Any homeowner who has hired a professional lawn care company has probably at least heard of dethatching, but the process could still be a mystery to some. In fact, some property owners agree to the service without understanding it, simply because their lawn care professional recommends it. In this guide, we’ll explain exactly what dethatching is, why it’s beneficial, and when you need to do it on your property.
Before we get started, it’s worth mentioning that most homeowners don’t choose to carry out dethatching themselves and instead rely on a professional to complete the work. One of the best lawn care services for dethatching is TruGreen, and we’ll discuss precisely why below.
What is Dethatching?
Dethatching is the process of removing thatch from your lawn. It’s typically done with a dethatching rake, and it serves to improve the quality of your soil and the overall health of your grass. Removing the thatch layer when it gets too thick will help oxygen and water make their way down into the soil, where your grass root system can take in what it needs.
What Is Thatch?
Thatch is the term for the organic material—grass clippings, tree debris, etc.—that accumulates between your grass and your soil surface and gradually decomposes. Thatch is a crucial part of lawn health. It helps moderate the soil temperature, and it retains moisture for your grass to use to thrive.
However, the layer can quickly grow too thick and prevent your grass from uptaking what it needs from the ground. Ultimately, dethatching is a necessary process from time to time to ensure your grass remains healthy and vibrant.
When to Dethatch Your Lawn
As mentioned above, some thatch is typically healthy for your lawn and can help prevent weeds naturally, but the layer of thatch can get too thick, at which point it becomes detrimental to your lawn health.
Thatch accumulates rather slowly, so the service isn’t required or recommended annually like core aeration. You should aim to dethatch your lawn about once every five years, or if your lawn shows signs of needing the service. We’ll discuss the signs that your lawn needs dethatching later on.
The best time of year to dethatch will be during your lawn’s growing season, which is based on the type of grass you have. This will ensure that your lawn has time to recover from the slight amount of stress dethatching can put on your grass. Dethatching during the growing season will also give your grass the nutrients, oxygen, and water it needs right at the peak of its growth, aligning with what a prolonged growing season means for your lawn care.
Warm-climate grass species—like bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, and bahiagrass—should be dethatched in the late spring (check out our spring lawn care tutorial) or early summer. Early spring is an acceptable time as well, but it can put too much stress on your grass if it’s still dormant. You should plan to dethatch cool-season grasses and those that thrive in moderate temperatures—like ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, and fescue grass (Read fescue grass cultivation process)—in the late summer or early fall.
How to Dethatch Your Lawn
There are three different ways to dethatch your lawn, but they all involve the same underlying method: using a rake-like tool to pull the thatch out of your lawn.
Manual Thatch Rake
The first method you can use, and also the simplest, is a manual thatch rake. These tools are specifically designed to reach deep into your lawn to remove the decomposing organic matter. This is the most affordable option, but it’s also the most labor-intensive, by far. Rake the lawn with a decent amount of downward force to pull out the thatch. Make sure you go over your entire lawn evenly and dispose of the lawn thatch once you’re done removing it.
The second method involves renting or purchasing a power rake. Power rakes are machines that look like lawnmowers but have tines that reach down into the thatch layer instead of clippers that cut your grass blades. Power rakes can make quick work of your lawn dethatching project, but you’ll end up spending more, and you need to be very careful to get a power rake that you can set according to your grass type. You can use power rakes as if you’re mowing your lawn. Some even come with a collection bin to make disposing of the thatch a breeze.
The last option is a “vertical mower” or tow-behind dethatcher, also called a verticutter. These dethatchers could be a good option if you have a ride-on mower you can use to tow them. They provide the fastest method for dethatching your lawn, and you’ll spend almost no energy completing the job. However, if you don’t already have a ride-on lawnmower, it won’t be feasible for you to use this method on your property. Once you’re done towing the dethatcher around your property, you can clean up the thatch with a normal leaf rake.
Dethatching vs. Core Aeration
Some homeowners get dethatching and lawn aeration confused, but the two processes couldn’t be more different. Dethatching removes the thatch layer to allow oxygen, nutrients, and water to reach your grass roots more easily. Core aeration removes plugs from your lawn to reduce soil compaction.
Although the processes are different, the two have some similar effects. Both will improve water flow through your soil and increase oxygen levels for your grass. Both processes will also improve lawn health overall.
