Mowing Bermuda Grass

Mowing Bermuda grass is often the most difficult grass to mow.  The reason is because more often than not the wrong lawn mower is used.  Bermuda grass needs to be cut to a height of 1 – 1.5 inches.  Most rotary lawn mowers aren’t capable of mowing that low without scalping the lawn.

Scalping is what happens when a wheel on your rotary mower drops into a small rut and causes the blade to dip down and scalp the grass.  When your bermuda is scalped a half moon shape appears where the blade has torn into the lower section of grass which is quite unsightly not to mention very stressful on your lawn.

To keep your bermuda from getting scalped a reel mower is about the only real option.  If you’re stuck with a rotary mower your only option is to raise the blade.  This will keep your lawn from being scalped but won’t allow you to get the nice low even cut like we enjoy on the golf course.   While reel mowers are more expensive they do provide a much more even cut, lower to the ground (in the sweet spot for bermuda), and will never scalp your grass.

In either case, reel or rotary mower, keep your blades sharp.  You should sharpen your mower blade at least once per year.  This will keep the blades from being ripped which will in turn keep your lawn disease free and use less water.   A dull blade can also cause your lawn to look a bit yellow where the blades have been torn.  What are you waiting for?  Get that blade sharpened!

Mowing Heights Throughout the Year

For the first cut of the year you’ll want to cut off the tips of the grass before its completely out of dormancy.  This will expose the ground to the sun and begin warming the soil.  Scalping the grass to the ground is not recommended nor is burning the dead grass.

A good starting point in the early spring is the 1″ range.  As the summer wears on your may consider raising the blade up to 2″.  It’s critical that you never remove more that 1/3 of the blade of grass, so if you miss a week you’ll need to raise your blade to keep from really stressing out your lawn.  In the fall you’ll want to let your bermuda go dormant without excessive mowing.

Bagging Bermuda Grass

A lot of research has been conducted on whether bagging bermuda grass is beneficial.  It has been shown that leaving the clippings on the lawn will return nitrogen to the soil and eventually save you money on fertilizer.  It has also been shown that your lawn is not any more likely to be disease prone or thatch problems.  Let the clipping naturally decompose.

Comments

  1. gaynell bauder says:

    When and what do I fertilize my bermuda with?

    • Howard Burton says:

      I planted bermuda seed this summer (2011) so it is still new grass but now that fall is upon us and the grass is about to go dormant, should I allow it to go dormant tall for winter or cut it as normal. Also, what is the best fertilizer for South Carolina

      • Grass King says:

        Use cat and dog urine. Mix it 3:2 and spread it liberaly around your lawn. You can mix it with water but it’s less effective than using it straight.

        If your lawn starts to turn yellow don’t be alarmed. It’s jus the color of the urine and you will need to adjust the mixture to prevent it. You may also consider watering less but you run the risk of poor wetting.

    • Scott products for Bermuda are the best. Follow their plan for the fertilizer of the season. Do not use fast release fertilizers when the weather is hot, but in early spring use a high nitrogen mix. Be careful and use some sort of pre-emergent just before Christmas to keep out the crabgrass an Poa annum in the spring.

  2. Mitch Smith says:

    I am starting a bremuda lawn this summer. I have a 48″ Kabuto zero turn. My yard is not level. I wonder if the zero turn with a floating deck will scalp. I have thought about a self propelled 27″ or 30″ reel mower. A true cut, Mc clane or a gravely cl30 which is about $4000… any comments? thanks

    • The 30″ reel mower is the #1 choice. That will keep your lawn looking great and keep it from getting scalped. The zero turns are great mowers but you’ll have to lift the blades to keep it from cutting half moons in your lawn.

  3. If you are going to use a reel mower, it WILL make your bermudagrass lawn look great and close cut. HOWEVER, be sure you have a shop nearby that will service it. You need someone who can sharpen the blades and properly adjust the bedknife. These mowers are temperamental. You need someone to work on it and here in West Georgia, they are hard to find. It got to the point with my McLane that I had to adjust or fix something everytime I mowed. Also, if you are going to cut your Bermuda below an inch, be prepared to cut at least two times a week (probably more ) during the hot summer growing season. This is easier said than done with rain, life and such that will interfere

  4. Mitch Smith says:

    thanks for your input, I have just about decided to use my zero turn and just mow it at 1.5 to 2″…. it weighs is at 1094 lbs which is a lot of weight as well. Have also thought about a walker 32″ cut walk behind with a mulching deck.. any comments on these ideas and does anyone have experience with zero and walkbehinds

  5. I made the mistake of missing a week on my regular mowing. When I mowed this past weekend, I didn’t raise my blade, now my beautiful green bermuda turned into a brown crunchy grass. Is there any suggestions as to what to do save the nice green grass or am I out of luck?

