How to scarify a lawn: follow our advice to prep your grass for a lush summer

Find out how to scarify a lawn with our quick and easy guide. There’s nothing remotely scary about it – we promise

How to scarify a lawn: striped lawn
(Image credit: yoh4nn/Getty Images)

If the grass in your garden is looking patchy, mossy, brown or just not as healthy as you might wish, you need to learn how to scarify a lawn. But what is scarifying and what makes it turn your lawn from sad sod to lush green grass?

It helps to inspect the root cause of bad grass to understand why we scarify – the roots themselves. Get close to your lawn and look down at soil level. Can you see brown, dead-looking plant material at the base of the grass? If you can you're looking at thatch. Thatch inhibits air flow to the healthy grass and slows down the lawn’s drainage so. So that’s what you’re aiming to improve when you scarify your lawn, by removing thatch and we do this with a rake or scarifying machine.

The other thing scarifying does is help remove moss which is another impediment to having a bowling green standard lawn. If left to flourish it will take hold of your lawn, making it more moss than grass, so only proper removal will rectify this. 

Read on for our top tips to find out how to scarify your lawn (and what to use to do it), then check out our guide to the best lawn mowers to help get your garden in perfect condition this summer. 

How often should you scarify a lawn?

Never scarify a recently planted lawn or newly laid turf, allow it to establish for at least a year. Established lawns should ideally be scarified once a year, or at least once every couple of years so that you can keep on top of the problem and ensure your carefully planned lawn ideas are always looking their best. 

What time of year is best to scarify a lawn?

Strictly speaking spring is the best time to scarify, however, there is a danger that you will have to endure beautiful summer weather with a lawn that’s not looking its best and is still growing back. For practical reasons then, it’s often best to scarify in September or October, but at this time of year you’ll need to treat your lawn gently and ensure you work well ahead of any frosts.

How to scarify a lawn

A few of weeks before you intend to scarify you should treat your lawn with moss killer so that you don’t spread moss spores when you scarify.  Start by mowing the lawn with the mower set low – about 2cm – and a grass box on the mower to collect the clippings.

It is perfectly possible to scarify a lawn by hand using a spring tine rake. Start gently and be careful not to be too brutal and be sure to leave some thatch as this is what protects the plant. 

how to scarify a lawn with a stainless steel scarifying rake

It is possible to scarify by hand although it takes a while and is hard work. This Kent & Stowe stainless steel scarifying rake is available from Dobbies

(Image credit: Dobbies)

How to scarify a lawn using machinery

Wheeled scarifier for lawn care

A simple wheeled scarifier, like this one from Harrod Horticulturalwill do the job efficiently and more easily than using a rake

(Image credit: Harrod Horticultural)

You’ll find the process far easier with a scarifying machine and there are several options, from simple wheeled ones available for less than £50, right up to petrol driven models, which at £350 upwards, are much more of an investment. Still, bear in mind that if you have the right tools for the job it's far easier to do a good job, and you'll be more likely to make lawn care a regular thing.  

However, the approach is the same, no matter what tool you’re using. Work your way over the lawn in one direction to lift around a centimetre or so of loose thatch, using a rake or a leaf blower to remove the debris. Then, change directions, working at right angles to your first pass. The thatch will be looser on this second attempt and you can lower the machine blades slightly. In autumn, two passes are enough. In spring you can do three or four passes, particularly if the lawn is in a really bad state.

Petrol driven lawn scarifier

The petrol-driven Hyundai HYSC210 scarifying machine makes quick work of lawn care

(Image credit: Hyundai)

Best scarifiers and lawn rakes

When you come to choose between a lawn rake, push scarifier and scarifying machine, it will largely come down to how much space and budget you have. If you are lacking on these, a lawn rake will do the job perfectly well – it just demands more work on your part. See a selection of affordable lawn rakes below.

If you want to make a really easy job of scarifying your lawn, we recommend opting for a lawn scarifying machine. Simple push scarifiers are cheaper than a petrol or electric machine, which is basically the same size and price point as a lawn mower. 

The push versions are great for small to medium lawns and you probably only need to invest in a powered scarifier if you have a lot of lawn to cover or want to make the job faster and less effort. Just make sure you have the space to store this as well as your mower.

Lawn maintenance

After scarifying, your lawn will need a good lawn food to boost its growth and aid recovery. Use a specific lawn food for the time of year, and follow manufacturer’s instructions carefully. 

If scarifiying has left bare or thin patches you may wish to reseed these areas. This is easy to do and will improve the appearance of your lawn. 

There's more advice in our spring lawn care tips

Mowing your lawn

Regular mowing will encourage strong regrowth, and a flat, healthy lawn. Avoid mowing in wet weather, or straight after rain and raise the height of the blades in frosty or drought conditions to protect the roots. You can find out how to mow a lawn in our guide.