Choosing a Lawn Mower

 

There are more lawn mower options available today than ever before as manufacturers recognize consumers want choices.  If the selection options now seem overwhelming, begin your deliberation considerations by thinking about power – human, battery, electric or gasoline power, that is.  You can provide the pushing effort, or walk behind a self-propelled mower or ride on a tractor mounted mower.  For most homeowners these choices will be influenced largely by lawn size and the time and physical effort you are willing to devote to mowing.

An Overview of Mower Types

  • For small lawns, you might choose to provide the power and push an old-fashioned reel mower.  They work best on lawns that are mowed at 2 inches or less and they tend to leave tall weeds and grasses unmowed.  If you miss a week of mowing and the grass gets too tall,  you will need to “double mow” to get the lawn back to the desired height.  Reel mowers are recommended for fescues (most commonly found in the Northeast) as they require mowing above 3 inches.  If this option work for you, you can save time time on a trip to the gym.
  • Battery powered and electric rotary  mowers are getting more robust every year.  Like reel mowers, trendy battery-operated cutters are best used on small lawns.  For some, battery life is limited to 20 to 40 minutes between charges while other models are now offering much longer power performance.  To conserve battery life most of these mowers cut a narrower swath and require you to push them though there are now a few self-propelled electrics on the market as well.  Similarly, electric mowers – with cords or cordless – offer ease and turn-key readiness for small lawns.  Battery and electric mowers are quiet and do not require gasoline storage.
  • Walk-behind gasoline powered rotary mowers are the most commonly used.  These machines can comfortably handle most mowing tasks on lawns up to 20,000 sq.ft.   They are available in push or self-propelled designs, with pull start or battery start models.  Electronics have all but eliminated the starting difficulty  of your father’s or grandfather’s mowers.  Most models cut a 21 to 22-inch swath although twin-blade models with cutting swaths of up to 32 inches are now available for larger lawns.
  • For estate size lawns, riding mowers are likely the best choice.  Many of these models are mounted under garden tractors while others are on a chassis specifically designed for mowing. Zero turning radius is a great option that, with practice, allows much more efficient mowing and less trimming of areas tractor mowers can’t otherwise reach.  Tractor mowers are also particularly useful for properties that have hills and garden beds.  Those considering the purchase of a riding mower should anticipate sizable garage space for storage.

 

 

Mower Maintenance

Once you have a new mower, proper maintenance is paramount to extend mower life and lawn quality.  Dull blades can be detrimental to the health of your lawn.  Reel mowers require frequent adjustment to keep the reel blade in proper alignment with the bedknife.  This requires minor adjustment every few weeks and annual attention by a sharpening specialist.  Rotary mower blades should be sharpened a couple of times each season.  It is important that the blade is properly balanced each time it is sharpened to insure that the same weight of metal is ground off each end of the blade.  If you hit an immovable object while mowing, the blade should be inspected for sharpness and balance before continuing to mow.  Checking oil before each mowing and following the recommendation in your owner’s manual will allow you to get many years of service from your mower.

To keep your gasoline-powered mower operating well, add a fuel stabilizer when needed to keep it in fresh condition.  Lawn mowers need clean air to start quickly and have a long service life so replace or clean your air filter at least annually and more often if you have dusty conditions where you mow.  A fresh clean spark plug every year keeps most lawn mowers ready to start at the first pull.

 

 

Lawn Mower Safety

Safety is paramount.  Lawn mowing is not for children and it is best to insure that young children are not sharing the lawn with you while you mow.  Mowers have built in safety features designed to prevent injury.  Modern lawn mowers will not start with the mowing blade engaged and will stop immediately if the operator releases the handles or dismounts.  All mowers have safety shields to reduce the likelihood of objects being thrown by the spinning blade.  Never disconnect or remove these safety features.  Read and follow precautions in the equipment owner’s manual.  Fuel the mower before you start mowing and never refuel a hot mower.  Always disconnect the spark plug before inspecting or servicing the blade.  Wear shoes that provide proper protection and footing when mowing.  Avoid mowing slopes that are wet or too steep for good traction.

 

*Adapted from LoveYourLandscape.org

HEALTHY LANDSCAPES ARE THE ROOT OF HAPPINESS

American backyards are where toddlers learn to kick a ball, where teenagers play flashlight tag under the glow of the moon, where pets roam and where busy adults sink into hammocks and patio chairs to unwind.  The lawns and landscapes that provide a backdrop for these memory-making moments are indeed the root of happiness.  They are good for our health, good for our communities and good for the environment.

HEALTHY LAWNS KEEP OUR FAMILIES SAFE

Healthy lawn can help protect our families and pets from the diseases carried by ticks, mosquitoes, fleas and fire ants.

