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IPM-Based Landscape Design  

Mowing Strips & Underlayment

The term "mowing strip" refers to a hard surface (e. g., concrete, brick) installed along the interface between a mown area and another landscape feature such as a shrub bed or a building wall). "Underlayment" refers to the use of a hard surface underneath or surrounding the base of a landscape feature located in a turf area (e.g., benches, tables, signs, bicycle racks, fencelines).

In the case of walls, fencelines, tables, benches, and other objects located within a lawn, mowing strips and underlayments eliminate the need to spray or trim the grass and/or weeds that grow where mowers cannot reach. When placed along the interface between shrub beds and mown areas, mowing strips serve as a barrier to roots and underground rhizomes, reducing the need for edging treatments.  This translates into less need for herbicides as well as significantly less labor required for routine maintenance needs, regardless of the method chosen (i.e., weed trimmers, herbicide).  See the discussion of life-cycle costing for general information about how increased capital costs in building or retrofitting features such as mowing strips and underlayment into the landscape can not only be recovered but actually save considerable resources over the life of the facility while also decreasing the routine need for pesticides.

All places where lawn interfaces with a landscape element have been sprayed on this typical small urban single family lot, a common practice that, in total, contributes significantly to the volume of herbicides used in urban areas. Water quality and other environmental and human health issues have prompted many states to restrict pesticide use such as this, even on private property in urban areas. Sprayed areas around all features located in lawns in city parks - around a trash can and light pole next to a playground, and around a light pole and trees.  Use of underlayment and mulch would have entirely eliminated both the need for herbicides and trimming.
This park has numerous landscape features (e.g., benches, picnic tables, light posts, trees) that are placed within or adjacent to a mowed area.  The grass growing around or underneath each one of these must be addressed in some manner.  In this case, herbicides are used periodically.  The use of an underlayment would have eliminated the need for maintenance around these features.


The placement of these signs within a turf area without any underlayment translates into the requirement for greater labor resources than would otherwise be necessary if they had been included.  The grass in the left photo is sprayed and in the right photo it is trimmed mechanically.

The following sections illustrate various opportunities and applications for mowing strips and underlayment:

Shrub Bed/Turf Interface
Poured concrete mowing strip installed at time of initial construction.
Poured concrete mowing strip retrofitted after initial construction.  Note need for extension of pad for bench - should have been sufficiently large enough when built to provide a mowing strip to protect bench from mower and to facilitate maintenance of turf.  Note also how timbers have been added around tree to form tree well with landscape fabric and mulch.
Poured exposed aggregate concrete installed at time of initial construction.  Note how mowing strip is integrated into the design (i.e., in left photo exposed aggregate finish extends across sidewalk, which is part of larger patterning of alternating finishes at various widths; in right photo mowing strip blends nicely into sidwalk.
Mortared brick mowing strips along stepped entryway and at interface of lawn and shrub bed.

Wall/Turf Interface

Mowing strip built into wall during initial construction - avoiding seams prevents weed problems, such as in the right photo where morning-glory is growing in seam between wall & mowing strip that was retrofitted after initial construction; seam should be sealed to avoid further weed growth.
These brick steps were designed so that the lowest tread mathes the grade of the lawn and also serves as a mowing strip.

Parking Lots and Driveways Next to Turf

Demonstrates need for barrier between parking lot/driveway and turf area to prevent cars from rutting and destroying the turf. Barrier has been added to prevent cars but has been placed on turf, causing added maintenance and potential setting for routine herbicide treatment.
Properly placed curb inset from edge of pavement keeps vehicles off turf while also serving as a mowing strip that eliminates the need for trimming or spraying of tall grass next to curb. Mowing strip has been added where lawn interfaces with curb to aid mowing and keep traffic off lawn.  Note underlayment of sign in background.


Objects Within and Next to Turf
All three of these photos were taken from the same site.  The two left photos illustrate how the design placed objects on turf that require maintenance to keep the grass from growing tall around the objects; conversely, the objects in the right photo were placed within the concrete, which is far more preferrable from a maintenance and life-cycle costing perspective.

Picnic tables in lawns without underlayment add significantly to the labor required in maintaining these areas. The tall grass that grows underneath the tables must be removed either manually mechanically, or chemically. This table has been provided with a concrete pad that eliminates the need for any type of maintenance underneath it.
A concrete pad was provided for this bench along a riverfront park sidewalk.  If the pad was slightly larger it would have better accommodated large scale mowing equipment. Likewise, a pad was put here for bicycle parking but the structure itself should have been placed farther away from the edge to prevent any potential mowing conflicts.
This drinking fountain has been built with a wide concrete pad surrounding it that serves as a mowing strip and also provides a surface that stays stable and clean during times of heavy use. A pillar for an overpass in an urban park that was built with a wide concrete mowing strip that allows for the effective use of large-scale mowing equipment. (Note the quality of the turf is poor due to the shady conditions created by the road above.)
A sign post located in a turf area just off the curb that creates a situation where the grass must be either trimmed, sprayed, or allowed to grow tall. A similar situation as the photo at left; the sign has been retrofitted with concrete underlayment to eliminate the need for any maintenance around the sign.
These posts were set in concrete at the time of construction but do not serve an adequate benefit for maintenance.  At left, the small strip of grass must still be trimmed, and at right, the pad is not large enough for riding mowers to maneuver around easily.
The concrete of the sidewalk should have flared at the bridge to connect to the bridge abutment, which would have eliminated the need for trimming and also improve the appearance.
A set of bleachers that have no underlayment.  Note how the Himalayan blackberries are growing from underneath into the seats. Bleachers with concrete underlayment.   
No maintenance is required!
Portable bleachers that are easily relocated for mowing underneath and to other areas as needed.
Areas of bike racks at schools that were once gravel and have now been paved.  This eliminates tracking the gravel into the school as well as the growth of weeds in the gravel.


Fencelines without underlayment where the grass is either allowed to grow tall or periodically removed with herbicides.
A fence without underlayment where the grass is mechanically trimmed each time the turf is mowed.
A fence with concrete underlayment.  The grass is trimmed with each mowing and no further maintenance is necessary.


IPM-Based Landscape Design Intro & Contents
Landscape Design for IPM & Low Maintenance
IPM Access Key Documents | Home Page

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Last modified: October 8, 1999

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