Thatch, built-up plant material between green growth and the grass roots, is essential, but too much can deter healthy lawn growth.
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One problem with a thick layer of thatch is that newly sown seed will root in the thatch layer -- not the soil. Thatch doesn't provide the same insulation as soil, so the roots of such plants dry out quickly, and the lawn dies. A heavily thatched lawn dries out faster so you have to water more frequently.
To determine whether your lawn has too much thatch, remove a plug of lawn, and measure the layer of thatch between the top growth and the root zone. If it measures more than 1/2" in depth, you should dethatch the lawn. You may need to perform this chore only once every two to three years.
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