Spring Scalp for Bermuda and Zoysia

By Allyn Hane - "The Lawn Care Nut"
March 18, 2023

Today I’m going to talk to those of you who are growing bermuda and zoysia grasses. You are going to find these two warm-season types of grass mostly throughout the south and they require a bit of “grooming” that other grass types don’t.

Bermuda and Zoysia are what I call “alpha grasses” meaning they are very aggressive and work hard to take new ground. They do this by spreading wide through “runners” that creep across the surface and just below ground, sending new shoots of growth upward. These runners are called stolons and rhizomes.

hand holding zoysia grass

For those of us who care for these grasses in our home lawns, this is good news. Aggressive turfgrasses can fill in bare and thin spots very quickly because of their spreading nature. Our goal as homeowners is to keep a dense stand of turf that is actively growing because that then becomes the very best defense against invading weeds. A thick lawn is not only your best defense, it’s environmentally friendly because it reduces the need for chemical intervention.

Hitting The Reset Button on Your Lawn

There is one drawback to these grasses, though. If they are not cut extremely short all season long, even during the summer, they can get “leggy” and look unkempt. Thatch can also build up, blocking air, water, sunlight, and nutrients from reaching the soil and, therefore, the roots.

The good news for me and you who have lawns of bermuda or zoysia is that every single spring, we can literally hit the reset button and get things started all over again. We do this by scalping!

When To Scalp The Lawn

map of atlanta day length and sunset

As the days reach 12-12.5 hours long, that is the time to scalp and it literally means exactly what the word means, scalp it down! Most of you reading this, your bermuda or zoysia is brown and dormant right now. Your grass won’t start REALLY moving again until sometime around the end of March or early April. That is when the days reach that 12-12.5 hours length. You can check out your area using this tool here.

Anytime in the couple weeks leading up to that time is the time to scalp. Just take your mower out, knock it down a notch or two from where you ended last season on your final cut, and go out and start cutting. Once you are done with the first cut, take it down another notch and cut again. Keep doing this until you get down to the lowest notch on your mower, and give the lawn a final cutting as low as you can. That is your scalp.

You can bag the clippings if you want, but for me, I mulch, side-discharge, and use my blower to keep all the clippings in the lawn. I want all that organic material to break down into the soil, and if you keep going across the lawn multiple times, you will see it all begin to melt back in right before your eyes.

Once I have the lawn scalped as low as it will go, I like to give it an application of pre-emergent to help stop weeds like crabgrass, goosegrass and signalgrass from invading. I also like to give the lawn a nice application of fertilizer to help fuel all the new growth we are expecting. Milorganite is a perfect choice because it contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to support all growth cycles in the plant: up, down, and all around. (top growth, root growth, rhizomes, and stolons).

ruler measuring grass

You should see your lawn almost completely re-grown within three weeks or so. This is also your opportunity to keep it mowed low all season and to not let it get away from you. Bermuda and zoysia do best when mowed under 2”, and if you can keep it even lower, better. Now that you have scalped it down, this is your chance to keep it low.

Scalping also allows heat from sunlight to penetrate deeper into the soil, which helps wake the lawn up faster so it can green and thicken up quickly.

Scalping may be a little scary at first, but I assure you, this is the best way to get rid of all the mistakes you may have made last year and start things completely over so you can tame that alpha grass in the 2023 season.