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Allergy Free Gardening

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Lawns, Gophers & Moles

A few gophers can tear up a nice lawn in short order. Even if you're a complete animal lover, you won't want the gophers in your yard. After they destroy your lawn they'll start eating the roots and killing your roses, fruit trees, any attempt at a vegetable garden, the bulbs you plant and so forth. Gophers and gardening don't go together at all! The gophers got to go.

I have had many run ins with gophers in my years of gardening and I've always been successful in getting them out of the lawn and garden. I don't like killing them or any animals for that matter, but with gophers, they usually don't give you much choice.

Poisons

Resist the urge to use gopher or mole poisons. The poisons only work so-so, and the poisoned rodents may easily be eaten by an owl, snake, cat, or fox, and then they'll die too. If the predators are killed off the rodent population, unchecked, will quickly explode in number.

Barn Owls

If you're out in the country one of the best ways to get rid of both gophers and moles is to put up nesting boxes for barn owls. These big nesting boxes are generally perched on the top of 11 to 20-foot tall poles. The boxes and their poles are placed away from the house but not too far from the lawns and yards. A nesting family of barn owls will eat thousands of rodents each season, and they are very good at catching gophers and moles. If you live in an area where palm trees grow, and you do not trim off the dead branches that accumulate below the crown, sooner or later a barn owl will move in and set up home. Take advantage of this and leave a palm tree unsheared. The incredible number of rats, mice, moles, ground squirrels, and gophers they'll kill and eat is quite incredible. I now see in many orchards and vineyards, where they have put up these owl boxes. The owls are saving the farmers a lot of money.

Nesting boxes for barn owls are usually made from plywood and the roofs are slanted so water will run off. Sometimes the roofs are shingled too. A nesting box for barn owls should be a minimum of 12 x 12 inches for the floor and at least 16 inches deep.

The box should have small drain holes placed in the floor, in the corners.

Small holes should be drilled around the top of the box on each side for air circulation.

It is best to build the box so that it can be cleaned out easily once a year when the owls are gone.

The box should have only one opening and this must be at least 3 ½ inches in diameter but not more than 5 inches wide. Too large an entrance hole will let great horned owls in and they'll eat up the barn owls. Horned owls eat rodents too, but are not nearly as tough on rodents as the smaller barn owls.

*For a place to buy good owl boxes already made (they'll ship them to you) see the Owl Nestbox Resource Page under the links section of this book. At this site you can also find more detailed instructions on building your own owl boxes. The bottom line with barn owls is they are the most effective rodent killers in existence.

The right family cat can also be a pretty good rodent catcher.

Gopher snakes!

I also know of quite a few people who have caught gopher snakes and then released them on their own property. The best way to catch a gopher snake or two is to drive very slowly in the country on a paved road that gets very little traffic. Pin the snake's head down with a stick, pick it up firmly from behind the head, and stick him in an old pillow sack. They're not poisonous but will often bite and the bites don't feel good either. The best time to go looking for gopher snakes is in spring and early summer, just before and just after dark. Evenings that are cold and windy will produce no snakes and nights will full moons are likewise not productive. Gopher snakes are, like barn owls, designed by nature to catch and eat gophers and moles.

Gopher traps

There are a number of gopher traps on the market but by far the best is the old Maccabee gopher trap made of heavy wire. These are tricky to set if you've never done it before, so buy them at a farm supply store and ask someone there to show you exactly how to set one before you leave the store.

Trapping gophers is very effective if done right.

1. Tie a wire about two feet long on the end of the gopher trap and secure it to a sturdy metal or wooden stake.

2. Find the newest, freshest gopher mound.

3. Dig out the opening of the mound with a shovel, open up the tunnel and place the trap as far into the hole as possible.

4. Pound the stake down near the hole but not into the tunnel itself. The stake and wire will insure that you don't lose the trap. A trapped gopher may easily draw the attention of a cat, dog, hawk, owl, skunk or fox, and they'll run off with your gopher and your trap. The wire and stake keep that from happening.

5. Leave the opening of the hole open. The light coming into the hole will serve as bait, since the gophers intended for that hole to be closed.

6. Set several traps in different holes if possible.

7. Check the traps at least once a day and re-set them if you've killed a gopher or if the gopher has set off the trap and gotten away.

Water, smoke bombs, and road flares

Sometimes you can get the gophers, and moles too, to move out of your territory just by flooding their holes. By all means go ahead and stick the garden hose down a few holes and give this a try. Usually though, flooding them doesn't work very well, if at all.

