faster than it breaks down. 

Apart from 25 percent lignin, the remainder of thatch is primarily cellulose and hemicellulose compounds, both of which decompose much more easily. 

I mentioned earlier that certain types of turfgrasses accumulate more thatch than others and the reason for this is that certain turfgrasses produce more lignin-containing tissues and, therefore are billed as high thatch producers. 

For example, cool-season grasses like Kentucky bluegrass and creeping red fescue produce more thatch than cool-season bunch-type grasses like perennial tall fescue. 

Regardless of the type of turfgrass, excess thatch is caused by a lack of microbial activity and improper watering practices, usually too much or too frequent watering. 

Beginners Guide to Lawn Dethatching

Why Dethatch a Lawn?

Well, for several reasons, starting with allowing water and fertilizer to get to the grassroots. Thatch also forms a barrier to water and air, and an excess layer of thatch eventually suffocates grassroots.

But that’s not all, thatch serves as a breeding ground for lawn disease and insect pests, leading to another big lawn problem.

The good news is that even though thatch builds up over time, it’s not necessary to dethatch your lawn every year. But to reiterate, some turfgrasses are more prone to thatch buildup than others and therefore may need regular dethatching. 

Manual rake on excess thatch

Pros and Cons of Dethatching Lawn

There are several pros and cons of dethatching your lawn and in fact, this is a hot topic among many homeowners.

Pros of Dethatching Your Lawn

  • One of the biggest benefits of dethatching your lawn is obvious, which is to remove the excess layer of thatch so that water, air, fertilizers, and insecticides can reach the soil and grass roots. 
  • Adding to this, thatch attracts insects and other pests and lowers cold and heat tolerance, so removing excess thatch can prevent a long list of lawn problems. 

Cons of Dethatching Your Lawn

  • Dethatching your lawn does have its disadvantages especially when it’s not done properly. A con of dethatching your lawn is performing the task when the thatch layer is less than 1/4″ thick. 
  • Dethatching your lawn after applying fertilizers is a big mistake as it can damage the fertilizer and wash away your efforts. 
  • Dethatching your lawn also requires specialized tools like a tow-behind dethatcher or a powered dethatcher attachment, which can be expensive to buy or rent unless you’re lucky enough to find a dethatcher on sale such as a used Sun Joe Dethatcher or Agri Fab 40-in dethatcher
  • Needless to say, dethatching can damage grass roots because removing excess thatch can take more than one session. 

When to Dethatch a Lawn?

The right time to dethatch your lawn depends on your grass type but is when your lawn is actively growing and the soil is moderately moist. 

  • The best time to dethatch cool-season grasses is in the early spring or early fall
  • The best time to dethatch warm-season grasses is late spring to early summer (after the second mowing), which is the time when your turfgrass is growing most vigorously. 

It’s important to dethatch your lawn at the right time because it dictates how fast your grass will recover from injury. 

Does My Lawn Need Dethatching?

The last thing you want to do is go through the daunting task of dethatching when your lawn doesn’t need it. That said, there are several tell-tale signs that your lawn needs dethatching. 

The sure-shot way of telling if your lawn needs dethatching is by measuring the thatch layer. If the layer of thatch is more than 1 inch to 2 inches, dethatching is a good option. 

Next, signs of distressed grass indicate that your lawn should be dethatched ASAP. These signs include thin blades, weak growth, and pale color. 

To confirm whether a thatch layer is indeed the culprit, grab a sharp trowel or spade, use it to dig up a small section of grass and if you notice a layer of brown matter that’s more than an inch thick where the soil meets the base of the grass blades, it’s time to dethatch. 

Turfs with a thick thatch layer may also feel spongy underfoot or be difficult to penetrate with your finger as you try to reach the soil surface. 

How to Dethatch a Lawn?

Dethatching a lawn is similar to raking fallen leaves except that it requires a little more effort. The first thing to do is choose the right dethatching tool, which depends on the size of your yard and the work you’re up for. 

If you have a small to medium size landscape, choose a manual dethatching tool and a power rake for larger areas of thinner thatch layers. 

  • Thatching rake – use the rake on your lawn in parallel motion just like you would to rake up leaves. The short tines of the rake will dig into the thatch layer and pull it up to the soil surface. 
  • Power Rakes – Regarded as a powered version of a regular rake, a power rake is pushed just like a lawnmower with the difference being that it has tines instead of blades. These rotating tines dig into the thatch and pull it up with each pass. 
  • Vertical mowers – if you have a thick thatch layer, your lawn will benefit from using a vertical mower to remove thatch. The vertical blades of a verticutter penetrate both the thatch layer and soil to lift the thatch and plenty of grassroots. 
How To DETHATCH Your Lawn! CHEAP DIY Spring Lawn Care!

How Often Should You Dethatch Your Lawn?

Even though thatch builds up over time, you don’t have to dethatch your lawn every year.

However, you should periodically check your lawn for thatch buildup to check the amount of thatch that has accumulated.

If your thatch layer is more than 1 to 2 inches and/or you notice signs of poor grass color and weak, thin growth, it’s time to dethatch your lawn. 

Generally speaking, you only need to dethatch your lawn every 5 years or so or when your turf needs it. 

Is a Dethatcher Worth It?

You need either a manual or power dethatcher to dethatch your lawn. But you don’t always need a power dethatcher to remove thatch. 

If you have a small or thin layer of thatch, use a manual rake for removal. But if you have a thick layer of thatch, you can either rent a dethatcher or buy one at your nearest gardening center. 