  6. Hello,
    I have recently taken over the maintenance duties of a cemetery. The previous worker has cut the Bermuda grass high, which has lead to the thatch growing up to the point where the grave markers have all but disappeared. The edges of the grave markers steeply rise so the graves almost are in little pits in the ground.
    I am in Northern Calif. and it is now Sept. so the hot days will soon be over. I mention this because I learned to not cut the grass low during the winter months.
    However, I must cut the thatch down lower.
    So I began today by lowering the cutting height almost to the point of scalping, and I edged the grave markers heavily by cutting around them at a slant to make the edges less steep. This meant that I cut into the soil in many places.

    My question is, will the grass thank me? Or is this type of cutting going to ruin the grass for the season? We have maybe another month of good hot weather.

    Oh, and I water an hour and 15 minutes every other day, approx. 1.5-2 acres of cemetery grave markers.

    Thank you very much for any advice you may give me.

    Frans

  7. I have been mowing my bermuda grass at 3 inches and when i mow it i get all of the green. Am i mowning it to high ? If i am when should i mow it closer and at what height ? What type of fertilizer should i use ? Should i aierate the ground during the summer before watering ? Thank you very much for any help you can give me .

  8. Gerald Garrison says:

    I live in N central Arkansas (Ozarks) and am trying to figure out the best way and equipment to cut a 2000 ft x 250 ft sod airstrip. The strip is in a short thatch varity of bermuda (to the extent that I’ve been able to control the misc weeds and fescue, anyway) and is smooth. I’ve rolled it with a heavy roller at least once every year. This is the end of the strip’s second year since being planted (seeded) and I have what I would estimate to be about 70% coverage (better in some places, lighter in others).

    A reel type mower does not look like a workable option because of the rocks and gravel that “grow” out of the soil in this area. I am currently using a 60″ finish mower set at 2-1/2″. That’s not as close as I would like to cut, but set any lower, the mower blades pick up so much gravel that it’s impossible to keep my blades sharp. I’ve been unable to find flat blades that do not create the suction. I’m also considering a flail mower, but don’t know if it would give me a good enough cut.

    This is a private strip (read no maintenance budget), so cost control is a controlling issue. Cosmetics are a concern, but not a controlling factor.

    Any help in the form of suggestions and/or advice will be greatly appreciated.

    Gerald

  9. It’s common practice in my area to cut dormant bermuda grass in the spring by scalping the lawn and remove the clippings. Is there anything that can be used to speed up decomposition of the cut clippings if I do not remove or bag these dead, dry clippings? Thanks.

  10. Bermuda grass is one of the few viable choices in the desert southwest. Commercially we keep the mow height at 2″-2 1/2″ during the summer. We also overseed with Perennial Rye for winter green. If you keep your mower height in that range, you can safely mulch with sharp blades even with a rotary mower. If there is thatch build up, the best method is in the spring to dethatch with a verticut style dethatcher. This will slice into the soil and clear the thatch out. Aeration is also very helpful. Core or spike aeration will help the grass increase root depth allowing for deeper watering and better drought tolerance. Fertilization should be based on a soil sample. We have high sodium levels so that issue needs addressed prior to fertilization.

    Bermuda is very tolerant and will survive a lot of mistreatment. It cannot survive shade and hard pan so focus on those issues first.

  11. david kwon says:

    I have an abundant growth of crabgrass in my newly bought bermuda sod grass. How do I kill/manage this infestation?

  12. Our grass grows beautifully and very gree, but when my husband mows the grass it looks like white stripes of the width of the mower. I feel like crying every time he cuts it. He uses a Sears craftsman 2000. He says it is as high as he can get it. Do we have the wrong mower? We thought maby we need to cut low and keep cutting low, but the grass does not recuperate from one mow to the next. I’m afraid we are killing our grass and it was so expensive! What can we do? Please help!
    Thank you!
    Marian shearer

    • Hi there,Sounds like you have the wrong mower,the reel mower is the best thing to use for low cut Bermuda.It takes training,you have to mow your grass 2 to 3 times a week and water daily when there is no rain. Also top dress lawn with soil sand mix. Or your mower blade is dull,not enough water. I water a little in the morning,and heavy in the evening.I also mow 1/2 to 3/4 push reel mower.3 to 4 times a week,its easy to push the mower if you maintain a steady mowing every other day. Hope it helps good growing..

