Keeping a lawn healthy can be a tricky process for someone landing fresh into the field. A lot of people don’t seem to consider when dealing with lawn health, that it may not be the grass that is the root of the problem. Often it might be what the lawn is growing in, the soil, and fertilizer may not be a fix in these cases. Two often overlooked issues are air circulation and water infiltration. These are key because air circulation ensures that fungus and rots don’t set in on the leaf blades and root system. Water infiltration not only provides the all-important water, but also brings nutrients to the roots. Dependent on your situation, you may need to consider either aeration or dethatching as a possible solution.
The enemies of air circulation and water infiltration are soil compaction and the overgrowth of thatch in a lawn. These issues are resolved by knowing how and when to aerate and dethatch your lawn.
I’ll be honest, I’m a little biased when it comes to this topic because of the number of benefits a yearly aeration has to offer. But I’ll keep this post impartial for everyone reading. An aeration done on a regular basis can have a number of benefits:
Now with aeration, we tend to be directly combating the issue of compaction and the problems that often stem from it. Compaction is a silent killer when it comes to lawns. Not only does it prevent water from getting to the roots, but it also prevents the turf from healthfully establishing by inhibiting root growth. Your lawn is then more prone to being damaged and will be even less able to recover. Compaction can occur over your entire lawn or just certain spots. I’ve left you a couple of indicators that you may have a compaction problem if you already are fertilizing and watering your lawn.
If you are still questioning whether or not this is the issue, try to assess and take note of potential causes, such as heavy and frequent traffic by people, pets, or equipment.
Although there are manual methods, aerating is most efficiently done by machine, and it works by physically loosening the soil where the grass is growing. This is commonly done by pulling “cores,” small plugs of earth, or by drilling small holes into the soil. Both ways achieve the same result when it comes to aerations.
If you are the DIY type and you want to take on doing aerations yourself, it’s best to rent the equipment from a hardware store like Home Depot. I say that because aerating is recommended as a once-per-year task and that can be an expensive purchase to have in your garage for most of the year. Just look for aerators online, and you should be able to find plenty of models and makes rentable by the hour or by day depending on where you are.
Dethatching a lawn resolves the issues with both air circulation and water filtration. Thatch is primarily dead plant tissue from the turf’s previous growing seasons. It’s typically brown to yellow, but it creates a problem when it continues to accumulate over several seasons. Thatch can create a dense mat over the soil so that the growing grass receives very little water and hinders air-exchange. Then this wet mat of dead plant matter is now a haven for fungus and insects to move in. No air is getting in to help dry the thatch and the grass isn’t actively able to take up water. It’s like hiding a wet towel in a dark, warm room. Fungal growth is bound to happen.
Now before you go brand thatch as the enemy, let me assure you that it is not. Thatch is a natural part of your lawn’s ecosystem. A little thatch is essential for keeping soil temperatures cool, as well as housing essential microorganisms that are important for a healthy turfstand. It becomes a problem when the thatch layer to becomes too thick. Again, all lawns have thatch.
A good rule of thumb is not to enable the thatch to become thicker than half-an-inch. In most cases, yearly aerations along with following proper cultural practices may be enough to prevent this.
Measuring the thickness with just a regular ruler will be just fine. Part the grass and find the layer of browned and yellowed plant matter, and push the ruler through it until you reach the actual soil. Alternatively, you can pull a core if you have a soil probe, even if it’s makeshift, and measure the thatch that way. If the thatch layer is significantly deeper than half-an-inch, it may be time to dethatch your lawn.
However, dethatching a lawn is somewhat of an involved process, but I’m here to clarify some of the stuff that isn’t obvious or even common knowledge.
First and foremost, to dethatch a lawn correctly, you must know the type of turf you have. This will dictate how often you need to do this piece of yardwork and at what time of year. Grasses are classified into two types: warm-season and cool-season. Warm-season grass types tend to create more thatch than cool-season varieties, and warm-season turfs are the more high maintenance of the two. Warm-season grasses grow more vigorously and have a longer growing season, and as a result, tend to produce more thatch.
If you’re not sure what your turf category is, an easy way to get the idea is to refer to a map of the turfgrass zones, an example of which can be seen here:
Timing when to dethatch your lawn is especially important because if you time it incorrectly, you risk damaging your lawn or killing your lawn. And a dead lawn would be an absolute bummer. Even the healthiest of lawns would have a slow comeback from a poorly timed dethatching, and already stressed lawns would probably not recover all. Now you’re the guy with bald patches in his lawn, don’t be that guy.
For warm-season grass, getting the timing right is particularly important because they produce thatch so quickly. The best time to dethatch your lawn is during the growing season for your lawn type so that the turf is actively growing and has the time to recover from any damage. So a good guideline for warm-season grasses is to dethatch in early spring and late summer. Cool-season turf is best to dethatch in early fall to avoid weed competition. If you fall in the transition zone, you may have warm or cool season grasses and should determine that prior to performing the service.
The actual process of dethatching is relatively simple – you are “raking” your grass.
But don’t grab the rake you use for the leaves in the fall. Just trust me on this one. If you want to do dethatching, you would be better off with a thatch rake.
Power rakes come in both manual and mechanical styles. Handheld versions are shaped to allow for the tines of the rake to catch and pull up the thatch more effectively than with a regular rake. There are also mechanical power rakes that look like a version of a regular mower, except the blades are designed for pulling up thatch. There are other methods to remove thatch that don’t involve a power rake. But power raking is the best method to ensure effective technique for the proper removal of the thatch from the lawn.
In short, both care techniques are services that your lawn may need eventually. Being able to recognize the signs are the best tools you have to catch potential problems early and maintain a healthy lawn. When I’m with a customer, aerating tends to be my go-to, even when thatch is an issue, simply because of the number of benefits a yearly aeration has to offer. Consider whether aeration could fix this with time, or even liquid dethatching methods (a topic we’ll save for later). If long-term control is out of the question, dethatching is your best bet for quick removal of the problem. Just be sure to consider the time of year, and be prepared to baby the grass a bit during it’s recovery period which can be anywhere from 30-45 days in ideal conditions.
Thanks for all the support, and I hope you got some good information out of this article. I may come back to add to it, but we’ll see. Being the first of many blog posts to come, I want these articles to be informational, factual, and allow you to draw your own conclusions using what you’ve learned. Please keep in mind, this post doesn’t have nearly everything there is to know and consider when it comes to this topic–so further your research! Keep reading and make informed decisions. Like the facebook page and follow on instagram (@turfcareinnovations). If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact me!