Secrets To A Healthy Lawn

Posted: November 7, 2013 by Bunce Rental in Home Improvement, Lawn & Garden

In the quest for a beautiful lawn, thatching and aeration ranks as two of the top best-kept secrets.  These often-overlooked lawn care tactics are critical for developing and maintaining healthy grass that stands up to drought, disease, and everyday wear and tear.

What is thatch?

Grass plants naturally spread over soil, and occasionally, parts of individual turf plants die and begin to decompose.  Thatch is this build-up of dead plant material found between the roots of the grass and the top growth.  A moderate thatch layer is actually beneficial, insulating soil from sunlight and reducing water evaporation.  However, excess thatch (a build up to more than one-half inch) will prevent moisture, oxygen and nutrients from reaching the soil.

How do I get rid of thatch?

Thatch can be removed from your lawn by using a power rake or “Lawn Thatcher” to pull up the thatch.  A Thatcher has tines, which loosen and bring the thatch to the surface where it can be raked, picked up and disposed of.  Thatcher’s can also be adjusted to only thatch so deep, leaving a layer of good thatch to protect the roots.

How do I know my lawn needs to be thatched?

Your lawn may have a spongy or even felt-like look to it.  A lawn that’s spongy or bouncy underfoot, with a springy feel, often has a thick thatch layer. Your lawn may also have taken on a brown coloring.  Upon closer inspection, if you find that a ½ inch or more of thatch has built up, it is time to thatch your lawn.  Be advised that if your lawn has not been thatched in a while, you should only remove some of the thatch to prevent damaging the lawn.

What is the best time of year to thatch or aerate my lawn?

Late spring or early fall is the best time to thatch and/or aerate your lawn; when your lawn will have a chance to grow under optimal weather conditions.  If you thatch or aerate too early in the spring or too late in the fall, the exposure of the roots and soil to the cold frost will kill the lawn.  Keep in mind that warm weather grasses and cool weather grasses will have different ideal times for thatching and aerating.  More information on warm and cold weather grasses can be found at

What does aerating do for my lawn?

When you aerate a lawn, you make holes in the lawn (and the soil beneath) by extracting a small plug of soil, also known as coring.  These coring holes in the lawn allow for moisture and nutrients to reach the soil better.  These holes also provide a place where thatch can fall and decompose back into the soil rather than sitting on top of the soil.  An aerator will pull 3″-6″ cores from the soil, creating the holes.

How do I know my lawn needs aerating?

If a lawn grows for years without aeration, the soil beneath will eventually harden, shrugging off fertilizer, rainfall, and supplemental irrigation.  As soil becomes tighter, grass grows less, thinning and eventually dying.  A good way to check this is to insert an object such as a long screwdriver into the soil.  If the object goes into the ground easily, then your lawn does not need aerating.  However, if some force is needed (or you find some resistance) to insert the object into the soil, your lawn will benefit from being aerated.

Is it better to thatch or aerate my lawn? Or should I both thatch and aerate?

It depends on the condition of the lawn.  If your lawn does not have excess thatch but the soil is compact, then you will only need to aerate the lawn.  When thatch exceeds one-half inch, the most reliable way to break it up is with lawn aeration, followed by raking with a lawn Thatcher.  Regular lawn aeration prevents thatch build-up, as does proper fertilization and watering.

Under what conditions should I thatch or aerate my lawn?

Drier conditions work best for both thatching and aerating.  Similar to thatching, aerate when soil is moist but not saturated.  The tines of a lawn aerator penetrate moist soil more deeply; soil that’s too wet will clog the tines and most likely create a muddy mess.  To achieve the correct moisture balance, your lawn should absorb 1 inch of water – delivered through rainfall or irrigation – prior to aerating.  This may mean you’ll water for one hour one day prior to aerating or, if your soil is hard, for shorter times on several days prior to aerating.

What if my lawn has moss?

A healthy lawn is your best defense against moss.  Moss can be a symptom of several common conditions which include: a lack of soil fertility, acidic soil, dense shade, compacted soil, wet soil, and damaged turf.

If your lawn has moss, you’ll need to spread or spray a moss killer on the lawn at least one day prior to thatching.  This way, the Thatcher will also be able to pull up the moss with the thatch.  You will then have to rake and remove the moss; over-seed bare areas with grass that is well suited to your area; top-dress the areas you have seeded with loose soil (potting mix or sand) about ¼ inch thick; and keep the area moist until seedlings are established.

More information on preventing moss and using moss killers can be found at


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