There are advantages and disadvantages to mowing your lawn below the optimum growing height (scalping) as it breaks winter dormancy.
A close mowing now and collecting the clippings will remove the heavy winter canopy allowing quicker soil warming to hasten the spring transition and eliminate excess thatch. It will also eliminate many winter annual winter weeds, or at least prevent them from producing a seed supply for next fall. If there are poor drainage areas that need leveling, scalping in early spring will make it much easier to spread the soil where it is needed.
There are disadvantages as well, however. If a pre-emergence herbicide was not applied, opening the turf canopy when summer annual weeds are germinating will invite a greater weed problem this summer. Scalping may also set the lawn up for winter injury from a late spring freeze, especially those turf species such as St. Augustine and centipede that have only stoloniferous growth and are more sensitive to cold.
For most lawns scalping is not needed and is simply a waste of time. Scalping is not a recommended practice once the turf has completed the spring transition. A normal mowing regime of maintaining the turf species optimum mowing height and removing no more than one-third the total leaf area at a single mowing should be followed throughout the growing season.
Published March 15, 2010
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