Will scalping my lawn just before spring green-up help it or hurt it?
There are advantages and disadvantages to mowing your lawn below the optimum growing height (scalping) as it breaks winter dormancy. A close mowing now to remove the heavy 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 make it much easier to spread soil where it is needed. A disadvantage is that by opening the turf canopy now, when summer annual weeds are germinating, it will invite a greater weed problem this summer if a pre-emergence herbicide was not applied.
Scalping is not 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.
Bottomline: For most lawns scalping is not needed and is simply a waste of time.
Published March 10, 2008
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