Thatch and How to Manage It

Thatch in lawns is often misunderstood; both its cause and control. Some lawns have serious thatch problems while others do not. Thatch is a layer of living and dead organic matter that occurs between the green matter and the soil surface. Excessive thatch (over 1/2 inch thick) creates a favorable environment for pests and disease, an unfavorable growing environment for grass roots, and can interfere with some lawn care practices.

The primary component of thatch is turfgrass stems and roots. It accumulates as these plant parts buildup faster than they breakdown. Thatch problems are due to a combination of biological, cultural, and environmental factors. Cultural practices can have a big impact on thatch. For example, heavy nitrogen fertilizer applications or overwatering frequently contribute to thatch, because they cause the lawn to grow excessively fast. Avoid overfertilizing and overwatering. Despite popular belief, short clippings dropped on the lawn after mowing are not the cause of thatch buildup. Clippings are very high in water content and breakdown rapidly when returned to lawns after mowing, assuming lawns are mowed on a regular basis (not removing more than one-third of the leaf blade).

Aerating a lawn allows essential nutrients such as Oxygen, Phosphorus and Potassium to better penetrate the roots of grass. The process involves mechanically poking thousands of holes in the ground, using an aerator machine.

Here are three signs that it could be time to aerate your yard:

Your lawn is thinning. If your yard seems to be thinning and you can’t trace any other obvious cause, such as a new source of shade or watering changes, the reason may be soil compaction.

Lawn fertilizer doesn’t do much good anymore. When soil is highly compacted, the lawn fertilizer nutrients are unable to reach the roots of grass. If you fertilize but don’t see much in the way of results, you may have overly compacted soil.

You have a lot of runoff. Overly compacted soil doesn’t absorb water as well as soil with space between particles. If you’re starting to see more runoff than normal, and more rain or irrigation isn’t the cause, you may need to aerate.

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