Get Your Lawn Care Equipment Ready
The weather seems to be turning the corner for Spring. On Sunday, March 11, 2018, we sat our clocks ahead an hour – “Spring forward, Fall back.” Our gardens are already showing new growth. Rosebush leaf buds are popping; early spring flowering trees are beginning to bloom. The plants that make up our lawns are waking up too. Although the average last spring frost date for Sanford is April 19th, give or take 12 days, the temperature, light and moisture triggers that our plants go by are starting up, so it won’t be long before we’re starting up our mowers, string trimmers, and edgers to gain control over the situation.
Now is the time, when we have a bit of time, to prepare. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and there are few things that will aggravate more than equipment and technology that won’t perform as designed when we need it to. So let’s work on our equipment now and save some of our nervous systems later this spring.
The Lawn Mower
1. For safety reasons, the first step in doing any work on your mower (or any power equipment that utilizes one a spark plug) is to remove the spark plug. It is the link to the power system that engages the engine, and therefore the moving (and sharp) parts. No “oops” here please– we don’t want to let the blood out.
2. Change the Oil…The oil is more than just a lubricant for the moving parts. It is a filter that catches the byproducts of combustion – the burnt bits that must occur when fuel undergoes combustion. The oil helps trap these pieces and keep them away from the precision engineered interaction of the engine’s moving parts. Clean oil allows the lubricated parts to function according to design, and you paid a premium price for that design function, so get your money’s worth by changing the oil.
3. Sharpen the Blades…When you mow your lawn, you are pruning the grass plants that make up your lawn. The same best practice concepts apply here as when you prune your shrubs and trees. A sharp, clean cut is much healthier for the plant than a dull, ragged ripped cut. It is surgery, after all. A ragged, slow healing injury is much more likely to invite predation from insects and disease than a clean cut with minimal injury. And it improves the aesthetics – the beauty, and clean look of well-kept turf. There are many options available: regular blades, mulching blades, etc.…, depending on your mower. Refer to the operator’s manual for your specific piece of equipment. Tip: Purchase good quality blades that can be re-sharpened. You will save money in the long run as blades can be sharpened and reused a few times rather than re-purchased every time.
4. Clean It Top and Bottom…Most lawn mowers are made from metal. Moisture and metal don’t get along over the long haul. Plants are full of moisture. Our lawns are moisture filled plants if we are taking proper care of them. Cleaning the clippings and other yard debris from the underside of the deck on the lawn mower after each use is key for smooth, even mowing. Accumulated clippings beneath the deck can decrease the airflow needed for the mower to properly mulch, bag, or discharge. In addition, built-up clippings hold moisture and corrosive fertilizer against the underside of the deck, causing rust. Rinse the top and underside of the deck right after mowing and the clippings are still moist—some mowers have a washout port to attach a garden hose to for this purpose. Important Tip: Wait until your lawn mower engine cools down before performing any maintenance. Know that the engine is likely to be hotter in the first few minutes after you shut off the equipment than at any other time.
5. If it moves, it wears down – Lubricate the Moving Parts. Pump grease into the grease fittings (shown in the parts diagram of the operator’s manual) until all the dark old grease is purged and fresh new grease oozes out. Use the type recommended by the manufacturer. Grease every fitting every time you change the oil. A flexible hose makes reaching the fittings a lot easier and you can purchase a grease gun and hose at most home centers or auto parts stores.
6. Check/change worn spark plugs. Worn or corroded spark plugs can cause difficulty in starting, poor fuel economy, misfires, and even engine damage. Replace them at the manufacturer’s recommended intervals. Simply unscrew the old ones and install new ones. Make sure to keep debris from falling into the cylinder by clearing the area around the plug before you remove it and wipe out the spark plug seat with a clean rag after removing the plug. Set the gap of the new plugs to the specifications in the equipment operator’s manual with a gap gauge before installing them.
7. If it flows it clogs or leaks – Clean or change your filters – air, fuel, and oil. Filters are designed to trap foreign bodies and keep them out of the precision engineered operating systems. Lawn care equipment is used outside of course, in dirty, dusty environments. Dirt, debris, carbon residue from fuel combustion, all are not welcome inside the operating systems. A clogged or dirty air filter puts added stress on the mower and burns gas less efficiently. Keep extras on hand so you are more likely to use them. This goes for belts too. When you’re ready to mow, an emergency trip to the lawn care supply store can really throw off your workday schedule.
8. Be sure tires are properly inflated. Most require 10 to 14 pounds per square inch (psi) but check the owner’s manual for exact amounts. Keeping tire pressures at correct levels will increase performance and efficiency, minimize tire wear, flats and improve cut quality by keeping the mowing deck level.
For more information on caring for your lawn and the environment, including mowing heights for specific grass types, review the following publications:
Minda Daughtry is the Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.