Category Archives: Lawn Grooming

Riding Mowers for Larger Lawns

By   December 1, 2015

A riding mower is your key to easy lawns if you have a medium to a large lawn. Riding mowers range from basic sit and mow machines to lawn tractors and then up to professional machines.

Start your selection by analyzing your mowing needs.  If you are a homeowner and all that you want is something to cut grass, then a simple sit on riding mower may be ok for you.  There is a good selection to choose from, and prices are moderate.  Here are a few examples:

The next step up in riding mowers is a lawn tractor.  Lawn tractors can offer wider cuts and more powerful engines, but the principal reason for going to a lawn tractor is the ability to add accessories.  Most lawn tractors have hitches and PTOs (Power Take Offs) to run a wide assortment of accessories like carts, plows, and tillers. Accessories are nice but don’t overpay for the ability to add them unless you are sure that you will use them.

Some Common Sense About Riding Mowers and Lawn Tractor Accessories

There are some things that a lawn tractor can do well with attachments and others that are really out of its scope.  Snow plowing is one of the later.
Most riding mowers and lawn tractors with a snow blade can handle light snow, but anything more than a few inches becomes problematic.  It’s not for a lack of power.  It’s just that snow is real heavy and it builds up heavier and heavier loads as you push it.  A lawn tractor, even with chains and extra weights, just can’t get enough traction to push a lot of snow.  You’ll need to constantly back up and ram forward to move the snow.  It’s real hard on the tractor, transmission, and driver.  If your area sees more than an occasional dusting of snow, you’ll be much better served by a snowblower than a plow.  A snow blower attachment for your lawn tractor can be a good compromise if you have a lot to plow and some room to maneuver.
The same goes for plowing dirt or tilling your garden.  Most lawn tractors just don’t have enough weight and heft to do it effectively.
Let’s talk about power for a minute.  Most lawn tractors and riding mowers, even with the basic engine, have enough power to handle just about any garden task.  The limiting factor is traction and more power only spins the wheels more which can tear up your lawn and driveway.  Stores like to sell bigger machines because they’re an easy up-sell, and they make more profit.  Instead, look for engine and transmission features.  A better engine will have heavier bearings and automobile type oil filter.
The next step up in riding mowers are the professional mowers. Many of these are zero-turn models that you might see with professional landscapers and golf courses.  Each wheel operates independently, usually with steering bars.  They can turn in place or operate forward and backward.  Most have wide cutting decks.  Pros like them because they are fast.
As attractive as these mowers are, be careful buying one.  They are designated as professional machines for a reason.  Most are a bit difficult to use and lack the safety features that are mandated on home machines.  They go and turn fast enough that they can injure or dump the driver.   The speed that the blade spins on a home owners machine is limited so that if you run over a stick or a rock, the speed that it’s thrown out of the side of the machine is limited and safer.  Pro machine blades spin much faster and are much more dangerous if you run over toys and debris. If you still want one, here’s a couple ideas.

Garden Tractors

Garden Tractors are big brothers to Lawn Tractors.  They’re generally bigger, have stronger frames, bigger engines, better transmissions, and higher costs than a lawn tractor.  As the name implies, they are more suitable to light garden tasks than a lawn tractor.
Look for a garden tractor for mowing if you have more than an acre or two of lawn to cut or if you have difficult terrain.  The extra size and guts on a garden tractor may support faster speeds and a larger cutting deck than the typical lawn tractor to finish large areas faster.
On the down side, because of their size, garden tractors are more expensive, more complex, and less maneuverable than lawn tractors.  Choose based on need and don’t get carried away with the bigger is always better sickness.

Lawn Mower Fun Stuff

By   December 1, 2015

Lawn mower fun sounds like the product of a twisted mind, but mowing the lawn gives you time to think.  Mowing doesn’t take a lot of brain power, and sometimes my mind wanders off to strange places. It might kill my credibility as an author, but here’re a few of my stranger thoughts.

Sheep grazing. Viewed from this side, it's an early lawn mower. The other side is a fertilizing machine.

Viewed from this side, it’s an early lawn mower. The other side is a fertilizing machine.

