How to Scarify a Lawn UK 

By  Enda

Thanks for taking your time to read our information on how to scarify a lawn UK. Many homes throughout the UK have some type of lawn, at the front, side or rear of the home. Some lawns look like bowling greens and many others just look like a mixture of green, yellow and brown grass. Many are also covered with weeds and the dreaded moss.

The key to a having a great looking lawn is some basic lawn care, which we know takes some time and a bit of your attention. The effort that you are willing to put in will reflect the way that your lawn looks. An often overlooked element of this is that a healthy lawn, that looks great can add value to your home. First impressions can make a big difference.

Scarification is one of the lawn care processes, along with mowing your lawn, aerating your lawn and feeding your lawn. Scarifying is another word for raking your lawn. We like to think of it as a deeper form of raking.

What is Scarification of a Lawn?

Scarification of a lawn is the removal of dead organic material such as dead grass, old grass clippings and dead moss. When this is removed the grass on your lawn can grow healthily both above and below the surface. In simple terms by removing the dead thatch, you allow rain, nutrients and air to get to the grass roots and that promotes healthy growth.

The vast majority of people mow their lawn a few times a year, mostly from March through to November. Grass growth is faster in the UK during the Spring and Summer months. Small grass clippings and grass that has died fall down into the roots and build up to what is called a "thatch". That thatch then holds rain water on the surface rather then getting down into the roots of the grass.

That can make your lawn have a sponge feeling and in addition to that moss tends to grow where there is water and reduced light. So along with the thatch you also get the additional problem of moss.

Some surface thatch is common on every lawn and doesn't cause a great deal of issues. However, excessive thatch, will restrict the healthy growth of grass and encourage the spread of moss. It is that scenario that makes lawns look terrible.

By scarifying your lawn once a year, you remove most of the thatch, and that allows your grass growth to grow be healthy fresh and green.

When Should You Scarifiy?

The weather in the UK limits the time opportunity for scarifying a lawn. Ideally you should scarify your lawn once a year. The best time to scarify your lawn is Spring time in the UK and April is the most popular month.

If you miss the Spring opportunity, you have another chance in the Autumn and mid to late September is the perfect month to scarify a lawn. That is because the soil is still warm enough and there is still moisture in the air.

If you are doing this in the Autumn it is usually better to not scarify as aggressively as you would in the Spring. That is because growth and recovery will be slower as the soil starts to cool down.

What Types of Lawn Scarifiers are there?

The good news is there are several lawn scarifiers around and most of them are an affordable option. Some manufacturers refer to these as lawn rakers. You can also buy a machine that is a scarifier and an aerator.

We will explain the options just below so as you have a full understanding of what is available:

Moss Removal Rake

rake for removing moss

These are not the same as a normal garden rake or soil rake. They have a special type of head that pivots and the head also has larger tines than a normal rake.

This type of rake works really well and they cost around £30. You can use a normal garden leaf rake as long as it is reinforced, but the moss rake just works much better.

Just be prepared for a lot of physical effort and a lot of patience. We would only recommend using one of these on small lawns, and even then it will take a long time and a good deal of physical effort.

Typically these come from brands like Gardena and Wolf-Garten. You buy a telescopic pole and then you can buy different heads such as a rake, brush etc. The moss rake is an attachment that you put on the end of the pole.

How to scarify a lawn with a moss rake?

This is a simple push and pull action along the grass. It takes just a little bit of practise to get the right technique and you will see the thatch start to life and come to the surface. It works but it is slow. For smaller lawns this works but we wouldn't recommend this for larger lawns. We did a front garden which is about 16 square metres and it took 6 hours to complete. There was a lot of thatch though so the time taken depends on the size of the lawn, how bad the thatch is and your own physical efforts.

Manual Scarifiers

push scarifier

Manual push and pull type scarifiers cost around £40-60 and can really help speed up the process. They are a good choice for small and medium sized lawns and turf.

They still require some physical effort on your part, but it is a great deal easier than using a moss rake.

They are basically a cylinder with blades and when you push it, the blades dig into the thatch and lift it out. Most of them have an adjustable handle to suit your height and also to alter the height of the blades.

How to scarify a lawn with a manual scarifier?

This does make life a little easier as the wheels and blades do most of the work and you simply pull and push. You can work up a good rhythm and build up a nice sweat using one of these, but they work well. A good choice for small to medium sized gardens. You will need to do 2-3 passes so still takes time, but does give good results at the end.

The key is getting the cutting depth right so as you are lifting thatch and not going to deep that damages the grass roots too much. 

Scarifier Machines

electric scarifier

You can buy a machine that is either powered by electric or an engine or a cordless scarifier. Electric scarifiers cost around £90, petrol scarifiers cost around £350-£500 and cordless scarifiers cost around £150-200.

Most home owners will use an electric or a cordless option. Petrol scarifiers are heavy duty and mainly used by landscapers. Whichever style you use it does all the work and they are easy to use. You can also rent these out which might be a better option for some people.

How to scarify a lawn with a scarifier machine?

