By Madeline Hagaman | Technical Writer
This article was crafted with the help of Tom Poen from Weedex, Inc.
Having the greenest, healthiest-looking lawn on the block is a coveted title for homeowners across the country. While there are many strategies for keeping your lawn in top shape, it is important not to overlook scalping as part of your annual care. Tom Poen, president of Weedex, Inc., in Dallas/Ft. Worth, offers his expertise on lawn scalping.
Lawn scalping involves cutting your grass at the lowest or nearly the lowest setting on your mower in order to remove dormant grass and promote spring growth. “When a customer calls in to tell us that his lawn’s not as green as his neighbor’s,” says Tom, “the first thing we ask is, ‘Have you scalped your lawn yet?’” But scalping is not appropriate for all types of grasses. Only Bermuda, which is a warm-season grass common in the South and Southwest, will benefit from this treatment.
Growth promotion. Bermuda lies dormant during the winter, so scalping can help jumpstart its transition into spring growth. “Cutting your lawn really short in the spring lets more sunlight get to that soil and warms it up faster,” says Tom, “helping the grass come out of winter dormancy.”
Disease control. Not only does lawn scalping promote growth, but it also thwarts diseases, which many homeowners know can be a source of constant frustration. Scalping your lawn eliminates a layer of thatch, says Tom, and thatch holds moisture. Unless it is removed in the spring, it will provide a haven for diseases in your yard.
Essential Tips for Scalping a Lawn
When to scalp. While many homeowners in the North are still ice skating and shoveling snow from their driveways, those living in the South are enjoying the first signs of spring, so the right time to scalp often varies by region. As a general rule, however, you should only scalp your lawn when the danger of a hard freeze has passed. Scalp your lawn too late, on the other hand, and Tom says you will miss out on the benefits of healthy spring growth.
Tom also recommends scalping your lawn when your grass is relatively dry. After a lawn is scalped, the excess clippings need to be bagged and removed. Wet clippings will be heavy, dense, and more difficult to remove.
Setting and sharpening your mower blades. To scalp your lawn, set your blades at the lowest or nearly the lowest setting. Because scalping can entail a lot of clean-up work, Tom says that homeowners can scalp their lawn in two installments to avoid spending an entire afternoon bagging and removing clippings. Tom recommends setting your blade halfway down the first time and then finishing the job the next week with your blade at the lowest setting.
To get the most out of a scalping treatment, make sure that your blades have been sharpened recently. “Keeping sharp mower blades will actually help maintain a healthy lawn,” says Tom, “because dull blades tear and rip grass instead of cutting it.” But scalping your lawn can also dull your blades more than an average mowing, so he recommends sharpening them after you scalp as well.
Dealing with rough terrain. A hilly lawn can present challenges to scalping that you won’t find when dealing with a flat surface. With the mower blades set at the lowest level, it can be easy for them to dig into the dirt when moving around uneven terrain. This will create unsightly bald patches. Tom recommends raising your blades slightly or using a smaller lawn mower if possible. “If you have a lot of hills,” he says, “a larger mower might not work very effectively.” With a smaller mower, you can better maneuver uneven terrain and make adjustments to your blade settings more easily.
Cleaning up. In the wintertime, grass that’s left long can better protect itself from hard freezes and cold weather. As warmer days arrive, however, scalping will help generate spring growth. But scalping also generates a lot of clippings, says Tom, because you cut your lawn so low that only stems and very few leaves are left. Leaving those clippings out will not only defeat the purpose of scalping by blocking sunlight, but it will also invite diseases into your grass. It can be a labor-intensive process, but make sure to bag and remove all clippings each time you scalp your lawn.
After scalping. Tom recommends mowing your lawn once a week throughout the remaining spring and summer months after a scalping. When the weather gets hot and dry, Tom says that many homeowners have a tendency to skip regular mowings because their grass is not growing as much. Skipping mowing tends to compound the problem, however. “When you stop mowing,” says Tom, “the plant will actually quit growing and start thinning out.” Regular mowings will help to ensure a thick, healthy lawn that holds moisture better and keeps out weeds. For more grass-cutting tips, check out our article on grass-cutting tips.
Tom adds that knowing how to set your mower heights at different times of the year will help maintain a beautiful and healthy lawn. During the summer and winter, homeowners should keep their lawn long by only cutting off one-third of the blades’ height at a time. This will hold in moisture in the summer and protect against freezes in the winter. Short cuttings are recommended to promote growth in the spring and to eliminate weeds in the fall. A competent professional can help you set a mowing calendar appropriate for your region and provide all the additional care that your lawn needs.
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This spotlight article was crafted by Weedex, a Lawn Treatment Best Pick in Dallas. While we strive to provide relevant information to all homeowners, some of the material we publish may not pertain to every area. Please contact your local Best Pick companies for any further area-specific advice.