How to Know if Your Lawn Needs Dethatching
Dethatching isn’t an annual service like aeration and instead should be done on an as-needed basis. Unfortunately, many homeowners don’t know when dethatching is needed! We’ll include some easy ways to tell if your property is in need of dethatching.
Testing the Thatch Thickness
First, you should plan to dethatch if the thatch layer ever gets too thick. To measure the thickness of your thatch layer, just follow the steps below:
- Use a shovel to dig up a small portion of your lawn
- Expose the side of the section and look at the layers of soil and grass
- Identify the thatch layer by looking for what looks like abnormally loose soil, mulch, or decomposing material
- Measure the thickness of the thatch layer
A thatch layer around a half-inch is beneficial for your lawn. If your thatch layer is thicker, it’s time to dethatch.
Common Signs Your Lawn Needs Dethatching
Your lawn will also tell you when it needs dethatching because letting the layer of decomposing material get too thick will eventually weaken your grass. Below are some signs that your yard might benefit from dethatching:
- You notice brown patches or dead spots on your lawn
- You find that water pools on your property when it rains
- You have more lawn pests on your property than normal
- Your soil becomes spongy
Benefits of Dethatching
Dethatching is hugely beneficial to your lawn. The process, when done correctly and at the right time, can promote overall grass health and improve the appearance of your lawn. Below are the most significant benefits you’ll enjoy when you dethatch your yard.
- Increase oxygen in your soil: a thick layer of thatch layers prevent oxygen from reaching your grassroots. Improving oxygen levels will help the grass stay healthy and vibrant.
- Loosens the soil to improve water seepage: water pooling on your lawn can destroy your grass and can potentially lead to more serious drainage issues on your property.
- Makes fertilizer more effective: thick thatch layers can prevent your grassroots from getting the required nutrients to thrive, even if you fertilize properly.
- Provides room for additional grass growth: clearing out the thatch layer can help new grass find room to grow. This will lead to a thicker, more appealing lawn overall.
- Prevents lawn disease: lawn diseases are more likely to infect dead or weak lawns. Maintaining a healthy thatch layer is a natural defense.
- Regulates soil temperature: grass grows best in certain temperatures, and a healthy thatch layer helps regulate the temperature. Thick thatch layers can prevent the ground from warming up sufficiently for healthy growth.
Preventing Thatch Issues
Preventing thatch problems is typically a better and more affordable way to keep your lawn healthy and your thatch layer in check. If you use the below tips to care for your lawn and regulate the thatch layer, you might only find your lawn needing dethatching every five to ten years. This will ultimately save you money in the long run as well.
- Avoid overfertilizing your lawn: It is important to know the best way to fertilize your lawn. Putting down too much fertilizer that is high in nitrogen will kill the microbes in your lawn that naturally feed on the thatch layer and keep it in check.
- Avoid overwatering your lawn: similarly, overwatering can kill or inhibit the microorganisms that normally feed on the decomposing layer of organic material.
- Avoid using pesticides: pesticides can kill the microbes that devour organic material and help maintain a thin layer of thatch. Infrequent applications could be acceptable, but don’t overdo it.
- Avoid using herbicides: much like pesticides, herbicides and weed killers can interfere with the microbes in your lawn. Frequent applications will often lead to excessive thatch layers.
Avoiding the tips above will typically lead your thatch layer to unhealthily thick. As a result, you might experience:
- Brown spots developing on your lawn
- Dead grass
- An increase in the prevalence of lawn pests
- Lawn diseases
- Excessive weed growth
Hiring a Professional Lawn Care Service vs. DIY
As is the case with most lawn care services, you’ll have to decide between a professional lawn care company and a little elbow grease to DIY dethatching. We’ll discuss the benefits and average costs of both options below.
Best Professional Lawn Care Service: TruGreen
Choosing a professional landscaping company to handle your dethatching is a wise decision if you’re looking for the best results. The service will be more costly than doing the job yourself, but you’ll also save time and won’t have to do the hard work yourself.
