The Top 6 Benefits of Dethatching a Lawn (a Quick Guide with Pros & Cons)

There’s a lot happening on your lawn.

Try to consider it as a small forest, and it will give you a basic idea of how complex it really is.

And just like a real forest, it needs to be taken care of and protected if it is to thrive.

You may have heard the term “dethatching” before – which is an essential lawn care practice familiar to the landscaping pros.

And it’s just one of the many ways you can help your little forest to grow.

In this article, we explore the top six benefits of dethatching, so you can understand how important this step is towards your lawn’s overall health.

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Dethatching Benefits – Too Long, Didn’t Read

If you don’t have time to read this short article, let’s get straight to the point.

Here are the top six benefits to dethatching a lawn:

  1. It improves the aesthetic instantly.
  2. Allows water and air flow.
  3. Nutrients can access the soil.
  4. It improves drainage.
  5. Lawn care products become more effective.
  6. It helps prevent pests and disease.

If you would like to know more about why you dethatch a lawn in detail, then read on my green-thumbed friend.

man dethatching lawn at backyard

What is Thatch?

If you were to take a cross-section of any lawn, you would see the soil, the root system, and the grass blades themselves.

Perhaps the odd worm, stone, and Spanish doubloon.

What you’ll also see, is a layer of “thatch” close to the surface of the turf, intertwined with living matter.

This material is made up of dead leaves, grass, roots, stems, debris, and other yard material that has been left to gather on the lawn.

It’s part of a lawn’s growing process and can be beneficial in protecting the turf – so long as it doesn’t exceed more than half an inch in thickness.

But when lawn debris and yard waste such as grass clippings, dead material, and leaves takes too long to breakdown, you end up getting an unhealthy amount of thatch in your garden – and it needs to be removed.

What is Dethatching?

Dethatching is the process of removing thatch.

Sounds simple, right?

But it can be a hard slog, let me tell you. I recently dethatched my relatively small backyard for the first time and almost didn’t make it into the house when I’d finished.

And don’t confuse it with aeration, which is another important lawn care step you might need to take every once in a while.

You can read this piece if you want to know about the benefits of aeration, and go here if you’d like to know about the best aerators on the market.

Check out this article for more information on the differences between aeration and dethatching, so you can fully understand the benefits to each.

gardener operating lawn dethatching machine

How and When to Dethatch?

As thatch builds up over time, it’s not necessary to do this practice annually – although some people will tell you otherwise.

So long as you keep an eye on the thickness of thatch in your own lawn – and if it ever gets over half an inch – it’s time to go to work.

You should always do a light dethatch prior to putting down any new seeds, too.

And certainly dethatch if your lawn has never experienced this essential process before.

For cool season grasses, it’s best to dethatch late summer/early fall, and do it in late spring if you’re in a warm-season region.

Whatever you do, don’t dethatch in the heat of summer, when your lawn is going to be already stressed as it is, and you’ll likely tear up the root system at the same time.

As for the how, it’s as simple (but quite backbreaking) as using a rake or dethatching tool to clear this debris from the lawn surface.

It’s much less time-consuming (and much better for you) if you use a special dethatching machine – and you’ll be pleasantly surprised to know they’re relatively inexpensive these days.

Check out this article on the best dethatchers on the market for some excellent suggestions, along with some more advice on how to dethatch your lawn properly.

And you can watch the video below for some more top tips on dethatching and overseeding.

The 6 Benefits of Dethatching a Lawn

Why dethatch? Let’s take a look at the top six reasons below.

Instant Results

First, the most obvious (and satisfying) benefit to dethatching your lawn, is that it will give you almost instant results when it comes to your garden’s aesthetic.

As previously mentioned (I’ve been telling anyone who will listen) I dethatched an absolute mountain of crap from my lawn for the first time, and what a difference it made.

Granted, I nearly broke my back in the process – but it was well worth it.

Once all that dead material had been removed, the grass looked so much healthier already, as if it was breathing a sigh of relief after being strangled for so long.