Smoking them out works much better than flooding them. There are special gopher smoker bombs made and sold in all good nurseries and these work pretty well. What works even better than the gopher bombs are regular red road flares. You can buy road flares very cheaply too, at an auto parts store. They will usually come in several lengths and the longer ones burn longer and are more effective. At any rate road flares of any length work pretty well.

Dig out the gopher mound and open up the tunnel. Light the road flare by twisting off the cap and then striking the tip of the flare with the end of the cap. Point it away from yourself so you don't get burned.

Shove the lit end of the road flare into the gopher tunnel and then shovel some dirt back over the top of the opening. Stamp it all shut tight with the sole of your shoe. You'll see some of the smoke escaping up through the dirt. If you spot smoke coming up from another hole in the lawn, quickly go over there and plug up that hole. The smoke from road flares is sulfur smoke and it will stink out the entire tunnel. On occasion the gophers will be asphyxiated from the smoke and will die in the tunnels. More often though, they will take off for an area not anywhere near that stinky sulfur smoke. The smoke and its smell will persist in the tunnel for some time and the gophers will often simply abandon the tunnel.

The gophers may well make several more attacks on your lawn and flower beds and you may need to smoke them several times and in several different tunnels to get rid of them. If the smoking doesn't work for you, buy some gopher traps…. or get a gopher snake.

Moles

Gophers are much larger than moles and they dig much larger holes and tunnels too. Gopher tunnels are often fairly deep into the ground but mole tunnels often run just under the surface of the lawn. Often you can just look at the lawn and see exactly where these mole tunnels are because they are pushed up just under the surface of the lawn.

Gophers come into an area to eat the plants but moles are insect eaters and they don't actually eat any of your lawn at all. Moles seem to be much more common in high rainfall areas and are uncommon in drier, irrigated lawn areas.

Moles and grubs

There are many different traps made for killing moles but resist the urge to buy and use these. Poison baits for moles are not a good idea either. The moles are tunneling through your lawn for a reason. If you have moles in the lawn, you can be assured that you also have a lot of grubs in the lawn too. The moles are eating these grubs. The grubs can be up to about an inch long and they are usually white or gray and often have brown heads. Areas where grub infestations are especially thick will often show patches of lawn dying from the grubs.

Grubs or Dogs?

If you have a dead patch of lawn where the center of the patch is totally dead but the edges of the patch are extra green, this damage isn't from grubs, it's from dog urine. The nitrogen in the urine fertilizes the lawn that it doesn't outright overdose and kill. This is why the edges of the patch will be greener than the rest of the lawn.

Skunks?

Sometimes a grub-infested lawn will attract nighttime raids by skunks. The skunks (and occasionally raccoons too) will tear up pieces of your lawn as they dig up the grubs to eat. The solution here is much the same as it is for getting rid of the moles.

If the moles eat up all the grubs in your lawn they'll move on to a new grub-filled area. Of course, in the process they'll tear up your lawn. So, what to do? The most obvious answer is to kill off the grubs in the lawn. These grubs are larvae from any number of insect pests, and in the lawn they are also important pests of the lawn. Left unchecked, the grubs may well destroy most of your lawn by themselves.

There are a number of organic or inorganic methods of killing off lawn grubs. Flooding the lawn seems to help to bring the grubs up closer to the surface, where they'll be easier to kill. Look for sources of these bio-controls in the Links section of this book, under IPM. IPM is short for integrated pest management and it is often very effective and safe.

Most of the soil grubs are larvae of some kind or other of beetle. If the grubs are larvae of Japanese Beetles they can be attacked with Milky spore, which is an organic product that only attacks Japanese Beetles. There are bio-controls, safe biological agents that kill soil grubs. Heterorhabditis bacteriophora nematodes have shown good results for white grub control. Nematodes are tiny soil wireworms. This particular species will find the white grubs and kill them. These beneficial nematodes are available in mail order catalogs, often sold as Hb nematodes. They should be applied to already thoroughly watered lawns late in the day and then watered in immediately. These nematodes will not damage the lawn or other garden plants. Nematodes work fastest in sandy soils and slower in heavy, clay soils.

Organic insecticides can also be used as a drench on your lawns and sometimes they're quite effective. A mix of water, soap, pyrethrum and rotenone will often kill most of the grubs. Even organic insecticides though will also kill off earthworms and other beneficial soil organisms.

