For the uninitiated, thatch is the spongy layer of matter that rests atop the soil of your lawn. It is composed of dead matter such as grass stems and roots. Thatch is created when grass produce new growth much more quickly than the time it takes to break down the old and dead growth.
Several common lawn care practices contribute to thatch build up. The use of very compact soil that drains poorly is one. Watering lightly and frequently is another. The use of nitrogen rich fertilizers that encourage phenomenal grass growth is also to blame, as well as the frequent and regular use of pesticides and fungicides which kill the organisms that help break down decaying matter.
Mulch, contrary to what many people believe, does not cause thatch. But, if you have an existing thatch problem, it can make it worse.
So, what’s the best thing to do to get the benefit of mulch without making an existing thatch problem worse? Simple - solve the thatch problem first. You want to rip out the layer of thatch in your lawn. There is a machine called a dethatcher that can easily do this for you.
The best time to de-thatch your lawn is during the season where you expect to see vigorous grass growth. Depending on the type of grass that you have (cool season or warm season grass), it can be during summer or during fall. Once you have de-thatched your lawn, be prepared to seed some areas of your lawn.
To help prevent thatch from re-invading your lawn, the root causes of thatch build up have to be addressed, otherwise, you can expect it to grow right back up after a while. Try to use better draining soil for your lawn. Use a slow release nitrogen fertilizer, and fertilize only at certain times of the year when the grass is in a period of fast growth. Avoid using insecticides and fungicides as a preventive. Instead, use them after you’ve exhausted all other means to control any pest, bacterial or fungal problem in your lawn. This is not only healthy for your lawn, but for the environment in general as well.
Practice good watering habits when watering your lawn. Improper watering is the root cause of many lawn problems. For example, watering too often results in an environment that encourages fungi and diseases. Watering too much also causes your grass to grow shallow roots, encouraging thatch and weeds and rendering your lawn susceptible to drought during hot summers.
The best way to water your lawn is to water infrequently - only when your grass needs it. Wait until the grass shows physical signs of thirst. Wait till you see it take on a bluish grayish tint, and a hint of wilting on the older leaf blades. It’s time to water when about 50% of your lawn exhibit these qualities. When you water, you want to water for as long as you need to make sure it penetrates about 6 to 8 inches into the soil. This will encourage the grass to grow its roots deep into the ground.
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