Originally created 04/28/00

A lawn of a different stripe



You've seen the orderly, alternating lines of dark and light grass at the ballpark and want to make your lawn look like the Lake Olmstead Stadium outfield.

It looks great, but the look is just an illusion.

"Basically, when you see a light-colored stripe, what you are seeing is the reflection of the light off the top of the blades of grass when the grass is laid down away from you," explained John Packer, head groundskeeper for the Augusta GreenJackets. When you see a dark stripe, it's laid down toward you and when you are looking into it, you are seeing the shadow underneath the grass."

Mr. Packer, who works from approximately 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on game days, handles the grass at Lake Olmstead Stadium almost alone. He takes pride in the turf there.

"It'd be a great job if we didn't play baseball here," he said, referring to the punishment the turf takes from players and their cleats.

It does take practice to mow over 100 yards in a straight line, Mr. Packer said, but, striping is not as difficult as it seems. Only practice and trial and error will help you learn to add striping and other patterns like checkerboards and plaids to your lawn. After a pass or two, you'll get the hang of it and be able to create eye-catching patterns on your lawn.

OK, sounds easy, right?

It is, if you have a lot of time and the right equipment. Expensive equipment.

Costs for the reel mowers used by ballparks and golf courses begin around $20,000 per machine. A home version with rollers cost $2,000 or more and can be purchased or ordered from most home improvement centers or lawn equipment shops. Toro, John Deere, National and Jacobson are the four main producers of this type of mower.

The key to striping turf is to get the grass to lie down as you mow with a reel mower with rollers or a suitable substitute. the effect works best on cool-season grasses like fescue, rye or bluegrass, as opposed to warm-season grasses like zoysia or Bermuda. Bermuda is the most common lawn grass in this area and a Bermuda hybrid is used on the Lake Olmstead Stadium field. Striping works best in the spring when grass is lush and green.

"The farther north you get," said Mr.Packer, "the better the stripes will be for the simple fact that Bermuda does not like to stripe. It is a creeping grass that does not grow straight up."

Cooler areas provide better canvases for striping because rye grass is a tender grass that grows straight and lays over easy. According to Mr. Packer, that is where you get very defined stripes.

Though most any machine will leave some grain on the turf, the best type for striping is a reel mower with roller before and after cutting.

Reel mowers cut cleanly like scissors instead of the chopping that rotary mowers provide. Reel mowers can cut grass much shorter as well. If homeowners try to cut their grass below 1' inches with a rotary mower, it will scar and possibly kill the grass.

"With a rotary type mower, you'd never be able to keep the blade sharp enough for long enough to get a clean cut," Mr. Packer said.

Rollers on mowers do two things. The first grooved roller holds the grass up straight for a nice, even cut by the blades. The second roller lays the blades down after cutting.

You may need the expensive machine if your lawn is going to be on national television, but Mr. Packer offers some homemade ideas that just might work.

"Short of spending $20,000 on a mower," said Mr. Packer, "you could take something like an old piece of carpet and hook it to the back of your mower. It would be very labor-intensive. You have to mow one way, pick up the carpet, turn around and start mowing again. It would be difficult.

And with a rotary mower, Mr. Packer suggested applying small pieces of plastic on the back deck that would hang down and push the grass over as you mow.

Keep in mind, grass can grow up to a 1/4 -inch per day. The shorter the grass, the quicker the stripes will grow out. They can last up to a week.

Reach Valerie McIntosh at (706)823-3351 or newsroom@augustachronicle.com.