Chemical control

For a chemical approach, a single treatment can be made between mid-July to mid-August. Commonly used chemical insecticides are chlorphyrifos (Dursban), carbaryl (Sevin), and soil diazinon. The pesticide must be watered into the soil well after use, or it won't be effective.

Keep in mind that none of these chemical insecticides are healthful for the family dog, cat, the kids, or for the songbirds that might well eat some of the chemically poisoned earthworms or grubs.

Some lawn experts will recommend use of the chemicals trichlorfon (Dylox), imidacloprid (Merit), or halofenozide (GrubEx) in mid-summer as a preventative measure against lawn grubs.

Other preventative measures

Keeping a lawn healthy won't keep grubs and moles out of it, but a healthy lawn can recuperate much faster after attack.

Mowing the lawn too short will weaken a lawn and make it more easily damaged by grubs. Mowing higher promotes a stronger root system. There is evidence too that grubs, as with most insect pests, will attack an unhealthy lawn before they do a healthy one.

Keeping the nitrogen levels up and maintaining a good amount of humus in the soil sometimes helps to lessen the chance of grub damage. Grubs will attack any species of lawn, although the worst damage is usually seen on bluegrass lawns.

Aerating the lawn makes for stronger roots and it also gives birds a better shot at picking out these grubs. Many birds that are attracted to our birdfeeders and suet feeders also will eat both the grubs and the beetles that the grubs come from. Encourage wild birds in your yard.

When you water, water deeply. This will also help develop a stronger root system.

Over-seed bluegrass lawns each spring with a mix of fescue or perennial ryegrass seed. If the grubs ruin the bluegrass, you'll still have a lawn.

In heavily grub-damaged lawns, take a rake and rake the exposed soil up; this will expose the grubs to the birds.

Soak grub infected areas with soapy water. Use a quart of liquid dish soap to several gallons of water and soak the lawn with this mix. It will kill grubs.

Sometimes grubs can be held in check by dusting the lawn several times with diatomaceous earth. This safe product kills grubs that come to the surface and eat the grass leaves.

Lastly, some people put on those spiked strap on sandals and walk around on their lawn, spearing grubs as they walk. Of course they're also aerating the lawn at the same time. I have no idea how effective this method is, but hey, it can't hurt.

Lawn mowers & Goats

The Perfect Lawnmower. Get a Goat!"

I read this above advice recently in an article that advised you could "throw away your lawn mower and buy a goat" instead. The goat would even trim your shrubs and hedges too, it said. A goat doesn't need any gasoline, doesn't need its oil checked, has no blades that needed sharpening, and makes a terrific pet too.

Sound like pretty good advice?

Well, think again! Replacing your lawn mower with a goat might well be some of the very worst gardening advice I have EVER seen in print! Years ago when I owned a farm someone gave me three goats. Seemed like a pretty good deal to me at the time. The price was right and what the heck; the goats could mow my lawn for me. Right?

Wrong!

Goats I quickly found out don't like to be tethered. They almost instantly wrap themselves up in the rope and are soon bleating bloody murder as they continue to try to choke themselves to death. The second thing I found out was that fences don't impress goats very much. They can climb fences (and darn near anything else too, like up on your car, your shed, your house) and are experts at getting loose.

When a goat gets loose it does what goats like to do most. Eat your grass right? Mow the lawn?

No!

They like to eat all right but they don't give a fig for eating grass, not when they can mow down your cherry trees, apple trees, plum trees, or rose bushes. Given half a chance a goat or two (or shudder, three of 'em!) will destroy any nice landscape you have and in quick order too.

I guess in all fairness to goats I ought to mention that they actually do like to eat poison ivy and poison oak, so if you want to clear some land, okay, get the goats. But as far as throwing away your lawn mower and getting some goats…take the expert advice here: Don't do it! Even if they're free.

Lawn Mower Safety:

According to medical statistics each year more than 74,000 small children, adolescents and adults are injured by rotary, hand and riding power mowers on the US. Never pour gasoline in a hot engine. Gas could get on the very hot cooling fins and ignite.

Never add gasoline to a lawnmower that is running. Always shut it down first.

Never attempt to do repairs on a hot lawn mower engine. Let it cool down first.

Never, ever, while the motor is running stick you fingers underneath a rotary lawn mower to clear out a plug of grass. Turn it off first.

Never run a lawnmower inside your garage, or inside any building. The fumes are toxic and can quickly pollute the inside air.

