What Is Thatch?

ABEDorb Gardening Tips

If your yard includes any grass, what you don’t know about thatch may cost you more damage and lawn care than is necessary. The good news is that with the easy expert tips here, you can learn what thatch is, how to find out if it’s a problem in your lawn, and how to control and remove it in regular yard maintenance and future landscaping. Read on to learn more about thatch problems and solutions specific to Connecticut.

Thatch Definition in Lawn Care

Thatch is the mix of living and dead plant materials that form between grass roots and topsoil. Layers of grass stems and plant debris become trapped on the surface of the soil to form thatch. Thatch is one of those things in life that can be beneficial in small amounts yet harmful in large quantities. A thick thatch layer in your lawn can harm it, while a thin layer of thatch may improve your grass.

When Thatch is Good for Lawns

Landscaping experts know that if lawn thatch isn’t more than 1/2″ in thickness, it’s likely to benefit grass and soil health because, at this limited thickness, natural mulch is created. Mulch refers to any type of material that’s spread on the surface of the soil to preserve moisture and decrease weed growth. Mulch can also help create thicker and stronger grass. Usually, mulch is all organic materials such as fallen leaves, compost, and parts of plants and trees.

Connecticut Thatch Problems Defined

When thatch becomes more than 1/2″ thick, it puts your CT lawn at a considerable risk of damage. A thick barrier of dead grass and roots drastically limits the amount of topsoil nutrients and water the living grass receives, which doesn’t do the health of your lawn any favors. Moreover, the widening layer of thatch is a solid attractant for lawn-damaging insects.

Insect Damage

Grubs and cinch bugs, the most common lawn pest insects in the Northeast Region of the U.S., are attracted to thick layers of thatch because they live and thrive in it. Cinch bugs exist on the sap they extract from the lower parts, or crowns, of grass, and the roots, while grubs eat the roots and the decomposed plant or animal matter in the soil. These insects cause the most lawn damage in July and August and create brown areas in the grass.

What Bad Thatch Looks Like

Since the thatch-burrowing grubs and cinch bugs can create large brown patches on lawns in the summer, homeowners often mistake the problem for drought. Yet too much thatch can prevent lawn watering from being optimal, so drought may also be present. If your lawn feels bouncy or springy under your feet when you walk, this can be a classic sign of too much thatch.

There are other handy tips for identifying problematic levels of thatch. You can use the end of a garden rake or other tool and press it into your lawn. If it doesn’t go into the grass and soil easily, you may have a thatch problem. You can also use a trowel to cut out a few small sections of lawn layers to give you a clear view of your thatch layer.

Thatch Removal in Connecticut

If your thatch layer measures more than a 1/2-inch, then you likely do require dethatching. Lawns that are regularly cared for are less likely to experience excess thatch. If your grass is well-maintained and your thatch level is acceptable, yet, your lawn isn’t looking up to par, there may be other issues experienced landscapers can look at and advise you about.

Best Time of Year for New England Dethatching

If your thatch level does indicate that dethatching is necessary, the time of year to have it done is crucial. Inexperienced gardeners may incorrectly want to dethatch in the spring, which is more harmful than helpful. Their miscalculation may be due to confusing thatch, which is only the plant debris between the soil layer and the grass base, with plant debris on the lawn’s surface.

Late summer or early fall is best for dethatching if you have a cool-season CT grass like Kentucky bluegrass, fine fescue, ryegrass, or Bentgrass. Spring is usually the worst dethatching time as winter’s ice, snow, and chilly temperatures affect and weaken turf. Dethatching in spring doesn’t allow the lawn to recover from winter’s effects, plus tearing up the soil and grassroots in springtime may churn and plant weed seeds or permanently damage the soil.

Thatch Management in Landscaping

Landscaping professionals use two main types of equipment when dethatching lawns. A deep-digging dethatching manual rake is much heavier than its lightweight garden counterpart and is used for lighter thatch problems and smaller lawns or narrow grass areas. Verticutter mowers vertically slice and pull up the thatch layer. Verticutter dethatching is used primarily for complete lawn renovation.

Power Rakes

Power rakes are motorized mowers that dig into the thatch layer and pull it up. These powerful mowers should only be used on lawns that can withstand the force of these machines. Therefore, your landscaper may recommend something other than power raking for your lawn in favor of using less aggressive dethatching equipment.

Excess Thatch Causes

Proper lawn care should usually involve annual aeration as not doing that can cause thatch issues. Sometimes landscapers may use a core aerator tool if only small amounts of thatch need to be removed from the lawn. Another common cause of too much thatch build-up is over-fertilizing or fertilizing in spring rather than in fall when grass tends to have sturdier roots.


Ongoing Thatch Lawn Care 

Contrary to popular belief, leaving grass clippings on your lawn after mowing isn’t a risk factor for excess thatch build-up, as the grass is mostly water. Also, the clippings add nutrients to the lawn. If regular lawn mowing isn’t done, that alone can cause too much thatch. Mowing more than a third of the height of the grass can also cause thatch overgrowth.

Excess Thatch Prevention 

To help keep no more than 1/2″ of thatch layered in your lawn to allow your turf to thrive in Connecticut, fertilize only in the fall if needed. To determine how much fertilizer your lawn needs, a professional landscaper can test your soil occasionally for pH levels. Soil analysis can reveal whether your lawn may do better with adding lime, potassium, or phosphorous. Limit pesticides and fungicides, as these can rob the soil of helpful organisms.

Be sure to aerate your lawn annually, as this is gentle on grass roots and allows water to penetrate the turf at the root level better. Regular yearly aeration also permits adequate air circulation to the root system to promote efficient thatch layer decomposition. If your topsoil seems uneven after dethatching, your landscape professional may suggest adding a layer of the same soil to smooth things out. This topdressing method typically uses a 1/8-inch soil layer.

If you need a vetted landscape expert or lawn specialist in thatch removal, contact Landscaper Locator. Whether you’re looking for thatch control, grass installation, lawn mowing, or general yard care services in CT, we can help find the right professional for you!