Why “Scalping” Your Bermuda or Zoysia Lawn is Important


If you want a beautiful bermuda or zoysia lawn this summer, you need to “scalp” it this spring. Normally, people think of “scalping” a lawn as something bad that happens when your mower blades are dull, set too low, or when you have uneven terrain causing the mower to bottom out and take off the entire plant. The same things that make scalping bad in the middle of the summer (taking the entire plant off) is what makes it essential in spring maintenance.

Check out the photo above. Your lawn probably looks like the right half of the photo. Crank your mower down to the lowest possible setting and mow the whole thing so it looks like the left side of the photo. Bag the clippings and get rid of them. Yes, this will take a long time, and you’ll need to figure out what to do with likely dozens of bags of yard waste, but it’s worth it. Tempting as it may be, don’t use a mulch setting…that’s for later in the year and it would defeat the purpose of all the hard work you’re doing to scalp. You want this organic material GONE!

This guidance applies ONLY to bermuda, zoysia, and hybrid varieties of warm-weather grasses. This does NOT apply to fescue, rye, blue, and other varieties of cool-weather grasses. If you scalp those, you’ve likely killed them.  

Scalping bermuda cleans up dormant turf and gets that extra material off of your lawn so it can’t form a thatch layer or impede growth of new grass. It also exposes the soil to more sunlight and warmth, helping to promote earlier growth and green-up. When bermuda grass turns green, it’s because new plants have come in, it’s not a transformation of the existing dormant stalks. They are completely replaced. Scalping helps get them out of the way more quickly.

Don’t scalp too early. The danger of a freeze must be behind you, otherwise those delicate new plants that you’ve worked so hard to coax out of the ground will be damaged if the temperatures dip. Late March through April is a fairly safe bet in North Carolina.

After scalping, plan to mow every week or two as the grass comes in, which will promote healthy horizontal growth that fills bare areas and won't brown when you mow it low later in the year.

What Is a French Drain?

A french drain is a simple but extremely effective way to direct water on a course you choose. Most commonly used by homeowners in grass and garden settings, a french drain consists of a small trench, ideally dug with a contractor-grade trenching machine and lined with landscape fabric, and a perforated, corrugated pipe that runs the length of the trench. During installation, once the pipe is properly situated, the trench is typically filled with gravel, rocks, and/or dirt, and then covered in a manner of the homeowner's choosing - including grass/turf.

Many drainage problems are caused by ground water having no place to go once it has reached a roadblock or a low point. The french drain gives the water an easy path of egress, as the water permeates the rock and pipe and drains in whatever direction the drain is pointing. French drains do not help with surface water directly, though they do collect and direct water once it penetrates the surface and becomes groundwater.

Some people use the need for a french drain as an opportunity to install custom high-end rock and creek beds for an upscale designer touch. These hard landscape features are both beautiful and functional.

While no french drain (or any solution short of a dome for that matter) can guarantee a fully dry yard immediately after a major downpour, a properly installed french drain will ensure that water does not accumulate in low spots, corners, or against your home's foundation, and that your outdoor spaces are livable and usable to the greatest possible degree.