Lawn striping is a simple mowing technique that leaves your yard looking
professionally manicured. Stripes are a nice touch and enhance the
aesthetic appearance of sports turf, golf courses and home lawns.
Striping methods can be used to mow creative designs into lawns - simple
checkerboard and diamond patterns can have dramatic effects and more
complex patterns will create buzz around the neighborhood.
Stripes are a visual effect caused by laying (or bending) grass leaf blades over as you mow in opposite directions. Reflecting sunlight gives the appearance of alternating light and dark green stripes. The grass blades that are bent in the direction you are mowing will appear as light green stripes and the blades bent toward you will appear to be a darker shade of green. Lawn stripes are not created by using special fertilizer techniques, cutting at different heights, painting different colors of green or using different grass species.
Any mower can create a stripe, the tires and deck will bend grass in the direction it travels - some machines stripe better than others. The best stripes are created with mowers that are equipped with rollers or a striping kit. Mower stripes created without a roller are less defined, won't last as long and will not be uniform - the tire tracks usually stand out
Reel mowers - like the ones used on golf courses and baseball fields - cut short turf the cleanest and produce the best stripes. They are equipped with two sets of rollers - one in front of the cutting blades and one behind. The rollers are used to set the cutting height, groom the turf for cutting and then bend the grass in the direction the mower is traveling.
A few commercial and residential rotary mowers are outfitted
with rollers, chains or rubber flaps for striping. Several mower
manufacturers are offering lawn striping kits as an aftermarket add-on.
If you are in the market for a good striping rotary mower - look for one
equipped with a floating deck and a single roller that covers the
length of the cutting deck.
Tip: when ordering a roller - or designing a homemade
striper - it should only be as long as the distance between the two rear
drive wheels. The two rear wheels will bend the grass just like a
roller, so it only has to cover the distance between the rear wheels
with a little overlap. If the roller is wider than the rear wheels you
will have trouble mowing around obstacles. For example, a 36" cutting
deck only needs a roller that is 30" wide.
Anything that can be mounted behind the mower deck that bends the grass can be used to stripe lawns.
Factors affecting how a stripe looks:
Grass-Types: Cool-season grasses - Kentucky bluegrass, fescues and perennial ryegrass - will stripe much better than warm-season grasses. Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass stripe the best. Most warm-season grasses will not stripe very well or not at all. It is possible to stripe some warm-season grasses with extra effort. Bermudagrass overseeded with perennial ryegrass will stripe nicely. Zoysia and bermuda should be mowed every couple of days to get and keep a good stripe - often you have to 'burn' the stripes in by mowing in the same direction several times and this is not so good for the lawn - it tends to make wheel ruts and create soil compaction.
Mow in straight lines. The real key to good stripes and making patterns is mowing in straight lines. The first pass is the most important - it serves as a guide for the following passes. Small curves will get bigger as you continue to mow so straighten crooked lines right away by re-mowing. Start by picking the longest distance for your first pass or splitting the lawn right down the middle.
Tip: When mowing long distances - pick a landmark straight
ahead of you and focus on it. You will tend to veer in the direction
you are looking so keep your head up and look forward.
The dark stripe is the direction you just mowed and the light stripe is the direction you are mowing.
Practice good lawn maintenance and your stripe patterns will stand out. Healthy lush lawns with a dark green color will produce stripes that really show.
Cut high and follow good mowing practices - longer grass has more leaf area to lay down - reflecting more light - and will produce better stripes. I have seen pictures of St. Augustine grass - a warm-season species - cut at 4" that is striped nicely. The stripes would not show on a St. Augustine lawn that is cut shorter.
The direction the sun hits the lawn can be a factor. At certain times of day your stripes will show up better - sometimes the angle of the sun makes them invisible. The place you are viewing the lawn from will also determine how well they show. Consider light direction and viewing points when making your patterns - this usually requires a little trial and error.
Avoid excessive wear and tire damage when making turns - try to make slow, wide turns - sharp, hard turns will damage your lawn. Tight 180 ° turns can rip and bruise the grass blades and cause compaction or excessive tire wear. Try to "draw a light bulb" - start your turn away from the next pass and then make a wide, sweeping turn that finishes in line with your next pass - or make a 3-point "Y" turn. Your cleanup laps will erase the turn around marks on the edges of the lawn. If possible, make your turns off of the lawn - on a sidewalk or driveway.
'High-Lift' mower blades for rotary mowers also help. They create suction (or a vacuum effect) that stands the grass blades up for a good cut and then the mower deck or rollers will lay the grass down creating a nice stripe. Remember to always mow with sharp blades!
Frequent cuttings and double cutting - or even going back and
just rolling the lawn with your blades disengaged will intensify
Have fun with your lawn striping! Many professionals consider stripes to be a sign of quality. With practice and a little creativity your lawn will be the envy of the neighborhood.