Should you scalp zoysia grass?

Scalping zoysia grass is a common practice that involves mowing the lawn very short – down to 1 inch or less before winter. This stimulates new growth and allows the zoysia to emerge lush and green in spring. While scalping is beneficial in some cases, it’s not always necessary or recommended.

What is scalping?

Scalping is mowing a warm season grass like zoysia down to a very low height, often 1 inch or less. This removes the majority of the leaf tissue and exposes the crown and stolons of the grass plant. Scalping is typically done before winter dormancy or in very early spring before green up.

Pros of scalping zoysia grass

Here are some potential benefits of scalping zoysia grass:

  • Removes dead leaf tissue – Getting rid of the previous year’s growth allows new, fresh leaves to grow in spring.
  • Thins the lawn – Scalping reduces canopy density and allows more sunlight to reach the crown and soil surface.
  • Stimulates new growth – The stress of scalping triggers the grass to regrow leaves more aggressively.
  • Removes lawn thatch – Thatch is a matted layer of organic matter between the grass blades and soil. Scalping can help remove some buildup.
  • Levels uneven turf – Scalping brings the height of the entire lawn down to a uniform level.
  • Controls diseases and pests – Removing excess biomass can disrupt disease cycles and expose insects.
  • Improves spring green up – Zoysia greens up earlier and more uniformly if scalped down before winter dormancy.

Cons of scalping zoysia grass

Here are some potential downsides of scalping zoysia grass:

  • Stress on the grass – Removing too much leaf tissue at once can shock the plants.
  • Increased weed pressure – Bare soil exposure leads to more weed seed germination.
  • Root damage – Scalping too low can cut into roots, crowns, and rhizomes.
  • Soil erosion – Without grass cover, rain can wash away exposed topsoil.
  • Reduced drought tolerance – Fewer leaves leads to less deep root growth.
  • Slower spring green up – If scalped excessively, zoysia is depleted of energy reserves needed for regrowth.
  • Increased fertilizer needs – Scalping causes nitrogen depletion and mandates spring fertilization.
  • Weakens the grass – Repeated close scalping can thin out zoysia over time.

When to scalp zoysia grass

The best time to scalp zoysia grass is spring, just before the average last frost date. This allows the grass to recover through the summer. Fall scalping is not recommended since zoysia needs time to rebuild energy reserves before winter dormancy. Here are some spring scalping time frames for different regions:

  • South: February – March
  • Transition zone: March – April
  • North: April – May

Ideally, scalp the lawn when daytime air temperatures are consistently above 60-65°F to encourage quick green up.

How low to cut zoysia when scalping

A general guideline is to cut zoysia down to 1 inch or slightly lower when scalping. This removes excessive leaf tissue while minimizing damage to the crown and stolons. Here are some tips for scalping height:

  • Established zoysia lawns: 1 inch
  • New zoysia sod: 1.5 inches
  • Zoysia plugs: 2 inches

Never scalp below 0.5 inch, as this can severely weaken the grass long term.

Scalping process

Follow these steps for scalping zoysia grass properly:

  1. Mow the lawn shorter than usual 2-3 times leading up to scalping. This gradually acclimates the grass.
  2. Use a bagging mower to remove excess clippings and debris.
  3. Set the mower deck to the desired scalping height, then mow in multiple passes.
  4. Mow in different directions to ensure an even cut.
  5. Irrigate and fertilize after scalping to speed recovery.
  6. Gradually lower the mowing height over 2-4 weeks post-scalping.

Fertilizing after scalping zoysia

Fertilizing is important after scalping zoysia to provide nutrients that facilitate rapid regrowth. Apply a quick-release nitrogen source like ammonium sulfate or urea within a few days after scalping. Follow up 4-6 weeks later with a balanced soluble fertilizer. Milorganite and other slow-release organic fertilizers also work well. Target fertilizing at a rate of 1 lb nitrogen per 1,000 sq ft.

Watering tips after scalping

Proper irrigation after scalping helps zoysia recover quickly with no drought stress. Aim to keep the top 1 inch of soil moist for 2-4 weeks after scalping. Then resume a typical deep, infrequent watering schedule. Avoid light, daily watering that only dampens the surface. Utilize irrigation audit tools to assess and improve sprinkler performance after scalping.

What if zoysia turns brown after scalping?

It’s normal for zoysia to initially turn brown after scalping due to stress and loss of photosynthetic tissue. As long as stolons remain intact, it will green back up within 2-4 weeks under optimal growing conditions. Support recovery by fertilizing, irrigating, reducing shade, and raising mowing height incrementally. If large patches remain brown after 4 weeks, the scalping depth was likely too severe.

Maintaining zoysia after scalping

Proper lawn care after scalping zoysia maximizes recovery:

  • Mow frequently at increasing heights
  • Continue irrigation until established
  • Fertilize again after 4-6 weeks
  • Control weeds with preemergents
  • Apply fungicides or insecticides if issues arise
  • Aerate compacted areas
  • Overseed heavy traffic zones

Should you dethatch zoysia before scalping?

Dethatching before scalping is not necessary in most cases. Scalping alone removes a significant amount of dead material. Dethatch only if there is a severe thatch layer over 0.5 inch thick. Otherwise, dethatching risks further stress and damage to the zoysia. Mechanical power raking is too aggressive for routine use on zoysia.