    • get wheels for the deck. sharpen the blades

  13. I live in northern Alabama and for the most part my bermuda is beautiful. I cut if very close the first cut of the year with a 20″ walk behind mulching mower. I then raise the deck one or two notches every week until I’m on the highest setting. It remains very green all summer with minimal care. My only tough spot is next to the asphalt to about 5 feet in from there. I have a variety of weeds that I just can’t get rid of. Some are the little white clovers and then there is something that has tiny yellow flowers. The rest of the yard is very nice with just the occasional crab grass that I control with dimension. What can I do to control these weeds? They’re driving me crazy.
    Thanks,
    Brian

  14. patti chilivis says:

    i put bermuda grass down about 2 months ago. I went on vacation and when i returned my grass was at least 6-7 inches. I tried to mow it and all the beautiful green grass is gone. Will it come back since i waited too long to mow. Thanks, Patti

  15. janice daniel says:

    We have brand new bermuda sod laid 6 wks ago and it has grown to about 5inches.Should a riding lawn mower be used or a walk behind mower be used on the first lawn cut?

  16. Ken Mason says:

    I have a 1/2 acre of new Bermuda sod in NE Oklahoma. It has been down for 2 weeks we are having 103 degree days here so I have been watering religiously to keep it growing. Now after two weeks I have a lush green tall Bermuda lawn. I need to mow it soon. I have access to a smaller riding mower in good condition but want the fairway look for my yard in the long term. I’d love a reel type mower had one years ago but for a 1/2 acre of lawn that is not possible.

    Any suggestions? The sod went down over well prepared soil thought here are soft spots and irregular areas and I do not want to scalp the turf.

    Thanks!

    • I bought an American Lawn Mower 7 blade hand-push reel mower. I’m pretty tough, but seems to be no problem at all on a suburban lawn. My lawn was rough from 10 years of commercial mow-and-blow service. I mean rough. I got a lousy aerating job in the late spring. Got a soil test from the county (GA). Put on lots and lots of dolemetic lime and some fertilizer. And got 3 yards of top dressing spread out. That was the hardest part.

      Anyway, that made-in-USA Great States mower was $110 from Home Depot catalog. American Lawn Mower makes another brand of 7 blade hand reel mower that costs a little more. Anyway, I love it.

      That mower has stood up to being driven partly into hardwood mulch, hitting occasional curbs, etc. And it is really fun. I’m going to by another new one since had to abuse the first one, but it still works great. Made in USA.

      My lawn has made a dramatic improvement in 1 season.

  17. Bermuda grass can get quite tricky, especially for certain seasons.

  18. Steve Smith says:

    I have a question regarding scalping…I live in Georgia and have Bermuda grass. I have lived in my home for 6 years now and every Fall I have cut down the grass when it starts turning brown (maybe it’s not scalping) but it looks like it and every Spring and Summer it comes back great. Is there a problem cutting it low before the winter instead of waiting till Spring? This way I can just put down the first application of fertilizer when it starts greening up and not have to worry about the “Spring fever” of scalping (cutting low) the grass.

    Thanks for any opinions.

    • I live in metro Atlanta and personally leave it at 1.5 to 2.5 inch long for the winter. Helps prevent weeds and helps insulate the roots from freeze damage. will it may not prevent all weeds and all freeze damage it does help to keep it “long” then “scalp” in spring after the last frost.

  19. georgie reichenbach says:

    I live in Soutcentral Texas(Georgetown) and every Feb some people have their bermuda grass scalped professionally and most don’t. For the past 4 years I had my grass scalped. Is it necessary to do this? What are the pros and cons for scalping bermuda in my area? Thanks, Georgie.

  20. Due to varying reasons (health, busyness, etc), we did not cut our backyard for a couple of months, it is several inches long (6″?). What do you recommend would be the best way to cut this? We tried end of summer/last Fall, but it really chokes out the lawnmower, even w/ skinny rows. But now that its dead and dry, we were thinking it would be much easier. So, do we just take the lawnmower to it at the highest setting, then later cut again at a shorter setting? I’m worried if we don’t get this handled soon it’ll be a mess once the grass starts greening up… Please advise! Thank you!

  21. it seems there is a ton of questions and fears about their bermuda lawns, I’m a new home owner with a fully landscaped yard. In the fear of killing all of it, I started asking around for advice, and the best thing I was turned on to was a book call “Southern Lawns” and it breaks down month to month what you should do with your lawn as well as different diseases to watch out for. it was only 20 bucks or so and has been really helpful for me so far. It’s a good source for both seasonal grass like burmuda,st.augustine,etc. and evergreen grasses such as centipede. Chris Hastings is the writer.

