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May 31, 2006

Drinking while mowing

drinking lawn mowing We've all heard the "Don't Drink while Driving" messages and may have even been warned about drinking while skippering a water vessel, but have we stopped to contemplate drinking while mowing. There are many of us gardeners who don't mind, in the middle of the summer heat, throwing back a couple of cold ones while walking behind our push mowers.

Is there a possible risk? Sure. Consider operating a bandsaw or powersaw after having a couple of beers and you will realise it's the same issue at stake. Alcohol slows the brain's impulses down and reaction times become tardier. We can make poor judgments that we wouldn't make had we been completely sober.

There are plenty of mower operators who have had close calls with blades, or who have allowed small children to play with mowers after they've had a few that should jolt us into making good decisions about the intake of alcohol while we operate small machinery.

If you want to have a drink while mowing the lawn, keep it to water and hold the beer on ice until you've put the mower back in the shed.

May 27, 2006

Lawn mower catalytic converters

catalytic converter
As the world becomes more 'green' expect to see more environmental regulations imposed on lawn mowers. From January 1, 2007 Californian residents won't be able to buy a fuel powered mower without a catalytic converter being installed and there is talk that retro-fitting existing lawn mowers may also become an issue.

Lawn mowers emit 93 times more pollution than a car and while many of us are protected in the vehicle emitting the noxious gases the same doesn't apply for lawn mowers. We walk behind or sit atop them breathing in the fumes as we mow.

While catalytic converters may be the current discussion for environmental regulators don't be surprised to see some debate on decibel levels either. It seems the humble lawn mower is destined to be pulled into the 'green" 21st century kicking and screaming.

Source:
Catalytic Converters coming soon to a lawn mower near you

May 23, 2006

Identifying lawn weeds

identifying lawn weeds
The first step in the battle against lawn weeds is the process of being able to identify them. And without knowing what they are you won't be able to diagnose a solution to eliminating them from your lawns. Once we've identified these lawn weeds we can begin to find solutions to removing them and hopefully keeping them from returning to our lawns.

While identifying lawn weeds is the aim of this post I also hope to give you some alternatives to eradicating and controlling them. Any gardener can pour a heap of chemical onto the problem and hope it will sort itself out but there are other measures that can be taken including organic remedies.

Cudweed
cudweed identifying lawn weeds
Identifying cudweed is quite easy. It's an annual broadleaf weed that grows on a single stem with soft, furry silver leaves that grow larger at the leaf end. Cudweed will only grow about 10-15cm (4-6in) and usually grows alone rather than in clumps.

For single removal try removing it by hand making sure that you pull the complete taproot out. This should be done well in advance of the sight of any flowers and if it is already flowering try to remove the weed carefully without spilling any seed. Once removed, cover the hole with a mixture of coarse sand and fertiliser and water in well.

For large infestations of cudweed you may have to resort to a selective herbicide or a spot treatment that will eliminate the infestation.

Bindii
bindii-lawn-weed.jpg

Bindii is Australia's worst lawn weed. It grows in a prostrate behaviour during the winter and early spring months setting its yellow flowers in mid-late spring. These flowers then die back during the beginning summer months and produce hard little thorny balls. These balls act like Velcro and were actually the inspiration for the invention, adhering themselves to anything that is soft enough to accommodate their presence.

It's hard to identify bindii in your lawn if you're not keeping an eye on it but as it spreads over the seasons you will notice dark green patches emerge. Once the flowers have turned into their little balls it's too late to try and poison them as they have already seeded ready for the following year.

Eliminating bindii is best once they start to spread and before they begin flowering. Removal by hand is quite easy or if there are too many to do manually, spot treating them with a herbicide is just as effective.

Plantain
plantain identifying lawn weeds

There are many types of plantain weeds but the most common is the broadleaf variety. It is common lawn weed whose leaves resemble the dandelion but doesn't stalk its flowers in the same manner.

If not removing it by hand try a selective herbicide once the rosette has opened up and it is setting its flowers.

White Dutch Clover
white dutch clover identifying lawn weeds

Many gardeners grow this type of clover as a lawn substitute, obviously not mowing it, and allow the little yellow and white flowers to dot their landscape. Known as Trifolium repens (repens meaning to crawl along the ground) this is a weed that can wreak havoc on your lawn if you let it get away. It has a great success rate to self-seed and as such can cover a lawn very quickly.

