Dethatching vs. Aerating – Which Is Better For Your Lawn?

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Dethatching vs. Aerating

The grass in your lawn is very delicate, and it requires a great amount of care if you want to maintain a healthy lawn. You need a proper lawn care plan that includes procedures like fertilization, dethatching, and aeration. Many people are confused about whether to go for dethatching or aerating. 

In this article, we’ll look at dethatching vs. aerating, the meanings of each, and the situations where they will bring the most benefit to your lawn. We will also look at the advantages and disadvantages of each process and how to determine which one is best for your grass.

Dethatching vs. Aerating: What’s the Difference?

People usually get confused between these two terms because they seem pretty similar if you’re not familiar with the process. Both of these procedures are used for removing the excess matter from the soil so that the roots and grass can breathe and do not have to compete for nutrition. However, there’s a fine line between these two techniques as they help your lawn in different ways.

Here’s a short summary of both processes.


Dethatching with a Rake

Determining whether you need to follow this process on your lawn is more straightforward than you might think. Thatch is natural organic matter that’s present on the soil surface. It includes leaves, flowers, grass clippings, dead grass, etc. Thatch is useful when it’s present in moderate amounts. This is because the thatch allows you to keep the soil moist and enriched with the required nutrients. 

This layer can also protect the soil from harmful sun rays and extreme temperature changes. But if the thatch buildup is too thick, it can suffocate the soil as it forms a barrier between the soil and the outer atmosphere. This kills healthy roots and grass. Dethatching is simply the process of removing this excess layer so that the grass is not harmed in any way.


Lawn Aeration Process Illustration

Soil compaction may occur after some time due to high pressure and weight. Gravitational effects of our planet may also significantly contribute to the process of soil compaction over time. This makes the surface of the lawn harder, which can suffocate the grass roots and break them. 

You can perform the lawn aeration process to avoid this problem. In this process, you primarily need to remove small plugs of soil from the surface of your lawn so that the remaining part can breathe. It will allow your lawn’s grass to grow properly and spread evenly across the land. 

The Process of Dethatching Your Lawn

The first thing you need to check is the process your yard needs to recover the grass. You can try to touch and test the soil and if you feel that it’s severely compacted, then lawn dethatching is not the thing for you. If the compacted soil is not too significant of an issue, then you should not need to aerate the ground, and dethatching would work well. If your hand feels soft and bouncy and the ground feels almost like a soft cushion, then you probably have thick thatch on the lawn surface. 

Once you’ve decided dethatching is the way to recover your lawn’s green and healthy grass, the next question that may pop into your mind is, “What time of the year should I dethatch my lawn?”.

The answer depends a lot on the weather condition and the condition of your soil and grass, although dethatching is usually done during the early spring. This is the first thing that you should do during the onset of the spring weather.

It’s best if you fertilize and overseed the grass after the dethatching process is completed. If you dethatch your lawn after reseeding, it will strip your lawn of all the benefits gained due to overseeding, and you may have to do it all over again. 

The final thing that you must keep in mind is that you don’t need to dethatch the entire lawn. Doing so will remove the nutrient-rich soil from the yard and harm the health of the grass. The best idea would be to hire a lawn care professional who will carefully examine your garden and determine which parts and patches on the ground have a thick thatch layer. But if you’re doing the work yourself, you can check for the spots that have soft, spongy thatch, which is evidence of a thick layer.

Related: The Best Tow-Behind Spreaders for Large Yards and Properties

Dethatching Equipment

Dethatching can be done in a few different ways. The most common option is to simply use a rake to grab and remove the excess thatch. A rake works well, but the manual process is only a practical option if you’re working with a relatively small area.

AMES 2915100 Adjustable Self-Cleaning Thatch Rake with Hardwood Handle, 61-Inch AMES 2915100 Adjustable Self-Cleaning Thatch Rake with Hardwood Handle

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The process of dethatching is only for mild conditions. The process of core aeration requires a mechanical device, and you may not have one at your disposal. You can always try to dethatch your lawn with a rake, and if that works, it’s good. If it doesn’t address the problem, you can always go for core aeration. To aerate, you can either rent the equipment or hire a professional.

Aside from core aeration, another option is to use a machine called a scarifier. A scarifier looks sort of like a lawnmower but it grabs and removes thatch similar to the way a rake would do it. Scarifiers can be purchased or rented.

An amazing product you can buy for your lawn is the Sun Joe AJ801E Electric Scarifier + Lawn Dethatcher with a collection bag. It comes from a highly reputed brand, is well made, and will make detaching much easier than using a manual rake. It has a cutting width of 13 inches.

