THATCH IN LAWNS by Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent

Q:  I have a good bit of thatch in my lawn. Can I rake or possibly burn it out at the end of this growing season?

A:  Many times, what people are calling thatch is really not thatch–it’s just dead grass blades on the soil surface. True thatch cannot easily be removed. Thatch is a layer of mostly dead grass stems, runners and roots. It is a layer that builds up over time between the sod and soil. This layer might look somewhat like peat moss. Dead leaf blades break down too fast to contribute to this thatch layer. A brisk raking will remove many dead grass blades. But in order to remove thatch, you need to use a vertical mower (dethatcher). Or, some people will top dress the lawn to help more quickly break down the thatch. This is described in the UF/IFAS Extension publication, “Thatch and Its Control in Florida Lawns,” available at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/lh029 . If the thatch layer becomes too thick, it can cause some problems in a lawn also described in the Extension publication. In addition, the publication explains how to determine if the thatch layer is too thick. Maintaining a lawn at too high of a level is the main cause for a thatch problem–primarily, this means fertilizing too much or using too much nitrogen, watering too much and sometimes overusing fungicides. Basically, it’s a matter of growing the grass faster than the microorganisms can break down the debris. If what you are dealing with is just grass blades and not true thatch, there’s probably no real need to do anything. As far as burning the lawn, many municipalities do not allow burning and there is always the gamble of the fire getting out of control.

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