How Verticutting Can Help Your Lawn

Close up of an electric verticutter and its basket filled with thatch

Verticutting –– it’s not a new hairstyle. Think of it more as a dandruff treatment for your front lawn or a pedicure with the calluses scrubbed off. Verticutting removes thatch from your yard, the layer of living and dead organic matter built up between the soil and grass blades. 

Just like you need your spa days, your turf does too. Removing your lawn’s thatch enhances your turf’s overall health and appearance, prepares your grass for overseeding, and even conserves irrigation water. 

Our verticutting guide covers the best time of year to verticut your lawn and how often your grass needs it. Want to verticut your turf yourself instead of hiring a professional? We’ll walk you through the process of verticutting your lawn step-by-step. 

What is Verticutting?

Man using a verticutter on his lawn
Photo Credit: Andrea_44 / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Verticutting (or vertical mowing) is a method of removing thatch buildup in the grass. A verticutter, also known as a dethatcher or vertical mower, is a handy dethatching machine equipped with vertically-oriented blades. 

As the operator pushes the verticutter across the lawn (similar to a lawn mower), the tool’s blades slice into the thatch and raise it to the surface for bagging and removal. 

The Kansas State University Cooperative Extension recommends using proper blades and spacing when verticutting different lawn grasses. For example, the extension recommends flat steel blades for dethatching Bermudagrass and Zoysia grass and wire tines for dethatching bluegrass. 

What is Thatch?

Thatch is a layer of living and dead organic matter accumulating between the soil and the grass’s base. A layer of thatch can help your lawn as an organic mulch layer, as long as it’s below ½-inch thick. 

Thatch is a combination of stolons, rhizomes, and other parts of the turf blade. It’s broken down by soil microorganisms like any other decaying matter. However, when thatch buildup exceeds the decomposition process, the thatch can do more harm than good to your lawn. 

What is Dethatching?

Close-up of a rake used for dethatching a lawn
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Dethatching is the process of removing thatch from the lawn. You can remove thatch using a manual dethatching rake or operating a mechanical tool, such as a verticutter, power rake, or dethatcher. 

Manual dethatching with a rake is a labor-intensive and time-consuming job, so if you are a DIY-er, it’s best to tackle this job if it’s only for small areas with a light layer of thatch. If you have a severe thatch problem, a mechanical tool’s more aggressive approach is ideal. 

What is the Difference Between Dethatching and Verticutting?

Dethatching is the removal of thatch. There are many techniques homeowners can use to dethatch their lawns, verticutting being one of them. All verticutting is dethatching, but not all dethatching is verticutting.  

What Does Too Much Thatch Look Like?

Person holding a 2-ich thick chunk of grass to show thatching
Photo Credit: Izhamwong / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

To check your turf for thatch, dig up a 2-inch deep wedge of lawn grass and soil from your lawn. You should be able to see the interwoven thatch layer nestled between the soil layer and the turf. If the layer measures more than ½ inch, it’s time to bring out the verticutter. 

Do Grass Clippings Cause Thatch?

No, grass clippings don’t cause thatch. Thatch is made up of roots, rhizomes, stems, and other plant materials that decay slowly. Grass clippings are mostly water and decompose much faster. 

What Are the Benefits of Verticutting?

Remember, a layer of thatch under ½-inch can be good for your lawn. It helps maintain soil moisture and protects the grass against sudden changes in soil temperature. But a thatch layer over ½-inch thick should be removed. 

Why? Excess thatch can harm your lawn’s overall health. As thatch builds up over time, it creates an interwoven, compact barrier between the soil and the grass, making it difficult for water, nutrients, and oxygen to reach the roots. Thatch is also a breeding ground for pests and turf disease. 

Verticutting or dethatching your lawn has many benefits. Verticutting … 

  • Increases your lawn’s health by allowing more water, nutrients, and air to reach the roots. 
  • Exposes the soils and roots to warm sunlight.
  • Ensures natural grass seed has better contact with the soil when you overseed the lawn. 
  • Enhances the effectiveness of fertilizer.
  • Helps prevent pests and diseases from overtaking your turf.
  • Allows your irrigation system to work more effectively using less water. 

When and How Often Should You Verticut Your Lawn?

Verticutter being pulled behind a riding lawnmower
Photo Credit: Agri-Fab, Inc. / Wikimedia Commons / CC0

When: The best time to verticut your lawn is during the turf’s growing season. If your lawn is a warm-season turf, such as Zoysia grass or Bermudagrass, verticut in late spring or early summer. Dethatch your cool-season turf, such as Kentucky bluegrass, in early spring or early fall. 

How often: Verticutting frequency will vary depending on how fast the thatch layer accumulates. 

According to the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of California, Bermudagrass, bentgrass, and Kentucky bluegrass have heavy thatch buildup and may need to be dethatched annually. Grasses that produce less thatch, such as tall fescue and perennial ryegrass, may only need to be dethatched every few years. 

