Every spring we try to convince homeowners and even commercial mowing companies to resist the temptation to scalp their bermudagrass or zoysiagrass lawn in early spring. Some folks succumb to the pull of those sunny days in March and get their mower out to whack off the turf at a very low height while removing the brown stems and leaves. This practice is called scalping, and can be a useful practice for warm-season turf such as bermudagrass and zoysia.
However, timing is critical as to when to do this. Scalping can clean up the dormant turf, and expose the soil more so that the lawn will green up earlier in the spring. If this is done too early in spring, the bermudagrass will green-up too quickly and you’ll run the risk of a late spring freeze damaging that tender green grass. Scalping too early also removes that thick insulating value of the dormant leaves and stems, leaving the crown of the grass plant at the soil surface more vulnerable to a hard freeze.
Last spring, and it seems like most springs in Oklahoma, the bermudagrass will green up substantially with warm March temperatures, and then we experience one of those late spring cold fronts bringing the temperatures down into the upper 20’s in early to mid-April. When that happens, bermudagrass plants can either die, or be severely set back, especially if the grass is green when that freeze happens. By leaving the turf mowed high, there is more insulation, and the likelihood of a late freeze damaging the turf is much less.
So we always tell our customers to wait until after April 15 th to scalp your turf. At that point, chances of a hard freeze are pretty slim. And if a homeowner does scalp then, the bermudagrass or zoysia will green up substantially faster with the removal of most of the brown dead leaves and stems, stimulating new green growth of the turf. Scalping also helps remove any dying spring weeds from the turf.
If you do scalp, this is the only time we would recommend removing the grass clippings, as leaving an excess amount of brown clippings may contribute to thatch, and it will look really bad also. Removing the brown clippings gives the turf a nice clean appearance, and helps sunlight reach the soil surface to warm it up quicker for spring green-up. Never scalp a cool-season turf such as fescue, as that could damage or even kill the turf.
This spring has been nice, and the bermudagrass is about as green as I’ve seen it for mid-April in Oklahoma. And there is no prospect of a hard freeze anytime soon, so it’s safe to go ahead and scalp away if you want to, or if you just want to get outside and have some exercise, which is a good thing also!