Welcome to spring, a season for growth and renewal and also the torment of lawn thatch!
Lawn thatch — it’s never a good sign to have in your yard, and while a small amount can be protective, too much can starve your lawn of the vital nutrients it so desperately needs in the spring. Thatch is technically dead turfgrass that is layered between the green grass plant and the root and soil system beneath.
When thatch grows over ½ an inch it becomes very difficult to maintain any sort of lawn health, which is where dethatching becomes crucial.
A healthy lawn takes year-long maintenance, and that is what we do at Green Turf Care. From seasonal fertilization to aeration, we’re here to protect and revitalize your lawn year after year. Not a green guru? No worries! Learn all about thatch in today’s post!
The Down and Dirty on Lawn Thatch
The question that is always on homeowners minds is, how does thatch occur season after season?
We know what it is, but how does it seem to pop up every spring? When your grass enters a rapid growth stage and organic debris is being built up faster than it can be reduced, this results in thatch.
Because stem nodes, fibers, crowns, and roots are all decay-resistant they will be the volume of thatch. Lignin is the specific compound that is resistant to decomposition, which is the reason for thatch being able to build up faster than it’s able to break down.
If you experience an abundance of thatch, it may be related to the type of grass you have. Turfgrass has notoriously high amounts of lignins that produce thatch.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Thatch
Earlier we mentioned how thatch isn’t all bad — the difference of that being good or becoming harmful is all in the quantity.
Advantages – Thatch that is a ½ inch or less makes a lovely insulation for fighting extreme climates and is protective in soil fluctuations. That is also a wonderful complement to sports fields because they provide a much-needed pliancy and softness for athletes playing on the field. The field is able to not get shredded from the high traffic sports, it improves footing for the players, and if there is a fall, it can be a little softer!
Disadvantages – When lawn thatch exceeds a ½ inch, problems can occur. Thick thatch layers equate to considerable root growth which can then result in dried out roots and desiccation. On the other hand, if there is too much water being help in the thatch it can impair the oxygen that the roots need.
Mower scalping can also affect the thatch. This occurs when the lawnmower wheels drop into the grass, lowering the cut and scalping the new grass that is trying to surface.
Thatch can also increase pests because it creates an easy area for them to nestle into and lay eggs. One sure way to avoid nasty pest and insects is through maintaining and mitigating thatch.
What creates thatch?
Beyond thatch being lignin-rich and avoiding breakdown from microorganisms in the soil, there are some factors that increase its presence.
There are a myriad of turfgrass species that produce more lignins than others, resulting in more thatch. Creeping red fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, and creeping bentgrass are all cool-season grasses that can promote thatch.
Preventing thatch can all reside in the grass you choose — tall fescue and perennial ryegrass better prevent thatch buildup.
If you heavily treat your lawn with fungicides over a two to three year period it tends to promote thatch growth. The fungicides promote growth in the turf roots, while the soil microorganisms still have a difficult time breaking them down — more growth and less decay equates to excessive thatch.
When the soil becomes acidic (pH 5.5 or lower) it can quell the healthy microorganism population. Although it can be tough for the microorganisms to decompose thatch, they still assist in the process. When this is destroyed in an acidic environment, a rapid thatch buildup is much more likely to cultivate.
Too Much Fertilization
If you’re fertilizing your yard too much with a nitrogen-based product, this can increase thatch by not only increasing the soil’s acidity but causing rapid growth in stem and root tissues.
Managing Thatch: Best Practices
Managing thatch comes through prevention such as liming, aeration, and the proper usage of pesticides and fertilizers. Physical mitigation is also a core practice and this can be done through thatch removal equipment and vertical mowers.
Again, the best thatch prevention begins with the grass you choose — there are some very beautiful and unique grass seeds out there, but you have to keep in mind how much yard maintenance you want to be doing.
If you’re in it and don’t mind thatch removal, by all means, choose any type of grass. But, if you’re into to low-maintenance yard work, there are a host of less aggressive thatch cultivators. Connect with your local lawn care experts and ask them about the right kind of grass seed that is appropriate for your needs.
Monitoring the soil also comes into play when preventing thatch. The soil pH is crucial, and as we’ve touched upon, acidic soil increases thatch. If you do find that you have acidic soil, talk to a lawn professional and inquire about ways to decrease your lawn’s acidity.
Routine aeration is also important in thatch prevention because not only does it prevent compaction, but it allows for the nutrients to get to the soil which increases the soil microbial health which is great for lawn health. Aeration can also physically tackle thatch.
Fertilization should be applied appropriately — just enough spurs growth, thickness, and beautiful green color, while too much create pests and an overgrowth of thatch.
You might be thinking, is that really this big of an issue?
And, the truth of the matter is, thatch can get out of hand if left unaddressed and ruin the health of your grass. Yes, thatch prevention and maintenance is important!
There is still more to cover on thatch, so stay tuned for part two!