Improves Water and Air Flow

Speaking of strangling, lots of thatch on your lawn can choke out existing grasses, preventing air and water from flowing freely and accessing the root system.

Once you remove all that dead weight, air and water will be able to penetrate the soil, and over time you’ll start to see a greener, lusher lawn as a result.

If you don’t dethatch, what happens is that layer of dead material soaks up any rainfall like a sponge, preventing the goodness from reaching the grass roots.

Eventually, you’ll start to see patches of brown or yellow grass appear as your lawn isn’t getting enough water soaking through into the soil.

Check out this article on how to fix yellow grass if that’s a problem you’re experiencing, and go here if you’d like to learn more about how to properly water a lawn.

And while you’re at it, you should take a look at this article if you’d like more tips on how to make your grass thicker and fuller, as I’m pretty sure dethatching will be a part of it.

Increases Nutrients

As much as dethatching can help water and air flow through the soil, so too will it give a boost to the nutrients that the root system might have been denied for so long.

Like all plant life, grasses need nutrients in order to grow and sustain health. The most important of these are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Otherwise known as NPK after their chemical symbols, these three supplements are vital to achieving a lush, green lawn.

And once your turf is free of thatch, they can in turn be free to run riot in the soil and roots, which will in turn stimulate new growth, and is just another awesome benefit of dethatching a lawn.

It Improves Drainage

As much as dethatching allows water to penetrate to the root system of your existing grass, by proxy it also improves drainage on the surface.

So, while the roots are enjoying a bountiful drink the next time you water your lawn, or it rains, you can enjoy the fact that there isn’t a quagmire in your yard.

If your garden doesn’t have sufficient drainage, it could cause all sorts of problems all around your property – and possibly into your neighbors property, too.

Removing a heavy thatch layer can get your lawn working for you, and help prevent this from happening.

Fertilizer/Lawn Feed/Weed Killers Become More Effective

If you have a thick layer of thatch covering your lawn, it’s going to act as a barrier to any lawn care product you’re trying to put down.

Fertilizers, feeds, and weed killers are going to be much less effective if they can’t get to where they need to be.

Dethatching could well be your answer, especially if you’ve tried everything else, and you’re not seeing any conclusive results.

Just remember not to over fertilize, and make sure you’re using a weed killer/preventer that’s safe for use on lawns.

Check out this article on how to get rid of weeds in your lawn without chemicals if that is something which concerns you, but you can also use one of these pre-emergent herbicides providing it’s safe for lawns.

Helps Prevent Pests and Disease

A thick layer of thatch can be a playground for undesirables in your lawn, and can encourage pests and disease to thrive.

Remove the chance for such things to take hold, and your lawn will be much healthier for it.

At the same time, it will also promote desirable plant growth, which can be a godsend when it comes to choking out weeds and keeping unwanted vegetation at bay.

mowing and mulching the grass with a lawn mower at early fall

What Are the Downsides to Dethatching?

It’s important to remember that thatch isn’t always bad, and dethatching at the wrong time or when it’s not necessary will cause you just as many problems as not dethatching at all.

Thatch can help protect the lawn from foot traffic, lawnmower use, and strong sunlight, and provides a nice layer of insulation in colder temperatures.

As such, you shouldn’t strip your lawn of this layer too much – and allow nature to take its course when and where possible, breaking down the layer of thatch naturally and in its own time.

Over dethatching or hacking at the lawn will damage the existing roots, and you’ll end up doing more harm than good as you pull up great chunks of turf.

Take it easy, tiger – everything in moderation.

Summary

There are several benefits of dethatching – and all of them can help to significantly improve the life and health of your lawn.

Let me know if I’ve missed any key advantages, or if you have any personal lawn dethatching advice or experience you’d like to share with the community.

I wish you the best of luck with your lawns this season, and happy dethatching!

About the Author: Andy Gibson

My name's Gibson. Andy Gibson. I like to think of myself as the Bond of the backyard, that is if yard work ever became sexy. I write about everything about indoor and outdoor gardening and the dread-it-but-still-need-to-do-it chores around the yard, like cleaning out the gutter guards.