The first lawn mowers weren’t machines, but they were multifunctional. Grass goes in the front; fertilizer comes out the back. All while standing on four hooves.

History tells us that private grass lawns became popular in 17th century England. Before that, lawns were mostly public areas where anyone could graze their livestock, hence the term “commons”.  Some were surrounding a village or castle, where lawns served the dual purpose of providing hay and keeping the fields open so that intruders could be seen.

Private lawns gained popularity in England though as the wealthy considered them a status symbol. Only the very wealthy could afford the manual grooming necessary to keep them looking good (or at least looking better than their neighbors).  Fine textured grass seed was rare, and finer textures were often imported from Scotland where they grew wild.  Mowing was done with a scythe, and the ground was leveled with big wooden rollers.  Fertilizing was still done with manure.  The lawn was off limits for a while after fertilizing. Many of these early lawns weren’t grass at all but consisted of fine textured ground covers.

And so, I often think back to those early town common lawns and seriously consider buying a goat.


 

No Work Involved Lawn Mower Fun

Lawn mower fun can be from a no-work involved robotic mower.

Lawn mower fun can be from a no-work involved robotic mower.

Modern technology is finally catching up to one of my other lawn mower fun fantasies.  Way back in the 60s, when I used to spend my lawn mowing earnings to buy comic books and popular mechanics magazines, there were predictions that the task of lawn mowing would soon be taken over by robots.  It looks like microcircuits are finally making that happen.

Early attempts had trouble mowing all of the lawn.  Like a child’s toy, they just ran around in any direction, turning only when they hit an obstacle.  Some models tried following buried wires but “jumped the track” and got lost easily.  Others weren’t self-controlled but were controlled by an R/C unit like today’s drones.

Now, sensors can track what area has been mowed and what hasn’t.  A robotic mower can do a pretty good job on a well laid out lawn, and each new generation is improving performance.  They’re still limited to smooth ground although most can handle slopes as long as they aren’t rough.  All have limited power that works best on lawns that aren’t overgrown.  Of course, if the mowing is automatic, it takes almost no effort from you to keep your lawn trimmed, and no-effort is the best type of lawn mower fun.


Stripes Lawn Mower Fun

Cut and striped lawn.

Perfect stripes, Front Court, Emmanuel College
The lawn in front court has been cut and striped perfectly. Nobody is permitted on the lawn – except when it snowed in February and students were allowed on (even encouraged) to make snowmen, and a snow duck.
© Copyright Rich Tea and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence.

I always admired the stripes on a well cared for lawn.  Lawn stripes don’t always jibe with the idea of an easy lawn, but here’s wow to do it if you’re feeling fancy.

The appearance of stripes is caused by the way that the blades of grass lay.  They look dark if bent towards you, light if bent away.  A rotary lawn mower will create some strips.  As the blades spin they bend grass on one side of the mower forward and back on the other.  But this isn’t the real deep stripes that we see and admire on a finely cut lawn.

Stripes like you see in this illustration or at the ballpark are done with a special striping kit that drags behind the mower.  Some use a small roller; others use a brush to line up the blades.

If you want to have some lawn mower fun at home, a similar effect at home can be created with an empty lawn roller.  Cut your grass high so that the blades are long enough to lay over and run the roller over it.  Try to keep the rows straight.  The pros do it with a tractor and a lot of practice.


 

A push lawn mower attached to a bicycle

Bicycle powered lawn mower

This picture caught my attention from an online photo gallery.  I’m not quite sure that this would classify as lawn mower fun, maybe it’s more photography fun, but it certainly is unusual.

Mowers For Small to Medium Lawns

By   November 18, 2015

Making the right choice of lawn mowers is important.  You’re going to spend a lot of time with it and selecting the right mowers can make a big difference.  Let’s look at some of the different kinds available:

Lawn Mowers for Small Lawns

This push type mower has an attached grass catcher bag

This push-type mower has an attached grass catcher bag

A push type reel mower is a good choice for small lawns.  They cut well, require very little upkeep, and are fairly inexpensive.  The drawback is that you have to provide the power.  The reel type blades spin when the mower is moved.  Use this type of mower only for small lawns of 500 square feet or so.

