There was a time when lawn work was looked on as strictly the guy’s job. In fact, it often took the strength of Hercules to pull the crank cord a minimum of 10-12 times just to start the darn machine!
Long gone are those days, though, as the lawn mower has evolved into a tool that any gender can operate with ease. You may think, however, that maintaining your mower is still a job best left for the man of the house. This, too, is simply not the case.
It’s very easy to take care of your mower; and, with some new innovations, yard work can actually be a fun chore. I’ll share with you some tips and tricks in keeping your yard picture-perfect and look at some of the great new mowers on the market to make life outside a lot easier.
Maintaining a Lawn Mower
At the start of the season, usually spring, there are three main areas to focus on when it comes to lawn mower maintenance:
- Change Oil: Even if you don’t think it needs it, do it! The oil should be changed at the beginning of every season. Over the course of the cutting season, dirt and other impurities will collect in the oil and those things will ruin an engine. Check with your mower’s owner’s manual for the proper procedure.
- Replace or Clean Spark Plug: That little space at the end of the plug where the metal end bends at a 90 degree angle is called the gap. Many manufacturers are now packaging new plugs with the gap pre-set, so it’s as simple as using a spark plug wrench to remove the old plug and installing a new one. However, it’s still a good idea to double-check the gap with an inexpensive spark plug gap tool just in case. Many people like to change the plug every year so you’re starting every cutting season with a new spark plug. You can also clean the plug and reuse it if it’s still in good condition.
- Replace or Clean Air Filter: If the filter in your mower is an accordion-style paper type, simply remove the filter cover and blow out all the debris with a high-pressure air hose. When paper filters become too clogged and dirty, replace them. If the filter is made from foam, wash it in a water and detergent solution, let it dry, and apply a few drops of oil to it. In some rare cases, you may need to replace a foam filter; but most of the time, a simple cleaning will do.
Lawn Mower Blades
I have separated the blade from regular maintenance, because this is more than just a standard upkeep. It takes a little extra effort to remove the blade and sharpen or replace the blade. Every year, though, this should be done prior to the first cutting. You need to have a sharp blade when cutting grass, otherwise it doesn’t cut the grass but, tears it instead, which can lead to a diseased lawn.
Before removing the blade, be sure to detach the spark plug wire to prevent the mower from accidentally starting. Then tilt the mower up and use a wrench
to loosen the bolt that holds the blade on by turning it counter clockwise.
Sharpening a blade can be done with a metal file, sharpening stone, or a motorized grinder. Regardless of the method used, follow the existing beveled edge on the blade by passing the file over the blade in the same direction each time.
An even easier way to sharpen the blade is to use a small grinding attachment for your cordless drill. Just place the blade in a bench vice and you can hone the edge with no trouble.
For a small yard, a simple push mower is perfect. While some homeowners use push mowers to take care of a large yards, it takes several hours of work and defeats the whole purpose of making the chore easier. Don’t rush out and get the least expensive one, though. Remember, the whole point is to make yard work easier. A cheap mower won’t cut it, if you’ll pardon the pun. A larger cutting deck is a good feature. Many small mowers start at around 19”, but 21” is better. Also, think about how easy it is to crank and the type of bagging attachment (a rear bagger is easier to maneuver).
Battery powered cordless models are becoming more and more popular. Not only are they quieter and more environmentally friendly than gas powered models, but cordless electric mowers greatly reduce the maintenance needed, since they don’t need oil changes, spark plugs, or air filters.
For a large yard, riding mowers are the toy of preference. Professional services use ZTR (Zero Turn Radius) mowers, which can turn on a dime. The new ZTR’s are a work of art focusing not only on performance, but also on comfort and style. They can include shock absorbers, larger wheels for a more comfortable ride, cushy seat with armrests and even cup holders! The biggest drawback for many homeowners is trying to operate the ZTR’s with the two separate directional levers.
The cutting decks for riding mowers start at 42”. While most homeowners don’t need one that’s too big, a 48”-50” model is ideal. If you want the “cool factor” of a ZTR with the convenience of a traditional tractor.
Lawn Mower Cutting Tips
Here are a few quick tips that will keep your lawn looking great:
- Don’t cut wet grass: Aside from having a tendency to clog the machine and leave clumps of wet grass all over the yard, wet grass won’t cut easily. It tears, just as it does with a dull blade.
- Set the cutting height to at least 1½”: Taller grass will hold moisture better and will also allow the root system to “grab hold” of the soil better, which means a healthier lawn.
- Don’t mow in the same direction every time you cut: For example, one week mow north to south. The next week, mow east to west. This prevents ruts from forming in the yard and also lets the grass grow thicker.
- Use a grass catcher for the first cut and last cut of the season: Use the mulching feature the rest of the time to reduce yard waste and add nutrients back into the yard.