Do not touch the sparkplug or sparkplug connections while the mower is running. A good shock is in order if you do.

A safety tip about lawn mower pull cords: When you first pull the cord on a cold lawn mower, if you yank on it hard, sometimes it will kick back on you. This can yank your shoulder so hard it can sprain a muscle or tear a ligament. It is best with a perfectly cold engine to first give it just a little pull or two, half pulls. Then give it a regular hard pull. Lawnmowers seem to start quicker this way too.

Never tie down the dead man bar on the lawnmower. This is the safety bar you need to hold down to keep the engine running. On some more expensive mowers the dead man bar when released will not shut down the mower, but will instead stop movement of the blade. No matter what sort of mower you have, do not tie down the dead man bar. It is there for a purpose.

Always disconnect the spark plug wire before working on the mower. If you are attempting to move the blade or to disconnect the blade, then it is by far safest to actually remove the sparkplug first. Many mowers will start when the blade is turned.

If you spill gasoline on the top of the mower while you're filling the tank, then clean it up with a rag or wait and let it evaporate before starting the lawnmower.

If you are mowing the lawn with an electric lawnmower and you accidentally mow and cut off the cord, first, don't panic. Do not touch the live end of the wire! Go to the outlet and unplug the cord. The two pieces can then be spliced together and carefully taped up with black electrical tape.

Never mow a lawn when the grass is wet. A slippery lawn could lead to a serious accident. At any rate, mowing a wet lawn it is not good for the grass and can easily cause diseases. It is best not to even walk on your lawn when it is wet. Likewise, never walk on or mow a lawn that is covered with frost.

Always look over the lawn for objects before you mow it. Rotary lawnmowers especially will pick up a rock, bolt, bottle or any small hard object and throw it with great force.

Don't wear loose, dangling clothing while operating a power lawnmower. I know of at least one instance where a girl who was mowing a lawn, wrapped a blanket around her shoulders to keep warm. The blanket got caught in the mower blade, and almost instantly became wrapped so tight that the girl was strangled to death. Incidents like this are even more common with riding lawnmowers.

This is not about lawnmowers per se, but about safety: Golf courses are treated with more insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides than any other lawns. This chemical residue will stick to gold tees, your shoes, etc. Never stick a golf tee in your mouth and change your golf shoes before you get home. Don't track the chemicals into your house.

Housing your mower

Lawn mowers, no matter what kind, need to be kept where they are free of the elements. If you leave any lawnmower outside in the rain and snow it will quickly fall apart and soon it will be useless. Rainwater or dew will get inside the gas tank and will make the mower impossible to start. Even a non-motorized lawn mower should be kept under cover as moisture will soon rust the blades.

The perfect lawnmower

Ever wonder what the perfect lawnmower would be?

I asked a lady I know what her idea of a perfect lawnmower was, and she said: "5'10", 160lbs., brown hair, brown eyes, strong, young and cheap."

Okay, I guess for the ladies that might be about right.

But hey, let's get serious here, right? There are plenty of good machines out there but my advice is this: Own three lawn mowers. Ideally you have a shed to keep a mower in. Why not have three of them? For someone with an average lawn or two to mow three would be ideal. First, would be a good, newer mulching rotary mower. Second, would be a backup rotary mower, and older one but one that is easy to start. And third, would be a good push mower, a non-motorized lawnmower.

Why have three? Well, sometimes even the best of mowers gets stubborn and just won't start. But if your lawn is getting tall, and today is the day you have the time to mow the lawn, then you need to be able to get it mowed. That's when the old backup mower comes in handy. For those crazy days when neither power mower will start, you get out the push mower and start mowing. You'll get plenty of exercise, but your lawn will get mowed.

It's necessary to keep your lawns mowed at regular intervals in order to keep them looking really nice. Sometimes in areas other than the Western United States, it rains for days on end during the spring, summer or fall. Suppose you were planning to mow your lawns on the weekend but all weekend it rains? Your lawns respond to the rain by growing even faster and taller. Now you really need to get them mowed but the next weekend when it isn't raining, your lawn mower won't start. This is where the backup mower comes in real handy. And if necessary, the backup to the backup. As long as you get the job done and the lawn mowed.

By the way, did you ever notice how fast your lawns grow after a big thunderstorm? There's a reason for this, besides all the extra water. The air contains 78 percent nitrogen. Nitrogen is the main element that encourages the fast growth of grasses. But the nitrogen in the air isn't normally available for plants to use. However, when lightning strikes it fixes nitrogen in the air and coverts it to ammonium form and the rain that falls during these storms is often rich with available nitrogen. Which makes the lawns grow like crazy, hence your need to get them mowed before they get totally out of hand.

