Power Raking vs Dethatching Your Lawn

There is often a lot of confusion between power raking and dethatching. This confusion is understandable because they are in fact essentially the same thing. The difference between them lies only in the method and effectiveness of the process.

Let me explain, but first, let’s make sure we know exactly what thatch is.

Different Types of Grass

Ryegrass. Image source Pennington

Some grasses propagate slowly if no seed is added. One common such lawn grass is ryegrass. Ryegrass is called a bunch or clump grass. In essence as a bunch grass grows it sends out tillers which thicken the grass, and eventually it will spread out considerably. But this can take a long time and in the meantime bare patches in your lawn will appear, well, bare.

Other grasses send out underground runners. These runners bury their way through the soil and pop up away from the original grass plant. These new shoots thicken out and in turn spread their own runners. These types of grasses tend to fill bare patches in a lawn quickly and effectively and for this reason are a popular choice for lawn seeds. Bentgrass is one such seed.

How Does Thatch Form?

Side view of thatch in turf. Image source Lincoln Landscaping

Some of these grass runners succeed and the lawn thickens and develops nicely. Some become tangled up with trapped grass clippings and roots and die off. In effect the lawn gets all tangled up in itself.

This tangled layer of dead grass and clippings and other debris is thatch.

In most mature lawns this matted decomposing layer does no harm. In fact it provides a degree of sponginess underfoot and returns many nutrients to the soil thus sustaining fresh grass shoots.

A typical thatch layer might be ½ inch thick. But in some lawns, especially if excess fertilizer has been used, the thatch builds up to as much as 3 inches thick and begins to starve the new grass shoots of room.

Ryegrass, being a bunch grass does not typically produce thatch. This makes it popular for the reluctant gardener, but it also means it is not as thick and luxuriant as bentgrass alternatives.

In any event it is a good idea to remove the thatch periodically in order to allow the grass to thicken and develop freely. General advice is that dethatching can be carried out once per year, but of course local conditions may affect this. Regular aeration can prevent the thatch from becoming a problem too.


Manual dethatching rake. Image source gardens_nursery

Dethatching is the process of removing the build-up of thatch in the lawn. It is as simple as that.

There are a number of ways to dethatch. The easiest but perhaps least effective is to use a thatching rake to comb through the grass, pulling and lifting the dead material out manually.

Because the thatching rake method is manual, it has two problems. It is both hard work and it is really only suitable for smaller areas.

If you have a larger lawn or your thatch problem is particularly acute, instead of the hand dethatching option you can turn to a power raker.

Power Raking

A power raker ready to dethatch. Image source devin176

Power raking is essentially powered, systematic dethatching using a powered vertical mower to actually do the work.

In short is a dethatching machine.

The blades of the vertical mower or power raker are adjusted to the correct height to just cut and lift the thatch debris out, but not actually damage the healthy grass and grass roots.

Power raking is much more effective than manual dethatching. It is not unusual for a power raker to lift out four times as much thatch as the manual equivalent making it a much more effective option.

In summary, detatching is the process of removing thatch from a lawn in order to encourage growth and prevent lawn strangulation. A power raker is a machine that performs the dethatching process.

All power rakers are dethatchers, but not all dethatching tools are power rakers.

If you are still confused as to the difference, take a look at this video which shows each type of rake in action.

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