Lawn Mowers for Small to Medium Lawns

The most common type of mower is the walk behind.  These powered mowers can handle larger lawns and have a motor to handle the cutting chore.  A good one will run for years with minimal care.  The most common size is 20″ to 22″.  Smaller sizes are sometimes used by professionals for trimming but, because of the motor size and weight, require as much effort as the standard size ones.  A few brands offer larger size cuts which can cut down your mowing time, but larger mowers are often heavier.  And since safety laws limit the speed that a mower blade can spin, the blades on a larger mower may not spin fast enough to give you a clean cut.

Gas or Electric

Some lawn mowers can bag the clippings

Some lawn mowers can bag the clippings

It doesn’t make a difference to your lawn what type of power your mower uses, but it may make a difference to you.  Electric motors are more dependable than gas, start at the flip of a switch, are cheaper to buy and to run, are quieter, and are better for the environment.  Unfortunately, they’re not as powerful as gas as there’s a limit to the size of the motor that can be run on an extension cord.  And you need to drag the cord around behind you without running it over.

New battery technology has allowed for cordless electric mowers.  Depending on the model any your grass height, they’ll handle up to 1/4 acre max.  New battery technology may stretch this out to 1/2 acre or so soon.  Allow a lot of leeway in your selection.  Don’t pick one that’s right at the limit because batteries weaken with age.

Given a choice, I would pick an electric for a small lawn because of their simplicity, but would prefer gas for anything larger than 6 or 7,000 square feet.

Gas mowers have enough power to offer another choice: Self-propelled or push types.  Self-propelled is a great feature if your lawn cutting involves long straight cuts.  You just need to follow behind, the mower does all of the work.  Self-propelled mowers lose their advantage if your lawn requires a lot of maneuvering and turns.  The extra effort to bully them through turns or uneven terrain can sometimes negate their energy savings on the straight runs.

Cutting, Bagging, or Mulching

As your mower cuts your grass, it needs to do something with the clippings.  The traditional solution is to shoot them out of the side of the mower which should, but doesn’t always, spread them out to sink back into the turf to break down into mulch.  Sometimes it works, but often it leaves grass piles or clumps that need to be raked up.  Raking is definitely not a part of an easy lawn and we have a few solutions.

Clumps and piles of grass are often the result of grass being wet, too long, or a poorly designed mower.  The solution to wet grass is easy, just wait a while until it’s dry.  Set the cutting height up if the grass is too long, you shouldn’t be cutting off more than 1/3 of your grass height at one time anyways.  As for the poorly designed mower problem, that’s why we’re here now.

Many mowers come with baggers to catch your grass clippings.  While this leaves your lawn nice and neat, it’s not always the best for your lawn.  Bags fill up quick and you’ll need to empty them often and dispose of the clippings.  And you need to clean out the bag completely at the end of your mowing as grass clippings rot quickly and can smell bad.

Some mowers are mulchers.  That means that along with cutting the tops off the grass, the mower chops it up and (tries to) force it back into the turf.  Some mowers are convertible.  No, the top doesn’t go down, they have a setting or adjustment that switches from side discharge to mulching.

There’s another problem with baggers.  The clippings that you’re bagging are loaded with nutrients.  Mulching the clippings back in recycles these nutrients and the decomposing clippings do all sorts of good things.  They shade out weed growth, cool the ground, encourage earthworms (good), and supply organic material to improve your soil. Disposing of the clippings removes them.  It means that you’ll need to fertilize more often.

Overall, mulchers are often the best way to go in the long run.  Their drawbacks are that mulching mowers sometimes need bigger motors and often cost a bit more.

Mowing Your Lawn

By   October 25, 2015

Mowing your lawn might seem like a no-brainer task. Just set the mower height low so that the clipping will last as long as possible and push the mower around the lawn. That’s definitely not the case.

Your lawn isn’t like your hair. On your head, only the roots are living. Everything else is dead tissue. And it’s not really easy for outside weeds to begin growing on your head.

