Lawn care hacks: how to get rid of your lawn thatch.
True story: I was only a wee nipper when I realised nothing beats the little things in life. Waking up on your birthday. Popping bubble wrap. Writing on a banana skin with a biro. Flipping your pillow over to the cool side – all that stuff. And now I have another little life pleasure to pop at the top of my slightly bias compost pile, and that’s the feel of freshly mowed grass between your bare toes. It’s just the best.
Unfortunately, though, that lovely, familiar and sensory feeling can quickly turned into one of total confusion when you step onto a spongy lawn. “What the heck is that?” Your brain says, “it’s like walking on mouldy school custard.” And you’re brain isn’t far off because that spongy sod you feel beneath your feet is actually a result of too much thatch in your lawn.
Here’s the really bad news, though: getting rid of said thatch can take a lot of elbow grease, some serious raking and a pretty resolute gardener.
Thankfully, Joe’s here (I don’t know why I wrote my name in the third person, but it felt right) and I’ve got all the information you need to deal with your thatchy lawn so that you won’t have to ask your neighbour, Keen Kevin, if you can borrow his manual turf cutter and start again from scratch. Let’s do this.
What The Heck Is Thatch?
Basically, thatch is a layer of dead (and almost dead) grass that’s caught in an annoying limbo, lying between the lush, green, healthy vegetation of your lawn above and the soil/root system below.
Now, most of the time, this is fine. As I always tell my friends (to a chorus of yawns), “a little bit of thatch never killed anyone.” The problems start when this layer of dead and almost dead plant matter becomes too thick, say ½ inch or more, because that’s when it starts becoming detrimental to your lawn’s health. Like, really detrimental. Like, remove it now or else sort of detrimental.
Okay, But What Is Thatch?
For those that don’t really care about the biological makeup of your lawn thatch, feel free to skip this section. But for those that have a) kids doing GCSE science homework or b) nothing better to do, here’s a quick poem about what’s in your lawn thatch:
There’s stems and there’s stolons, rhizomes and roots,
And bits of old grass, from the culms to the shoots.
*God I’m getting good at this poetry stuff (see my last blog about Urgent Lawn Care Tips for another modern classic).
Anyway, the reason these components create a thatch is simple: they are tougher than a Las Vegas gangster, meaning they don’t decompose as easily as the blades. And the reason this is bad news is simple: when your layer of thatch becomes too thick, it blocks vital supplies from getting into your lawn’s root system – vital things like air, water, and nutrients, all of which are needed to keep your grass healthy. And that’s not all. A thick layer of thatch can also welcome diseases and insect invasions to your lawn, which no one wants.
The Impact Of Lawn Thatch
Apart from suffocating, dehydrating and starving your lawn of everything it needs to survive, lawn thatch has a few other annoying surprises up its sleeve too. For instance, the thicker the layer of thatch, the harder you’ll find it to mow your lawn properly. Here’s why:
1. Your grass won’t be able to grow evenly, meaning you’ll give it an uneven mow and
2. You might hit a particularly spongy patch of lawn while mowing your lawn, causing your wheels to sink in and your blade to scalp the lawn.
Basically, lawn thatch is a right rotter.
Prevention Techniques: Thatch The Way I Like It, Ah Hah Ah Hah
If you’ve noticed a bit of thatch forming in your garden, don’t worry, you’re not a bad person or a bad gardener – the formation of thatch over time is simply inevitable. Thankfully, there are certain things you can do to slow down the development of thatch so that it doesn’t become dangerously thick.
The trick is to basically avoid doing anything that will cause your grass to grow at an abnormally high rate, you know, like:
* Watering your grass way more than is needed, or
* Giving your lawn too much high-in-nitrogen fertiliser.
It’s also worth holding back on pesticides. Why? Because pesticides can obliterate (aka kill) earthworms, and earthworms are one of your biggest allies in the battle against thatch. The more earthworms you have, the more your thatch will be broken down naturally. Hallelujah.
The Grass You Choose Matters
If you’ve just gone with the default grass of England, a perennial ryegrass of some description, you won’t need to worry too much about thatch building up unnecessarily fast. If, however, you’ve gone into a nursery and asked for a cool-season turf, like a Kentucky bluegrass or something, you’re better off changing your order to a tall fescue grass (like they use at Wimbledon), which is waaaay less prone to excessive thatch build-up.
How To Solve All Your Thatch Problems
Now you’ve enhanced your pub quiz knowledge and learned what lawn thatch is, what causes it and why it is a pain in the Toyota Yarris, there’s only one thing left to know: how to get rid of your thatch build-up.
In less severe cases, a little bit of raking could probably sort you out, but it’s worth noting that a) raking is one of the most painful chores ever created and b) raking has little or no effect on surface thatch. What you want is some proper scarification, which is where you use a machine to remove your surface thatch from your lawn while simultaneously opening up some deepish channels for water, air and nutrients to get through to the soil — and, at Joe’s, we use SISIS petrol machines with sharp blades to vertically slice through the dead organic matter and boost horizontal shoot growth up to 5mm below the surface. Chicken dinner, as they say.
In more severe cases, however, you might want to consider a badass technique I like to call “Operation Core Aeration.” To sum it up in a sentence, aeration is where we punch holes through any subsurface thatch to relieve compaction, thus allowing water and nutrients to reach your lawn’s roots. And that’s just the start of the good news parade because aeration also improves your lawn’s drainage capabilities by allowing water to penetrate the thatch layer, thus leading to a drier top surface, which is a must-have for discouraging things like moss and disease.