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Scalping Your Lawn

Scalping the lawn is the process of mowing the grass significantly lower than you typically would during early spring to encourage green-up. In our region, scalping should only take place on Bermudagrass. For St. Augustine, Zoysia, and Fescue yards, scalping is not necessary and could be detrimental to the turf. 

Turf Types: Scalping should only be done if Bermudagrass is in a healthy condition. If Bermuda is thin due to shade, scalping could cause more harm than good because the turf is already stressed from the lack of sunlight. St. Augustine and Zoysia turf do not require scalping but may benefit by slightly lowering the cutting height of the lawnmower one notch during the beginning of the growing season. For Fescue lawns, I don’t recommend lowering the cutting height. 

Benefits: Lowering the cutting height of your lawnmower removes the thick and matted material that has built up from winter dormancy. This allows sunlight to warm the soil quicker, encouraging the turf to have an earlier spring green-up and a quicker transition period out of winter dormancy. Additionally, scalping encourages the turf to produce more shoots and leaves, improving the grass density. 

Timing: Every year is different, but I normally recommend scalping between March 15th and April 15th. Scalping before March 15th could result in damage due to a potential hard freeze. Another common issue when scalping is done too early is that the sunlight warms the soil temperature just enough for springtime weeds to grow, but the soil is not warm enough for Bermudagrass growth to occur. This gives those unwanted weeds an unfair head start for the year. 

 

How to Scalp: Scalping is a very dirty and difficult job, to say the least.  There are two methods to achieve this. One option is to bag the clippings, and the other is to mulch. Bagging the clippings is a common practice for many and can be accomplished by adjusting the cut setting of your lawnmower to the lowest level and making one or two passes over the lawn. Due to the nature of bagging clippings while scalping your yard, there is a tremendous amount of material to dispose of. This is advantageous for those who participate in composting, as these clippings can be very valuable. At the same time, this could be troublesome to dispose of for others. 

Personally, I have been mulching for many years. The process differs from bagging clippings because we want the clippings to remain in the yard but not in a way that blocks sunlight from warming the soil. I have found that using mulching blades avoids clumping and leaving clippings on top of the turfgrass canopy compared to standard lawnmower blades. 

 

To begin the mulching process, mow the lawn at the same cutting height as the end of the previous year. After the first cut, come back and mow every 4-7 days. Each time you mow, lower the height of the mower by 1 notch. Continue lowering the height by 1 notch each time until the mower reaches the lowest cut setting possible without hitting the ground or breaking sprinklers. This normally takes 3-5 cuts before reaching the lowest setting.  This could also be done in one day with 4-5 mowings in one day.  

 

A tip that I have found throughout the years is once I have reached my scalping height, I then mow the yard again in a different direction. This helps remove the thick and matted material evenly throughout the entire yard at the lowest cut setting. 

 

Resuming Normal Mowing: Once the soil temperatures have warmed up, and you begin to see your Bermudagrass green up and resume normal growth, you are ready to begin the process of raising the cutting height of your lawn back to its normal level. Start by increasing the cutting height by 1 notch and continue mowing until the grass looks even and thick at that height. It is important to gradually raise the cutting height over time to help your Bermudagrass increase the number of shoots and promote the growth of these shoots, creating a stronger turf. As we transition into the spring months of May through July, I recommend raising the cutting height by 1 notch at a time as needed until it matches the height you typically use to end the season. The exact amount of time or number of cuts needed between raising the lawnmower cutting height is not fixed and will largely be at your discretion. The key is to avoid drastic increases in cutting height between one mowing session and the next. Scalping your yard as it transitions from winter dormancy into spring will provide your grass with the strong start to the year you are seeking. 

~Steve             

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