Turf that is overwatered or overfertilized can also accumulate thatch quickly.

Verticutting vs. Aerating

Old manual aerating rake with rollers
Photo Credit: / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

You’ve heard that aeration can do wonders for your grass, but what’s the difference between verticutting and aerating? Verticutting gives your lawn a thatch removal treatment, while aeration relieves soil compaction. 

When soil is compact, it’s difficult for water, nutrients, and air to reach the roots. A core aerator pulls soil plugs from the ground, leaving behind small holes in the earth that allow the soil and root system to access oxygen, water, and vital nutrients. 

Not only does aeration encourage a healthy root system for your grass, but it’s also beneficial for overseeding. The holes in the ground expose more soil for natural seeds to take root and germinate. 

Aeration can help control thatch, too. Core aeration brings microorganisms to the soil’s surface that help accelerate thatch decomposition. 

The soil plugs, also known as cores, are made approximately 2 to 3 inches apart, 2 to 3 inches long, and ½ to ¾-inch in diameter. The cores are safe to leave on your lawn, as they will slowly decompose and break down into the turf. 

How Much Does Verticutting Cost?

Most homeowners can expect to pay between $193 and $350 for professional thatch removal or an hourly crew rate of $175

How to Verticut Your Lawn (in 9 Steps)

Verticutting is a simple do-it-yourself project, though not as relaxing as an at-home DIY spa treatment. 

Here’s what you’ll need to get started: 

  • Fertilizer
  • Flour
  • Grass catcher (optional)
  • Hose or sprinkler
  • Lawn mower
  • Leaf bags
  • Rake
  • Tarp (optional)
  • Verticutter

With tools and supplies in hand, here is how to verticut your lawn in 9 easy steps:

1. Water the Lawn

Verticutting is much easier to do when the ground is moist. Water your lawn two days before you plan to verticut. You can also verticut your yard two days after a light rain. 

2. Mow the Lawn

Set your lawn mower to the lowest setting and give your grass a trim. 

Remember to collect all the grass clippings after mowing. You can attach a grass catcher behind your lawn mower or rake all the grass clippings into leaf bags. 

Tip: A tarp can also come in handy when collecting grass clippings. Rake the clippings onto the tarp, drag it to your compost pile, and toss the debris. 

3. Call 811

The last thing you want while verticutting your lawn is damaged property. Call 811 to have a utility company come to your home and flag off any underground utilities (this service is typically free). The vericutter’s blades might slice into a utility cable if you’re not careful. 

Ensure your lawn has no other obstacles. Dust flour over any sprinkler heads or sprinkler lines so you know to avoid these areas. 

4. Set the Verticutter’s Blades

Blade settings will vary depending on your lawn’s grass type. An excellent place to start is determining your turf’s thickness. Set the blades to 1 inch apart if you have a thick turf like Zoysia grass or Bermudagrass. For thin turfs, set the blades to 3 inches apart. 

5. Verticut the Lawn

Turn on the verticutter and guide it as you would a walk-behind mower. Starting in one corner of your yard, push the verticutter to the other corner. Once you have dethatched a strip of grass, turn your verticutter around and dethatch another strip right along the previous strip. Do this across your whole lawn. 

6. Verticut the Lawn a Second Time

You’ll pass over your lawn once more, only in a different direction. For example, if you moved the verticutter north to south the first time, you’ll verticut a second time going east to west. 

7. Rake the Thatch

After verticutting, your yard will be full of thatch pulled up from the soil’s surface. Grab your rake and start collecting the thatch into bags. Remember, raking the thatch onto the tarp can make for easier cleanup.

8. Fertilize the Lawn

Finally, your lawn can breathe again! Give your turf a health boost with some nutritious fertilizer, as long as the fertilizer you have is suitable for your lawn’s grass type. 

9. Water the Lawn

With all that thatch gone, the parched soil can now take a big gulp of water. Give your lawn a drink so it can begin new growth and heal after its verticutting treatment. 

Verticutting –– A Beauty Treatment for Your Lawn

Verticutting is a helpful tool for dethatching your lawn. Removing thatch promotes germination, keeps diseases and pests away, and improves your lawn’s health. These benefits lead to a thick, green lawn

When to Call a Lawn Care Pro

While verticutting can be a straightforward DIY project for some, not every homeowner has the energy or time to control thatch in his or her yard. 

Sometimes, breakfast in bed on a Saturday morning (spa masks and cucumbers included) is much more appealing than sweating in the sun pushing a verticutting machine. Call a local lawn care professional to take the chore off your hands so you can relax on your weekend. 

Main Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Jane Purnell

Jane Purnell

Jane Purnell is a freelance writer and actor in New York City. She earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia and enjoys a warm cup of French press coffee.