Sun Joe AJ801E 12-Amp 13-Inch Electric Dethatcher and Scarifier w/Removeable 8-Gallon Collection Bag, 5-Position Height Adjustment, Airboost Technology Increases Lawn Health, 13 inch, GreenSun Joe AJ801E 12-Amp 13-Inch Electric Dethatcher and Scarifier w/Removeable 8-Gallon Collection Bag

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This product is excellent for rejuvenating small to mid-sized lawns, and it comes with a scarifier function that allows you to cut grassroots to make them grow even thicker and become healthier. This item also boasts an air boost technology that helps achieve maximum thatch pickup.

An electric dethatcher is a game-changer for all homeowners. It’s quite helpful and almost effortless to use. It reduces manual work by a significant margin and works like a charm for thicker grass.

Related: When Should You Power Rake Your Lawn?

The Process of Aerating Your Lawn

Digging Fork for Aerating

To make grass grow, you need to provide an ample amount of water and sunlight. The plants in our yard need fertilizer to provide them with ample nutrients and minerals so that they can grow well. When we find that the grass and plants in our yard are not healthy, we generally wonder if we provided them with enough water and sunlight. People also wonder whether they have fertilized their plants enough. But the question that we usually overlook is, “Are the plants getting enough oxygen?” In some cases, you may need to aerate the soil to encourage root growth.

Aeration is basically the process of making small holes inside the soil on the land that makes it easier for the soil and new seeds to breathe (reducing soil compaction). The process of lawn aeration is primarily used to combat compaction in the soil. A particular machine called the “lawn aerator” is used for this process. You can rent these machines to do the work yourself or hire a professional who will handle the lawn aeration for you.

Goplus 18-inch Rolling Lawn Aerator Garden Yard Rotary Push Tine Spike Soil Aeration Heavy Duty Goplus 18-inch Rolling Lawn Aerator Garden Yard Rotary Push Tine Spike Soil

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The benefits of soil aeration are tremendous. It leads to rich and fertile soil, which in turn gives healthy and green grass. If there’s not an adequate exchange of water and oxygen between the soil and the atmosphere, then the grass and other plants will not be as healthy as desired. Compacted soil can also cause root damage and make the plant more vulnerable to diseases and pests. Most lawns should be aerated every few years to get the best results with your grass.

You can also aerate your garden naturally by adding earthworms to the soil of your garden beds. These earthworms will naturally aerate your soil and add organic matter of their own to enrich the soil with nutrients, while preventing compacted soil.

Generally, the best time to aerate is early fall.

Related: How to Fix a Muddy Yard

Aerating Equipment

Just like dethatching, aerating can be done manually or with the help of machines. To do it manually, you can use a digging fork like the one shown below, or you can use spike attachments that go onto the bottom of your shoes. With the spikes, you simply walk around your yard and the spikes do the work for you.

MUMUMU Manual Lawn Aerator Shoes, Aluminum Soleplate Sandals with Stainless Steel Spikes Aeration Shoes, All Straps Assembled with Rivets, Adjustable Spiked Shoes, One-Size-Fits-AllMUMUMU Manual Lawn Aerator Shoes, Aluminum Soleplate Sandals with Stainless Steel Spikes Aeration Shoes

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If you have a large yard, the manual aeration process will be difficult and time-consuming. You can purchase or rent machines that will do the work for you. Most of them will need to be pushed around the yard just like a push mower, but they also make some models that you’ll ride on. Additionally, you can hire a landscaping or lawn care company to do the aerating for you, which is often not that much more expensive than renting the equipment.

Brinly SAT2-40BH-P Tow Behind Transport Wheels, 40" Spike Aerator, Hammered BlackBrinly SAT2-40BH-P Tow Behind Transport Wheels, 40″ Spike Aerator

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Related: Reviews of the Best Lawn Fertilizers for Thick Green Grass

Final Thoughts on Dethatching vs. Aerating

Finally, you need to remember that it is okay if your lawn isn’t perfect. Growing beautiful, thick green grass takes time and patience. Dethatching and aerating are helpful parts of lawn maintenance, and when done occasionally, they can have a big impact and improve your lawn health tremendously.

Regardless of whether you opt for dethatching vs aerating, it’s a good idea to overseed the lawn after you are done. Overseeding involves spreading grass seed over the existing grass, which will help the lawn to grow thicker. If you have large bare spots, you should rake them and plant more grass seed by hand in those areas rather than just relying on a spreader to overseed.

Best of luck with your lawn!

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