Jeff Ball’s Perfect Lawn Secrets – Week 7 of 2010
(Week 7 is Feb 15th to 21st)
A few weeks ago I went over to our local Home Depot on an errand. It had been snowing for a few hours putting down three inches with more predicted. I walk into Home Depot and they are putting their new lawn mowers on display. It seemed just a bit early in the year for a new lawn mower, but then Christmas decorations begin appearing shortly after Halloween so maybe it’s time to look at lawn mowers.
Today I’ll review gas driven walk-behind mowers and deal with the electrics and riding mowers later in the season. It’s amazing the range of prices you see for walk-behind mowers these days, starting around $100 and soaring to more than $700. As we demand more modern features and higher quality, that price will probably continue to climb. Here are some of the features I consider a must:
Mulching Mowers Rock – A mulching mower is designed to cut grass blades into very small confetti like pieces before throwing them back down to the soil. This allows us to leave the clippings on the lawn where they belong, because the smaller pieces fall down amongst the grass blades out of sight. I would never buy a mower that does not have a mulching capability.
Power Makes A Difference – Power is what determines how effective a mower blade will cut the grass. If you are mowing grass that is over four inches tall, having just returned from vacation, your mower needs power to do that job cleanly. A mower also needs power to mulch effectively. I prefer having 6.0 or more horse power, but a 5 horse power machine will do an adequate job. I would not consider buying a mower with less than 5 horse power.
Blade Override System Makes Safety Sense – A number of companies have developed a feature, called the blade override system (BOS) which raises lawn mower safety to a higher level. For years, most mowers have had an automatic engine turn off mechanism that worked when you let go of the wire bale at the top of the handle. This has been a valuable feature and has probably prevented many accidents. The BOS is similar in that when you release the wire bale the blade stops in less than 3 seconds, however the engine keeps running.
The BOS serves to reduce the number of times you have to restart your mower engine while still giving you the ability to almost instantly stop the blade from cutting. It is useful when you want to move over a garden hose, stop to pick up a small toy left in the lawn, or stop to move around a rock pathway.
Personal Pace System Is Terrific – I have always preferred a mower with some kind of self-propelling mechanism. They usually come with a throttle handle that allows you to slow down or speed up the mower as you wish. I have no idea how Toro made this happen, but with their Personal Pace mowers, the speed of the mower changes whenever you change how fast you are walking, without adjusting any handles or touching anything. I’ve been using a Toro mower with Personal Pace for about four years and I love it. Craftsman has several mowers with the same feature called EZ Walk.
Front Wheel Drive vs. Rear Wheel Drive – For reasons I have not been able to fathom, some self-propelled mowers come with the power driving the front wheels and others with rear wheel drive. I don’t think the difference is all that important, although I happen to favor the front wheel drive mowers because I feel they are easier to maneuver in tight spaces where you have to turn frequently to get around a barrier of some kind. All you have to do is push down on the mower handle to raise the front end and you can push the machine any way you wish when the front wheels are in the air. With rear wheel drive, it seems awkward to me to have to pick up the rear end and have to move the machine around on the front wheels.
Toro (www.toro.com) and Craftsman (www.craftsman.com) sell mulching mowers with all of my favorite features costing somewhere between $400 and $500. I consider that a fair price for a machine that should last ten years or more.