In your lawn, everything is alive. The roots grow deep searching for moisture and nutrition, the crown directs growth, and the blades are living and breathing things, although they may breathe a bit different than you do. Provide optimal conditions and your lawn will grow thick and green. Beat it up or torture it with starvation, poor soil, heavy traffic, or bugs and it will wither and die.

Mowing Higher

Mowing your lawn higher for green heath

Mowing your lawn higher for green heath

The true fact is that, even though it’s an investment of a bit of time, proper mowing of your lawn is one of the primary steps towards having an easy lawn. Don’t believe me?  Check out what the US Department of Agriculture says! Let’s look at how this happens:

Tops on the list are setting your mower to the right height. Surprisingly, mowing higher is usually better. A close crop may not leave enough of the grass plant living to nourish the plant. Granted, it might slow growth to stretch the times between mowings, but it accomplishes that by weakening the grass plants so they can’t grow or grow slow. Unfortunately, there are other types of lawn plants that stand up well to close mowings and may even prosper. They’re called weeds! And extremely low cuts encourage weed growth by exposing bare ground to help weed seed germination at the same time that it weakens your lawngrass’s ability to fight them. My top recommendation for easy lawn care is to cut your lawn to the high end of the recommendation scale. The USDA recommends that cool-season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, and perennial ryegrass should be cut to 1 1/2 to 3 inches Warm season grasses like Bermudagrass and Zoysia can be cut close to a half inch, and Bahiagrass, carpetgrass, and centipedegrass should be cut to 1 to 3 inches. Saint Augustine grass likes to be tall in the 3 to 4-inch range.

Early in the growing season, or when a lot of moisture is expected, mowing towards the lower end of the range is best. This will allow for better air circulation and inhibit fungus and mildew damage. As the weather warms and the dry season approaches, let it grow to the high end of the scale. Longer blades of grass will provide better shade, keep the soil cooler, and help keep moisture in.

There’s also one big advantage to longer grass. It looks greener! You’ll see a lot more green grass and a lot fewer crowns, roots, and bare soil.

How you mow your grass is also important. If you’re using a rotary power mower, a piece of steel swishes over the blades and chops it off. If your mower is running well and the blade is sharp, it cuts, actually it rips, the top off clean. If your blade is dull or your mower isn’t spinning it fast enough, your grass gets shredded. Or worse yet, it gets pulled out by the roots! Shredded grass gets disease easily, looks brown, and is not healthy. Keep your mower blades sharp. There are inexpensive home sharpening kits available, or bring the blade into the shop for professional sharpening, or buy a new blade at least yearly. Blades for standard mowers are inexpensive and easy to replace. Blades for premium or commercial mowers are made of higher quality and harder steel and higher priced.

Keep your mowing blades spinning fast! Always run your mower at full speed to keep the blades spinning and cutting effectively. Running the cutting blade at reduced speed doesn’t help the grass or the mower. It needs speed to cut clean.

Plant scientist work to breed plants with different traits. Stay away from fast growing grass unless you like mowing.

Plant scientist work to breed plants with different traits. Stay away from fast-growing grass unless you like mowing.

Scalping your lawn with an extra short-cut hurts your lawn. Mowing off large amounts of greenery hurts it even more. The general rule is to never cut more than 1/3rd of your grass of at a time. Any more can shock the plants and cause permanent damage. Shorten it a third at a time if your lawn went crazy while you were away on vacation or the weather kept you inside. Bring it back to normal over time. Of course, this means that you can stretch out your cuttings during the dry season when growth is slowest.

Mowing Forever

There’s one more important point to be made here. You are going to be cutting your lawn for many years. Don’t torture yourself by taking shortcuts. Choose your seed carefully when planting or reseeding. If it says “quick grow”, walk away quickly. You’ll be cutting your quick grow grass more often than should be needed. Picture a plant scientist in a lab crossing lawn grass with fast-growing weeds to make it grow faster!

Instead, choose a quality turf blend. Fast germination ( the speed that the seed sprouts) is ok, fast growth is for hayfields.