A Guide to Scarifying Your Lawn

Having a lush garden with a well-kept green lawn will be your pride and joy. It is a wonderful place for the kids to play, the family to bond over a barbecue, and for you to find a quiet me-spot for some time out.

If you are a beginner gardener and are giving yourself a well earned pat-on-the-back for a great looking lawn, sooner or later you will come across the term ‘Scarifying”. What is this and does it sound as scary as the name implies?

This article will tell you all you need to know – what the process is, and why, when and how to do it.


What is scarifying a lawn?

Once you have an established lawn, you will find that after time, dead grass cuttings, moss, decomposing grass stalks and other organic debris tend to collect. They form a layer known as thatch. Thatch lies on the top of the lawn and also between the grass blades just above the soil.

A small amount of thatch is fine, but after time, it becomes thick and clogged. It will then impede the flow of nutrients, air and water into the soil. The thatch will also block out sunlight and eventually your lawn will start to look less-than-healthy.

Scarifying is the process of removing this layer of thatch. This can be done manually or mechanically using a special scarifying machine.

The first decision you need to make is one of finances. Can you afford to purchase a special scarifying machine to do this? The second decision is one of fitness! Are you prepared for a good workout in your garden?

When to scarify your lawn

Unlike mowing or weeding, scarifying only needs to be done once a year. The best time is in late spring or early autumn. At this time, weather and soil conditions are best. Your lawn also needs to be growing strongly. If you have a newly established garden, perhaps wait for a season to pass, and allow the grass to gain strength before scarifying.

How to prepare your lawn 

Before starting, you need to do some basic preparation to ensure the best possible results. Using a manual weed remover tool, work your way around the lawn and dig out anything that is not grass. Remember not to use the weeds in your compost. This will only create more weeds in the seasons to come.

Cut away any grass that crept onto paths, driveways and flower beds. Then, using your standard lawnmower, mow your grass reasonably close. This will ensure that the height of the grass is level and will remove any tufts. If your grass is too long, it will prevent the scarifier from reaching down to the soil.

Plan to do this job on a dry day!

Scarifying using manual tools

The first tool you need is a standard Springbok rake. This tool has very strong steel tines that are flexible. Work one small section at a time, applying enough pressure to lift the thatch. You will see it starting to accumulate in heaps. Then, work the same section in a cross-wise direction to pick up any debris that was missed.

Once the section is done, use your normal garden rake and run it over the area, to lift up all the loose pieces. Save the debris and use them in your compost heap.

If this sounds like too much hard work, you can get yourself a hand scarifier. This is a non-mechanical machine that offers a row of blades on a wheel with a handle. You simply push it across your lawn with a to-and-fro motion. By adjusting the angle of the handle, you will get the blades to cut in deeper or shallower. It is light work and takes up far less energy than the rake. After running the hand scarifier over your lawn, use a landscape rake to collect up all the debris. You are not finished yet. Repeat the scarifying process at an angle to get rid of any missed bits of thatch.

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Scarifying using mechanical scarifiers

If you have a larger garden or a larger budget, you could consider a mechanical scarifier. There are two types –

 Electric Scarifiers

These machines look very much like a lawnmower. However, if you turn it over and look underneath, you will see that it is fitted with a collection of steel blades. The blades remove the debris and slice through the lawn, allowing new shoots to grow through.

The drawback of any electric garden device is the cable, and this is no different when it comes to a scarifier. You need to ensure that you wind your way around it and don’t accidentally cut it in half. You also probably need a long extension cable to reach the far end of your garden. On the pro side, the machine is quiet, easy to use and requires minimal maintainable.

 Scarify by pushing the machine across your lawn up and down. Then repeat doing the lawn again at a 90-degree angle. Give your lawn a final mow with a standard lawnmower to pick up all the debris.

Petrol Scarifiers

A petrol scarifier is a larger, heavier and more expensive machine than its electric equivalent. It is also noisier. The process however, is the same. Set the blades to a shallow setting – you don’t want to start too deep and tear up all your grass. Do a double pass, up and down, and then again at a 90-degree angle. If you are feeling up to it, do a third pass at a 45-degree angle. Give your lawn a final mow with a standard lawnmower to pick up all the debris.

To find the best scarifier, check Lawn mower Larry’s comparison.

A few last things before you are finished 

When you are done, don’t collapse on the couch. You need to spend a little more time. Your lawn at this stage may not look it’s best. It will appear to be rough and even ugly. Don’t let this worry you. Within 4 to 6 weeks, it will grow back strong and vibrantly green.

Finish off by throwing on some organic fertilizer. Set up a soft sprinkler to soak the grass. You can also overseed, by distributing grass seeds evenly over the area. This will bring out new and fresh growth in the weeks to come.

Scarifying your lawn makes it healthy and lush. As it only needs to be done once or maximum twice a year, it is certainly worth adding this process to your annual garden routine.

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