Does your lawn have ruts or stripes caused by mower tires? Have you ever envied the beautiful checkerboard and diagonal patterns on golf greens and other sports fields?
It is not difficult to improve the appearance of most lawns by varying the mowing pattern. Whether you mow with a small walk-behind mower, a garden tractor or a large commercial mower, the same principles will apply.
Most lawns and sections of lawns are shaped such that one way of mowing is easiest and fastest – perhaps back and forth east/west, or around the periphery in a circuitous pattern. Because it is easier, we tend to mow that way time after time. After a few mowing cycles, your repetitive tire tracks will show in the turf (Figure 1). If you do it long enough, or if you mow when the ground is wet, you may actually get ruts where you always run the mower.
The solution is to mow the way the pros do it – alternate or vary your mowing patterns. If you mowed back and forth east/west last week, mow back and forth north/south this week. Or, try mowing at an angle: southeast to northwest or southwest to northeast. Alternating your mowing pattern will have two beneficial effects. First, you will minimize tire marks and ruts since you will run the tires in different places each time. Second, the alternate or varying patterns tend be very attractive since the previous pattern or two will still be visible after mowing and thus your lawn will take on a checkerboard appearance somewhat like the beautiful sports fields you see on TV (Figure 2). In most cases, it will take you somewhat longer to mow in the less efficient patterns, but the results can be well worth it.
Varying mowing patterns works very well and is easy to do in large, open turf areas. It can be much more difficult in small areas, particularly those that are long and narrow like some city side-yards and the tree-lawns between sidewalk and street. Even though it is difficult, varying the pattern as much as possible on these odd areas is still beneficial. In the case of tree-lawns, it is often possible to mow right over the sidewalk and include the tree-lawn in the main front lawn pattern. In the case of narrow side yards, it is usually possible to fit in at least two patterns and thus minimize tracking.
Don’t Overdo Your Expectations
There is a caveat to all this. Alternating mowing patterns will certainly improve the appearance of your lawn, but you can’t expect your lawn to match the dramatic patterns you see on sports fields on TV. The grounds managers on professional sports fields use reel mowers with rollers to lay the turf over and create the highly visible patterns. You can get a somewhat similar appearance (Figure 2), but your results with a rotary mower will be much less dramatic than is possible with a reel mower.
Varying your mowing pattern can cause you to spend a little more time mowing, but the result will be a greatly improved appearance in your turfgrass. In larger turf areas, it is good to rotate among four patterns: back and forth east/west, back and forth north/south, diagonal southeast/northwest and diagonal southwest/northeast. In long, narrow, awkward areas, even alternating between two patterns will help reduce tire tracks and make your lawn look better. In other words, mow like the pros!