I bought a new rake recently that came with a label claiming that it can dethatch my lawn. Is this really the right tool for the job? Let’s talk about dethatching and what it takes.
Can you dethatch a lawn with a leaf rake? A regular leaf rake will not adequately remove thatch from a lawn. A small amount of thatch may be removed but trying to dethatch with a leaf rake may cause damage to your lawn. Use a verticutter or dethatcher attachment for your lawnmower.
Verticutter? Dethatcher attachments? If you’re new to lawn care, then you’re probably wondering what these are. Don’t worry. In this article, we will go over all of the options you have for dethatching your lawn, large or small.
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Can You Use a Regular Rake to Dethatch?
You can certainly try to get some thatch up with a leaf rake, but it isn’t the best tool for the job, and you aren’t going to get very far. A leaf rake will pull up a small amount of thatch as you move it across your lawn, but the amount is negligible.
If you continue to work at it with your leaf rake, aggressively working the rake’s tines into your grass, you risk damaging your lawn. Not to mention, it is a massive waste of time and elbow grease. The right tools for the job don’t have to cost an arm and a leg, so consider the options below before wasting your time with a leaf rake.
What Should You Use to Dethatch a Lawn?
You have some options when it comes to dethatching your lawn. You can use any of the following:
- Thatch Rake
- Power dethatcher
- Power rake
- Dethatcher attachments
Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
Have St. Augustine Grass? Be sure to read Can You Dethatch St. Augustine Grass?
Thatch Rake – Small Yard Dethatcher
The least expensive option for dethatching is a simple manual thatch rake. A thatch rake is designed to pull thatch out of your lawn with only minimal damage to green grass.
The head of these rakes often have tines on each side that serve different purposes.
- Straight tines: Use the side with straight tines to remove the thatch from your grass.
- Curved tines: Use the side with curved tines to break up dirt lumps and prepare the ground for seeding, if necessary.
Just pull your rake over the grass, first one way and then the other in small patches and you’ll have a pile of thatch in no time. It is truly surprising just how much thatch can come out of a small patch of grass.
This short YouTube Video from Ryan Knorr lawn care goes over the basics of using a handheld dethatcher.
Thatch rakes can be found at your local home improvement store or online. The Truper 54″ Tru Tough Thatching Rake (link to Amazon) is one of the more popular and will last you many seasons. It’s backed by a 10-year free replacement warranty from the manufacturer.
Power Dethatcher – Small To Medium Yards
Power dethatchers are electric or gas-powered and take the hard work out of dethatching a lawn. Similar to a push lawnmower, you simply push it across your grass, and the thatch is pulled out.
You may still need to rake up the thatch after this or clean up with your mower if your mower has a bag attachment. They are considered residential grade equipment.
I’ve seen these promoted as being appropriate for yards up to 1/2 acre but I think I’d choose a pull-behind option or rent a gas-powered in that case.
Because they rely on electric, power dethatchers like the GreenWorks Dethacher are not suitable for large lawns. They are perfectly capable of dethatching smaller lawns, and they generally cost around $100-$150, making them an affordable option for most homeowners.
A verticutter is a lot like a power dethatcher, except that they are typically a more powerful piece of equipment with a high price tag, which means they aren’t necessarily the best option for your average homeowner.
The advantage of verticutters is that they run on gas instead of electric so you can handle your lawn without worrying about extension cords.
A verticutter slices into the grass and pulls up the thatch. This is also a great way to prepare your lawn for overseeding. Verticutting can be done yearly.
Neither of the home improvement stores in our area had verticutters available for rental, so if you’re looking for a verticutter, you might need to check with a tool rental company near you.
Some times people confuse a verticutter with a power rake because they look similar and serve similar purposes, but they are different machines. A power rake is a much more aggressive tool that should only be used if you have a thick layer of thatch in your lawn.
Power rakes typically use a dull flail blade that rips through grass and thatch and tearing it out where a verticutter uses a fixed blade that slices through thatch and grass. Clearly, you want to avoid using any machine that would rip up your grass!
However, power rakes are easier to get a hold of, and their aggressive qualities are helpful with stubborn, thick thatch.
The good news is that you probably won’t need to use a power rake on your lawn more than once, which means renting one from your local home improvement store is your best option, and you won’t need to add another piece of equipment to your lawn care routine.
In most areas, you can rent one for well under $100 per day.
If you have a large lawn, using a dethatcher attachment on your mower is going to be the best solution. The attachment you choose is going to depend on the kind of mower that you have. Here are some types of attachments on the market:
- Tow dethatcher: Tow dethatchers attached to the back of your mower where it pulls out thatch as you go.
- Front-mounted dethatcher: These dethatchers attach to the front of a mower. They are less common, but can even be found for push mowers.
- Dethatching mower blade: This is a special attachment that you put in place of the mowers blade. It typically has 1-3 tines that would pull up thatch as you go. These do put a lot of strain on your mower.
- Dethatching attachments for tillers: If you already own a tiller or think you might need one, you can buy a dethatching attachment for many brands.
Which attachment you select will depend on the kind of mower you have. Many lawn mower brands also make dethatchers that are meant to work with their machines.
For most homeowners with a medium to a large yard, a pull-behind dethatcher like the Brinly DT-48BH (link to Amazon) is going to be the best solution. If you mow with a riding mower, consider a towable.
What Should You Use for Thick Thatch?
First of all, a little bit of thatch is a good thing because it helps keep your grass’s roots moist. You don’t want your lawn to be thatch free! But too much thatch is a real problem because it doesn’t allow fertilizer or water to penetrate the ground, and it restricts root depth.
According to the Penn State Extension, thatch should be less than ½ inch, and you will start experiencing issues in your lawn when it surpasses 1 inch in thickness (source).
If your thatch is exceptionally thick, you should probably look into using a verticutter or a power rake to remove as much of the thatch as possible. You may also want to hire a lawn care professional who can do the whole job of dethatching and overseeding the lawn and who can offer you tailored guidance on aftercare.
After a thorough dethatching, be sure to add a yearly dethatching to your lawn care routine. You don’t want it to get out of hand again!