Scalping your lawn is the practice of cutting your lawn extremely short during certain times of the year. Scalping removes the standing dead stems and leaves that are left over from the last growing season. This dead material (especially the stems) can contribute to thatch buildup. Too much thatch can: increase fungal infections; harbor overwintering insects that want to attack your lawn; keep water and fertilizer from penetrating the soil and enhancing new growth; and prevent weed controls from being incorporated into the soil. Scalping will also allow the sunlight to reach the soil, helping it warm up faster and therefore giving you an earlier green-up.

Here are the top 5 things you should know about scalping:

  1. You should scalp in late winter.:
    • Scalp when the days have warmed above 50 degrees for a few days, the nights are 40 or above, and the 10-day forecast has no temps below freezing.
  2. Scalping should be done at the lowest height possible without damaging the grass:
    • Set your mower to the lowest height possible that allows the removal of the maximum amount of dead grass without digging into the crown of the grass (where the grass meets the soil.)
    • Typically, if your soil surface if not very smooth, the second notch of your mower should work well. If your soil surface is smooth, you may be able to cut on the lowest mower setting.
  3. Scalping will not damage your Bermuda or Zoysia lawn as long as you don’t cut into the crown of the grass:
    • When your mower is set to the proper height, scalping is incredibly beneficial and will not damage your lawn.
    • Fescue lawns should NOT be scalped unless you are about to renovate them (aerate or slit then reseed.) St. Augustine and Centipede can be damaged if the mowing is low enough to lift the stolons (runners), so more care must be used.
  4. Don’t listen to misinformation about scalping:
    • There is a lot of misinformation online regarding scalping that is likely a result of:
    • an unfamiliarity with the nature and cycles of warm season turf
    • a perception of how low or when to scalp
    • an accurate assessment IF dealing with cool season grasses
    • the source being familiar with golf course or sports turf facilities that have other means of thatch removal or reduction (i.e. verticutting or core aeration) and deal with turf being maintained at a much lower height than residential turf
    • someone who is selling a product or service
  5. When you scalp, be sure to remove the clippings:
    • Removing the clippings is very important when scalping. Bagging, raking, vacuuming and blowing are all good methods of removing the debris left after scalping.
    • During the year, the clippings are utilized by the soil microbes after the soil wards. But scalping would leave a very thick layer while the soil is still cool. This thick layer of dead material would overwhelm the microbes’ ability to digest the clippings and would likely increase the thatch buildup- exactly the opposite of the intended result.
    • The clippings can be composted if the lawn has NOT been treated with herbicides in the last 8 week. However DO NOT USE THE COMPOST IN A GARDEN WHERE EDIBLES ARE GROWN. Some herbicides can persist in the grass and soil for up to 5 months or more, especially in the cooler times of the year. We recommend bagging the clippings and disposing of them.

So, if you have an established Bermuda or Zoysia lawn, know how low you can set your mower, and are prepared to remove the clippings, it is time to get out there and get to scalping!

If you have any questions please contact our office at or (901) 829-4200