“Thatch” is not a common word among homeowners. If your lawn has been around for awhile, you are probably familiar with thatch, even if you didn’t know it had a name. Thatch is the clumpy layer between soil and the top of grass; a tangled web of leaves, roots, and shoots. This layer starts in “mature” lawns when stuff (leaves, shoots, roots) builds up faster than it decomposes.
Is thatch your yard’s friend? Sometimes (sort of like your friend, Jenna, in 4th grade). If the layer of thatch is 1/2” or less, it helps dirt hold moisture and remain at a consistent temperature. It also provides much-needed summer shade for the root system. But, over a 1/2” keeps water, oxygen, and nutrients from penetrating the ground, invites bugs and diseases, and can make a lawn uneven and hard to mow.
There are a couple of ways to dethatch a lawn. Earthworms are helpful because they consider thatch a delicacy. Deep raking and vertical mowing are also efficient ways to rid a yard of too much thatch. And it’s one more reason to let grass clippings fall, instead of bagging them. Grass clippings don’t contribute to thatch problems since they are full of water and decompose quickly.
Aerating is also important if you want your lawn to really stand out. If you have a machine to aerate, it’s easy to do yourself, if not, any lawn care company will do it. An aerator pulls a lot of small plugs out of the yard. Aerating loosens soil and allows it to breathe, helps roots grow and water penetrate the ground, and, you guessed it, breaks up thatch. Experts recommend aerating in spring and fall, but if you only do it once, choose fall (don’t ask why, just follow blindly, please).
Then there are weeds. For some reason, weeds infuriate people more than any other yard issue. They seem to purposely pop up everywhere, just to bug us (pun intended, get it?). Fortunately, there are many ways to outsmart these evil little tyrants, whether they’re in your lawn or garden beds. The most common way to kill weeds is to douse them with herbicides that you can pick up at any garden center or hardware store. You can spot-treat with a small trigger-controlled, pump-up pressure sprayer. Some people chose to deal with perennial weeds with a general plant killer, and use gloved hands to put the solution on each weed directly. If crabgrass is a problem, use a spreader to apply a granular pre-emergence preventer in the spring.
Natural de-weeding methods are becoming popular among lawn enthusiasts, as well. Household weed killers include table salt dissolved (3 parts water, to one part salt) applied directly to weeds, and vinegar, the miracle solution (what doesn’t it do??).
Physical barriers are popular since they don’t involve chemicals and there isn’t a risk of killing nearby plants. Three inches (and no less) of mulch will keep weeds from breaking through or a layer of newspapers soaked with water and topped with mulch will also do the trick.
It’s as simple as that! After watering, weeding, fertilizing, aerating, dethatching, and mowing, you should have a lawn that makes the neighbors green with envy.