Show Me Your Stripes! A pro guide to striping your lawn.
When you go to a baseball game haven’t you ever wondered how they got those stripes in the lawn? Maybe you thought it’s a special type of grass. Or, possibly it’s two or three different types of turf. There are so many questions behind this mystery that today we’ll reveal it just for you then you can do the same for your very own yard.
High-end landscapes with massive turf and baseball fields create a desirable impression with their lawns showing off straight lines and what looks like lawn stripes. This appearance sets the tone that only the wealthy can have grass that looks like that. In reality, you can have your lawn look like that too regardless of its size. It’s all in the way you cut your lawn. And, depending on your lawnmower you may not even need any special tools.
The Illusion: From any angle, the lawn looks like it has stripes. Logic tells us the narrow stripes are the wheels of the lawnmower (and you’d be correct), but, in between each row is distinctive as if growing in an opposite direction. Let’s look at a couple of faqs:
Does it grow in an opposite direction? No.
Is each stripe a different type of grass? No.
Is one side cut higher than the other? No.
Answer (because I just can’t take it any longer): The trick behind a striped lawn is in the way the grass lays over. What you are seeing are the long side of grass blades reflecting off of light. They get that way by simply bending each leaf blade over in one direction then the other when mowing!
Type of Grass: This is important because not all grasses are equal and some can’t be stripped because of their growth habit. For instance, normally turf that grows by rhizomes isn’t striped because their growth pattern doesn’t allow it.
Rhizomes, sometimes called stolons, are the main root of certain grasses like Bermuda & St. Augustine that grow horizontally. [Goofy side note: golf greens are hybrid Bermuda grasses. Can you imagine if a green could be striped, especially at an angle, how that would throw off a put?]
The Marathon family of grasses, Pureblue Lite, and Ryeblue Lite are all types of lawns that can be stripped. Although these turfs have different applications (from field play to just downright pretty to look at) each blade of grass is produced by a single seed. Think about that for a moment. A typical thousand square foot lawn has hundreds of thousands of individual plants which will rejuvenate year after year when taken care of properly. What an amazing thought!
Grass Height & Thickness: If you’re in the habit of having a lawn that’s a little taller then you’re on the right track. In order for the rejuvenation process to happen, we need lawns to be mowed often. Historically once a week is what we’ve been conditioned to do (twice a month is a no-no) but if you can get out there twice a week, oh my goodness, I’m thinking the heavens will shine on your yard and the lawn will reflect it.
Choose a height that works for you. No lower than 2 ¾ inches up to 3 ½ inches will be perfect! Your lawn mower will either have a deck setting to raise it up evenly or individual wheel settings. It’s easy to misread the individual wheel settings so make sure the deck is level and not wonky, one wheel higher than the other. With the lawnmower off, sitting on level concrete, use a tape measure to make sure the settings are what you are looking for. Measure from the top of the concrete to the bottom of the deck. Your blade will be recessed a bit but usually not enough to make a difference. Besides, I don’t want you sticking your fingers under the deck. You’re going to need them to push the lawnmower. It may take a few mowings and adjustments to get the desired height but when you hit that sweet spot – you’ll know.
Mowing cuts off the apical growing point which directs energy back into the plant. This, in turn, helps the grass grow thicker. But, like with all living and breathing things feeding your turf is paramount for its health, deep green color, thickness, insect and disease resistance, capillary action (water uptake) plus wear and tear. Put your lawn on a regular feeding schedule with either a homogenous (granular) or organic fertilizer.
Type of Lawnmower: The trick to lawn stripes is a lawnmower that has enough suction to pull, cut, and bend it over.
Reel lawn mowers are ‘technically’ the best for striping. The blade can whip around upwards of 3000 rpm enough to create an updraft to pull the grass up and trim it like a pair of scissors would cut hair. The problem is the most popular reel mower has a collection basket on the front of the machine which flattens the grass before it cuts it making it counterproductive. Even though there are pro models with rear baskets, truth be known a reel mower is hard to keep adjusted properly, is extremely heavy to maneuver, and is quite costly. It’s the whole reason pro’s have all but stopped using them.
Rotary lawnmowers to the rescue! I’ve seen lawn stripes created by cheap-and-cheesy rotary lawnmowers to the most expensive. Depending on the size of the engine a blade can twirl some 2500 rpm to create plenty of suction to lift and cut the grass. Some lawn mowers come with a rigid flap on the rear deck that can be adjusted to be just for striping.
Pro-Tip Secret: Walk in a straight line. I’m not kidding. You’ll be able to see if you painted the town red the night before after striping a lawn so sober up and walk the line as straight as an arrow.
Should your mower not have that feature there’s no reason to fret. If you’re handy you can jury rig a galvanized pipe just past the rear wheels to float on top of the grass. Don’t put one that’s too heavy because we don’t want the deck to pop a wheelie messing up the cutting action. We’re just looking to bend the grass over. Oh, and be certain that the pipe can’t make its way under the deck – I don’t even want to think what would happen if it slipped under while mowing. Better still shop online for a “Lawn Mower Striping Kit” to be overwhelmed with the choices you’ll have. The kits simply bolt onto your lawnmower.
Execution: Normally stripes are made diagonally on the lawn, which should be dry before tackling. Striping small lawns this way will give the impression your lawn is bigger than it really is. I suggest making the first cut through the center of the lawn then working your way outwards; first cut one half then the other.
Pro-Tip: Crisscrossing hides a multitude of boo-boos. After finishing the first run you may want to create a crisscross or checkered pattern. This type of striping is a little busier looking but equally as impressive.
You’ve now earned your stripes now it’s time for your lawn!
Whatever you’re dumping your clippings in/on do it off of the lawn. Otherwise, you’ll disturb the bentgrass and it won’t reflect any longer.
Nick Federoff, ThingsGreen.com
Syndicated Radio and PBS|KLCS TV Host