Lawn maintenance is never-ending, and while we spend most of our time focused on the surface, what lies below can prevent your lawn from optimal and healthy growth.
If thatch is an issue in your yard, it’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed by the options available to manage it.
There are several types of tools available to dethatch in different ways. Two of these—scarifiers and dethatchers—are often lumped together.
You may assume they’re the same thing. However, using the wrong tool for the job could cause significant damage to your lawn!
In this article, we’ll compare the two to help you make the best decision for dethatching your lawn.
What is Scarifying?
Scarification is a method of removing thatch from the lawn with scarifying tools.
This can be done in two ways—either with a manual handheld tool not unlike a sharp-edged garden rake, or a mechanical tool similar to a lawn mower.
No matter what kind of scarifier you use, they both work in the following manner: a rotating cylinder with sharp, long, vertical blades digs into the lawn and rips the thatch out.
This is a very aggressive method of removing thatch, and a scarifier will remove most of the thatch layer from the lawn.
Lawns look pretty rough once scarified, but should improve as the grass and topsoil gradually recover.
What is Dethatching?
Dethatching also removes thatch from the lawn, just not as deeply.
Thatch is removed, but only from the top layer. Instead of a sharp blade, dethatchers often use shorter, blunter, vertical blades (or sometimes rods) from a rotating cylinder.
A dethatcher will not be able to rip through dense layers of thatch. Instead, it will aerate the soil and remove the thatch by pulling it up.
Dethatching can also be carried out with manual handheld tools or mechanical ones.
Scarifier vs Dethatcher: What Are Their Differences?
The scarifier is a more aggressive method of dethatching the lawn. It reaches deeper into the soil with large blades, cutting and tearing out the thatch.
Dethatchers remove shallower thatch, sometimes only the topmost level. It pulls up the thatch with thin rods, leaving deeper layers of the thatch somewhat intact.
Scarifiers are a better tool for thicker, denser layers of thatch.
Machinery and Tools Applied
Both the scarifier and dethatcher come in many different forms which achieve similar results.
Both methods can be carried out with manual tools, such as rakes, which dig into the grass, simple mechanical push machines like a push mower, or machines that use fuel similar to a gas-powered lawn mower. Large riding machines are often used for extensive fields.
Functions, Benefits, and Applications
Overall Results and Effects
Whatever method you use, you’ll likely see results and benefits several weeks after dethatching or scarifying your lawn. You should notice a healthier-looking lawn that grows thicker and more quickly. If your lawn looks bad after dethatching, read our article.
However, which method is best for you depends on your situation. It’ll all depend on how much thatch was built up, how dense it was, and if too much was removed. All of these will impact your results.
After scarifying, you will notice your lawn feels different to walk on. It won’t feel as bouncy as before—not for a while anyway!
Scarification is much more intense, compared to dethatching and is able to work through thick, dense layers of thatch.
On the other hand, dethatching is more gentle and not as effective as removing thatch. However, it will be less likely to damage the lawn.
As dethatching is the gentler process, your lawn will recover more easily afterwards. It’s normal for your yard to look pretty terrible after it’s been scarified, so don’t be too alarmed.
It’s essential to make sure the weather conditions after scarifying (and, to a lesser extent, dethatching) are ideal for lawn recovery. Temperate conditions without an excess of moisture or dryness are perfect for dethatching or scarification recovery.
This is a good time to add nutrients as well as make sure your lawn is watered; a good amount of sun always helps!
Avoid using this method before any drought, heavy rains, or possible frost.
And here's what to do with thatch after dethatching.
When to Scarify or Dethatch Your Lawn
Thatch, the light brown layer sitting above the soil, is a normal component in any lawn.
Having no thatch at all will actually cause issues! Thatch protects lawns from extreme temperature fluctuations and helps retain moisture.
Issues arise when the layer of thatch becomes too thick. A thick thatch makes it difficult for moisture and oxygen to get down into the soil and feed your grass at the roots.
Dethatching or scarifying is required when the layer of thatch is over half an inch. You can cut out a wedge from your lawn and measure the thatch to be sure.
The more intense method of scarifying is best done in the fall, around late-September or early-October. This is due to all the thatch that builds up during the many mowings of spring and summer. It also allows the grass some time to recover before winter hits.
You’ll want to scarify when the ground is relatively dry. Some people will scarify in early-spring so that the grass grows healthy, but this may be too aggressive a method. Also, you may remove too much thatch, leaving your lawn vulnerable.
The best time of year to dethatch your lawn is when the grass is growing at a rapid rate. Late-March or early-April seems to be the best time for most places, but it will depend on your climate and type of grass.
A good rule of thumb is: the time of the year you spend the most time mowing the lawn is the best time to dethatch.
Combining the Two
It is possible to both dethatch and scarify your lawn throughout the year. A well-planned dethatching/scarifying schedule can do wonders for your lawn, whatever the weather conditions!
Dethatching is best done in early-spring to help the grass throughout the growing season.
Scarifying can be done in the fall to remove all that build-up from mowing throughout the year, before allowing the lawn to rest and recover as the weather gets cold.
Scarifier vs Dethatcher: Pros and Cons
Dethatcher Pros and Cons
- Dethatching leaves some thatch on the lawn, which is healthy
- By thinning the layer of thatch, water, oxygen, and light can reach the soil
- The lawn is better able to handle mold, mildew, and fungi after dethatching
- The lawn will grow thicker and more quickly after dethatching.
- Dethatching is a labor-intensive process when using manual tools
- It can be too gentle to handle the thatch in some situations
- It can be damaging to the lawn if done at the wrong time.
Scarifying Pros and Cons
- Is the best way to handle thatch that has built up in thick layers
- It will allow water, light, and oxygen to reach the soil
- Weeds will be less dominant after scarifying
- The grass will be more resilient to mold, mildew, and fungus
- The lawn will feel less spongy after scarifying.
- It is a very labor-intensive process with manual tools
- This method may reduce thatch level too intensely
- It can damage the grass
- Lawns will look rough for a few days after scarifying.
The Bottom Line on Scarifier vs Dethatcher
The main difference between how scarifiers and dethatchers manage thatch is the intensity each tool uses.
A scarifier is more aggressive, reaching deep into the soil and ripping out thatch. A dethatcher gently pulls out some thatch while aerating the soil.
A scarifier will be better for thick, dense layers of thatch. For routine maintenance of your lawn, a dethatcher should do the trick!