Buying a Good Used Lawn Mower:

A word to the wise on finding a good, second hand power mower. Buy a used one from an ad in the want adds of your newspaper and buy it off-season. In the middle of the summer it is hard to find a good deal on a decent lawn mower, but when the lawns are dormant, they're plentiful and cheap too. I've bought a number of perfectly good back up lawn mowers and have paid between fifteen and thirty dollars for them. A late fall or early wintertime garage sale is a perfect place for finding bargains on lawnmowers. If your town has a large number of college students who leave for the summer, then you can often buy one cheap too at garage sales the last weekend right after finals are over.

Having that second power mower as a backup will pay dividends. Here's how to find a good one:

Look in the local newspaper's want ads, and especially at garage sales.

Go to garage sales early, before the best deals are gone.

Certain brands of mowers are worth more than others. Don't expect to buy an almost new Toro or Honda mower, for the same price as a bottom of the line Sears mower.

Unhook the sparkplug wire on the mower and pull the cord several times. There should be considerable stiff resistance. If the cord pulls out very easily, then there's a good chance the rings in the engine are badly worn. If this is the case, you don't want this mower.

Check to see if the mower has gasoline in the talk. Refasten the sparkplug wire and try to start the mower. Ideally it will fire up and run on the first or second pull. If it takes more than three pulls to start, don't buy it.

While the mower is running, take a look; is it smoking? A mower that smokes will burn oil and is probably about shot. If it smokes much at all, don't buy it.

Shut off the mower. Take a good look at how the wheels are adjusted. How the height of the cutting is to be adjusted. See if you can adjust them; actually give it a try. Some of the cheapest mowers have wheels that require tools to adjust up or down. This is no plus. If the wheels are difficult to adjust but everything else is good, and the price is cheap, $20 or so, consider buying it as a backup mower. If the mowing height is difficult to adjust and they want $40 or more for the mower, forget it. However, always remember that at garage sales it is perfectly acceptable to bargain. See if they'll knock off some of the price.

Give each of the wheels a shake and see if they are on solid. Many lower priced mowers have cheap wheels without ball bearings, and these will break and fall off. If the wheels are about to go, don't buy it.

Horsepower. With lawnmowers more horsepower is better than less. Expect to pay a little more for a good five or six horsepower mower than you would for a three and a half horsepower mower. A larger engine means the mower won't have to work as hard. Larger engines often last longer.

The Zen of lawnmower maintenance:

There appears to be an incredible amount of BS written about maintaining your lawnmower. I read over and over again that you should sharpen your blades every month, or after every 8 hours of mowing, and so on. But did you ever actually try this? Sharpening a lawnmower isn't like sharpening a chainsaw, it a whole lot harder. Many books show pictures of someone with their rotary mower blade in a vice, while they sharpen the blade with a large file. First of all, it is darn hard to get one of these blades off the mower. If you even try this you need to first make darn sure you first unfasten the plug wire from the sparkplug, because on some models turning that blade can start the engine!

I suggest this: if you are lucky enough to have a good lawnmower repair shop around that doesn't charge and arm and a leg, then once a year take your best mower in and have them sharpen it. Do it during the off-season if you can.

But sure, if you're real handy with the tools and like to do everything yourself, then by all means take off the blade (if you can!) and sharpen it with a large flat file. What dulls a lawnmower blade more than anything else is hitting rocks, bricks, or dirt. If you are mowing an area where there are large tree roots that stick up high enough to hit with the mower, watch out for these too. If you hit an object that simply won't move you're going to break something fast. Many mowers have a shear pin that is supposed to break before the engine does, but these often don't work. I've seen plenty of lawnmowers that were killed dead when the operator nailed a really stout tree root with them. This is one of the reasons you might want to think twice before you lend your lawnmower to the kid next door. Last time I did that myself, was the last time that one ever ran.

What is the number one thing to do to keep your lawnmower running? Check the oil! Most lawnmowers have a little screw cap that you twist open to check the oil. You should open this up and check the oil BEFORE you start the mower, every time. Try to get in the habit of doing this, so that it just becomes second nature. The surest thing that will ruin a motor is to run it low on oil. If you are unsure of what exact kind of oil to use, just add some of the same kind of oil you'd put in the engine of your car. Regular 30-weight motor oil should be just fine.