Success in removing this weed from your lawn is determined by how quickly you identify it and begin removing it. They're not hard to manually remove from the soil but once a lawn is infested the only way to remove them is via an herbicide. Apply while the clover is flowering and only selectively.

If the infestation of clover has almost completely covered your lawn the only method of removal may be to pour on glyphosate and replant your lawn next season. Or, put up with it and tell everyone that you always wanted to grow clover as an alternative to lawn.

Cats Ear
cats ear identifying lawn weeds

For a weed this has an enormous variety of names used to describe itself. False dandelion, flatweed, hairy cat's ear, hairy wild lettuce etc are just some of them. Whatever you decide to call it, it still remains a weed.

This is so common that most gardeners would have found it in their lawn at some stage. Cat's ears large flat leaves lie flat on the ground smothering everything that it covers. It acts as a natural soil solariser but unfortunately kills your lawn instead of the weeds.

There are two ways to address this type of weed. Obviously the first method is to eradicate them either manually or by using a spot glyphosate on the centre of the weed. The second method is to actually keep them in your lawn but continually mow them. The reason for this is that cat's ear has an amazingly long taproot that can bring many nutrients to the surface and actually help your lawn grow healthier.

However, this second method is a gamble. If you don't mow them well enough they can continue to grow and eventually take over. I would recommend allowing them to grow for a few regular mowing periods and then treat them.

Nut Grass

Oh... How I hate this weed! It is the hardest the manually pull out and the hardest to remove with herbicides as most common brands fail to successfully eliminate them. Nut grass is a spindly weed that grows from a small bulb reminiscent of a hazelnut. It's tough, strappy foliage is hard to get a grip on and the bulb anchors itself well into the ground.

The best chemical to eliminate nut grass without killing your lawn is Halosulfuron-methyl. You will need to repeat spray the nut grass until it's completely removed but it will do the job for you.


Whatever you do, don't try and mow your weeds hoping that this will solve your problems (apart from the cat's ears). It will only create more as the root that's left in the ground will become more and more proactive and return quicker and stronger.

May 16, 2006

Zero turn mowers review


For those gardeners who have lawns exceeding 1/2 acre or more and are considering buying a new machine, the decision has become even harder. In past years the decision was always a riding lawn mower. You may have needed to then decide whether it was an MTD, John Deere, Honda or Cub Cadet but it was always going to be a tractor mower of some description.

Today there is another dimension to the decision making process - riding lawn mowers vs zero turn lawn mowers. The new zero turn mowers are creating quite a stir in a market that is already boiling with new models and sharper, faster and more powerful mowing machines.

Why are zero turn mowers gaining in popularity? The answer is simply because they are incredibly easy to manoeuvre as they can spin on the spot. This is hugely beneficial to gardeners who don't like large expanses of lawns but want more garden beds integrated into their landscapes. With the normal riding lawn mower this is a hard proposition because there isn't as much control in the tractor mowers.

What are the benefits of the zero turn mower vs the riding lawn mower?

The obvious benefit is the increased turning circle. This advantage alone will see more gardeners, and even commercial lawn mowers, trade in the their tractor mowers. Gardener's can now be more expressive in their landscapes without fear of having a lawn mower decimate their flowering annuals and commercial lawn mowers can offer a better service with less off-mower time. It is conceivable that these new mowers could save a considerable amount of time behind a whipper snipper in certain garden landscapes.

Another benefit of the zero turn mower is the rear discharge bag that can hold substantially more clippings than the side baggers. This will save you even more time behind the wheel (though that in itself may not be a benefit) as emptying the grass clippings won't be as often.

What are the disadvantages of the zero turn mowers vs the riding lawn mowers?

Price is the biggest disadvantage of the new zero turn mower. Expect to be paying at least another $1000 more than a compatible riding lawn mower.

Zero turn mowers don't do hills. If you have more than gentle slopes in your lawn then the zero turn mower won't be a good option for you. The mowing deck which sits in front of the main engine part and well ahead of the driving wheels, which is the big advantage of this mower, is also it's downfall. It can become caught on a slope and possibly even tip over endangering the operator or anyone in close proximity.

