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What is a Lawn Dethatcher?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A lawn dethatcher is a gardening tool which is designed to remove thatch, a thick layer of debris which accumulates between the soil and grass blades in a lawn. An excessive buildup of thatch can have a negative impact on lawn health, causing a lawn to turn brown and scraggly. While dethatching can be accomplished by hand, using a mechanical lawn dethatcher is much faster, more efficient, and more effective. Many garden suppliers rent out dethatchers, and it is also possible to purchase one.

Thatch is a layer of grass clippings, lawn debris, and other material. In a healthy lawn, the thatch will be about as high as the width of a pinkie finger. The thatch slowly breaks down with the assistance of bacteria, ensuring that the height stays consistent, and it provides a number of protections to the lawn, preventing the burning of the grass roots and helping the lawn retain water.

In an unhealthy lawn, the layer of thatch can become quite thick. The lawn may be overfertilized, or the soil may have become compacted, making it hard for bacteria to reach the surface and break down the thatch. One quick way to help out a struggling lawn is to aerate it by poking deep holes into the soil at periodic points in the lawn, drawing the bacteria up so that they can get to work on the thatch. Sometimes, however, dethatching is required.

Lawn dethatchers are like oversized mechanical rakes. The dethatcher is run across the lawn slowly and steadily, allowing the rotating blades of the thatcher to penetrate the grass and pull up the thatch. The blade height can be adjusted, allowing the lawn dethatcher to penetrate to various depths in the lawn, and the blade spacing can also be manipulated. The alternative to a lawn dethatcher is a rake. Hand raking a large lawn can be very time-consuming and physically stressful, and many rakes are not up to the job of dislodging thick layers of thatch.

Dethatching is best done in the fall so that new grass shoots are not damaged. It is also important to leave some of the thatch behind, as denuding the lawn entirely with a lawn dethatcher will inhibit the lawn's recovery. Once the thatch has been removed from a lawn, it needs to be raked away. The lawn will usually look absolutely horrible, with straggly grass and bare patches. However, the lawn will recover quickly, especially if it is fertilized and watered after dethatching. Some gardeners also like to add grass seed to help the lawn regrow.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Glasshouse — On Apr 10, 2011

@giraffears- If you have never detached your lawn and you are looking to save time, it might be easier to hire a landscaping crew to do the job. A landscaping crew will have all of the lawn equipment necessary to do the job, and they will take care of cleaning up the thatch and disposing of it.

By GlassAxe — On Apr 08, 2011

@GiraffeEars- I have a lawn tractor dethatcher that works great. I have used the thatcher attachments that go on those little rototillers and they work great too. It really depends on the size of your lawn, and if you have a lawn tractor. If your lawn is small or medium sized an attachment would work fine. For a large lawn, I would recommend a lawn tractor to save time.

The best method for raking the thatch is to use a power broom. My weed trimmer has an attachment that turns it into a broom with spinning rubber fins. I can power through my entire lawn in about a half hour, pushing the piles of thatch or leaves wherever I need them. The power broom works much better than a leaf blower does, especially when you are dealing with thatch or matted down leaves.

By GiraffeEars — On Apr 06, 2011

I want to dethatch my lawn but I don't know if I should rent a thatcher or buy an attachment for my mini tiller. Also, what is the easiest way to remove the thatch once I have it separated from the lawn? I really don't want to stand out there for hours with a rake pulling the thatch into piles.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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