Avoiding Lawn Scalping Problems

 

Lawn scalping is when the grass is cut so low down the roots or stem to a point where they could end up dying.

Cutting grass too low is a problem for many reasons. All plants have a “growing tip”; if you cut off the growing tip of some plants, they won’t sprout from the sides of the plant and end up dying. It also creates shallow root systems in the soil and encourages weed growth, as there is nothing to shade them out.

Fortunately, lawn scalping is primarily a man-made occurrence, which means you can easily prevent it from happening to your lawn through a few simple steps.

How to Recognize Signs of Lawn Scalping

Lawn scalping can be identified by balding or burned patches in the lawn. They are usually irregular in form, sometimes forming stripes, depending on which direction the lawn was previously cut. Lawn scalping can also resemble dog spots or fungal problems. In most cases, lawn scalping can be fairly quickly to identify, as they become visible immediately during mowing.

Causes of Lawn Scalping

There are many ways lawn scalping can occur, most of which are due to incorrect usage of the lawn mower. 

When the mower blades are set too low, it cuts off large amounts of the grass head, sometimes pulling out the roots altogether. Mowers can also sink into the soil due to extra weight placed on the blades. This occurs more frequently on riding mowers that a person must sit in like a car to operate. 

Lawn scalping can also occurs when mowers are used to dethatch. Mowers blades are set so low that it begins to scalp the lawn instead of dethatching. As a rule of thumb, scalping is NOT the same as dethatching! For dethatching lawns, thatch rakes should be used instead of lawn mowers.

When setting the blades of a mower, do some test runs in the back area of the lawn that is not as visible. Despite being equipped with springs and shocks, riding mowers will still need to be adjusted in order to accommodate the weight of the person operating it. 

Treating Scalped Lawns

If you have warm season grass like Bermuda or zoysia, you can rest assured, as these grow back fairly quickly from scalping during the warm season. Simply water and fertilize the damaged areas and monitor it occasionally to make sure it’s growing.

For colder season grass like fescue or bluegrass, a little extra help may be needed. You will need to overseed the scalped portions and keep it moisturized with water. After about three weeks, apply fertilizer and wait to see if the grass grows back.

To remove patches of dead grass, dethatch instead of scalping. Some lawn care professionals may actually recommend scalping warm season grasses in the spring, but you run the risk of killing the grass in the process. You should also never scalp or dethatch until the frost season has past. 

To avoid scalping your lawn, set your mower blades to the proper height. Ideally, you should only be removing 1/3 of the grass blade each time when mowing. Although this may mean mowing more frequently, it’s one of the easiest ways to ensure your lawn at its ideal height at all times.

Also, keep your mower blades sharp so that you don’t feel compelled to press down on the mower to cut the grass. Alternate the direction in which you mow to make sure you’re getting the grass from all sides.

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