Check back soon at Lawn Mower Review as we review some of the hot new zero turn mowers and put them through their paces.

May 11, 2006

Tips for buying riding lawn mowers

riding lawn mowers
When you're thinking about buying a new or used riding lawn mower there are many things to consider as you weigh up the pros and cons. As there is quite a difference between new and used it would best to treat each differently when considering your purchase.

Obviously riding lawn mowers are very different to push mowers. You will need to make sure that a riding mower is required for your lawn and will easily be able to access it (these mowers are very heavy to lift). Once you've decided to purchase a riding lawn mower there are some things you will need to consider. Here they are;

New Riding Lawn Mowers

  1. Check if the mower has had any recalls Apart from reading reviews and hearing sales talk there is very little you can discern about a new riding mower without actually using it. There is no service history and no neighbour to give his opinion on his own experience of the machine.

    However, investigating the mower to see if it has had any recalls can be a clue to how the mower may perform in the future. If the mower dealership is still selling them then you have a good chance of knowing that the problem has already been rectified. If they're not available when you're ready to purchase it could be a good indication that the problem hasn't been, or won't be, fixed in the short term anyhow.

    No manufacturer of riding lawn mowers is immune either. John Deere had a spate of recalls on it's GX85 and SX85 riding mower models due to a fuel tank that was susceptible to cracking and leaking fuel.


  2. Check lawn mower forums If the riding lawn mower you're searching for has been around for a little while there is a good chance that there are people who have bought them already and are willing to provide an unbiased opinion. Always learn from others mistakes.

  3. Query the warranty Does your preferred riding mower come with a clear warranty and what does the warranty cover? Is it possible to extend the warranty and if you did extend it do the benefits of the extension outweigh the extra charges?

    Warranties are only ever worth the effort if the manufacturer or dealer handles claims efficiently and with limited inconvenience to you. While you're checking the warranty provisions see whether the dealer provides a courtesy riding mower if you need to claim on the warranty.


  4. What are the service costs? Most mower manufacturers are going the same way as car manufacturers. They've realised that they can make more revenue by increasing the amount of service time and parts required to keep your riding mower running.

Used Riding Lawn Mowers

  1. Check if the mower has had any recalls and also check mower forums This advice is similar for both new and used models. It's always good to research as much information about any mower before making that final purchase decision.
  2. Check the service history of the mower If the riding mower your looking at has been well-maintained then it will usually be well documented as well. The service paperwork should tell you of any problems that the mower has had during its use and hopefully list some of the items requiring attention.
  3. Take it for a test drive Ask the owner if it's possible to test drive the mower observing how the engine handles when it is just moving but also when it is cutting the grass as well. These could be two entirely different results. Make sure there is minimal smoke discharged through the exhaust and that at the end of the test there is no leaking fuel or oil.
  4. Know which attachments came as standard Many riding lawn mowers come with some standard attachments and some optional extras. Know which ones the mower should have and demand that they are included with the sale and not sold separately.
  5. Don't worry about replacement parts If the engine and deck are in solid condition then you are more likely to buy a good riding mower. Wheels, blades, spark plugs and even seats are all replaceable and can be repaired later down the track with minimal cost.

May 9, 2006

Briggs & Stratton: Engines that last

briggs-stratton.gif
If there were one brand name that was synonymous with lawn mower engines it would have to be Briggs & Stratton.

I had my reel mower engine replaced recently and when the service repair agent told me that the best engine to use as a replacement was this 3.5hp Briggs & Stratton I knew he wasn't just selling me an engine.

briggs stratton engine You will find Briggs & Stratton engines on many factory-manufactured mowers these days including John Deere, Toro and Victa.

They will put a Briggs & Stratton engine onto their own mower frames because they know these engines are superior and they will keep working endlessly.

The company, Briggs & Stratton, began in 1908 but they didn't get into lawn mowers until their first tractor mower in 1924. Since then they've been at the forefront of small engine technology building engines for mowers, generators, freezers and refrigerators. Over the years they bought our Evinrude motors and have since started their own oil company and their own battery company. If you're interested in checking out some of Briggs & Stratton's history they've compiled a history timeline of all their achievements since 1908.

