Spring appears to have arrived early and many homeowners are bringing out their lawn mowers to cut down flowering winter annual weeds and remove much of the old dead leaf canopy from the previous summer. Every spring I receive calls asking if a lawn can be burned or mown very low (scalped) in early spring and the reply is yes but with reservations and restrictions.
I strongly discourage burning, although close mowing or scalping can be of benefit to many lawns depending on turf species if done early when the turf is just breaking dormancy. This practice is usually not very uniform, the liability risk is great, it creates an awful amount of smoke and soot to deal with, and many communities have ordinances that forbid it.
Lawns of bermudagrass or zoysia can be cut very low (scalped) since they have a strong network of rhizomes (below soil runners) and stolons (above ground stems) that will quickly replenish the turf canopy with new rejuvenated growth if soil and air temperatures are warm enough for growth.
Centipede and St. Augustine lawns can also be cut slightly lower than their optimum mowing height but should not be scalped as they have only stolons to develop a new canopy. Scalping, or close mowing, should not be a continuous process throughout the season but only once when the lawn begins its initial spring growth.
Since there will be an excess of old clippings being removed, this may be a time to collect clippings rather than leaving them on the lawn. These clippings should be utilized as compost and not considered trash to fill our landfills.
Published March 19, 2012
Dr. Wayne Wells is an Extension Professor and Turfgrass Specialist. His mailing address is Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, Mail Stop 9555, Mississippi State, MS 39762. firstname.lastname@example.org