Updated: Feb 26
Important note: Scalping is only recommended for Bermuda and Zoysia lawns
Are you tired of looking at a shabby brown lawn and yearning to see the green new grass after a long winter? Do you want to speed up the greening process and have a great-looking lawn going into the spring? Scalping your lawn might be the right solution for you!
We will walk you through the reasons and steps for scalping your lawn so that you can enjoy a beautiful, dense, and healthy lawn this summer.
What is scalping?
Scalping is the term used for removing the top layer of grass, exposing the stems of the grass. In warm-season lawns (Bermuda and Zoysia), this is beneficial when done early in the growing season. In cool-season lawns (Fescue), scalping can cause damage to the lawn and is unnecessary. If you wait and scalp warm-season grasses after they are completely greened up (late spring through the summer), they will look unsightly because their top layer of green has been removed, only showing the brown stems below.
Why do you scalp a warm-season lawn in the spring?
In the Athens, Georgia area in the winter months, your lawn will go dormant, leaving your grass straw-colored. This straw-colored turf helps insulate the roots during the colder months, but it can slow down the greening of the grass during the spring. Its purpose during the cold winter is to insulate your soil keeping it warm. Removing the top of the dormant turf closer to the growing season allows the sun to penetrate the soil. This causes it to warm up, encouraging the grass to grow.
Scalping also helps lower the overall height of the lawn. During the summer, cut the grass higher to help protect the soil from the heat. The taller grass will slow the evaporation of the soil's moisture. Scalping early allows you to let the grass grow taller throughout the summer instead of it starting the growing season already tall.
When should you scalp the lawn?
Scalp before or during the early parts of spring. If you are scalping the entire lawn all at once, then do it from mid-March to early April. If you are taking off small bits over a few weeks, start towards the end of February and continue through March. Have the yard completely scalped by Tax Day. It can be done sooner, but this could encourage weeds to begin to grow too.
Why not scalp in the fall?
Scalping your lawn in the fall exposes your lawn to weeds. If you allow more light to reach the soil and warm it up, weed seeds can germinate. Your grass will not green up because it needs more than just heat and water; day length plays an important role in Bermuda and Zoysia's growth. They both need longer days to experience growth.
How do I scalp the lawn?
-Sharp Mower Blades
-Mower Bag or rake
-Tarp or trash can
The goal is to take the grass down to about 1”. For most lawns, this will create a significant amount of clippings. Set your mower to the proper height. If your grass is very tall, you will need to make several passes or break up the scalping over time. Two ways are outlined below:
Once your mower is set, make your first pass over the area and place the tarp or trash can nearby. As the clippings fill up your mower bag, empty them or rake them onto the tarp or into the trash can. Once the tarp or can is filled, drag it to an area that you can dump the clippings. Repeat this process until you have the entire lawn down to about 1”.
*Note: Do NOT use these clippings in your garden if they have been treated with pre-emergents in the past 6 months.
This method is more simple and the way that our company did it when we maintained lawns. If you don’t have a lot of time to devote to this, then we recommend following this method. It splits up the work over several mowings.
Starting in late February to early March, cut the grass about a ¼” shorter than it currently is. The following week, lower your mower another ¼” and follow the same process. Continue doing this until you have it mowed down to a height of 1”. For best results, bag the clippings, but it is OK to leave them if you are only cutting a ¼” off at a time. The smaller clippings will quickly break down. The goal is to have this done by April 15th so the new growth is not scalped.
Following either of these scalping techniques will give you a healthy, green, and dense lawn this spring. For even more tips on making your lawn a place that you want to share with your friends, check out our article on the 5 Secrets to a Beautiful Lawn.