Dethatching a lawn is a vital maintenance practice that ensures thatch is thin for the roots to get the essential elements they need to grow deeper and healthier. While thatch decomposes to release nutrients to the soil, an excess of it is harmful to the lawn as it forms a barrier that prevents the essential elements from reaching the roots.
Often, you’re down to two choices when removing thatch – power rake or dethatcher. While they seem like two versions of the same tool, they have slight differences that might influence your choice.
The main difference between a power rake and a dethatcher is in how they operate. Power rakes first remove thick layers of dead debris from the lawn. Dethatchers, however, remove dead organic matter that is less than ½ inch thick.
We delve into the details of when to break out the dethatcher and when you need a power rake to make your lawn pristine again.
What’s a power rake?
A power rake is a heavy-duty garden machine with a dethatching blade and rotating flails that lift, dig, and remove thatch (dead stems, leaves, stolons, and grass clippings lying between the grass) thicker than ½ inch from the lawn.
When a lawn collects thatch for long without decomposing as fast as it should, it forms a barrier that prevents vital elements from reaching the roots. Power raking removes this thatch to improve soil conditions.
A power rake has a motor that uses gas or electricity to drive it. However, it’s expensive and used mainly by landscaping companies or contractors to dethatch their clients’ lawns.
A power rake removes thatch from the lawn aggressively. It can damage the roots of the grass if it is not correctly used. Ensure you adjust a power rake’s blades to the correct size to avoid damaging grass and the roots.
Power raking a lawn should be done when the grass is growing and there’s time to recover from the stress. The best time to power rake your warm-season lawn with grass types like Bermuda Grass or Buffalo is in late spring or early summer. Power rake cool-season grasses such as fescues and ryegrass during early fall or spring.
What’s a dethatcher?
A dethatcher is a light-duty machine with spine tines that rotate and dislodge to remove thatch less than ½ inch thick on the topmost part of the soil in the lawn.
Dethatchers exist in three types and can be gas-powered or electrical.
1. Manual dethatcher
This tool has a simple design resembling a rake. It has thick metal tines attached perpendicular to the handle. The tines dig and break thatch lying between the grass and the soil.
A manual dethatcher is most suitable for small areas that power dethatchers and tow-behind dethatchers find challenging to access.
This tool is affordable and straightforward to use. You will, however, spend more effort operating it.
2. Tow-behind dethatcher
A tow-behind dethatcher is attached behind a mower and used when mowing. It has a solid metal plate attached across, with rows of tines attached perpendicular to the plate. As the mower moves, the tines comb the lawn surface, extract thatch, and deposit them on the surface where a sweeper can remove them.
A tow-behind dethatcher is easier to use and covers more extensive areas than a manual one. The best bit of it is it requires minimal effort to run. Still, it’s not the most suitable for use in warm seasons.
3. Power dethatcher
A power dethatcher resembles a lawnmower. It has a motor that runs the spine tines to rotate and dislodge thatch. It’s best used on small to medium-sized lawns.
Dethatchers remove thatch less than ½ inch thick from the lawn.
Similarly to power raking, dethatching a lawn should be done when the grass is actively growing and has enough time to recover from the stress. Dethatch warm-season grasses in late spring or early summer and spring or early fall for cool-season grasses.
Apart from power raking and dethatching when the grass is actively growing, you can also break thatch just before overseeding. This increases the supply of vital elements such as water and air for the new grass seeds to germinate well.
Differences between a power rake and a dethatcher
A power rake and a dethatcher are powerful machines used to remove thatch from the lawn. Despite their similar use, these tools have unique features in their structure, how they work, their functionality, cost, and ease of use that distinguish them from each other.
Here`s a simplified table highlights the significant differences between a power rake and a dethatcher.
|Has rotating flails||Has tines|
|Removes thatch more aggressively||Removes thatch less aggressively|
|Removes thatch thicker than ½ inch||Removes thatch less than ½ inch thick|
|Expensive to buy or hire||Affordable to buy and hire|
|Challenging to use||Easier to use|
1. They have different structures
A power rake has a dethatching blade with a series of rotating flails, while a dethatcher has tines.