Lawn Mower Pull Cords:

Here's a tip that is well worth the price of this book! Many newer pull-start power lawn mowers have a rubber "stop" on the cord to keep you from pulling out the cord too far. Often this rubber "stop" will break and fall off with use. If this happens, take some black electrical tape and wrap it around the cord tightly, in the same spot that the "stop" used to be. Wrap enough tape in this spot so that it is impossible to pull the cord any further than the stop. If you over-pull (pull it out too far) on a starter cord, you will probably bust the pull cord recoil, the re-wind unit. If you break the recoil the cord won't wind back up again and you'll have to take it down to the repair shop. Don't even bother to try and repair one of these recoil units yourself. It will probably drive you half crazy if you try.

If you buy a used mower and it doesn't have a stop on the pull cord, then figure out how far you need to pull the cord in order to start the machine. Then using the black tape method described above put a new stop on the cord. This will save you a world of trouble. After a year or less the tape may get soft and start to move downward on the cord as you pull on it. If this happens, get out some new tape and replace the old material. Whatever you do, do yourself a favor and don't pull out your recoil unit.

Winterizing Your Lawnmowers:

In the fall when you park the mowers for the winter (assuming you don't live in Florida, California or Arizona) it is a good time to do some very basic maintenance work.

Toward the end of the lawn-mowing season, start using up most of the gasoline you have in your gas can. You really don't want to keep this over winter, as moisture may form in the can and dilute the gas. If when it comes time to park the mowers for the winter you still do have some gasoline left, make sure you keep the can inside. Make sure you have a standard red or orange gas can. I like the heavy plastic ones the best since they don't rust.

Start up your mower and mow your lawn for the last time of the year. Try to burn up most of the gasoline in the tank. Do not replace the gas.

Remove the gas cap. If there is still a considerable amount of gas in the tank, put the gas cap back on, restart the mower and let it idle until most of the gas is used up. Let the engine cool down for at least ten minutes and then tip the mower on its side and drain out any old gasoline left into a pan. Pour this old gas in an empty plastic gallon or half gallon jug and put the top on it. An empty Clorox jug works well for this.

Remove the cap where you check the oil. While the engine is still warm, tip the mower on its side and drain out the old motor oil into a pan. Put the oil in the same plastic gallon jug you used for your old leftover gasoline. You can take this down to a gas station later and they'll add it to their used oil tank for you. Never run old oil or gas down a drain, as it will get in the creeks and kill off the fish. Replace the old oil with fresh, new motor oil and put the cap back on. Do NOT forget to replace the old oil with new!

Once the engine has cooled down take out the air filter and if it is cardboard, blow it clean with an air hose. Use the air hose down at the gas station if you don't own an air compressor. If the air filter is made of foam or wire or mesh, clean it in some gasoline and let it dry out before you replace it. If you can't even find the air cleaner, have the lawn mower repair people clean or replace it for you. But have them show you where it is and how to remove it, so that next time you can do it yourself.

Remove the spark plug. Take the old plug with you to the lawnmower repair shop, buy a new one and replace it yourself. If you don't have a socket and ratchet you can buy a kit with these tools for very little money and they're pretty much essential tools to own too. You should have one large and longer than normal socket for removing spark plugs. A good spark plug socket will have a rubber damper in the top of it, to protect the ceramic ends of the plugs.

Using a wire brush, clean up the bottom of the mower. Clean off all old grass. If your mower is a typical air-cooled machine, check to see if there is any old grass stuck on the cooling fins. If so, clean these up too.

A few larger lawn mowers are now water-cooled. If your mower has a radiator, check the fluid levels. If you have straight water in the radiator, drain it now and then replace it with fresh water, to which you should add 50 % antifreeze.

If your mower has a battery, if it is an electric starting mower, but not an electric mower, now is the time to check the battery terminals for corrosion. If there is any corrosion, remove the cables and then clean the posts with a stiff brush or a pocketknife. If you leave the cables disconnected over the winter, the battery will last longer.

Now is a good time to consider sharpening the mower blade(s). Easiest by far is to just take it to a pro and have him do it for you. Cost for this shouldn't be more than about $15. Expect to pay more for sharpening of reel type mowers and for riding lawnmowers.

To winterize an electric lawnmower, just unplug it and park it in the garage. Low-maintenance is one of the best features of electric lawnmowers.

