A thin, browning lawn may be a result of thatch buildup. Thatch is a naturally occurring layer of the lawn that can be beneficial or damaging, depending on how it is managed. The following guide can help you better understand thatch and your lawn.
What Is Thatch?
Thatch is a collection of plant debris, mainly dead grassroots and shed leaf blades, that forms a mat on top of the soil and around the base of the grass blades. This is a naturally occurring organic layer and it forms in all lawns. Thatch plays host to a plethora of soil microbes and small insects, which are usually beneficial to the lawn and soil.
Is There a Healthy Level of Thatch?
A thin layer of thatch, typically no more than 1/2 inch thick, helps maintain healthier grass. This is because the thatch acts like a mulch, helping to conserve soil moisture while also suffocating weeds so they don't overtake the lawn. Further, the thatch maintains a healthy living zone for those beneficial microorganisms that help build better soil and lusher lawns.
Why Does Thatch Build Up?
Thatch can build up for a variety of reasons. Lawn stress, such as drought, that causes extensive grass dieback can lead to higher than normal thatch levels. Poor soil management, pesticide use, and fertilizer practices can impact the microbiome, which feeds on thatch, resulting in overgrowth. You may also build up a thick thatch layer if you leave grass clippings on the lawn but are not using a mulching lawnmower. Mulching lawnmowers cut the clippings small so they decompose quickly, as opposed to a standard lawnmower.
How Does Thatch Damage Lawns?
If thatch is allowed to get too deep, it will begin to suffocate the lawn. Water, air, and fertilizer will not be able to penetrate the thatch layer very well, so the grass will slowly die out. Grass may also begin to root in the more aerated thatch layer instead of penetrating down to the soil. Weak-rooted grass is more prone to drought stress so it can die more easily. Your lawn will begin to brown and thin out as the problem worsens.
Are There Thatch Removal Methods?
Fortunately, a lawn service can solve your thatch problem. If the layer has become too thick, the service will use a thatch rake, either a manual or mechanical version, to pull up the thick thatch layer without damaging your lawn. They may also perform core aeration to help loosen the soil so the grass can recover more quickly. If the lawn has already thinned out, reseeding may be necessary.
Contact a lawn care service for more help with issues in your lawn.