How to scalp zoysia with a rotary mower

Rotary mowers can effectively scalp zoysia if the deck is adjustable down to 1 inch or lower. Here are some tips when using a rotary mower:

  • Use a sharp blade – Dull blades tear rather than cut cleanly.
  • Lower deck incrementally – Drop 0.5 inch every 1-2 mows leading up to scalping.
  • Remember to bag – Rotary mowers mulch clippings, so you’ll need to collect them.
  • Overlap passes – Ensure complete coverage across the lawn.
  • Go slow – Slower mowing allows cleaner cuts.

Using a reel mower to scalp zoysia

Reel mowers typically offer lower cut heights ideal for scalping zoysia grass. Here are some reel mowing tips:

  • Adjust height down gradually – Drop 0.25 inch every few mows before scalping.
  • Sharpen reels regularly – Sharp blades prevent tearing.
  • Engage the reel prior to cutting – Avoid bounce at the start of passes.
  • Use a slower pace – Lets blades cut more precisely.
  • Alternate direction – Vary passes to ensure even cutting.

Scalping zoysia with a lawn tractor

Lawn tractors make scalping large zoysia lawns faster. Follow these guidelines when using a tractor:

  • Install a low-cut deck – Decks must adjust down to 1-1.5 inches.
  • Add rear weights – This prevents bouncing and uneven cuts.
  • Remove baffles – Allows higher airflow and discharge.
  • Overlap passes – Don’t leave strips of uncut grass.
  • Use a slow ground speed – Prevents misses.

Hiring a lawn service to scalp zoysia

Professional landscaping companies have commercial mowers ideal for scalping zoysia grass. Benefits of hiring pros include:

  • Advanced mowers – Well-maintained equipment with sharp blades.
  • Precise cuts – Trained technicians ensure uniform scalping.
  • Efficiency – Large crews can scalp quickly.
  • Experience – They know proper heights and timing.
  • Fertilization – Often included or offered as an add-on service.

Expect to pay $30-$70 per scalping service based on lawn size. Be sure to communicate your desired cut height.

Is scalping necessary for zoysia grass?

Routine scalping is not essential for zoysia health and performance. Here are some cases where it may (or may not) be beneficial:

  • New sod – Scalping not needed the first year. Let it establish undisturbed.
  • Lawn with no issues – If growth is consistent, scalping is optional.
  • Very thick/matted lawns – Scalping helps thin and renew growth.
  • Lawns with heavy shade – Scalping reduces canopy density for more light penetration.
  • Bumpy, uneven turf – Scalping levels the lawn nicely.
  • Severe thatch buildup – Scalping temporarily reduces excess thatch.

Evaluate the condition of your individual lawn each spring and determine if scalping would provide any advantages. It’s not mandatory in most well-maintained zoysia lawns.

Disadvantages of repeated zoysia scalping

Repeatedly scalping zoysia down to the crown every year can have detrimental effects over time including:

  • Declining density – Aggressive scalping thins turf over time.
  • Increased weed pressure – Bare soil exposure favors weeds.
  • Soil erosion – Lack of grass leaves rainfall to splash soil away.
  • Root damage – Frequent close cuts damage roots and rhizomes.
  • Weakened grass – Repeated scalping depletes energy reserves.
  • More disease/pests – Stressed zoysia is more susceptible.

To prevent these issues, only scalp zoysia when clearly necessary based on its condition. And maintain a careful scalping height of 1 inch or higher.

Alternatives to scalping zoysia

Some alternatives to scalping zoysia grass include:

  • Gradual mower height reductions – Lower 0.25-0.5 inch each mow before green up instead.
  • Dethatching – Use a verticutter or power rake to remove some dead material.
  • Aerating – Helps alleviate soil compaction issues.
  • Topdressing – Smooths bumpy areas by filling in low spots.
  • Overseeding – Introduces complementary grasses like bermuda or ryegrass.

These relief the need for scalping while minimizing stress on the zoysia. But scalping may still be appropriate if thatch and mat buildup are excessive.

Key tips for scalping zoysia grass

Here are some key tips to remember if scalping your zoysia lawn:

  • Scalp in early spring once soil temps exceed 60°F.
  • Gradually lower mowing height over 2-3 mows beforehand.
  • Only scalp down to 1 inch height; never below 0.5 inches.
  • Use sharp mower blades to prevent tearing.
  • Bag clippings to remove debris.
  • Fertilize and irrigate appropriately after scalping.
  • Raise heights gradually over 2-4 weeks post-scalping.
  • Avoid scalping zoysia in fall.

Proper scalping technique minimizes stress and encourages lush zoysia regeneration. But also consider alternatives like aerating or dethatching based on your lawn’s specific needs.


Scalping zoysia grass can provide benefits like removing thatch, improving spring green up, and leveling uneven turf. But it also carries risks of damage and stress if done excessively. Consider your lawn’s current condition and requirements to determine if scalping would be advantageous. When scalping, follow best practices like using sharp blades, cutting only to 1 inch height, and providing ample recovery time. And avoid over-scalping zoysia lawns year after year. With careful technique and judgment, scalping can be a useful springtime treatment for zoysia grass.

Leave a Comment