  • Ticks carry viruses that transmit Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis and other diseases.  Once transmitted, many of these illness can be debilitating, especially Lyme disease, estimated by the Centers for Disease Control to affect 300,000 people each year.  The disease can linger with infected individuals for years, causing extreme pain, memory loss and speech impairment.
  • Mosquitoes, long associated with West Nile virus and encephalitis, have made themselves even more threatening recently with new links to chikungunya and the Zika virus.
  • Fleas are particularly troubling for household pets as they can transfer anemia-causing tapeworms.  Humans are at risk from fleas as they can transmit murine typhus and, while rare, the bubonic plague.
  • Fire ants, which now infest more than 260 million acres in the United States, make their presence known with stings that are itchy annoyances to some or painful blisters for others, and some even fact life-threatening allergic reactions.

While these insects are small, they can create big problems.  Proper application of pest preventatives and well-maintained lawns will help protect your family and your pets from the threats they pose.

HEALTHY LAWNS AND LANDSCAPES ENRICH THE QUALITY OF LIFE IN OUR NEIGHBORHOODS

There’s no disputing the facts, communities are strengthened when lawns and landscapes are healthy. They are more peaceful, more enjoyable and better protected from environmental threats against them.

  • Without proper attention, unwanted plants can wreak havoc in neighborhoods by causing debilitating allergies that often force people to enjoy the outdoors only through windowed views.
  • Healthy landscapes don’t just play a protective role – they are also great providers, offering incredible health benefits to communities:
    • Neighborhoods that incorporate community green spaces have lower incidences of stress, have lower health care costs and have an improved quality of life.
    • Research shows that just looking at plants and trees, even through a window, can reduce stress and lower blood pressure.
    • Walking in a natural environment with plants and trees has been shown to improve attention and memory.
    • Neighborhoods with tree-lined streets and larger yard trees have reduced crime rates.
  • When landscapes are not protected, invasive species threaten them.  Invasive plants and pests can take up residence, killing the grass, trees and plants that belong.  Emerald Ash Borer, for instance, have killed hundreds of millions of ash trees in North America and woody adelgids have been the demise of hemlocks in neighborhoods across the country.

HEALTHY LANDSCAPES ARE GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

Landscapes are often taken for granted.  They are appreciated for their beauty, but many people don’t understand the essential value they provide the environment.  Here are some facts that may surprise you.

Healthy landscapes…

  • Clean the air.  Grass and plants play a vital role in capturing dust, smoke particles and other pollutants to make our air cleaner.  In fact, lawns alone capture more than 12 million tons of dust; add to that the additional absorption provided by trees and plants, and it’s easy to see the role these plants provide in creating a healthy environment.
  • Protect bodies of water. When lawns are well cared for, they absorb unhealthy water runoff that might otherwise filter into bodies of water.  It may be surprising to learn that an average, healthy lawn can absorb more than 6,000 gallons of water from a single rainfall event.
  • Provide oxygen. Grasses absorb carbon dioxide and break it down into oxygen and carbon.  In fact, a 50’x50′ lawn produces enough oxygen for a family of four.
  • Act as natural coolants.  Lawns can be 31 degrees cooler than asphalt and 20 degrees cooler than bare soil.  Trees shading homes can reduce attic temperatures be as much as 40 degrees.  These natural coolants reduce the need for electric cooling units, saving energy and reducing electric bills.
  • Minimize noise.  Lawns and plants dramatically reduce noise pollution; they can reduce noise levels by 20 to 30 percent over hard surfaces like concrete and pavement.

WHAT MAKES A HEALTHY LANDSCAPE?

Like all living things, grass, plants and trees need care and attention to ensure their good health.  A healthy lawn does not mean one that’s simply been mowed and given water.  A healthy shrub isn’t one that’s merely been pruned.  Healthy landscapes need to be managed with a high degree of know-how, the support of science, and often, a dose of protection – so that families, communities and our environment can derive the full benefits they provide.

 

*Adapted from Healthy Landscapes One Pager on www.loveyourlandscape.org

 

 

The Basics of Aeration

 

Why does my lawn need aeration?

Over time, your lawn can become compacted by the pounding of heavy rains and by simply walking on it.  The compacted surface inhibits water, nutrients and air from reaching the plant’s root system.

When is the best time to aerate?

Aeration can be done anytime during the growing season.  How many times your lawn needs aerating depends on its soil compaction.  The two most popular times to aerate are in spring and fall.  Spring aeration gives grass plants a little extra boost and provides faster greening.  Fall aeration helps strengthen underground root systems while providing an excellent bed for over-seeding.  The Turf Pros can tell if your lawn need aerating and suggest the most appropriate time to have it done.

How does an aerator work?

