Yard and Garden: Thatch and Fall Removal

AMES, Iowa – Thatch can be problematic and beneficial to lawns. Thatch supplies necessary food sources for microbes and organic matter. However, excessive thatch can harbor diseases and insects. Thatch that is properly balanced promotes growth and appearance of a well-groomed lawn. Horticulturists with ISU Extension and Outreach answer questions about thatch and fall removal. To have more questions answered, contact Hortline at hortline@iastate.edu or 515-294-3108.

What is thatch?  

Thatch is the layer of dead and living plant material that accumulates above the soil surface in lawns. Thatch is composed primarily of shoots, crowns and roots. Contrary to popular belief, grass clippings do not contribute significantly to thatch buildup. When lawns are mowed properly, grass clippings break down quickly.  
Thatch, to some degree, is present in all lawns. A small amount of thatch is beneficial as it moderates soil temperatures. However, thatch becomes detrimental when it is present in amounts greater than ½ inch. Excessive amounts of thatch increase the potential for turf damage due to drought, extremes in temperature, diseases and insects.
Compacted soils and heavy, clay soils are prone to thatch buildup. Heavy nitrogen fertilization and over-watering promote thatch accumulation.  
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