In this blog, we look at scarification, one of the cornerstones of good lawn care. We will discuss how to scarify your lawn, and when to scarify your lawn.

What is scarifying?

Scarification is the removal of organic matter from around the stem of the grass plant to maintain a healthy growing environment above and below the surface.

By organic matter I mean dead grass blades, lawn clippings and every lawn lover’s nemesis – moss.

lawn cross section
This is a cross section of a lawn. Apologies for the clover plant, it’s not meant to be there but hey-ho – these things happen. That brown material at the base of the plants and on top of the soil is called thatch. It’s this layer that is cleared when we scarify a lawn. Scarifying allows water to filter into the soil and it allows fresh air to flow around the growing plants

The closest analogy I can think of for scarifying your lawn, is grooming your pet during the moulting season. It gets rid of all that dull, lifeless, untidy looking hair, giving the skin a chance to breathe and leaving the coat looking rather splendid.

When to scarify a lawn?

Do not even think about scarifying a newly turfed or seeded lawn until the sward is really well established. You’ll do more harm than good.

Instead, lawn expert David Hedges-Gower recommends scarifying domestic (and established) lawns once a year. Some lawn owners, however, prefer to do the job once every two or three years. I fall into the second category but wish I had the sense to follow David’s example. As he says – “As with all things in lawn care, little and often works best. Instead of having to go in hard and remove a lot of material (which may then necessitate seeding and topdressing), you will be in much better control of the thatch and moss and enjoy a faster recovery time too.”

When is the best time to scarify a lawn?

Spring is the optimum time to scarify a lawn. However, you might ask when to scarify a lawn in autumn so you can enjoy the bulk of the summer weather. The best time in autumn is between September and October. If you choose to scarify in autumn, don’t go too mad with it. A gentle autumn scarification can encourage grasses to thicken up but it needs to be done well ahead of any frosts.

What tools do I need?

If you are feeling energetic and strong, a spring tine rake will do the job admirably. Be careful not to remove all the thatch as it’s there to protect the delicate growing parts of the plant. On the other hand – too much thatch will slow down drainage and restrict air flow. So find a happy medium.

using rake to scarify
Using a spring tine rake to scarify a lawn. Good for toning your body but unless you have either the stamina of a superhero or a very small lawn, I would recommend hiring a machine to do the job – or – better still – bringing in a reputable lawn care company.

Far easier to use a scarifying machine. These can be bought online or they can be hired from your local tool hire shop. Hiring a machine is cheaper if you share the costs with a friend or neighbour.

How do I scarify my lawn?

First of all, mow your lawn with the blades set fairly low. Don’t scalp it though, especially not in autumn.  2cm is a good height. Not too hard on the plants – but gives you less grass to wrestle with. Oh – and be sure to remove all of the clippings.

When it is time to scarify your lawn, start gently at first.

Go over the whole lawn working in one direction and remove the uppermost centimetre or so of loose thatch. Use a rake or a leaf blower to remove all the debris.

machine to scarify lawn
If you plan to scarify regularly it’s worth investing in the right machinery for the job.

On the next pass, work at right angles to the first one. So if you were working North-South first time round, this time, go East-West. This time you will find the thatch is a little looser and so you can set the machine blades slightly lower. Don’t go too mad though – you’re not here to massacre your lawn.

In autumn, two passes are enough.  In spring, you can be really dramatic if you need to be and do three or four passes – especially if the lawn was in a bad way to start with.

Should I feed my lawn after scarifying?

Absolutely and most definitely yes! Use the right formulation for the time of year. Follow the manufacturers’ instructions to the letter and, if you used a granular feed, water it in.

More lawn care articles

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Dealing with weeds in your lawn

Order lawn feed online

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