If your lawn is starting to look like a farmer’s field with tire ruts, then something isn’t right. After using a riding lawn mower for a few months, I started to notice that the grass under the wheels wouldn’t spring back like it would when I used my old push mower.
So, if you are having the same problem with ruts in your lawn from your mower, let’s go over some of the possible causes and how to fix it.
Why is My Lawn Mower Leaving Wheel Marks? (The Short Answer)
There are several things you’ll need to check to figure out why your lawn mower is leaving wheel marks on your lawn. This includes checking your lawn mower setup, grass conditions, driving technique, and finally, mowing pattern.
7 Possible Reasons for Lawn Mower Wheel Marks in Grass
So, here are seven possible reasons your lawn mower wheels are leaving ruts in your lawn when you mow. Let’s take a look at what these are.
- Check Your Turf Tires
- Check Your Mowing Pattern
- Mowing While the Soil is Wet
- Mowing Dry Struggling Grass
- Over-Cutting Your Lawn
- Spinning the Tires
- Checking Your Driving
Check Your Turf Tires
If you take a look at the tires on riding lawn mowers, you’ll notice nearly most of them, if not all of them, have turf tires. This is so that the lawn mower can have enough grip on the lawn and, at the same time, not cause any damage to the grass.
Now, it seems that a lot of people have a problem with getting good traction on zero-turn lawn mowers and riding lawn mowers. It can be tempting to swap out the tires. Yes, this will give you more grip, but it will also cause damage to your lawn. So, if your lawn mower is leaving wheel marks, check you have the appropriate turf tires installed.
Check Your Mowing Pattern
I’d say that probably one of the most common causes people’s lawn mowers leave tire tracks is because they use the same pattern to mow their lawn every time they mow. They start in the same place, go in the same direction, and run over the same tire mark every week.
This causes two problems. First, the grass continually gets flattened, so it loses its springiness. Second, the soil beneath the grass gets compacted. If you add both of the problems together, you get damaged grass trying to grow in over-compacted soil. So, if you always follow the same mowing pattern, then the lawn mower wheel lines will get worse with every cut.
Mowing While the Soil is Wet
If you have ever ridden a bicycle through a park after it has rained, then you’re familiar with how the tires sink into the grass. Now, mowing on wet ground is just the same. Even though riding lawn mowers have turf tires and you might not get stuck, the tires will still sink into the ground and cause your lawn mower to leave tire tracks.
This can happen even if the soil is damp and you ride over the same spot too many times. I found that it was a real problem when I mowed on the same days my lawn was watered or shortly after it rained.
Mowing Dry Struggling Grass
On the opposite end of the spectrum is having grass that is too dry. If the grass doesn’t have enough moisture, then it’s going to struggle to spring back. I notice this most during the summer months when my lawn struggles as it is being scorched by the sun. So, if you are noticing your lawn mower leaving wheel marks, then check the condition of the grass.
Over-Cutting Your Lawn
One of my neighbors used to cut his lawn every five days during the summer because he claimed it would get too long for his lawn mower. He also complained that his lawn would always struggle during the summer, and his lawn mower wheels would leave marks in the grass. Well, most lawns need a certain time to recover after the stress of mowing.
So, I’d say that mowing every five days is just too often. Also, cutting a lawn when it’s dormant isn’t a good idea. During this period, the grass shifts its focus to the roots to keep the plant strong during the cooler months.
Mowing dormant grass will potentially cause tire ruts as the grass isn’t focusing on blade recovery. I recommend you take a look at your mowing schedule and check how often you are mowing your lawn.
Spinning the Tires
Even if you have turf tires on your riding lawn mower or your zero-turn, you may still find that there is an issue with traction in certain areas of your lawn. I have a steep bank in my backyard that my riding mower struggles with at times.
Now, if you were to look at my tires while my lawn mower is slipping, you’d see the tires throwing up grass and leaving tracks in my path. So, if you have a similar situation, take a look at your tires and see if they are kicking up the grass.
Checking Your Driving
Riding lawn mowers have more power than we expect, and they are also probably faster than they should be. This is especially true when it comes to zero-turn lawn mowers. Getting used to a zero-turn lawn mower can take some time.
A jerky zero-turn can definitely leave some tire tracks in your path, as can rear wheels that aren’t always turning while the lawn mower is in motion. Another issue I’ve seen with tractor lawn mowers is that they can leave tracks in the lawn during turning. This is because the power and speed of the back wheels cause the front wheels to slip.
Again, another way to leave ruts in your lawn. So, if there was a driving test for riding lawn mowers, do you think you would pass on the first try? I think I would have failed because I was too fast and too aggressive.
How to Prevent Lawn Mower Tire Tracks When Mowing (5 Ideas)
Now that we have been through the seven potential causes of your lawn mower leaving tracks in your lawn, let’s take a look at the solutions that could stop it from happening in the future.
- Change Your Mowing Pattern
- Mowing in the Right Conditions
- Perfect Your Mowing Schedule
- Avoid the Hills
- Slow Down Your Mowing
Change Your Mowing Pattern
A term that you may not be familiar with is cross-cutting. This is the practice of changing the angle at which the lawn is mowed from cut to cut. For example, you could mow your lawn from side to side, then the following week up and down.
Cross-cutting prevents you from mowing in the same direction on a weekly basis and gives the lawn longer to recover. As long as you are not going over the same tracks each week, your tracks should start to disappear. I’m pretty sure that you will notice an improvement the first time you cross-cut.
Also, in tight spaces and badly affected areas, you could use a weed eater instead of your lawn mower. I’ve found that keeping my lawn mower off of the really bad ruts definitely helps.
Mowing the Right Conditions
This is an easy one. If you see that your lawn is wet and the soil is damp, then stay off of your lawn with your lawn mower. I’m sure you have seen the lawn guys during the summer months mowing after a downpour leaving big black dirt tracks on people’s lawns. This is definitely not something you want to do if you are trying to avoid your lawn mower leaving tire tracks.
Perfect Your Mowing Schedule
So, my neighbor finally figured out how often to mow his St. Augustine lawn and started to cut once a week and then every few weeks during the cooler months. Well, only once he worked where the lawn mower height adjustment level was on his lawn mower and how to adjust the cutting height.
Cutting your lawn at the right time is crucial and can help avoid the not so nice looking ruts. Leaving enough time between cuts definitely gives the lawn time to recover. So, I always recommend waiting at least a week between mowing in the summer growing months.
Avoid the Hills
When I say avoid the hills, what I really mean is to avoid trying to go straight up them. I found that cutting across the slope in my backyard would instantly stop my lawn mower from slipping and leaving tracks.
Also, I would make sure that I didn’t mow over the exact same tracks as the week before. If you have room and grip, then cross-cutting slopes is perfect. Say, 45 degrees to the left one week and 45 degrees to the right the next.
During periods when even cross-cutting isn’t possible, I grab my weed eater and give the lawn mower a week off.
Slow Down Your Mowing
Ok, so the last item on the list is to slow down how fast you mow, especially on those corners. If you have a zero-turn lawn mower, reducing your speed will also give you a smoother ride.
Now, I know tractor mowers and zero-turn lawn mowers are generally fast, but you really don’t need to use all the speed available. So if your zero-turn is leaving tire marks, try slowing down a little and remember to keep both rear wheels turning whenever your mower is in motion.