There are several types of pull and walk-behind aerators on the market.  The most common is a core-type until that removes small plugs from the turf.  Core aerators have a minimum penetration of 2 1/2 inches and remove plugs anywhere from 1/4 to 3/4 inches in diameter.  Spiking units push small tines into the turf without removing soil plugs.  A third type, slicing aerators, literally slice through the soil creating openings.

What are some immediate and long-term benefits?

 

Aeration immediately opens up the soil to air, water and nutrients.  The openings allow air penetration and better water movement and give plant roots a place to stretch out and grow to become more vigorous and dense.

Over time, aerated lawns are less susceptible to disease and thatch buildup.  In some cases, the process can even solve small thatch problems.  In addition, aeration reduces water runoff and increases turf tolerance to heat and drought.

Aeration is a natural process that has no ill side effects.  Even the small plugs left behind by core-type aerators are beneficial.  In the process of breaking down, they deposit a light coating of top dressing that helps decompose thatch accumulated at the base of grass plants.

 

*Adapted from LoveYourLandscape.org

REPAIR YOUR YARD FROM WINTER’S DAMAGE

 

Once winter releases its grip, it will be time for homeowners to get outside and inspect their properties for seasonal damage.  Besides the snow and ice, the biggest culprits of the winter months are a group of very specialized pests and de-icing salts, all of which can damage trees, grass and shrubs.  As the weather begins to warm, it’s important to take stock of what damage has been done and develop a plan to get your yard ready for spring enjoyment.

Trees and shrubs often bear the brunt of snowfall, literally.  Look for any branches that might be broken or have been damaged by ice storms and prune them or have them removed by a professional as soon as possible.  You may be surprised to learn that damaged trees are more prone to insect and disease infestations, but proper care can help trees and shrubs repair themselves.  Damage Prevention Tip from The Turf Pros:  During heavy snowfalls, don’t shake tree limbs to remove the snow as this can cause limbs to break.  Instead, remove the snow by hand from low hanging branches.

De-icing salt used to clear streets and walkways are often necessary for safety but they can wreak havoc on grass and plants.  Salt will draw moisture from the plant cells causing desiccation.  If your lawn is exposed to too much salt, it can cause it to wilt and die.  To restore the health of your soil, you can flush the salt in the soil by giving your lawn a deep watering daily once the weather warms.  If necessary, remove the brown grass and few inches of the damaged soil. Damage Prevention Tip from The Turf Pros:  During the winter, cover plants and grass close to the road and sidewalks with burlap or snow fencing to provide protection from salt solutions.

Check for brown patches in your lawn.  Often excessive snow, particularly if areas have been covered with large piles of shoveled snow, will kill grass.  To see if your brown grass is either just dormant or dead, rake away some of the brown so that you can see the lawn surface.  Check to see if there us any green tissue beginning to emerge.  If so, the area will likely recover with time.  If not, and other areas of the lawn are greening up, it’s time to make plans for some renovation of the areas.  Damage Prevention Tip from The Turf Pros:  Try not to shovel large piles of snow on your grass.  Instead, spread piles out over a wide area.

Lingering snow can also cause snow mold, a disease that is mainly confined to the leaves of the turfgrass plants.  It presents as a circular pattern of grey or pink grass.  The disease may go away on its own but if it doesn’t, the affected grass should be firmly raked, a light topdressing of soil added and new seed sown.  Most ofter, only a raking is necessary to alleviate the damage.  Damage Prevention Tip from The Turf Pros: Snow mold can also be caused by leaved that have remained on the ground throughout the winter so rake the leaves before winter’s arrival to minimize the potential damage to your lawn.

Moles and voles, deer, rabbits and other nuisance wildlife often find their winter meals in the yards of unsuspecting homeowners.  Damaged grass, gnaw marks on shrubs and trees, and small tunnel systems throughout the yard can be signs that unwanted visitors have taken up residence.  Most of the time wildlife will go away once their traditional food sources are more readily available after snows have melted.  Most damage to grass from moles and voles will self-correct once turfgrass growth resumes.  If trees have been girdled, that is, if they have been stripped of bark by wildlife, they will likely die but should be inspected by an arborist to see if they can be preserved.  Damage Prevention Tip from The Turf Pros:  Remove heavy amounts of snow from around the base of trees to minimize ground cover for rodents and cover the base of trees with wire mesh.

Investing time in a thorough time in a thorough inspection of damage created by harsh conditions of winter can pinpoint small trouble spots to allow remedies to stave off larger problems.  The Turf Pros can help ensure the trouble spots in your yard are corrected before it’s time to get outdoors and enjoy the beauty of spring and summer.

 

*Adapted from “A Seasonal Guide: Spring Lawn and Landscape Care” published on LoveYourLandscape.org