In the United States, over 25 million acres of lawn are maintained.

What Causes Ruts in a Lawn?

by Lori Norris

Ruts make lawns difficult to enjoy. Ruts are unsightly, make mowing or maintaining the lawn difficult and create trip hazards for family and visitors. While occasional ruts may be an inevitable part of maintaining a lawn, you can avoid ruts by knowing what causes them and what you can do to avoid further damage. Keeping ruts out of the lawn will help you and your family enjoy the lawn without fear of falling and will make future lawn care less challenging.


The wheels of vehicles or garden equipment can cause ruts in lawns. If the lawn is soft from rain or irrigation, wheels may sink into the turf. When the lawn dries, these ruts remain. Avoid driving tractors, mowing lawns or using fertilizer spreaders on the lawn when it's wet, and keep wheelbarrows on the perimeter. If you must mow the lawn while it's wet, change the mowing pattern each time you mow to avoid going over the same areas repeatedly.

Foot Traffic

High traffic areas in the lawn may develop ruts, particularly in narrow passages on moist grass. The grass may become compacted and die or simply become sparse in appearance. Of course, the first line of defense is to stop the foot traffic. Block pathways with plants, rocks or fences. If this is not possible, plant grasses or ground covers that are more tolerant to foot traffic or eliminate grass and install pavers. Consider using mulch instead of grass.

Animal Tunnels

Animals may burrow just under the surface of the lawn, causing ruts and brown trails where the lawn has died. Moles create underground tunnels and mounds of fresh dirt in the yard, and where tunnels are located, shallow ruts may emerge as these tunnels cave in. Moles primarily eat worms and grubs, while meadow mice, or voles, eat vegetation, including grass. Meadow mice create runways at ground level just under the turf canopy. Both of these animals are usually controlled with traps or baits.


Poor drainage can cause ruts in lawns as water looks for a way to escape. If the lawn slopes inward or if water from downspouts isn't diverted, the small rivers that form may create ruts. To combat this, drains can be installed that lead the water to the nearest street drain or swale. Since this can be difficult and expensive, some homeowners choose to create artificial river beds where streams tend to occur, adding to the beauty of the landscape while at the same time controlling water damage.

About the Author

Lori Norris has been writing professionally since 1998, specializing in horticulture. She has written articles for the Oregon Landscape Contractors Association, chapters of the certification manual for the Oregon Association of Nurseries and translated master gardener materials into Spanish. Norris holds a Bachelor of Arts from Linfield College.

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