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Verticutting: St. Augustine grasses

The dominant grass in central and So. Florida is St. Augustine. The excessive top growth, along with the accumulation of thatch creates many problems.

While  cleaning & thinning your lawn, verticutting allows your lawn to breathe again, stimulating root growth. Opening the lawn-up allows air, sun, water, fertilizer to drive the root system deeper, threw removing the top growth and thatch. This also improves mowing.

All grasses accumulate thatch, see thatch in different varieties below.


The accumulation of thatch reduces the ability of water, pesticides, and fertilizers to penetrate the root system. Strong healthy lawn need deep root systems.  All types of grasses accumulate thatch. Thatch is not caused by grasses clippings.

Here in central and south Florida our most popular grasses are St. Augustine, there are many varieties.  Unlike most other grasses they grow in layers. This layering creates many mowing problems, and will lead to other health problems.

 What contributes to these health problems?

  • Over-watering.
  • Overuse of reclaimed water, that also adds additional nutrients.
  • Over fertilizing
  • Mowing to high
  • They all contribute to thatch, layering and unhealthy conditions.
 Why aeration is a waste of money:
  •  Aeration will not solve one problem with St. Augustine grasses, discussed on this site. Reason, when you plug a hole in sand in will just fill back up with sand, making the process a total waste of money. The problem of layering will never be solved. Nor will it remove the thatch.
  • As you move north of central Florida soils change, you find clay, lime rock and other mixtures that may need aeration, but not lawns grown on sand!  Even if you have sod that was grown on muck, as some sod farms do in south Florida, that is only 2" , the rest in most cases is sand.

Grasses such as bermuda are most common for use on golf greens and fairways. They are constructed differently and do require aeration and verticutting more that once a year.

Cutting Up

By Larry Jones, Jacobsen, A Textron Company

There is a missing link in many lawn care programs — an underutilized cultural practice that boosts turf health and, potentially, your bottom line. Vertical mowing is a healthy habit and a beneficial component of an annual turf care routine. Simply put, vertical mowing encourages turf to take its vitamins.

The practice turns up thatch and opens the turf canopy so it can drink up nutrients and water, and clear out room for fresh growth. Verticutting is an energy boost, setting the stage for green-up in spring and preparing turf for overseeding in fall. And most turf varieties appreciate verticutting — the vigorous mowing isn't limited to sports turf or commercial properties.

Verticutters, on the other hand, dig deeper into the turf canopy and penetrate the crown area of the plant, possibly below, severing stolons and stems. While groomers are designed to condition or stimulate new growth, verticutters are more rigorous and remove thatch. When a verticutter passes over a section of turf, results are visible. Vertical mowing can be disruptive if you cut deeply into the canopy. Upturned soil and debris rest on the turf surface.

Cleanup is simple, requiring one pass over the area with a mower to collect residual debris. This step is critical to ensure what's left behind doesn't compact into soil and reverse verticutting benefits. Removing debris and opening the turf canopy also reduces humidity, promotes drying and reduces the opportunity for disease development.

Sure, verticutting can be dirty work. But the benefits are worth the cleanup — and recovery is minimal if you perform the process properly, gauge verticutting vigor based on turf requirements and utilize the right equipment for the job.


What turf types will benefit from vertical mowing? And why is the management method such a crucial part of turf cultural practices?

First, verticutting isn't limited to regional divides. The highest concentration of use seems to be in northeastern states where operators use verticutters to manage thatch in bentgrasses during summer months. However, those in arid climates who rely heavily on irrigation will find that vertical mowing opens the turf canopy, eliminates accumulation of organic layers and improves irrigation efficiency and moisture penetration into the soil profile.

Areas with significant rainfall naturally accumulate thatch, so verticutting is a smart way to whittle away grass mass and lessen the chance of disease. Southern states harbor warm-season grasses, which experience lateral growth. Rotary mowers draw up some of the overlapping stands on this “creeping grass,” but verticutters will reduce density drastically.

Every turfgrass species benefits from occasional verticutting — two to three times each year — especially those that grow by stolons or rhizomes. Some examples include the bluegrasses and bentgrasses in the more northern climates and Transition Zones. Southern states use considerable amounts of bermudagrasses and ever-increasing acreage of zoysiagrass, and St. Augustine which respond favorably to periodic heavy vertical mowing.

A light vertical mowing or grooming program can also aid in managing thatch accumulation and scalping tendencies. Traditionally, bermudagrass greens and fairways on sports fields and golf courses will undergo verticutting at the end of the season in preparation for overseeding of winter grasses.

Verticutting intensity depends on the application and frequency. The process produces various results on turf, depending on depth and aggressiveness (how deep blades penetrate into soil). Closely spaced vertical blades and a deep cutting depth vigorously churn up soil and results can require a longer recovery period. 

Because superintendents typically groom turf throughout the season, verticutting intensity can be lessened. Landscape contractors who choose to vertical mow properties more than twice a year should also decrease cutting depth for mid-season cuts.

Typically, you should perform vertical mowing three times each year ( not St. Augustine grasses ). First in the spring, which helps remove dead and dormant organic material and promote fresh growth.

Larry Jones is product manager for Jacobsen's golf and fine turf division (Charlotte, N.C.). As product manager, Jones is responsible for several brands including Cushman, Ryan and Jacobsen.


Vertical mowing delivers a bevy of benefits to turfgrass, such as:

  1. Clears out thatch and removes excess turf growth
  2. Provides channels for water infiltration
  3. Opens turf canopy so sunlight and nutrients can settle into soil
  4. Promotes new, healthy turf growth
  5. Prepares seedbed for overseeding ( not St. Augustine grasses )

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