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When to Scarify my Lawn

Date posted: 11 December 2014

Gardeners scarify their lawn to get rid of the 'undergrowth' or thatch that often builds up over time – either by raking it with a simple garden rake or, to take most of the hard work out of the job, using a petrol or electric lawn scarifier.

Why is thatch a problem?

A little bit of thatch – say up to a quarter of an inch – will not damage your lawn. Too much thatch, on the other hand – say anything over half an inch – can start to act like a sponge, stealing away important water, air and nutrients that are needed to keep your lawn's roots healthy. In fact, excess thatch will make your lawn feel spongy underfoot.

If you leave thatch alone, eventually the grass will start rooting into it to survive because this is where the rain (and any fertiliser) is being contained, rather than being absorbed properly into the soil beneath. This creates two major problems. Firstly, the thatch dries out rapidly in summer so your lawn will turn brown early in the season. Secondly, your lawn is no longer rooted properly into the soil, so it has little staying power – even a pass with your lawn mower or scarifier could rip out big sections of it.

When to scarify

Be aware that you can cause irreparable damage to your lawn if you do not choose an appropriate time to scarify. Always carry out this job when the grass it growing and can heal more easily from what is a very rigorous process. For less severe thatch and moss problems you can carry out a light scarification in the late Spring (e.g. mid April onwards). The autumn is another good time to scarify – and at this time of year your lawn can probably cope with a more deep scarification process if this is required due to more severe moss or thatch problems.

The hot summer months are the worst time to consider doing this task , so avoid these at all costs – and also never use a scarifier when there is any chance of a frost, such as in early spring or late autumn.

Every lawn differs in terms of how frequently it will need scarifying. Some lawns need it once a year, others only every few years. You will need to get to know your own lawn and manage it appropriately. Some grass types produce more thatch than others, for example, with rye grass being one of the easiest to manage because it does not produce any.

How to scarify

While scarifying using a garden rake is possible, it is a very tiring, tough job – particularly on a larger area of lawn. If possible, hire a petrol lawn scarifier  as this offers a fast and efficient solution for gardeners who need to remove matted thatch, weeds and moss from a lawn effectively without damaging the existing grass.

Before you hire, however, you will need to prepare your lawn over the few weeks beforehand – getting your grass as short and weed-free as you can.

  • Moss infested lawns need to be treated a few weeks before scarification. This way you destroy the moss, making it far easier to shift during scarification, and preventing the spread of live spores that could cause another infestation in the future.
  • Feed your lawn with an appropriate fertiliser.
  • Mow it regularly over the weeks before you plan to scarify, gradually bringing the height of the grass right down as short as possible. A day before you scarify mow one final time as close as possible without causing scalping.

You will now be ready to scarify, following the instructions that come with your specific scarifier (or raking rigorously if you are tackling it manually!) – but make sure you choose suitable conditions. Even then, you may be shocked by how poor your lawn looks immediately afterwards. It should soon regain its health relatively quickly, however, and begin to look better than ever within several weeks. Sparse patches can be helped along a bit with some over-seeding – and you should water the entire lawn after scarification if there is no rain due.

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How to Scarify a Lawn​

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