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Striping Show and Tell

Here's how you can separate your mowing services from the pack and give the lawns you mow that Major League look
By Suz Trusty


Where to Get Striping Kits

  • Exmark offers a Turf Striper for walk-behind mowers and all models of its Lazer Z ride-on mowers.
  • Toro promotes its Lawn Stryper lawn striping system for walk-behind mowers at the consumer level and a roller striping kit for its 48-, 52- and 60-inch Z-Master Turbo Force mowers.
  • John Deere offers the EZTrak Grass Groomer/Lawn Stripping Kit for 48-, 54- and 62-inch EZTrak mowers and a Roller Striping Kit for its ZTrak Pro 900 series.
  • Hustler promotes striping kits for several of its models, ranging from 36- to 72-inch sizes.
  • Simplicity/Snapper offers striping kits for 48- to 64-inch stamped decks.
  • Ariens promotes striper kits for several of its models.
  • Big League Lawns offers lawn striping products for homeowners, commercial mowing contractors and professional groundskeepers.

There's no magic to striping. It's simply taking advantage of the natural response of the turfgrass, the bending of the grass blades in the direction the mower travels. Light reflecting off the blades creates the light and dark stripes. As you view the mowed area, the grass will appear light where the mower traveled away from you; dark where the mower traveled toward you. The width of the stripe matches the width of the swath.

Done well, striping looks great. So how do you make it work for your business?

Perception of quality

The public is programmed to perceive striped turf as quality turf. Golf courses and sports fields groomed to perfection with reel mowers initiated the striping trend. The rollers on these machines etched-in alternating stripes as the mower operator traveled back and forth across the turf. Upping the ante from these alternating stripes, baseball groundskeepers began using a combination of walk-behind units and triplex riders to create intricate patterns in warm-season grasses and low-cut cool-season grasses. Some of these turf pros even used double-mowing or a second pass with the reels disengaged to accentuate the stripes for special events and television coverage. Fans in the stands and home viewers appreciated the artistry, asking, "How do they do that?"

In response, one of those pattern masters, David Mellor, now director of grounds for the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, wrote a book including the answer. "Picture Perfect: Mowing Techniques for Lawns, Landscapes and Sports" was published in June 2001. Once the secret was out, many wanted a similar "wow factor" for the turf on their commercial properties and home lawns.


Ventrac mowers create striping patterns for North Carolina State University's campus grounds.
PHOTO COURTESY OF VENTRAC.

Making your match

Initially, for those mowing with rotary mowers not equipped to achieve that, Mellor suggested filling a PVC pipe with concrete to create a roller for striping. Others suggested filling the PVC pipe with sand or gravel and capping the ends. This makeshift roller could be set up to attach behind the mower deck or mounted on handles for use in a separate pass. There are multiple types of striping kits on the market for both homeowners and turfgrass professionals. (See sidebar for a few of these.)

Some rotary mowers were ready for striping before striping was cool. "Back in the 1970s, the Steiner mowers always had the rear roller on the finishing decks to eliminate scalping; striping was a bonus. Full-length rear rollers have been used on the Ventrac decks since the 4000 series was introduced in 1998. They're on the Ventrac 3000 series, too," says Dustin Steiner, product research and development manager for Ventrac.

Now rotary mowers pre-equipped for striping are available in various models from many suppliers. These range from the 21-inch walk-behinds, such as the Rotarola with a rear roller from Masport to Trimax Mowing Systems' Pegasus S3 in 16-foot or 20-foot cutting widths, both equipped with full-width rollers for striping.

LCOs using striping in their programs recommend you review the characteristics of the sites you plan to stripe and calculate the average size of those properties as well as the total amount of area to be covered. Then discuss the options not only with potential suppliers, but also with other LCOs who are using the equipment you are considering at similar sites.

Beau Brace, Braces' Sales-Service-Installation based in Carrollton, Ohio, provides input from both perspectives. The company started as Total Lawn Care in 1999 doing "everything needed in the yard, including mowing." Shortly after they started using the Ventrac mowers, they took on the line, expanding the business to a full-service dealership while continuing the lawn care as part of the total package.

Brace says, "We provide lawn care for both commercial and residential accounts, with the majority of the residential sites 2- to 5-acre properties. Since much of the area we serve is hilly, we wanted the full floating deck to follow the contours of the terrain and deliver an even cut without scalping. The all-wheel drive and weight transfer options provide the stability we need. Those features, plus the weight of the commercial-grade deck, allow us to etch in the striping."

