When excess thatch builds up in lawn soil, a lawn scarifier is often employed to break up the ground and remove debris. Everyday debris and dead grass can typically be removed with a spring lawn rake. However, when years of growth need to be removed, the small tines on these lawn rakes are often not enough to penetrate the ground. Thatch is composed of dead grass and sometimes moss which can gather on and below the ground. Over time, this layer can become so thick that is suffocated your lawn, preventing water and nutrients from reaching the roots. Thatch does not break down or degrade over time, allowing it to build up.
Lawns require a certain ratio of carbon and nitrogen to grow properly. Thatch happens to have an abundance of carbon and little nitrogen, a bad combination for growing green grass. When the thatch becomes deeper than 1/2 inch, it is time to use a scarifier to break it up. If left untreated, thatch can become a breeding ground for plant disease and insects. It becomes a barrier that prevents oxygen, water and nutrients from reaching the roots. Shoot density plummets, resulting in a thin and unattractive lawn. It the worst case, it will turn brown and die.
What is a Lawn Scarifier?
Lawn scarifiers come in several different forms but each do the same thing. When pulled over a lawn, they dig into the ground with a set of sharp metal teeth. These teeth tear apart tough thatch, allowing water to penetrate the ground once again. A portion of the thatch is also removed in this process. The scarifier teeth range in depth from 0.5 to around 1.5 inches in depth depending on the model. Some units even have adjustable teeth. The most basic of scarifiers are the manual push-roller models. They look quite similar to a push reel lawnmower except that they have a series of teeth on the end. Users pull on the handles, rolling the tool across their yard. These push models work best in smaller yards.
The next step up from push models are the self-propelled units. These models still require users to hold handles but the machine pushes itself. These models are heavier which means that they can dig into the ground deeper, thus making them more suited for large jobs. These units are seen more in commercial applications than home use. A gasoline or electric lawn scarifier will run quite a bit more in cost than a human powered model.
For the biggest lawn scarifying jobs, a tractor-pulled scarifier is the best choice. These heavy duty attachments connect to a garden tractor hitch. Users simply drive their tractor over the thatch-ridden areas as the unit follows behind.
How to Scarify a Lawn
Always use a lawn scarifier with vertical knife blades, as they dig into the ground and remove thatch most effectively. To start, set your blades to a shallow depth and make a pass over your lawn. After the first pass, change the angle of your cut and increase the blade depth slightly. It is best to spread out your cuts, gradually increasing the depth as you go. This is more effective and healthy for your lawn than running one deep cut through it. If done incorrectly, you could tear up your whole lawn and kill a good portion of it. Your goal is to leave at least 75 percent of your lawn intact after the job. The debris you collect can be used in a compost tumbler and put back in your lawn after decomposition.
Getting the job done often required the use of several specialized tools. Garden rollers are used to flatten out uneven areas of a lawn. A rolling lawn aerator is used to make small holes in the ground so water and oxygen can reach the roots.
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