“Ruts!”, response of U.S. Army General to Germans when asked to surrender.

“There are ruts in my lawn and I’m so embarrassed. I’m ashamed when friends drop by. Sometimes I can hear the neighbors laughing. And the mailman has stopped taking short cuts across my lawn! What’s a person to do?” – Distraught housewife in San Carlos.

“I had ruts once, but now I’m cured.” – John Smith, President of Ruts Anonymous.


Ruts? Yes, ruts! How embarrassing. How shameful. How utterly rude. And, oh how avoidable.

Do your lawns suffer from ruts? Those parallel rows in a lawn caused by the wheels of your lawn mower. Week after week, month after month, year after year of mowing along the same path over and over again.

You faithfully mowed every week through rain and sultry summers, through fog and mud puddles. You fertilized regularly. Hauled away your clippings. Even sharpened your lawn mower blade weekly, but what do you get? Ruts!

Why me, you ask?

After careful study and extensive research, experts have come to the conclusion that “ruts are caused by the wheels of your lawn mower”.

The wheels by themselves cannot cause ruts however. They need help, primarily in the form of soggy soil caused by excessive irrigation. Add to that the absence of cross cutting and reverse cutting and the results are ruts!

Avoiding ruts is really a simple thing. Never mow a lawn the day of or the day after irrigation. Irrigate once or twice per week or less if you can. Excessively irrigated grass will have a weak root system. Weak roots do not tolerate compaction of the soil caused by repeated passes of a lawn mower in the same track week after week. Never mow in the same track on consecutive weeks.

Cross cut the lawn once per month. Reverse cut every other week. If the lawn is on a slope you may have to cross cut more frequently. Grass will grow in the direction you mow. If you always mow in the same direction the grass will have a tendency to lean that way. This weakens and thins the grass making the soil more susceptible to ruts.

But, what if I already have ruts?

If you already have ruts then you may be in for some extra work to eliminate them. The first thing you should do is check the soil to determine if it’s soggy. If it is soggy then cut back on the frequency of the irrigations and the total amount of water applied. This will give the soil a chance to dry out. Then begin a program of less frequent, but heavy irrigations. Remember, grass roots need air as well as water. Too much water in the soil on a continual basis and the grass drowns.

If the lawn is matted or thick it may be time to renovate (thatch, de-thatch…) or at least scalp. If the lawn is matted with thatch the ruts may simply be in the thatch and not in the soil.

Aerating the lawn might help, especially if you amend the lawn at the same time. This could help fluff up the lawn, thus eliminating many of the ruts.

You may try rolling the lawn on a regular basis or filling the ruts with sand if they are deep. You may also consider over seeding with some of the new grass varieties that have deeper root systems or more blades per individual plants.

Don’t forget to fertilize and amend the lawn on a regular schedule. Healthy grass resists rut damage better then weak grass. A soil test may reveal other less evident problems such as too much sand or clay, for example. A soil base that’s too soft or one that doesn’t “spring back” may need amending.

Finally, you might consider using a larger lawn mower. Some of the self-propelled varieties come in sizes as small 28 inches with wide traction tires thus distributing the weight of the mower over a wider area.

Generally, all you have to do is alter your mowing track several inches each time you mow, cross cut, reverse cut, and put the lawn on a proper irrigation program. In many cases the ruts will simply go away.

All things considered, ruts are unsightly. They are a sign of poor mowing practices and ultimately damage your customer’s lawn. There is more to mowing than pushing a lawn mower. Adopting the mowing techniques discussed here could save you money and time in the long run.