Mike Stewart started mowing lawns in 1978. He was introduced to Grasshopper mowers in 1980 and has stuck with the brand. In 1982, he bought out his former partner and officially launched Stewcare. His son, Mike Jr., joined the business in the mid-90s. Mike Sr. is now CEO, and Mike Jr. serves as president.

The business is 75 percent lawn care and 25 percent snow removal. The account breakdown is 75 percent commercial and 25 percent residential. The company services approximately 100 locations, including several school properties and their 30 sports fields.


Stewcare's two-person crews are equipped with two 700 series Grasshopper front mowers for tandem striping.
PHOTO COURTESY OF STEWCARE.

Mike Jr., says, "We mow hundreds of acres each week; some with multiple structures and small blocks of turf; others with large expanses filled with uneven terrain, hills and valleys. We have six Grasshopper 700 series machines. All are equipped with 72-inch front-mount mower decks that do a great job of striping. At peak season, we run three two-person crews, each with two Grasshoppers, and a one person crew using a Wood 18-foot batwing mower driven by a John Deere tractor."

Selling the service

While their sales approaches differ, both deliver striping. Brace says, "Our commercial accounts don't ask for striping and we don't make it an issue in our new client presentations. It's not like they tell us that if we don't stripe, we won't get or keep their business. What they want is overall quality in their lawn care that displays a professional image for their business. Striping definitely adds to that and it's become part of what our commercial clients expect us to do as part of their total service package."

That expectation is spreading to his residential accounts, too. "Once a homeowner sees striping on their lawn, they want it," says Brace. "Then the neighbor sees it, and wants their lawn striped. It just keeps growing from there."

Striping is a bigger part of the sales strategy for Stewcare. "Our mowers make it easy to stripe, even on the smaller residential properties," says Stewart. "From the beginning, we've targeted a particular set of services and focused on the attention to detail that enables us to deliver them very well. Striping is part of that total package, part of what we're known for and what helped advertise our business before we started promoting it via social media. Direct referrals often come because someone has noticed the striping on one of our customer's sites and asked them about it."

Stewcare still has potential clients who call because they have seen their trucks and their crews at work. "And they frequently mention the striping," says Stewart. "We started using social media early in 2012. Since then, at least 80 percent of our new business has come from our new website, Facebook and YouTube where we feature our striping."

How-to tips

Striping won't make a poor lawn look great. It's always the health of the grass in the yard that determines overall lawn quality. But even thick, deep green, healthy grass will look better with stripes.

Brace and Stewart stress considering the viewing angles before you start mowing. When the striping is parallel to the viewer, the impact is more dramatic. It takes some practice and a good eye to create an appealing pattern that will look good from multiple angles.

From the business side, a key part of mowing is being efficient. Stewart says, "We want to look at the turf and determine the longest, straightest line we can mow, then develop the pattern around that. We plan on four different patterns for each site. For most of the season, we'll mow the same pattern for two weeks and then change it. We may alternate the cut pattern weekly in the spring when the ground is wet, the grass is wet, and the internal blade is wet. These changes help the turf maintain an upright growing pattern and improve overall turf vigor. We call it keeping the grass guessing."

Brace typically sets up three different patterns at each site for grass health as well as to vary the look. "It may be north-south, east-west and then diagonal," he says. "We may add a checkerboard pattern occasionally, if the customer wants it. On most of the hilly properties, we'll go with a wavy pattern to accent the contours, but we still vary the direction of cut regularly."

Stewcare crews start mowing at each site with two passes around the perimeter of the first section to be mowed. This becomes the turn-around section. Stewart says, "Plan ahead, mowing each segment in order. You want to keep the mower's turns within those two swaths.

Make a slow, wide turn at the end of each stripe to avoid scuffing and turf wear. Stewart adds, "We take the extra step of mowing those two swaths again, after the rest of the turf has been mowed. It wipes out any turn marks and leaves a well-defined 'frame' to accent the pattern."

Both companies want their mowing to demonstrate "how it should be done." Stewart says, "The striping makes those great lawns even more appealing to the eye."

Suz Trusty is a partner with her husband, Steve, in Trusty & Associates, Council Bluffs, Iowa. She has been involved in the green industry for over 40 years. Contact her at suz@trusty.biz.