How to Scalp a Lawn

person mowing the lawn

Scalping the lawn is not something you do every week, but at times it can be a way to improve the health of your grass. If you’ve never used this technique before, you may wonder how to scalp a lawn so that your grass health is improved and not over-stressed. We’ve laid it out in three simple steps to help you use this technique to your lawn’s advantage.

How to scalp your lawn in 3 easy steps

Step 1: Time the cut

If you’re scalping your Zoysia or bermuda lawn in spring, time it right. Warm-season grass roots start to grow at 60-65 degrees. So just before this point in early spring is a good time to scalp a dormant Zoysia or bermuda lawn.

Pro Tip: Grab your trusty meat thermometer or check out an online soil temperature tracker to take the temperature of your soil.

Step 2: Select your lawn mower

Whether you’re scalping in spring or renovating a lawn, you’ll need to choose a mower. If you’re mowing down to ½ inch, you’ll need a reel mower. If you aim for 1 inch, some rotary mowers will cut under 1½ inches and get close to that 1-inch mark. If a rotary mower is what you have, set it to the lowest setting, even if it’s not quite as low as recommended.

Whatever mower you choose, start with sharp mower blades. If you didn’t sharpen the lawn mower blades before winter, now is a good time before the mowing season begins. Dull blades will only rip or tear the grass and encourage disease.

Step 3: Cut the lawn

Take the height down gradually over several passes of the lawn mower, and expect lots of debris. Have your wheelbarrow or green waste bags ready to collect the clippings. 

Remember, grass clippings should never go to a landfill (unless they’ve been sprayed). Compost them or send them to the city’s compost facility to keep the sun’s energy flowing through your community.

Pro Tip: Consider a dust mask or other face covering to keep the dust out of your airway and eyes. 

FAQ about scalping your lawn

1. What is scalping a lawn?

Lawn scalping is when you remove more than one-third of the grass height per cut. 

Scalping your turf is seldom recommended. As you mow your lawn during the growing season, stick to the recommended mowing height range for your grass to keep it in top form. And as we’ve implied above, never remove more than one-third of the grass blade per mow. (This is called the One-Third Rule of Mowing.)

2. When should you scalp a lawn?

As we’ve mentioned, scalping a lawn is a rarely used technique. So, when should you use it? Two instances:
–Before spring green-up (bermuda and Zoysia lawns only)
Bermuda and Zoysia may benefit from scalping in the spring if the lawn is in a full state of dormancy. 
–As part of a lawn renovation

If you’re replacing part or all of your lawn, scalping can be an effective tool. Whether you burn the grass or use chemicals, you’ll need to get rid of that dead debris before you move forward with replanting. After the grass is dead, scalp the grass and use your bagger to collect the clippings.

Once much of this dead grass has been removed, continue the renovation process with dethatching, aeration, fertilizing, and planting seed.

3. Why should you scalp your lawn?

Spring scalping is optional, but it may help your lawn in a few ways:

–Remove excess thatch, buildup, and debris    
–Allow for a faster green-up (because the sun reaches the soil and warms it faster)
–Is a natural way to encourage a healthy lawn (pesticide-free)

4. Which grasses should not be scalped?

It’s best not to scalp St. Augustine, centipedegrass, or other warm-season grasses with stolons (above-ground stems). Carpetgrass and buffalograss are two other warm-season grass types that have stolons, so it’s best not to scalp these.

Cool-season grasses, such as fescue and Kentucky bluegrass, should not be scalped. Scalping puts too much stress on these grass plants.

If you’ve killed the grass as part of a lawn renovation, scalping is helpful no matter the grass type. (It’s already dead at that point, so scalping can’t do it any harm.)

Spring scalping is most frequently used on bermuda and Zoysia (warm-season) lawns. Their rhizomes (underground stems) help them recover from the damage. 

If you’d rather leave this specialized technique to an expert, contact one of our local lawn care pros to put a spring back in your lawn’s step. 

Main Photo Credit: Magic K | Pexels

Sarah Bahr

Sarah is a writer who has previously worked in the lawn care industry. In her spare time, she likes to garden, raise chickens, and mow the grass with her battery-powered lawn mower.