Different kinds of Lawnmowers:

Non-motorized reel type push lawnmowers: We might as well start with the very most basic of all lawnmowers, the hand push mower. These have some very real advantages: Advantages:

They need no gasoline or electricity.

They always start.

They are safer than other lawnmowers.

They don't pollute the air.

They make very little noise.

They provide the owner with exercise, a good workout.

Newer models are lightweight and can often be picked up and carried with one hand.

They leave the grass clipping well distributed behind the mower, thus raking up the clipping is rarely necessary, or even desirable. Clippings, when evenly distributed, provide the lawn with slow-release fertilizer and are quite beneficial.

They are dependable.

I suggest everyone have one of these mowers as a backup unit. When everything else fails you can get this one out and mow your lawn. But these mowers have their drawbacks too.

Disadvantages of non-motorized reel mowers:

They do a poor job of cutting weeds, such as tall dandelion heads.

Many of them will not mow a lawn as low as you might like.

While they cut fine-bladed grasses fairly well, they do a poor job of cutting broader-bladed grasses. They are considerably less effective on lawns with mixed species of grass present.

You may well have to go over sections of the lawn several times in order to have it decently mowed.

I recently tried out a new Great States push mower. Unfortunately it didn't cut grass quite as well as I would have liked, but it did have some new features that older push mowers usually lack. The mowing height was very quick and easy to adjust. The mower is strong but lightweight. The average gardener ought to be able to easily pick it up and carry it with one hand. I'd gladly recommend a Great States mower as a backup mower. It is made here in the US, is easy to push, and has a real solid feel to it. I have used this mower on a bluegrass lawn and here it did a better job of cutting. I expect it would work fine with bent grass, or with any fine-bladed lawn grass. With the broader-bladed grasses, it is less than perfect.

Rotary Mowers

A rotary mower is the basic power lawn mower. It is the least expensive to buy, the easiest to locate, and the easiest to maintain. While it is still true that you often get what you pay for, with rotary lawnmowers you can still get a good deal for a low price.

The first thing to consider when buying a rotary mower is how big is the engine? How much horsepower does it have? As mentioned earlier, more is better here. Don't even consider buying a rotary lawnmower with less than 3.5 horsepower. It will be too weak and underpowered and the engine probably won't last long.

A 4 or 5 horsepower mower will probably be powerful enough for most average lawns. The larger the engine on a lawnmower the heavier the mower will be. For a woman a somewhat smaller mower might be a good idea, easier to use. Now, please, give me a break here! I'm not implying that women are wimps or anything of the sort, but quite a few women have told me that they wish there was more lawn equipment that wasn't so heavy and hard to use. Check the weight of a lawn mower before you buy a new one. Consider this too: what you'd like is a mower that has enough power but that isn't too heavy.

If you have a lawn that is very thick, tough, and normally fairly hard to mow, do consider a power mower with the larger engine. If your lawn is quite large by all means buy one with a larger engine. A lawnmower with a 3-4 horsepower motor may last a long time if it is only used once a week to mow a small yard or two. But for big lawns, get a powerful motor. With all small gas powered equipment, the larger engines tend to last longer. This is as true with chain saws and weed whips as it is with lawnmowers. The same thing can be said for electric mowers too. The larger horsepower motors usually have longer lives.

Quite a few lawnmower companies are now selling 6.5 horsepowered mowers and for large lawns, these might make plenty of sense. If you're shopping for a new power mower you'll also see that some of the Japanese auto companies are now building and selling lawnmowers with OHV (overhead valve) engines. These are superior engines and are sometimes worth the extra money it costs to buy one. I have noticed, by the way, that sometimes with these OHV engine lawnmowers that they can be had on-line on the Internet for considerably less than normally sold retail.

Mower Cutting Width

At first you might assume that the wider the mower cuts the better, but that's not necessarily true at all. If you buy a 3.5 horsepower mower that has more than an 18-inch cutting width, then the machine will be under-powered in thick grass. For a 20-inch mower you'll want at least 4 horsepower. If you're looking to buy a mower that will last a long time, consider buying a high horsepower unit with a 21-inch or smaller mowing width.

Push or Self-propelled?

You can buy a power mower that you push yourself or you can get one that moves itself along, self-propelled. Which is better? For starters you'll often pay several hundred dollars more for the same mower in a self-propelled version. The self-propelled mowers are easy to use, take little effort to operate, and are handy if you're mowing sloping lawns where it is difficult to push a mower uphill.