These do the work for the most part. Once you figure out the right setting then with 2-3 passes, which you can do in a couple of hours for most gardens, the thatch will be lifted. Once you gather that up, the job will be done and ready for aeration if you plan on doing that.

Scarifier/Aerator Machines

aerator and scarifier combined

You can buy a machine that is either powered by electric or an engine or cordless. As well as being a scarifier, it can also be used as an aerator. Quite often these two terms get mixed up and some people think they are the same thing. They are different lawn care processes.

Scarification - This is the removal of thatch from lawns or turf to prevent the build up of moisture, prevent moss from growing and to allow the growth of healthy grass. It is deep raking of the grass.

Aeration - this is making a series of holes in the garden to allow air and moisture into the top soil to promote the growth of healthy grass. Usually this is done using coring or hollow tines.

The combined scarifier/aerator costs around £120-250.

These will have a set of scarifying blades and a set of aerator tines which you change depending on what you are doing.

Most home owners will use an electric option. Petrol machines are heavy duty and mainly used by landscapers. Whichever style you use it does all the work and they are easy to use. You can also rent these out which might be a better option for some people.

How long does it take to scarify a lawn?

The length of time it takes to scarify a lawn depends on a few things:

  • The size of your lawn - clearly the bigger the lawn the longer it will take
  • The condition of your lawn - the build up of thatch is the key part here. If the lawn has been neglected then there will be more excessive thatch and that takes longer to remove
  • The method of scarification that you use - we have explained the options above and manual options just take a lot of time and hard work. A lawn raker or scarifier will do the job a great deal faster and more efficiently.

How to Scarify a Lawn Step by Step

List of Steps

Step 1- Mow your lawn

Before scarifying your lawn you should first mow your lawn on a low setting to remove the grass and help expose the thatch.

Step 2 - Scarify Your Lawn

Always set your scarifier on the lowest setting first. Ideally you want the blades to so about a centimetre into the soil beneath and you do not want to dig large grooves in your lawn.

Work slowly up and down the lawn, and we recommend a couple of passes. 

if you find that you are not lifting any thatch then try moving the blades lower if you are using a machine.

Make sure to go over the entire lawn.

Step 3 - Pick up the thatch

Pick up all the thatch and put in the recycle bin or use it in your compost, that is if you make use of a compost heap or compost bin.

Step 4 - Scarify Again

Scarify again at a 45 degree angle as that helps dislodge any stubborn thatch that was missed on the first two runs. Then do a final gathering up of all the thatch to leave the lawn clear of any debris.

Step 5 - Bare Patches

This is a really good opportunity to easily see dead patches on your lawn. It is also a good time to fix these. You should rake these hard to loosen up the soil and top up with compost if you need to. Once you have that done you can then add grass seed and rake it in. That will get rid of any bare patches.

What happens after?

Once you scarify your lawn it will not look that great for the first 4 weeks. Don't panic as that is normal. Let Mother Nature do its thing and the grass will start to come back really well. If there are any bare areas, we would recommend raking the soil and sowing some grass seed when you have finished scarifying.

That will allow time for it to grow while the turf recovers from the scarification process and your grass plants will also flourish to leave you a great looking lawn.

Aerating your Lawn

If the topsoil is very compact or you have a lot of moss, it is a good idea to aerate your lawn as well. This allows air and moisture down into the soil and that greatly helps with healthy grass. That is a separate process though and you can read about aeration by clicking here.

If you don't plan on doing that, then don't mow your lawn for 3-4 weeks and you should notice a big difference with the lawn.


What's the difference between raking and scarifying a lawn

Most people use a rake to gather up leaves, hedge trimmings and other debris from their lawns. In essence a garden rake is used to keep the garden looking tidy. Scarifying a lawn is about removing the build up of thatch. That is dead organic material that builds up on your lawn and stops the grass from growing properly. A moss rake is required for that purpose.

How can you tell if your lawn needs scarification?

The simplest way to see if your lawn needs scarification is to get down close to it and check for thatch. Every lawn will have some and a thin layer is actually a good thing to have as it holds moisture. That is a few millimetres of thatch. When it gets thicker it stunts growth and encourages moss and that is when you need to scarify it.

Some people use a lawn moss killer and then rake the dead moss away. That step you can skip if you plan on scarifying your lawn completely.

Why does a scarified lawn look terrible?

Once you scarify a lawn it may look terrible. That is normal and it will recover in 3-4 weeks. Sometime people get a little too aggressive and dig it up too much. To fix that will require over dressing, which means sowing new lawn seed and feeding that in.

How can you prevent thatch development?

The bad news is that you can't prevent thatch development. Small grass clippings will come out of your mower and some grass blades and roots will die. If you scarify your lawn once a year that will go a long way to restricting thatch and preventing the growth of moss.


I am someone who enjoys a little gardening. Now I am not someone who spend hours in the garden, but I do like both my front and back gardens to look really nice. Well kept lawns, neatly trimmed hedges, and borders filled with plants, make a huge difference, to how your property looks.

Enda McLarnon

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