I guess that when you've been doing the same thing for nearly 100 hundred years and you're still in business you must be doing something right. It's this sentiment that most lawn mower users have when they request Briggs & Stratton engines to power their mowers.

However, the company is in a little bit of trouble as of late as they struggle to compete with environmental pressures that lead away from smog producing engines. One option, which many green lobbyists seem to accept, is a catalytic converter attachment. While this may be a great idea and could potentially save the environment from more crippling fumes, it also has the disadvantage of increasing expenses to the company.

Even the stock analysts are pouring fuel onto Briggs & Stratton's engine division at the moment as the world watches how Briggs & Stratton respond.

An engine company that didn't grow up overnight surely won't fall down overnight either - we hope!

Is there a Lawn Gnome at your place?


If you've been getting bored mowing the lawn lately why not add an extra challenge to your task by decorating the grass with a few gnomes. Any number of lawn gnomes would certainly spice up the job but if you had at least 10 you could create the ultimate lawn mower obstacle course.

However, if it was your wife's idea to decorate the lawn with these little ornaments you may want to take some care in how you position them. Break one and you may receive the "evil eye". Break two and you could find yourself sleeping on the couch for the next day or two.

So what is it with people and gnomes? I have to admit that I think they are the tackiest ornaments and could even surpass lucky bamboo as the top gift NOT to give to your friends this Christmas. Yet people still buy them and still place them on their lawns thinking that they've somehow improved the value of the garden. They don't!!

I was visiting Bunnings the other day and checked out their assortment of lawn gnomes. I felt vindicated when I noticed that the most expensive gnome was only $6.95 - I told you they were tacky! There were rows of them, though, which suggested that they were more popular than I first thought possible.

I began to become very anxious when I thought that if reincarnation were true (not that I believe that it is) then karma would suggest my next lifetime might be spent as a lawn gnome. It's a very humbling concern. I could end up looking like a cross between Papa Smurf and Big Ears.

May 6, 2006

Cordless electric lawn mowers

cordless electric lawn mower
Using electric products in the garden may be more environmentally friendly than their fuel-powered counterparts but they also more frustrating. Gardens and lawns are not the best suited for dragging an electrical cord around them attached to a piece of machinery that is only focussed on getting the job done.

The same is true with lawn mowers. The first electric lawn mowers to hit the market were, of course, those that required an extension cord connected to an outdoor power point or being fed through a window into an indoor electrical socket. These types of electric lawn mowers still exist and are still being manufactured but fortunately there is a new breed of electric mower - and it's cordless!

Cordless lawn mowers are powered by rechargeable battery systems usually with NiCad 24V currency. The NiCad batteries have a 1000 cycle life expectancy and after overnight recharging will guarantee 30-45 mins of lawn mowing time.

The downside on the cordless mower equation is that they certainly don't have the grunt required for many lawns. If your lawn isn't well manicured and constantly mowed most cordless electric lawn mowers will be underpowered to cut through the grass. Also, due to the time most lawns take to mow a one battery system will be ineffective or would require at least one, if not multiple, replacement batteries.

However, as I mentioned before, the big plus in the cordless vs corded mower debate is their ability to be manoeuvred similarly to their fuel-powered peers. There are no restrictions on where an electric cordless can go.

Likewise, one can utilise the services of a cordless mower regardless of the weather conditions safely. There is no need to be concerned over electrical cords becoming wet and tripping your fuses.

Who makes cordless electric lawn mowers?

Sunlawn - EM-1 Electric Reel Mower - Sunlawns are trusted reel mowers and this one looks like a pearler. The battery specifications I mentioned previously are surpassed by this model but is still only useful for slow low-growing lawns such as bermuda, blue grass and fescues.

Black & Decker - CMM1000 Cordless Rechargeable Mulching Mower Hassle-free start with a flip of the switch and the mower can be operated with 60-70% recharged battery in less than 4 hours or completely recharged within 16.

May 3, 2006

Cyclone Rake lawn and leaf vacuum review

cyclone rake review
Released since September last year the Cyclone Rake has been wooing consumers with medium to large-sized properties. The Cyclone Rake Pro is one of three in the series, this one aimed predominantly at homeowners with bigger properties complements the smaller Platinum Edition Cyclone Rake while the Cyclone Rake Commercial Pro model is suited for commercial lawn applications.