TruGreen is one of the best lawn care companies for dethatching if you’re looking for a professional. The technicians are well-trained, have local knowledge and experience, and can couple dethatching with a myriad of other services that can benefit your lawn greatly. TruGreen also backs its work with a customer satisfaction guarantee. The average cost of dethatching a 5,000-square-foot property with TruGreen is approximately $270, although price fluctuations can be significant between lawn sizes and different locations.
If you’re the type of homeowner who prefers Self-serviced lawn care solutions and wants to save money in the process, you can certainly do the dethatching yourself. You’ll save quite a bit of money, but you will need to do all of the strenuous work yourself.
We recommend going with Sunday Lawn Care for your DIY needs. This company provides the tools and treatments your lawn needs based on a soil test and lets you do the work to save on labor costs. While the company will only be able to supply dethatching equipment, it can also recommend ideal lawn fertilizer and amendments to help maintain a healthy thatch layer going forward.
Read our take on Sunday for more information.
Dethatching is a crucial process that helps maintain a healthy layer of decomposing material—called “thatch”—between your grass and your soil. Keeping this layer at a healthy thickness will help maintain healthy grass that gets the proper amount of oxygen, water, and nutrients from the soil. It will also help naturally prevent weeds and lawn pests. To learn how to tackle weeds, check out our article on the natural methods for weed elimination.
If you’re looking for a top-rated lawn care company to complete dethatching for you, TruGreen is one of the best options. This company has a ton of additional services you can use to maximize lawn health before and after dethatching. The prices are affordable, and the work is backed by the company’s satisfaction guarantee.
To learn more: TruGreen Review
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Frequently Asked Questions
What does dethatching a lawn mean?
Dethatching is the process of removing the thatch, which is the layer of organic material that naturally accumulates between your grass and the soil below.
How do I know if my lawn needs dethatching?
Dethatching should typically be done about once every five years or so. However, you can check the thatch buildup by digging up a small portion of your lawn with a trowel to measure it. Other signs that dethatching might be necessary include brown patches, dead grass, an increase in weeds or lawn pests, or poor drainage on your property.
Is dethatching necessary?
In most cases, yes. Thatch naturally accumulates when we cut our lawns, fertilize them, and water them. Thatch is healthy when the layer remains a half-inch thick or less. Beyond that, dethatching becomes necessary to maintain a healthy lawn.
What month should I dethatch my lawn?
Dethatching is best at the peak of your lawn’s growing season. Cool-season grass species or turfgrasses like tall fescue, bluegrass, and ryegrass should be dethatched in the late summer or early fall. Warm-season grass species like bermuda grass and bahiagrass should be dethatched in the late spring or early summer.
Should I aerate or dethatch first?
Dethatching before you aerate is generally recommended, as removing the thatch layer will leave more room for the core aerator to open up the soil to maximize root growth.
Today's Homeowner Rating & Methodology
At Today's Homeowner, transparency and trust are our most important values for the reader. That’s why we took the time to create an objective rating system and score each lawn company/service according to our methodology.
Our research team dug deep into the fine print of contracts, combed through more than one hundred customer reviews, and thoroughly investigated all of each lawn care service’s services, costs, and products. We’ve done the homework for you by researching nearly all of the lawn care companies on the market so you can have the information you need to make the best choice for your home.
We developed a formula to objectively determine the best lawn care companies and give each a score out of 100 based on the following criteria:
- Plan Options (30): Do they provide a variety of plan options? We looked at the number of plans each company offered and the flexibility of adjusting the plan.
- Services offered (20): How many services are offered in each plan? We looked at the number of lawn care coverages, including weed control, seeding, irrigation, aeration, dethatching, and more.
- Trust (10): What do customers say after their lawn has been serviced? Does this company offer a guarantee? We considered how satisfied customers are post-service if the company does what it says it will, BBB accreditation, and service guarantees.
- Prices (10): How reasonable are the costs of the plan or service in comparison to the industry average? We compared the costs of each company to competitors that offer the same lawn services.
- Unique perks (10): Does the company offer discounts or special services such as organic treatments, pest control, or a mobile app? We looked for perks each company offers that set them apart from the competition.
- Customer Service (10): How is the customer experience when contacting the company? We considered the speed of response, weekend/holiday availability, and ease of communication through phone calls, email, and online chat functions.
- Nationwide availability (10): How many states does the company offer its services? Companies that operate nationally and in all zip codes are favored over those with limited availability.