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Tips to Keep a High-Traffic Lawn Looking Good

Walking across a lawn in bare feet is one of the simplest joys of being outdoors — but not for the lawn. Heavy foot traffic from people (and pets) taking shortcuts, avoiding the sidewalk, or running around a swing set causes problems that eventually lead to a declining lawn. Here are ways to avoid that.

Plan Ahead

If you know that you're making an addition to your lawn that will lead to more foot traffic (for instance, installing a swing set), plan ahead to avoid problems. You have a couple of choices:

  1. You can replace the lawn grass in the new area with a variety that tolerates foot traffic.
  2. You don't need to have a lawn at all — substitute mulch or gravel for grass.

Pick the Best Grass Type

The type of grass you should plant to withstand foot traffic depends on whether you live in a cool-season (northern U.S.), warm-season (southern U.S.) or transitional (mid-South) grass area.

Cool-season areas: Plant mixtures of turf-type tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass or perennial ryegrass.

Warm-season areas: Zoysiagrass and Bermudagrass are the two most traffic-tolerant lawn grasses available. Plant sod or plugs of these grasses from May to September to establish a new lawn.

Transitional areas: In transitional areas, neither warm-season nor cool-season grasses are happy all the time. If you will primarily be using the high-traffic area of your yard during the summer, plant zoysiagrass and overseed with annual rye during the winter. If you plan to use your outdoor lawn area all year, consider planting buffalograss.

Alternative Solutions

Sometimes, the best practice for high-traffic areas is to forget the grass and use mulch, gravel, or pavers instead. If you're landscaping around a swing set or a children's play area, use mulch. It is softer than gravel and pavers, and will cushion the inevitable falls. If an area of the lawn has become a pathway shortcut instead of a green oasis, install pavers, flagstone or gravel. (When using gravel, hammer in metal edging along the perimeter to keep the gravel in bounds.)

A compromise between completely green and completely paved is a stone path with groundcovers such as creeping thyme planted between the stones. These are sometimes called "steppable plants."

Preventative Maintenance

Two preventable things cause lawn decline in areas with foot traffic: compacted soil and damaged grass plants. When people or pets walk on the grass repeatedly in the same area, they press down on the soil, which squeezes soil particles together. This means that air and water can't easily move through the soil to reach the grass roots. Eventually, grass grown in compacted soil will die. To prevent soil compaction, rent a punch-core aerator to aerate the grass in high-traffic areas in the spring and fall. Rake a ½ in. layer of finely sifted compost across the aerated area. To prevent plants from being killed by feet grinding their stems into the ground, plant traffic-tolerant grass types.

Now you can enjoy your lawn to its fullest.