  22. I have celebration burmuda grass and I live in Ridgeland SC. My grass looks great in some areas but I have a lot of grass blades that have brown tips with green stems. It almost appears that the grass tips are seed bearing? I use a reel mower to cut it to a length of 5/8 -7/8ths of an inch 3 times a week. I follow a fertilizer plan developed by the landscaper who soded my lawn last June. Are these brown tips something to worry about or is this common for this grass to have brown tips at this time of the growing season? I had a soil test done and everything looked good except I needed to add iron; which I did 3 weeks ago. Any ideas?

  23. jeremy walter says:

    Im having problems with long strings of uncut Bermuda “runners” being pulled up and left above my cut lawn. It is unsightly and my six yr old keeps tripping on these strands of grass, some as long as 6-10 inches. I have a brand new push mower with super sharp blades. It is on level ground and my deck is 2.25″ off the ground. Any suggestions?

  24. The landscaper laid bermuda sod in May and i watered thoroughly for the first 10 days here in southern california. I just mowed it for the first time with a seven reel mower (freshly sharpened) and now i have a low layer of brown crunch. I didn’t scalp it. Tell me this will grow back in soon or what I should now that it is July.

    • Keep watering ,it should come back.It hasn’t established in to the ground.New sod needs to be watered every day.Mow your grass at least twice a week 3 times is better.Water!Water!Water!

  25. So many times I come upon a lawn treated by either homeowner or another lawn company, to find visible signs of moss growing on the surface of the soil. As an FYI to readers anytime – ANY time you see moss, it is purely indicative of the pH being too acidic. The rule being, if moss can grow, usually grass cannot.

  26. MiamiBermudafan says:

    I plan to seed about 1 acre of Bermuda down in Homestead,Florida.
    I don’t have the time to use a reel mower for this grass.
    I have a Gravely zero turn mower.
    My question is this.
    Am I absolutely obligatd to use a reel mower?
    That’s a big area to push over.

    • Michael White says:

      I also have about an acre and have been using my John Deere ride on(not reel) for about 3 years. You will be fine just raise the blades high enough not to scalp the grass. Also don’t mow more than the first 1/3 of the grass blade. In order to accomplish this you will probably need to mow at least 3x a week. If you cut more off the top of the blade your grass will look brownish as Bermuda grass goes from green blade to brown the further down the blade you go. Another tip s always keep your blades sharp. I change mine every month! Hope this helped a little.

  27. jacquelyn says:

    I always have a beautiful lawn, with Bermuda in my front and fescue in my back yard. I live in Oklahoma and go by these simple rules for both: mow high (3 inches) and often, and do not bag. I usually mow the Bermuda twice a week in summer, but because I mow high and no cumbersome bagging, its a breeze. The blade stores nutrients in its tip and when you cut low you are taking vital nutrients away from the grass. By not bagging, you are putting natural fertilizer back into it. Consequently, you will need less chemical fertilizer-on that note, table sugar is a great organic fertilizer.
    Watering-also a simple rule: water established grass well and less frequent. When the grass is thirsty it will dig deep for water, thus strengthening its root system.
    As soon as it gets cool in Fall, I quit mowing (while my neighbors continue to scalp their yards until it gets cold). In Spring, I scalp it once and it comes back well.

  28. I need step by step process of taking care of Bermuda grass. When to fertilize, how to kill weeds, what to use to kill weeds, how to keep it green, what to use to keep it green etc. HELP!!!!

    Thanks!!

    • Believe it or not when it’s still dormnant(brown) and the weeds begin to turn green in early spring spray the whole yard with a 50 / 50 mix of roundup and water. it won’t hurt the bermuda because it’s not actively growing. You have to do it BEFORE it starts to green. Then come back with a heavy dise of Amonium Nitrare or 13/13/13 fertilizer. Water and cut and sit back and enjoy. you can spot kill weeds by putting a handful of the fertilizer on the weeds themselves.

  29. I have he’d my lawn in now for over two years, the first two years, it looked great, this year, in many places, it has turned yellow. I ask the company that put the sod in why, they told me it’s too high, I have lowered my blades and it is still yellow. The eighth is about 2”, just don’t know what to do? It’s a hybrid bermuda grass, but, don’t know which hybrid, any tips??

  30. I’ve read a lot on here about “scalping” your lawn. I have in the past and realized when the grass is low in the spring all those seeds from weeds and bird droppings reach the turf and germinate. Hence more weeds. I’ve always used a plain ole toro walk behind or my 42 inch cut zero turn and have no problems. I cut at 3 inches and my lawn looks like a deep green carpet. So INHO keep it high year round. cut it a little lower in the spring to remove some of the dormant tops and water and use triple 13 fertilizer and a little lime in the fall. I live in SW Yennessee. Very hot and dry summers. Bermuda is very low maintenance. don’t over think it. and if it gets too high just cut it 2 or 3 times a little at a time.

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