The Cyclone Rake Pro has a 6hp OHV engine and can collect more than 1000 litres (285 gallons) of leaf and lawn debris, 40% more than its little brother the Platinum Edition. The Commercial Pro is bigger again able to collect more than 1500 litres of debris from its 7hp OHV engine.

These leaf and lawn vacuums make light work of cleaning up whether it is fallen leaves or grass clippings and they're easy store, folding flat to be kept in a garage or shed.

These machines have great after-sales service and very few problems although some operators complain about the zips breaking (possibly a design flaw). The engines have been flawless and no mention of any recalls.

Price: (All in approx US$) - Platinum Edition ($975); Cyclone Rake Pro ($1050); and the Cyclone Rake Pro Commercial ($1275).

Reseeding your receding lawn

lawn reseeding
A tired and worn out lawn can sometimes appear to be a chore that just won't disappear. While it seems that procrastination may be the key, hoping the longer you leave it may just be enough time for it to repair itself. I'll let you in on a little secret...it won't!

Once a lawn becomes tired and dead spots begin to appear, it's time to take evasive action. There are many options, that you can pursue, which I will discuss further on, but for the most part reseeding your lawn is a great option. If you're living in the northern hemisphere now is the best time as spring is the perfect season to start sorting out your lawn problems. If you decide to reseed, depending on your lawn type, you may have it covered within this growing season.

WHY DO LAWNS DIEBACK?

There are a few reasons why lawns struggle to grow or they eventually die back. These can be related to soil compaction, lawn thatch, water repellent soil, too much shade, high traffic area etc. Each of these problems requires a different strategy, as I'll discuss.

  • Soil Compaction if the soil below your lawn becomes too hard and compact it will repel any water or nutrients gaining access to the lawn and eventually the lawn will struggle to survive. To remedy this situation you will need to turn the soil over either manually with a spade or with a mechanical tiller. Once the soil has been aerated you can add some fertiliser (in spring you will want something high in nitrogen to encourage growth) and then reseed covering the seed with about 3-5mm (1½in) of coarse sand. Rake it over to keep level and water in well.
  • Lawn Thatch it is very common for many lawns to thatch and become impenetrable to water and nutrients. This will show up as brown patches over time and become very spongy the more thatched an area is.

    To remedy this situation you will need to break up the thatch with a lawn aerator. Follow the same procedures as the remedy for Soil Compaction, reseeding the lawn as prescribed by your lawn supplier.


  • Water Repellent Soil if the soil repels water and nutrients and it isn't either of the first two problems then the diagnosis is with the soil itself. This is usually when the soil has too much clay content or is the opposite extreme and is far too sandy. The best soils are always loams - a mixture of both.

    To repair the soil before lawn reseeding you may need to add a wetting agent to the soil or mix in some composted manures. Then follow the directions as prescribed previously.


  • Too Much Shade you have three options here. (1) You can reduce the shade by uncovering the lawn. Chop some branches from an overhanging tree or remove the shade cloth from a pergola. If that's not an option then (2) reseed the lawn with a different variety of grass or (3) take the grass out completely and replace with some paving or another alternative lawn such as dichondra, chamomile or raoulia.

  • High Traffic Areas this is really the same diagnosis and remedy as having too much shade. If high traffic is killing your lawn then you need to come up with an alternative to what you already have.

May 1, 2006

Environmentalists warn of fuel powered mower emissions

lawn mower emissions
The end of fuel-powered lawn mowers could be under more scrutiny as environmentalists latch on to the facts that these types of mowers emit more harmful gases per litre of fuel than your average car. This article, To keep the garden green this summer, lay off the mower reported by the UK's News Telegraph is hoping to prompt readers to change their lawn mowing habits.

The environmental groups want gardeners to use machines that emit fewer gases such as electric mowers or better still hand-powered mowers. While this is a great way to head, for those with larger areas this is just not practical. Something the report failed to consider was that most people don't use their lawn mowers as often as they drive their cars so while they may not be as efficient they're not operating for the same time spans.

What are your opinions? Do you think that regulators should start to dictate what lawn mowers we and can't use?



garden_crash_test_dummy.jpg
  • Stuart Robinson
  • Busselton, Australia
  • Email Me


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