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Dethatching vs. Aerating: Which Is Best for Your Lawn?

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If you have a lawn to take care of, you are probably familiar with some standard ways to keep up with its maintenance. Watering, fertilizing, and seeding are all common steps to keeping your grass green.

Two more popular lawn care methods are dethatching and aerating.

Dethatching helps remove dead plant matter so that the soil can evenly receive adequate hydration and nutrients. Aerating is the process of creating holes in the soil to allow water and fertilizer to reach grass roots in a lawn.

When considering dethatching and aerating, is one better for your lawn than the other?

Dethatching vs. Aerating

Both processes are necessary for your lawn and promote healthy growth. However, a properly aerated lawn may need little or no dethatching.

Let’s take a closer look at the differences and advantages of both dethatching.

Dethatching vs. Aerating Your Lawn

As your lawn grows, organic matter naturally builds up on the soil. Leaves fall and decay, insects die, soil becomes compacted, and wastes accumulate.

Soil becoming compacted and full of organic matter is not just an eyesore. It can also harm your grass.

Dethatching and aerating are two ways you can combat this build up and encourage a healthier lawn.

Dethatching

The organic matter decaying between the blades of grass and soil in the lawn is called thatch.

Thatch acts as mulch and a barrier that keeps the soil moist and warm. It also prevents weeds from growing.

If the layer of thatch becomes thicker than 1 inch, thatch can suffocate the roots of your grass by preventing oxygen from reaching the soil.

When the layer of thatch gets longer than what it should be, you have to remove the thatch. The process of removing thatch is called dethatching.

Dethatching

Why Should You Dethatch Your Lawn?

  • Aeration: When you remove excess thatch from your lawn, oxygen can freely reach the roots of your plants. Also, microbes such as fungi and bacteria that help in decomposition have better access to the soil.
  • Overseeding: If you want to overseed (i.e. plant new grass above the grass already growing), you have to dethatch some parts of the lawn so that the roots of your new plants can reach the soil.
  • Beauty: When the thatch is too thick, it becomes visible as brown spaces between the fresh grass.

How to Dethatch a Lawn

The best time of the year to dethatch a lawn is during spring. You can use manual tools or larger lawn equipment to pull up the excess thatch. Some options for these tools include:

  • Rake
  • Power rake
  • Dethatching machine
  • Convex or dethatching rake
  • Tractor or a riding lawn mower with a dethatching attachment.

If you choose to use a manual tool like a rake, push the rake tines deep into the ground then use the rake to pull out the excess thatch.

While this can be labor intensive, you do not have to dethatch the whole lawn. Only dethatch the places with excess thatch.

Aeration

Soil can become compacted over time as people (and animals) walk across it, build up occurs, and weather impacts the soil.

When this happens, plants can have stunted growth or die because their roots cannot spread out properly.

Aeration

The more compacted an area is, the less encouraging it will be for plants to grow.

Soil aeration is the process of poking or digging out small holes (of about 2-3 inches) in the soil to allow oxygen to reach the soil and also allow plant roots to spread out.

Why Should You Aerate Your Lawn?

  • Loosen Compacted Soil: Aerating allows soil to loosen and give space for roots to grown. This is especially helpful if you soil includes a lot of clay, which can become firmly compacted.
  • Improved Root Movement: When there are holes in the soil, the roots of your plants have better access to oxygen and are encouraged to grow or move properly
  • Easier Water Drainage: Compacted soil hardly drains water. To prevent your lawn from getting water-logged, you have to aerate the soil.

How to Aerate a Lawn

To aerate your lawn, you will need to use one of the following methods or machines:

  • A hand-held aerator
  • A core aerator (a machine)
  • The service of a soil aerating professional (you can hire someone)
  • Any simple tool with tines or protrusions that can poke the soil

If you can, hire someone to aerate your soil or rent a core aerator. These make the process much easier than manually aerating the soil.

A core aerator is a machine that digs out the holes, while a simple aerator pokes the soil to make the holes.

A core aerator maintains the quality of your soil while a simple aerator can compact the space between holes (because it pushes soil sideways to make the holes.)

If you want to aerate your lawn by yourself, poke holes into the soil. Make sure that there are at least 9 evenly spread holes in every square foot.

Is Dethatching or Aerating Better for Your Lawn?

Dethatching the lawn

Both dethatching and aerating are important for proper lawn care. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing how to enhance the quality of your lawn:

  • If there is enough oxygen in the soil, decomposing microbes such as bacteria and fungi will break-down organic matter (i.e. thatch faster)
  • It is easier and less strenuous to aerate soil than to dethatch it.
  • You have to aerate every part of your lawn, but you can dethatch just some areas in the lawn.
  • You can avoid dethatching if you have grass like Kentucky bluegrass (cool season) or Bermuda grass (warm season).
  • Even though aeration and dethatching are important, aeration should be done more often.

How to Check Whether Your Soil Needs Dethatching or Aeration

The best way to tell what is wrong with your lawn is to consult a lawn professional.

However, you can perform a simple test on your lawn by poking a finger into the ground.

  • If the ground feels spongy and bouncy and you cannot easily feel the somewhat hard soil beneath, you should dethatch part of the lawn. Note that not every part of the lawn will feel spongy.
  • If you can reach the soil beneath but the soil feels hard and you cannot poke into the soil, the soil is compacted and you will need to aerate it.

More Ways to Care for Your Lawn

Watering

Use sprinkler for your lawn. They can save you time and help with even water distribution. Water your lawn early in the morning or late in the evening.

Feeding

Use grass-specific fertilizer on your lawn. These fertilizers are cheaper than others and best suited for grass. You can spray the fertilizer monthly or as recommended.

feeding fertilizer to lawn

Mowing

If your lawn grass grows 3-4 inches taller than you want it, cut it down by mowing. Mowing does not just beautify your lawn, it prevents pests from growing in your lawn.

Introduce Earthworms

The role of earthworms in a lawn cannot be overemphasized. Just do not use pesticides on the lawn because pesticides kill earthworms.

Earthworms do not just aerate the soil. They also loosen compacted soil and help to break down thatch. This makes them both great dethatchers and aerators.

Final Thoughts

Both dethatching and aeration are important for proper lawn care. Dethatching is the process of removing excess organic matter between the grass and soil) while aeration is the process of poking or digging out holes in the ground.

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