Lawn scalping is a common practice of cutting the lawn at a much lower height than what is generally considered the optimum height for that turf species. There are some advantages and disadvantages to mowing warm season turf species lawns below the optimum growing height (scalping) prior to spring green-up. A close mowing now while still in winter dormancy to remove the dead winter canopy may allow quicker soil warming to hasten the spring transition. It will also eliminate many winter annual winter weeds or at least prevent them from producing a seed supply for next fall. Collecting the clippings will reduce much of the lawn litter that could cause an excess thatch layer. If there are poor drainage areas that need leveling scalping in early spring will help in identifying those low, poorly drained areas and make it easier to spread soil where it is needed. A disadvantage is that by opening the turf canopy when summer annual weeds are germinating will invite a greater weed problem if a pre-emergence herbicide is not applied.
With this said however, scalping is not needed and is simply a waste of time for most lawns if they have been maintained properly throughout the growing season. Scalping should not be a recommended practice once the turf has completed the spring transition. A normal mowing regime of cutting off no more than one-third the total leaf area at a single mowing should be followed throughout the growing season once spring transition has occurred.
Published March 4, 2013
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