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Dethatch or Aerate First: Guide on Healthy Lawn



by Bryan Mckenzie


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When you’re going to overseed or just wonder how to take care of your lawn better, consider dethatching and aerating it. There are a lot of questions about these two methods on the Web. Should I dethatch or aerate first to get the best result? Should I dethatch before aerating? Some people might think that the sequence isn’t very significant. Though you won’t harm your lawn by taking the wrong step, it will be thicker and healthier if you do everything properly.

I’ve compiled this guide to answer all your questions about dethatching, aerating, overseeding, etc., so keep on reading to know all the details.

Dethatch or Aerate First Guide

Raking Dethatched Spring Grass

The best way to take care of your lawn before overseeding is to dethatch it first. Aerating provides better results if done afterward. It’s essential to choose a quality dethatcher and aerator for your lawn. You can dethatch and aerate not only before overseeding the lawn. The next sections will help you make dethatching and aerating more efficient.

Should you dethatch or aerate your lawn first?

Dethatching should be done first if you’re going to overseed. It helps to get rid of the thatch layer. Not all dead organic matter decomposes, and some part of it creates a layer of thatch. If the layer is too large, it will absorb water, and your lawn won’t get enough nutrients. Also, aerating isn’t so effective if there is too much debris. Aerating implies making small holes to decrease soil compaction. However, if thatch covers the lawn, the aerator won’t be able to cope with it. That’s why, in this case, you have to use a dethatcher first.

It’s beneficial to do aerating after dethatching, but your lawn can easily go without it. If you don’t have an aerator or don’t want to buy both tools, a dethatcher will be enough. It also makes holes in the soil to allow it to breathe better. Dethatcher creates bigger holes, but it’s also suitable for overseeding.

Best time of year to dethatch and aerate

First, you should decide when to overseed your lawn. Dethatching and aerating should be done before it. The best time for applying these measures depends on the grass type you have.

If you grow cool-season grasses, you should overseed in the middle of spring when your grass is high enough to be mowed. Warm-season grasses can be dethatched and aerated in late spring or early summer. Then the soil contains enough water, and the grass is growing quickly. Also, the lawn requires dethatching because the thatch layer becomes too high. You can aerate right after you dethatch your lawn.

If you want to overseed your lawn twice a year, you can do it in late summer or early autumn no matter which grass type you have. The grass grows a lot during summer, so it needs some maintenance. If you don’t want to overseed your lawn in this period, you can just dethatch and aerate it. This way, you prepare your lawn for wintertime and help to keep it healthy for the next year.

Dethatcher vs aerator

Dethatcher is designed to get rid of thatch. It has metal blades or tines to pull up all the debris that you can collect and use for compost. Some of the models have a thatch bag to make this process faster. Also, you can regulate the height of blades depending on how big the thatch layer on your lawn is. A dethatcher creates holes in the process, which allows grass to breathe better. Also, seeds get more deeply inside the soil after dethatching.

lawn aerator

An aerator is used to create holes of two or three inches to allow more nutrients and water to get inside. It can make smaller gaps than a dethatcher. However, it’s designed to make holes mostly on the whole surface of the lawn, when a dethatcher makes diffused holes. So, it’s perfect to dethatch your lawn first to get rid of the debris. Then you can aerate it before overseeding.

Difference between aeration and dethatching

The difference between these two procedures lies in their purposes. Aeration is a method that allows the soil to breathe better and seeds to grow faster. As I have described in the previous section, an aerator creates holes with metal tines. You have to walk with this tool across the whole lawn. It might seem that nothing has changed, but it’s a huge help for the soil.

If you don’t aerate the soil, water can feed only the surface but not the roots that are located deeply in the soil. As a result, the grass might look less eye-pleasing, and a lot of thatch can appear.

Some thatch appears even if you aerate your lawn. It’s not a big deal if the layer is about half an inch high. You should dethatch it when it gets bigger. A dethatcher allows you to collect all the thatch, and you can make compost from it. This is the best way to get rid of the thatch on your lawn. Additionally, compost is beneficial when you’re overseeding. You can apply compost during the year too.

Difference between aeration power raking and dethatching

Now you know the difference between aerating and dethatching a lawn. Let’s look at such a process as power ranking. You can use power ranking machines before overseeding. They look like dethatchers, but they are more tender with the lawn.

A dethatcher makes some holes while collecting thatch, and sometimes it can pull out the healthy roots. Since it doesn’t influence the result of overseeding, it’s not a big problem. However, if you want a device that only collects thatch, you can choose a power ranking tool. Ensure to aerate your lawn after power ranking. If you’re dethatching, it’s up to you whether to do aeration or not. Read more about this.

Best way to aerate my lawn

There are several types of aerators, and you should take a few steps to aerate your lawn properly. Let’s look at them closer.

Step 1: Choose a device

The two most popular aerator types are spike and plug models. The first type has simple solid tines that make holes. Some people even wear aerator sandals with such tines to aerate their lawn when they walk in the yard. Before overseeding, it’s better to use a quality device for more effectiveness. Plug aerators are designed for professional usage. They have rows of hollow tines that get the plugs from the soil on the top. This method helps you get deeper holes, but such devices are more expensive.

Step 2: Choose the right time to aerate

You should aerate your lawn after dethatching it. If you have cool-season grasses, you can provide dethatching and aerating in early spring or late summer. Late spring or early fall is great for warm-season grasses.

Step 3: Aerate the lawn

Each device you choose comes with instructions. Aeration is not a challenging process; you should go carefully across the whole area of your lawn. You can do it twice if you want, but there is no need for more.

FAQ on Dethatching and Aeration

De-thatching lawn with power rake

If you still have questions about these two methods to get a better lawn, you might find the answers in this section. Let’s look at the most common queries about dethatching lawn aeration before and after overseeding the soil.

Is it better to dethatch or aerate?

Dethatching and aeration are two different procedures. The best way is to dethatch your lawn first and then aerate it. However, dethatching is enough for overseeding. If you aerate your soil, the grass can grow more thick and lush, but you can skip it without any losses.

How soon can you aerate after dethatching?

You can dethatch and aerate the same day. If you want to take a break for one day, it is ok. It’s not so effective if you take a week’s break, though. You can overseed the lawn after you aerate it as well.

What month should you dethatch your lawn?

In most cases, you should dethatch your lawn before overseeding it. The best time for this is late spring or early summer. You can also do it in late summer and early fall. However, you can dethatch your lawn any time you see it needs dethatching. There can be too much thatch for grass to absorb water.

Can you power rake and aerate at the same time?

Yes, but do you know whether you should power rake or aerate first? Power raking is a similar process to dethatching, so you have to do it before aeration. It is a great way to prepare your lawn for overseeding.

Dethatch and Aerate on the Expert Level

Both dethatching and aerating are important measures to keep your lawn healthy. Dethatching should be applied first if you want to allow seeds to grow into a beautiful lawn fast. Choose a dethatcher and aerator attentively. Consider your grass type while planning to dethatch, aerate, or overseed it. Do you overseed your lawn once or twice a year? Do you dethatch or aerate before overseeding? Please, share your comments and additional recommendations in the section below.

Bryan Mckenzie
Hi there — my name is Bryan McKenzie. Before I’d got into gardening, I worked as a landscape designer at landscape design and consultation company in Jacksonville. I enjoy sharing the vast gardening experience I’ve accumulated throughout the years with like-minded green thumbs. Read more about me and my wife.
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