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What is Lawn Scalping and How to Prevent It

Every homeowner is aware that mowing is a part of lawn maintenance. Not only does this help keep a clean-looking appearance for your home landscape—it also helps promote new growth. Different grass types should be kept at certain heights for optimal performance in residential landscapes, but when cut too short, it can create a barren, damaged look also known as scalping. Read on to learn how to prevent this from happening or in worst case scenarios, help the lawn recover from a scalping mistake.

What is Lawn Scalping?

Simply put, lawn scalping is cutting the grass so short that the green leaf cover has been eliminated and the stems are left exposed. You will know that scalping has occurred because of the brown, patchy sections that will appear on your lawn. 

The Problem with Scalping Lawns

When all of the leaf cover is stripped away from grass, it is no longer possible for the grass to absorb the energy it needs from the sun that fuels photosynthesis, the process by which grass grows and thrives. The grass leaves are needed to take in sunlight, nutrients and air–cutting the grass too short cuts away at its lifesource and makes it hard for it to continue to grow. If a lawn is scalped too badly, it’s likely that the grass won’t be able to survive at all. 

How to Prevent Scalping

To prevent scalping, the first thing to do is to determine how tall your grass should be kept and be sure not to mow shorter than the proper height. To find out about your grass’s normal mowing heights, visit our Lawn Mowing Guide. It’s a good idea to look up what the recommended mowing height is specifically for the variety of grass on your lawn.

Secondly, it matters when you cut your grass. During summertime, mowing during the morning or evening is best instead of during the heat of the day. This way, if scalping occurs, there is time for the grass to recover before it’s scorched by the hot sun. The season matters, too. 

Scalping zoysia grass or scalping bermuda grass in the spring (or giving it a buzz-cut), for example, is actually recommended during the first mow of the year to get all the extra growth that’s accumulated during the past year. 

Empire Zoysia Grass Dormant

Over the summer, you won’t cut any more than a third of the leaf blade off, so the grass continues to get taller. People often fall behind the weekly mowing schedule during the summer due to vacation, rainy days, etc. as well. While you consistently leave at least a third of the leaf blade, the grass’s height gets higher and higher as summer progresses so it’s no longer at the lower, ideal height.

The first initial buzz-cut of the spring for zoysia and bermuda grass gets rid of that excess growth that’s accumulated. You want to get its height back down in the spring as it comes out of dormancy. With grass coming out of dormancy, you aren’t going to hurt it too much and you want to promote fresh growth for the spring.

Lastly, be sure not to mow with dull blades—scalping is much more likely to occur when your mower blades aren’t sharpened!

Will Scalped Grass Grow Back?

If you’ve made the mistake of scalping your lawn, there are things you can do to help it recover. Two things are extremely important when it comes to nursing a scalped lawn back to health: you must water and fertilize after scalping your lawn. 

Water daily very thoroughly but be careful to keep the water pressure low so that you don’t do further damage to the vulnerable stems. Apply fertilizer, such as Lawnifi’s® Recover to give the grass an easy boost since it is missing out on the key nutrients it needs to live. If there are areas that simply cannot survive the scalping, you may need to use seed, plugs or pallets to replace the dead grass.

A scalped lawn usually looks worse than it really is, so if you accidentally scalp your lawn don’t panic. Follow the above recommendations to fix the mistake and and partake in practices to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future.

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