What is the Best Lawn Dethatcher?

Earthwise 13-Amp 16-Inch Corded Dethatcher – Best Electric Dethatcher 

The Earthwise 16-inch corded dethatcher comes with everything you need to remove thatch including a scarifier blade and debris collection bag. Adding to this, it offers a 16-inch working width and is powered by a robust 13-Amp motor. 

When it comes to safety, the Earthwise corded dethatcher doesn’t fall short with its bail wire for safe and easy starting. It provides a -0.4″ to 0.4 working depth, which is enough to remove deep thatch layers. 

Earthwise DT71613AA 13-Amp 16-Inch Corded Dethatcher with...
50 Reviews
Earthwise DT71613AA 13-Amp 16-Inch Corded Dethatcher with...
  • Includes dethatcher, removable scarifier blade, and debris collection bag
  • Earthwise Power Tools by ALM power dethatcher with a 13-Amp motor with bail wire switch for safe and easy starting
  • Lawn cultivator with a 16" working width and convenient 10.5 gallon debris catcher for quick and easy dethatching of your yard

Affiliate links and images pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on: 2024-05-27

Agri-Fab 40-Inch Tine Tow Dethatcher – Best Tow-Behind Dethatcher 

The Agri-Fab tine tow dethatcher is designed to uproot dead, matted grass and thatch, and is fitted with 20 durable spring tines. 

Made in the USA, the Agri-Fab tine tow-behind dethatcher comes with a transport handle for easy raising and lowering of the tines, making it easy to remove stubborn thatch layers.  

Agri-Fab 40-Inch Tine Tow Dethatcher 45-0294,Black
2,891 Reviews
Agri-Fab 40-Inch Tine Tow Dethatcher 45-0294,Black
  • Tine de-thatcher uproots dead, matted grass and dislodges hard-packed dirt for planting
  • Twenty Durable spring tines for easy thatch removal; Penetrates and turns up dried grass, weeds, and soil in 40-inch wide swathes

Affiliate links and images pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on: 2024-05-28

Dethatcher vs. Aerator

The words dethatcher and aerator are often used interchangeably but they are two different tools used for different purposes. To understand the difference between the two tools, it’s important to know what is aeration and dethatching. 

While dethatching uses tines to dig into the thatch and pull it up, aeration removes plugs of soil and fixes compaction problems. 

Your lawn at times may need the full spa treatment, which is both aeration and dethatching because you may have a spongy brown carpet and rock-hard soil. 

In terms of what process comes first, dethatching your lawn before aeration removes thatch and debris and makes the process of aeration a whole lot easier. 

A dethatcher is fitted with tines while an aerator features rolling spikes that break down compacted soil. 

What to Do After Dethatching Lawn?

Dethatching somewhat messes up your lawn, so you’re bound to have tears and rips in areas of your property.

  1. After dethatching your lawn, start by cleaning up the debris you pulled up
  2. Sprinkle new grass seed in the bare areas and/or in the areas where the thatch has been removed.
  3. Next, apply appropriate fertilizers and soil amendments,
  4. Water your lawn deeply. 
man dethatching lawn

Tips to Prevent Dethatching in the Future

There are several healthy lawn care tips to prevent dethatching in the future:

  • Start with testing your soil pH every 3 to 4 years
  • Ensure that your soil pH and nutrients are in check.
  • You may also need to add lime for 2 reasons – to restore soil pH balance and promote the beneficial activity of thatch-reducing microorganisms. 
  • Remember, thatch is produced due to incorrect lawn care practices such as overwatering or watering your lawn too frequently. 
  • Encouraging worms and other beneficial creatures on your lawn can also help prevent excessive thatch buildup as they aid in the decomposition of thatch. Adding to this, refrain from using too many pesticides for healthy growth or grass and plant growth. 

Here’s a video on how to dethatch your lawn:

DON'T DETHATCH Your LAWN Before Watching - Your Questions Answered


Q. How to Thatch a Lawn?

A. It’s a good practice to thatch your lawn when it accumulates excess thatch, which is roughly between 4 to 5 years.

Q. What is the Difference Between a Scarifier and a Dethatcher?

A. A dethatcher is designed to rake up thatch from your lawn while a scarifier does that and rolls into your soil more aggressively to remove the top layer of thatch and soil. Check out my detailed article comparing a scarifier and a dethatcher.

Q. Is a Power Rake and a Dethatcher the Same Thing?

A. A dethatcher is a light-duty tool designed to remove light thatch from your lawn and a power rake is a heavy-duty garden tool used for lifting and removing thatch. Check out my detailed article comparing a power rake and a dethatcher.

Q. Is an Electric Dethatcher Worth It?

A. An electric dethatcher is a big-ticket purchase and is only worth it if you have a thick layer of thatch in your sprawling yard. If you have a small to medium size yard and a thin layer of thatch, a normal rake will suffice for the job.

Final Thoughts

Lawn dethatching is an important lawn care process that should be performed when excess thatch builds up on your lawn. 

There are several tools you can use to remove excess thatch in your yard such as a rake or vertical mower. You should periodically check for thatch buildup because excess thatch can affect the overall health of your lawn. 

Dethatchers are available as tow-behind garden attachments, and power tools with a 12-amp motor, and some even allow you to choose between several depth adjustments. 

The actual dethatching process is fairly straightforward and should take you a couple of hours depending on the size of your lawn.

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