Lawn Dethatching And Lawn Rolling – 2 Practices To Stop

Lawn Dethatching And Lawn Rolling
Lawn rolling compacts the soil, the opposite of our goals

The local lawn care company won’t tell you this, but lawn dethatching and lawn rolling aren’t necessary or even beneficial.

Lawn Dethatching

Lawn dethatching – also called power raking – is done to rip out thatch, which is composed of the ligneous parts of the grass – rhizomes, stolons and crowns. Note that thatch is not caused by grass clippings.

Lawn dethatching is an aggressive practice that injures much of the living grass and creates bare patches that weeds will be happy to fill in before any grass seed you have put down. Taking away all of this organic matter is also a shame when it would be much better left to decompose than taken away.

Ah, but the problem is that it is not decomposing fast enough, which is why it is building up. So instead, we should be fixing the root cause of the problem instead of putting a band-aid on the symptom.

The root cause of the problem is that you don’t have the microbial diversity and numbers in your organic garden to break down this ligneous material. Lignins are difficult to break down and fungi do most of the work there. So where are your fungi? Does lawn dethatching provide them?

Fungi and other beneficial microorganisms need a healthy environment in which to live, just like the grass plants and just like us. They need just the right amount of water, air and food in the form of organic matter. They get very cranky when you apply pesticides or chemical fertilizers.

Are you irrigating enough? Too much? Are you removing the grass clippings, their main food source. Does your soil have organic matter in it? Does it have enough air?

Thatch is exacerbated by cutting the grass too short and applying too much nitrogen, especially chemical nitrogen, as true organic lawn fertilizer is generally more slowly released. Lawn dethatching also makes thatch worse in the long term because it injures a lot of the ligneous plant parts, turning them into thatch, and it removes the food for the microbes.

So the solution is to use good organic gardening practices to improve your soil and your lawn. It takes a little while to do that. If your thatch problem is really bad, lawn dethatching one time only may be helpful to get a fresh start, but you must be sure to address the root cause of the problem.

Most of the time, dethatching just makes things worse.

Lawn Rolling

Lawn rolling is often useful during the installation process, but that is pretty much the only time it is useful.

Rolling the lawn compacts your nice organic soil, decreasing air space, water infiltration and water holding capacity.

An uneven surface caused by frost heaving and rodent tunnels will largely correct itself, but if you’re trying to keep a very even playing surface for sports, rolling lawn with a light roller will help without causing as much damage.

Other than that, lawn rolling is not done in organic gardening.

But there is something you can do that might be useful if done right, and that is Aerating A Lawn With A Lawn Core Aerator.

Do you have any questions about lawn dethatching or rolling lawn? Let me know below.


  1. GreenerGreenGrass says:

    Another excellent article! Organic liquid dethatchers are way better than using a rake. Instead of disrupting the root network, they break down the thatch layer with natural bacteria and enzymes. The best part is, as the thatch breaks down, it turns into a rich humus and provides nutrients for the soi!

    1. You seem to me on the right track with this, but I would prefer to see some microbes that more actively break down the lignins in thatch, such as certain fungi. The bacillus in your product might help out, but fungi and actinomycetes do the full job. That is my main thought having never seen research of bacillus breaking down the lignins, especially only one species. Perhaps look into effective microorganisms as a better solution.

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  3. I think I found you at the right time!  We moved into our home in September and our lawn is pretty ugly. Weeds, thatch and plenty of large holes(I think from  a decomposing root system from trees that once lived there.)I’ve been told to do some heavy raking to rip up any crab grass.  I’ve done about half our lawn so far, it’s hard work! I won’t do this every year now that I’ve read your blog but I feel I should continue.The next steps I was told to follow are: Level off the holes, do some core aerating, then seed the entire lawn and overseed the holes.What are your thoughts on this? Any advice?

    1. Hi Lou, it’s a huge topic. Yes, you can do all of those things (although the only long-term benefit of aerating only comes when you backfill with quality compost).The bottom line is that the weeds will come back until the underlying soil conditions are addressed, and that takes a lot of knowledge. My Academy covers all of the steps for improving your soil, although I’m not planning to specifically address lawns at this time. It’s the same process as with gardens, but it takes a little longer with lawns.

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  5. I have been in my house for 14 years and my bumpy lawn has twisted a few ankle and not corrected itself as you stated. It actually gets worse every year. I was wondering if rolling my lawn to reduce the size of the bumps, followed by aeration would be beneficial. I know you are against rolling but I don’t see any other way to do this. Got any advice for me?

    1. You can certainly try rolling and aerating (there’s definitely a time and place for it), but if the bumps are big enough to twist ankles, you may find the roller is insufficient. Sometimes more appropriate is to topdress with topsoil to level things out. Spring or fall is a good time for this.

  6. Gerardo Aristimuno says:

    Hey Lou: nice article. Q: when I water my lawn the water runs to the sidewalk and stains it with iron.
    Under the good soil there is red clay. I believe the clay prevents the water deep absorption and makes it run on the surface down to tha side walk . Can you suggest any solution without having to redo the whole lawn? Thanks, Gerardo

    1. Increasing soil organic matter can help a lot, which includes leaving the grass clippings (and leaves) on the lawn and topdressing annually with compost. Applying mycorrhizal fungi and effective microorganisms can help, too.

  7. Hi Phil, this is an old blog but it came up when I searched detaching. I currently have a build up of thatch and wanted to know if you have a recommendation on an organic/natural Dethatcher? I’ve seen several liquid forms and wanted your opinion on a good one. Also, what resources do you have that would help me improve the soil for my grass to prevent the build up from happening again.


    1. Hi John, I’ve actually never used a dethatcher product so I can’t give any good advice. But what I will say is if you build up you microbial diversity on your lawn, the thatch will gradually go away. That may include topdressing with good compost and/or spraying inoculants such as compost tea or effective microorganisms.

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