What causes ruts and how do I fix it?
I have seen hundreds of rutted lawns over the years and there is a multitude of things that may be causing the problem. This post lists the main culprits and the best way to address the issues. I also discuss a simple fix that I have suggested to my customers for years and they have used it with great success. Even better, it costs nothing.
Lawn ruts can be caused by the following things
- Rain, Moisture, or bad drainage.
- mowing patterns. Mowing your lawn the same way every time.
- heavy equipment, or cars.
- The breakdown of organic matter under your lawn (such as tree roots)
- High traffic areas on your lawn
- Damage caused by children or animals.
Some shallow ruts can be fixed fairly easily but when you get deeper ruts over four inches in depth it can be a harder thing to fix. Especially if it was made by heavy machinery or a vehicle. This kind of rut will most likely have compressed the soil so this will need to be addressed as well.
These are the most likely causes and symptoms.
Rain, Moisture, or bad drainage.
Bad drainage is usually fairly easy to spot and hard to fix.
The main signs of bad drainage is a lawn that never drys out. You leave footprints when you walk through and a mower will leave tracks.
When I come across a lawn like this it is usually at the bottom of a gully or hill. This can also happen at the bottom of retaining walls.
It usually requires the laying of drains and soak holes which is better left to the experts so I won’t cover it here.
Mowing your lawn the same way every time.
Whenever I come across this problem it is usually due to an oddly shaped lawn. When people mow their lawn they tend to take the path of least resistance. For example, if a lawn is long and narrow then people tend to mow it following the long side. if the lawn gets soft and pliable at any stage due to moisture, then mowing it this way time after time will cause the lawn to get permanent marks.
The way to avoid this is to mow the lawn when it is dry and change directions on a regular basis.
One time mow up and down and the next time mow across. This will reduce any mower ruts and give you a better lawn. It can take you longer to mow across narrow areas instead of following the long edge but the results are worth the effort.
One problem that you may have using this system is trying to remember which way you mowed the lawn last time. I had that problem too when I have a lot of lawn trucks on the road. We never knew which way the lawn had been cut the last time and we didn’t want to write it down on the job sheets to look up later so I came up with a simple system.
I told the guys to look at the date before mowing
An odd date = Mow up and down.
An even date = Mow across.
Using this method will give you an easy way to keep changing direction without having to think about it.
heavy equipment, or cars.
If someone has driven on the lawn or used any kind of heavy equipment of the lawn and it has sunk in more then a few inches then this will require some work to bring it right.
Not only will you have ruts, but you will have compression in the soil. This means that if you want to bring the lawn back to its original state you will need to decompress the soil using a garden fork or something similar.
Fixing deep ruts.
First, have a look at the bottom rut. Is there any tuff there? If so this will help speed up the recovery time. If the turf at the bottom of the rut is salvageable then take the turf in squares about a foot square and a couple of inches deep. Put this aside as you will need it later.
Now take a garden fork or a spade and turn over the dirt at the bottom of the rut.
You can put a layer of course gravel at the bottom. This will help with drainage and give you a good base to work with.
Mix some sand, soil, and compost together (a third of each)
Now fill up the rut leaving about an inch of space at the top.
Now place the turf on top.
It doesn’t matter if the tuff is an inch or so higher then the rut. It should settle over time.
Now stake it off and leave it to heal and DONT dive on it again.
Have a look at it a couple of months later and top it up if necessary using a fine soil.
High traffic areas on your lawn
The best way to approach this is to try to give the high traffic area a rest. Try to stake the area off. If this cannot be done consider laying pathing stones.
If you can rope the area, then go over the area with a fork or a rake and break up the surface of the soil. Then lay a layer of the soil, sand, and compost mix on top. Lay plant seed on top and let it grow. Do not cut the grass until it is a few inches high and well-rooted. Make sure your mower blade is sharp and you mow hight when you cut it.
To get the best results with grass seed you will new to sow it at the right time.
If you sow grass seed out of season it may not grow. If you have a warm-season grass you should do this in late Spring. For cool-season grasses then wait until Early Fall.
If you are not too worried, you can throw down some grass seed as soon as you finish. You never know, It may just grow anyway.
The breakdown of organic matter under your lawn (such as tree roots)
If you have a tree stump on your lawn then you may get indentations where the roots have rotted. One thing I would advise before fixing that kind of damage is that you walk around the stump testing the ground. You will usually find a couple more spots that are soft underfoot and could do with some attention.
Once you have found the areas that need work then fill them with your soil mix and lay a bit of grass seed. The holes will turn back into lawn fairly quickly.
A simple free way to fix small ruts.
One trick I have used many times over the years that has worked well is grass clippings.
As I am mowing a lawn if I see a small hole or rut then I will pack it with grass clippings from the catcher. I then stand on it to compress the clippings down.
I keep doing this every time I mow the lawn. Over time it fulls up and the grass from the surrounding lawn will cover it.
If you have ever dug out an old compost bin full of lawn clippings you will notice that it turns into great dirt that is full of worms. A little nitrogen-rich but if that’s a concern you can always add a little bit of lime.
I have even used lawn clippings to fill up a hole left by a pool. Only the bottom two foot of the pool was buried but we filled the hole and it is now solid has started growing grass in some places.
We were able to avoid going to the grass dump for a few months.
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