Probably one of the best kept secrets in lawn care, stubble cultivation can make a huge difference in both the health of your lawn and its growth. Think of it like a haircut for the yard; removing any excess dead grass (also called “thatch”, natch) gives your lawn the space and energy it needs to keep growing and looking great.
So what does stubble cultivation involve, and how do you get started? Read on to find out.
What is thatch? And how much is too much?
“Over time, bits of grass die off and collect just above the ground, and those bits are known as thatch,” says Scotts Miracle-Gro, Sod scientist. Dr Phil Dwyer.
If you’re the type of person who gets your hair cut every six weeks, you might be wondering how many stubble-stripping sessions you’ve missed so far. But don’t start calling your lawn care manager right away. A little thatch, says Dwyer, never hurt anyone.
In small amounts, thatch can actually help your lawn by insulating it from extreme temperatures, keeping much-needed moisture in the soil, and providing an extra layer of protection when your in-laws come with their huge dogs (OK, this last part was just us, but still…).
Essentially, you’ll want to consider stubble cultivation if you notice that your grass is having trouble growing, or if you have a half inch or more of material covering your lawn.
“Half an inch or more of thatch can cause the grass to suffer because air, water and nutrients cannot move freely in and through the soil and, therefore, do not reach the roots. “says Dwyer.
Keep in mind that sometimes lawns will naturally break down thatch buildup.
“Lawns that grow on good soil and are properly nourished may never have a thatch buildup,” says Dwyer.
Thatch becomes a concern when buildup occurs too quickly.
When to stubble my lawn?
Stubble cultivation usually only happens once a year, and the planning for it depends entirely on where you live. As we mentioned, thatch occurs when the lawn grows quickly, and this varies depending on the climate.
“Lawns should be dethatched when they are actively growing and the soil is moderately moist,” says Dwyer.
But don’t worry about getting on all fours with the ruler; there is an easier way to tell when your lawn is growing.
“On the east coast, the best time to stubble and aerate cool-season lawns, such as lawns made up of tall fescue or Kentucky bluegrass, is usually in late August or mid-September,” explains Brad leahy, owner and vice-president of Blades of green. “Warm-season lawns – with grasses such as Bermuda grass or zoysia grass – are usually [dethatched] in June or July.
How do I dethatch my lawn?
Dethatching your lawn is actually relatively easy. Here is the breakdown:
- Remove any sprinklers or lawn accessories that might get in your way.
- Mow your lawn at half of its normal height, this will aid in the stubble cultivation process.
- Gently rake the lawn with an electric or manual rake. (If you have a small yard with several hard-to-reach places, you may want to manually rake it. For larger yards, consider rental of an electric rake or invest in a accessory for your lawn mower.)
- Gently remove all thatch. Remember to work slowly and precisely – you don’t want to kill any live grass in the process.
- Once you are done, clean the lawn and remove any remaining debris. It may sound bad at first, but rest assured, the grass will straighten out in no time.
“Aeration requires a mechanical device that removes the small plugs from your lawn, to allow essential nutrients to reach the deep roots, to help them grow longer and stronger,” says Leahy.
Whether or not you need aeration also depends on the type of soil you have. If your soil is compact, poor quality, or very clayey, aeration can be a good idea to keep the lawn healthy. You can take this quiz for know if your lawn needs aerating.
The only thing you will definitely want to do after stubble cultivation is to give your lawn a turn of manure and keep it well watered– both will help him to recover. Leahy even recommends planting more grass seeds at this time for a thicker, healthier yard.
“The thicker the grass,” he says, “the better able it is to withstand stressors in the future. “