Always scalp as low as possible for first mow of season.

gbig2(6)April 16, 2008

That's what I overheard a vendor rep saying to a customer last time I was at Home Depot. Cut it as low as possible for your first mowing. My neighbor did that, made a lot of hay and had a yellow lawn for three days. That can't be good advice can it? What's the logic behind that?

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I imagine if there was any logic, he would have explained it to her. He heard something and passed it on with idea why it is supposed to be done.

Just always remember the one third rule so you don't shock and stress the grass plants.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2008 at 3:13PM
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The salesman's rationale was that if there are any tiny little sprouts, popping up out of the lawn, those sprouts should get their little shot of sunshine too....and the poor little sprouts can't get that, with their big brother being tall, and taking up all the sun.

This rationale is wrong. I suppose, but I'll have to check all the Google articles I can find, that it might possibly have some benefit on a fescue lawn, because fescue doesn't branch out very much, and hey, if you get one little widget branching out, you ought to encourage it. My prejudice, but I have not checked it, is that this is still incorrect.

The grass does its best when it is tall, and mature. Mature plants shoot out widgets (whether stolons, or rhizones, or whatever), and build deeper roots, as well as grow taller. This cannot happen when the grass plant is stressed, because some human just came along, and took off half its height, leaving the plant struggling to get taller just to get some sun.

I think you could make a better argument for NOT mowing. Let the plants that are going to get tall do exactly that: get tall, and mature, and then trim them down later (gradually: not more than 1/3 of the height at a time), after they've had a chance to gain whatever can be gained by being the big boy in the yard.

You'd be much farther ahead, with those 'big boy' roots, come July.

I don't do that either. Largely because I haven't checked it out.

In spring, I leave my mower height set at what it always is, which is relatively tall: 3" on the mower 'gauge', but after I mow, I can (and do) stick a yardstick on the ground, and it comes out at about 2 3/4 inches actual, the very moment after it is mowed. That is the height that it stays, all year long.

Even in the fall. You can find advice to 'cut it short' in the last mow of the year: I don't.

Bestlawn is quite correct. The last thing on the list that that lawn needs is 'shock and stress'. Don't over mow, and don't over grow. Let the lawn drift up toward 4", knock a third off, and mow it down to about 3". Nothing else. You can't 'outsmart' your lawn. If the plant is healthy, it will prosper. If it lacks something, it will not prosper. Let it grow, mow it when it needs it, and that's about it. And those little sprouts, that might have just come up? I gotta believe that grass plants have been competing with grass plants for eons now, this didn't start last year. They've got that all worked out, and there's nothing for you to do, and nothing for you to worry about.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2008 at 4:31PM
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rcnaylor(z7 Tex)

If I'm a vendor, that is probably great advise. You should be able to then sell more fertilizer to try to make the grass look better, more weed spray to try to get rid of all the weeds you invited to germinate and get a foothold by cutting it short, then, next fall, sell more weed seed to overseed the areas that got thinned out by mowing too low and being crowded by weeds.

Those guys selling lawn care supplies aren't dumb. ;)

    Bookmark   April 16, 2008 at 4:37PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

Well, it'd make sense if it's just dead grass matting down smothering out new growth at the bottom. I try to mow as low as I can without harming my grass to get rid of excess dead grass.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2008 at 5:40PM
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If I wanted to remove the standing winter-dead stuff, sure, but I'd do it just before the lawn started to come back. I'd also be extra careful not to cut *any* green blades at all at that point.

Once it greens, no. I'll hold off until it starts topping 3.5" and cut it back to 3". By that point, spots are going over 4" and others won't be cut at all.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2008 at 6:47PM
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Billl(z7 nc)

I'll give the guy the benefit of the doubt and assume he just moved up from a southern state. Warm season grasses go completely dormant in the winter. Most people cut them short and rake up all the dead trash. It lets in some sun and speeds greenup. This seems to work really well with zoysia.

Of course, in PA, that would be pretty useless advice.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2008 at 9:58PM
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ajer16(z5b MI)

At last year's turfgrass field day, we were advised by one of the turfgrass professors to give the lawn an early and lower than normal cut to speed green-up. He did not say "scalp".

He continued by telling us that our cool-season grasses actually start growing sooner than we might think, and the early short mow provides sunlight and warmth to the new growth near the crowns, as pointed out above. Additionally, that mowing will remove a good bit of the browned-out old blades.

I haven't acted on his advice. From late March through much of April our soil is usually at or near field capacity and awfully soft. I don't want to be making ruts out there.


    Bookmark   April 16, 2008 at 10:35PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Mother Nature only mows with herbivorous grazers and browsers. When they feed they create relatively bare soil. They simultaneously stomp seed into the ground. From that oversimplified lead I take it that the only reason to mow short is to reseed.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2008 at 12:02AM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

From now on, I'm going to mow low enough not to cause damage to get rid of excess dead grass to allow more sunlight in and warm up the ground quicker. I had been watching a neighbor's st augustine lawn where it was routinely mowed lower than mine and his greened up earlier than mine. I let mine grow to 5-6 inches tall before hard freeze came causing total dormancy so you can see how much dead grass I had to deal with. It's too late for that this year. I will attempt at 2 inches next March right before they start to green up. I tried 3 inches but some of the dead grass are matted down lower than that so I had to use the rake to break them up. It is totally different than what I'm used to in Houston where it never completely goes dormant.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2008 at 10:02AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Lou, ask your neighbor when he first started watering this year. Or are you located where that March storm came in and filled up all the tanks? Still, check to see if he started watering before that storm.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2008 at 11:04AM
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rcnaylor(z7 Tex)

I mow at my mower's highest setting pretty much year round. I drop it a notch or two the first mow or two in the spring to get rid of some of the winter "tan" on my cool season grass.

But, while I don't profess to be a bermuda grass expert, mowing "as low as possible" is just a recipe for extra weeds, imo. And, like Dchall notes, for cool season grasses, probably should be reserved for overseeding only.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2008 at 11:37AM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

David, We received 5.5 inches of rain in March including 3.5 inches in one day that sure filled up all the tanks (you mean small ponds right?) around here. For April, we received an inch of rain last week and expecting at least half inch tonight. I haven't watered so far this spring mainly thanks to windy condition with front yard really exposed to south/west so I never bothered to experiment your theory about watering once a week. Also, the area of my lawn where it has been trampled on the most causing all the brown grass to be ripped apart and it's about as flat as it can be (1-2 inches) and they are first one to green up and more rapidly too so you can see where I'm going with this theory of mine...

    Bookmark   April 17, 2008 at 1:17PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

David, I received about 1.25-1.5 inches of rain last night. It has been pretty regular all spring so far so I didn't have to water every week or two. Also, the spring seems to be a bit cooler than usual. The overnight temperature doesn't stay above 55*F consistently for st augustine or bermuda grass to really grow a lot. Just the other day, it was 33* and it has been mostly in the 40s for overnight temperature.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2008 at 8:37AM
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