Scalping your can be the key to a great looking lawn. It’s something that you do to get your lawn looking its best a few months on down the road. When you scalp your lawn, you’re essentially cutting the grass down well below the growth height to remove dead grass, increase sunlight exposure and ultimately allow your lawn to green up earlier in the springtime. It’s a tricky thing to do, and you need to get the timing of it right to see the rewards. You can either do it yourself, or hire a company to do it for you.
In this article, I’ll discuss how to scalp your lawn, and share some of the things I’ve learned from doing this myself. I’ll be referring to warm season grasses throughout. Scalping is most suitable for Bermuda grass so don’t bother if you have a different type. Cool season grasses definitely do not need to be scalped unless you’re planning on reseeding the entire lawn.
When should you scalp your lawn?
This will ultimately depend on your location, but it’s generally best done early in the spring.
A good time to scalp is when you just start to see a few blades of green grass sprouting up.
Getting the timing right is crucial to get your grass to green up faster than it usually would. You want to do this early enough in the spring, but you don’t want to scalp until your grass is ready to start growing. Ultimately, this will be when the soil temperature is high enough.
Some people like to pre-scalp their lawn which basically means taking the grass level down gradually. This can help make things easier on scalp day.
Make sure you wait until after the last frost to scalp your lawn. If there is a slight chance of a future frost, you’ll want to wait. A frost is going to cause too much stress to the grass and you may be doing it more harm than good.
It’s best not to fertilize before you scalp your lawn. Granular fertilizer will just be pulled up in the process.
How low should you cut?
You probably need to take it down lower than you think. You’re not going to hurt your lawn doing this if you have Bermuda grass. It has very deep roots and its pretty tough!
I’d recommend scalping down to more than half of your growth height.
How deep you can go can depend on the terrain you have. Uneven areas will be harder to scalp.
Tips for cutting
Take whatever mower you have, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. If you have an older one, now is the time to use it. Cutting down low into dead grass is going to cause a lot of wear and tear on your mower, so you might want to save your best one for normal cutting.
Now is not the time to use your reel mower, I’d use a riding mower or a push mower to scalp.
I’d recommend making a few passes and lowering the height of the mower gradually, especially if your grass is quite long. You’ll eventually want to drop the height down to the lowest setting and cut lower than where you plan to maintain your grass.
You’ll be cutting early in the season, so it’s a great time to check over your mower. Of course, you should take on any general maintenance work it may need.
Make sure your blades are sharp
One of the most important things you can do to prepare, is to get your blades nice and sharp. You may want to replace them if they are damaged from the previous season.
There’s nothing worse than try to scalp with a dull blade, you may even do more harm than good, so make sure they are sharp.
I use this SHARPAL 103N All-in-1 Knife (link to Amazon) to sharpen my blades. It’s a multi-sharpener so it can be on other tools too.
It’s also worth picking up a blade balancer too. This one is fit for 99% of all center holes.
What should you do with the clippings?
If you’re scalping down very low, you’re going to have a lot of dead, brown grass clippings left over which are not beneficial to your lawn at all.
Don’t be tempted to leave these sitting on your grass, you definitely want to bag them.
If you leave the clippings on and you get heavy rain, you’ll end up with tiger stripes where the grass has clumped together which is not a good look.
What to do after scalping?
After you have scalped your lawn, you’ll want to look over it to make sure you haven’t missed any areas. Try and make sure the height is even throughout.
I generally like to go over the grass with a reel mower after I’ve scalped.
After this, I’d recommend hitting your grass with some fertilizer to really push it forward.
Should you use professional help?
It really depends on how big your lawn is. If you’ve got a large area then you may want to hire someone to scalp for you. They’ll be able to remove the massive amount of clippings which can be a pain to deal with.
Hiring professional help will also save you from putting too stress on your own equipment also. If you’re scalping down very low, it’s going to put a lot of wear and tear on your equipment.
Should you scalp zoysia grass?
There is some debate on whether you should scalp zoysia grass. I’d recommend a less aggressive approach to scalping Bermuda grass. I’d cut down to a half inch or so in the early spring, and then maintain it just a little higher.
Some trial and error on your own lawn is probably worth it. If you do want to be more aggressive and cut lower than this, then you can try it out and see how well the grass responds. You can then adjust for the following year as necessary.