A power rake has a mass of rotating flails attached to a blade. It has wheels that rotate to turn the gear on, spinning the blade. As a result, the flails rotate and dig deep into the ground to remove ½ inch thatch or more.
On the other hand, a dethatcher has tines that dig shallowly into the grass to remove less than ½ inch of thatch.
2. They have varying intensity levels
A power rake removes thatch aggressively from the lawn while a dethatcher removes thatch less aggressively.
The rotating flails of a power rake dig deeply to remove thatch thicker than ½ inch. That explains why a lawn treated by a power rake takes more time to recover from the stress. If not correctly used, a power rake can damage the grass and its roots from the lawn.
A power rake can remove up to 4 times more thatch than a dethatcher. However, we’d recommend using it less often to avoid damaging your lawn.
Meanwhile, a dethatcher has tines that remove thatch less aggressively from the lawn. A lawn treated by a dethatcher takes less time to recover from the stress.
3. They cut different thatch thickness
A power rake removes thatch ½ inch thicker or more while a dethatcher removes less than ½ inch from the lawn.
The rotating flails of a power rake dig deep to remove more than ½ of thatch from the lawn. Hence, a power rake is preferred when removing severe thatch build-up from a lawn.
Meanwhile, the spring tines of a dethatcher dig shallowly to remove less than ½ inch of thatch from the lawn.
Power raking is done to cure a lawn of a severe thatch problem, while dethatching prevent thatch from becoming thick on a lawn.
A lawn suffering from a severe thatch build-up thicker than ½ inch is cured of such problems by power raking it. The rotating flails in the blade spin and dig deeper than ½ inch to remove the thick dead organic matter on the topsoil. The dug thatch is later collected and taken to a compost pile.
On the contrary, dethatching prevent thatch from building up on the lawn. The shallow spines dig and remove thatch thinner than ½ inch.
Dethatching is done once a year to keep the organic layer at a manageable level, preserving soil moisture rather than forming a barrier that would prevent the grass from breathing.
5. They cost different
Power raking a lawn is expensive, while dethatching is cheaper.
You will pay between $10-$20 per 1000 square feet to power rake your lawn. If you have more than 10 000 square feet of property, You will part with more than $100. The initial cost of buying a power rake is relatively high – about $7100 on some sites. Because of that price, most people that can use a power rake opt to rent it. Alternatively, you can hire a professional when the need arises.
On the other hand, dethatching a lawn is cheaper than power raking, and you could pay half its price.
The initial cost to buy a dethatcher is roughly $120-$620 depending on the model, size, and cutting power. Since you will dethatch once a year, buying a dethatcher would be more cost-effective than renting. Renting a dethatcher alone will cost you approximately $54 per hour. Hiring a professional can cost up to $175 per hour.
6. Ease of use
A power rake is more challenging to use than a dethatcher.
Using a power rake requires skills and knowledge that beginners find challenging to use. If not well handled, a power rake can cause severe damage to a lawn. Hiring a professional to power rake your lawn saves you the hassle.
Dethatchers are simple to use. For example, you only need to attach a tow-behind dethatcher to a mower and ride as it cuts and removes thatch. A manual dethatcher is also easy to use and it has a gentle learning curve if you need to do it yourself.
Is it better to power rake or dethatch?
It would be better to dethatch it instead of power raking if a lawn has a layer of thatch thinner than ½ inch. The dethatcher will dig shallowly to remove the thatch on the grass.
A lawn with thatch build-up for a few years has poor water and nutrients infiltration and air circulation problems because thatch is thicker than ½ inch.
The better method to save such a lawn is power raking rather than dethatching. Power raking aggressively digs and removes the thatch built up over time. Therefore, the lawn that was thin before has more water, nutrients, and oxygen supply and would be healthier after power raking.
Also, lawns can be dethatched once a year, not because of thatch build-up but as a maintenance practice to keep them in control. The annual maintenance helps the grass retain its moisture.
If your lawn has thatch issues, power rake it but dethatch it if thatch is thinner than ½ inch.
· University of Minnesota Extension: How to control thatch in your lawn.
· UMass Amherst: Lawn Renovation & Overseeding.