However, if you are in reasonably good shape and your lawn isn't overly huge nor is it steep, the power push mower might be the better choice. It takes power to move the mower along and any power used to do this job is taken from the mower's power to cut thick grass. If you do buy a self-propelled lawnmower consider buying it with the largest engine offered.

Consider too with a self-propelled mower that any extra work an engine does will cause it to burn more gas and to have a somewhat shorter engine life expectancy. It is also just one more thing that can break with age.

Lastly, do consider the exercise factor. If you mow your lawns once a week, you can count on burning up quite a few calories and getting some needed exercise every week. If you push your own lawnmower you'll be getting double the exercise and you'll burn more calories. Over the course of a year this could add up to a few unwanted pounds you might not gain. As you can probably tell, I like using a push mower myself.

Lawnmower wheels

Wheels on power mowers range from high quality ball bearing loaded wheels to cheap, stamped from thin metal, no bearing wheels. Cheap wheels make any mower harder to push and they will often wear out long before the rest of the mower does.

The best lawnmower wheels are large and have ball bearings. As with fishing reels, or with most things that go round and round, the more ball bearings the better. With lawnmower wheels, wider is better than thinner. A wider wheel won't cut into the lawn as much and won't leave wheel marks as you mow.

Wheel adjustments

Pay attention too, to how easy or how difficult is it to adjust these wheels? Generally the mowing height of the lawnmower is adjusted lower by lowering the wheels, and raising the wheels raises it. Many mowers will be sold claiming that they have 8 or 9 position height adjusters. This is all good but the main question is how easy are they to adjust? I like mowers where adjusting the wheels is easy, simple, and fast. Some mowers have wheels where in order to adjust the mowing height you actually have to get out a wrench, remove the wheel, and then raise or lower its position. You need to do all four wheels of course and this is both annoying and time consuming. Don't waste your money on a lawnmower that has difficult to adjust wheels. Before you ever buy a new lawnmower, try adjusting the wheels. See for yourself how easy or hard this is.

Side baggers or rear baggers?

A side discharge rotary mower can be used without a bag or catcher, and this might be useful if you were trying to mow down some ivy or some other tall groundcover. A side-discharge mower without the catcher on it will also pick up and throw (hard too) small rocks or pieces of wood or metal, so keep this in mind when using one.

A rear-bagging mower can never be used without the catcher attached, as it will shower the operator with clippings.

If a side bagging mower and a rear-bagging mower cost the same price, you'd be better off with the rear bagger. Before you buy any new mower remove the catcher and see if it is easy or difficult to replace. Pretend that it is loaded with heavy grass clippings and see if you can figure out how simple it is (or isn't) to empty. I have seen plenty of power mowers that are a royal pain in the rear to empty and then to hook back on. What you want is a system that is simple, quick and easy.

Mulching or non-mulching mowers?

For most lawns the mulching mowers are best. The clippings are pulverized and deposited under the mower. They will decompose and add nitrogen back to the lawn. With fescue lawns though, the clippings don't break down very well and often just add up as thatch. For almost all lawns except fescue though, a mulching mower is a good idea. Some lawn mowers now have a feature where you can use it either as a mulching mower, or as a side-bagging mower that will catch the clippings as you mow.

Price and quality and name brands

Unfortunately there are a number of lawnmowers now that quality wise just aren't what they used to be. I remember buying several John Deere mowers once for a place I was working. I knew they made great tractors and I wanted something high quality and American made. The mowers turned out to be assembled in Mexico as I recall and they were junk. They didn't last long either. I have seen this same thing now with companies that originally produced nothing but quality equipment. I suppose the original owner of the company died or sold the company to some bigger corporation and the bean counters decided that since they already had a great reputation, they could start cutting corners and get away with it.

I mention all this because with lawnmowers these days you won't automatically get what you pay for. It is entirely possible to buy a name brand mower, pay a high price for it, and end up with a piece of junk. It is also possible to buy a very good, reasonably priced lawnmower.

So far I have heard good reports from most people about the lawnmowers made by the Japanese motorcycle and carmakers. You'll see some lawnmowers being sold now from the makers of chainsaws, and hopefully their mowers are as good as their chainsaws. I won't name names here, but there is a very popular magazine that ranks products and from what I've seen of their advice on lawnmowers, it isn't worth a hoot. Of the American made mowers, most lawnmower repair people I know prefer to work on Briggs and Stratton engines, and many swear that these are by far the best. I'm not sure that I'd argue with that assessment either.

 
 
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