Scarifying your lawn

Date Posted: 20 November 2018 

Scarifying is the process of removing the build-up of thatch and excessive root zone in your lawn. It helps return a thick, spongy lawn back into a green, tight knit surface and is something you'll need to do at least every 2 years.

(The following information applies to Couch and Kikuyu lawns only).

When to Scarify Your Lawn?

Over time, you may notice your lawn getting  thicker and spongier. You may also notice your lawn discolouring each time you mow it. These are indications that it may be time to remove your lawns thatch layer and thin out the root zone.  Thatch is the spongy surface material that builds up in lawns such as couch and kikuyu. The best way to describe thatch is a straw coloured exposed root type material that exists between the soil level and the blades of your lawn as illustrated in the image below.  

The more thatch you have in your lawn, the harder it is to keep green.  This is because thatchy lawns are easy to scalp with your lawn mower. The lawn blades typically only occupy the top 20mm of your lawn. For example, if your lawn is 100mm tall, you would have 80mm of thatch and 20mm of blades. If your lawn is 150mm tall, you would have 130mm of thatch and 20mm of blades.  If your lawn gets too thatchy, when you mow it you are more likely to mow off the lawn blades exposing the brown thatch underneath.  When this happens, most people raise their mower height by a notch or two so that they don’t scalp it next time. The problem is that within a few months, the lawn will grow more thatch and you’ll be back to scalping it again. The answer is to remove the thatch and then change your mowing habits. If you find that you’re scalping your lawn between mows, it’s better to mow more often than it is to raise your mower height.   Raising your mower height only leads to more thatch.

How to Scarify a Lawn?

Scarifying can be done from about October through to February for Kikuyu and Couch but the very best time of year to do it is October and November.Scaryfying is a multi staged process. It involves removing the thatch, then thinning out the rootzone. Sometimes, just removing the thatch is enough. Other times, you must thin out the rootzone as well.

Step 1: Remove the thatch

Removing the thatch is a process where you mow off the surface layer off of your lawn. If your lawn is thick and spongy, it is unlikely that you will be able to remove all the thatch with one pass of your lawn mower. The best approach is to just keep mowing it down notch by notch till you have completely mown the lawn down to soil level. The more soil you can see when you’ve finished, the better job you’ve done. Rest assured, you can’t damage a couch or kikuyu lawn with a lawn mower! This process will completely remove the colour from your lawn – this is expected and normal.  Don't be surprised when you remove an enormous amount of thatch. so it's a good idea to prepare where you're going to put all the clippings. Often, just scaping is enough to rejuviate your lawn. It will return your lawn to a low, flat surface making it easier to keep green. If you want to go the whole hog, proceed to step 2!

Step 2: Scarify the rootzone

This is where you use a specialised scarifying machine to thin out the root zone. Over time, the rootzone of couch and kikuyu lawns thickens up which can impede the life and health of the lawn. Sometimes called Verti mowing, this pruning and thinning out process removes dead and woody organic matter which re-invigorates the lawn and allows it to grow new, fresh stolons and rhizomes. Scarifyers have a series of verticle blade disks that cut down into the rootzone of your lawn. They can be hired from most hire shops.

Step 3: Apply a wetting agent and then  fertilise

After scarifying and or scapling, treat your lawn with some liquid wetting agent and a complete fertiliser such as Paul Munns Greenkeeper. Liquid wetting agent will ensure that water and nutrient penetrate evenly and deeply. This will help your lawn recover faster.

As I mentioned earlier, at this point your lawn will look pretty terrible. Don't be alarmed at all by this - the warmer it is, the faster the lawn will grow back. After 2 weeks you’ll be able to see a green layer returning and typically after 4 weeks, your lawn will have completely recovered but with no thatch!    

Comments (26)


By: on 13 October 2023
Best time of the year to scarify tif tuff turf?

Paul Munns Instant Lawn Response
Hi Nick Thanks for your enquiry Your lawn is a Couch type lawn, best time to scarify is in the warmer months (Spring and Summer) Never scarify in Winter Andrew

Spongy lawn

By: on 18 February 2023
I have very spongy kikuyu lawn now. Can I scarify it now or is it too warm weather

Paul Munns Instant Lawn Response
hi Kerry Thanks for your enquiry Yes, you can scarify at this time of year. Spirng and Summer are the ideal times to scarify Regards Andrew

How much and how often should I water after dethat

By: on 25 January 2022
How often and much should I water my kikuta lawn after dethatching it?

Paul Munns Instant Lawn Response
Hi Thanks for your enquiry After dethatching your lawn, just water as normal. Thank you

Dethatching or scalping?

By: on 25 January 2022
Currently mid January, lawn is spongy and looks crap after a mow. Am I better of scalping or dethatching now or persevere till spring?

Paul Munns Instant Lawn Response
Hi Anthony Thanks for your enquiry You can still dethatch (scalp) the lawn now. The lawn will recover at this time of year (January) Thank you Andrew

scarifying couch lawn

By: on 30 December 2021
My couch lawn needs scarifying can i do it late December or early January as it has become hard to mow

Paul Munns Instant Lawn Response
Hi Patrick Thanks for your enquiry Yes, you can scarify your lawn late December / early January Thank you

Frost damage and dethatching now

By: on 21 August 2021
Hi, have a 1 year old Kikuyu that grew fast thick and spongy (Geelong) I kept it long over winter. But Frost in July damaged the grass blades in some areas leaving it really patchy. I was going to dethatch this mid spring, but considering the Frost damage now, if I scalped to the ground now (start of spring) does it cause any issues? Or does it Just take longer to turn green again

Paul Munns Instant Lawn Response
Hi Thanks for your query We would recommend dethatching your lawn in October. After a few weeks give it a feed to help it regenerate Thank you


By: on 13 March 2021
hi I got kikuyu lawn installed 6 month ago ang is very tall and spongy already. Is it possible to cut down to the ground height to re start this autumn? I bought munn's pure kikuyu seed as well , can i saw it after short cut mowing this autumn?

Paul Munns Instant Lawn Response
Hi There Thanks for your query I wouldn't cut it right down now, I would recommend waiting until Spring (October) October is an ideal time to cut your lawn right back

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