Cooler weather is just around the corner, which means changes in the grounds care schedule from the seemingly never-ending task of mowing to leaf clean-up, lawn aeration, and snow removal. Now is also the time for managers to prepare next year’s budget. Equipment analysis is a critical part of this planning process. What equipment needs replacement? What equipment will improve productivity? What equipment will improve the grounds’ appearance?
Attachments for mowing equipment and tractors can be the cost-effective answer to these questions. The challenge is to sift through the variety of available attachments and features to determine the way each one might enhance department operations.
Mowing decks are the most obvious attachments for use with mowing vehicles and tractors. Operators can mount decks in front of or under a piece of equipment, or the deck can be pulled behind a vehicle.
Rotary mowers are the most popular option today for general grounds maintenance. They range in width from 36 inches to 25 feet. Many decks are winged to provide flexibility and efficiency for mowing larger areas. Some have independent floating decks or articulating decks for better cutting quality on slopes and uneven ground.
Gang-reel mowers attach to a tractor and are ground-driven. They can be efficient for cutting large areas that do not require the highest-quality cut, but they can provide a good-quality cut if the grass is not too tall.
A flail mower also is pulled behind a tractor and is power take-off (PTO) driven. This mower is useful in rough areas, tall grasses, weeds, brush or naturalized areas, such as prairies and wildflower meadows. Flail mowers are available in widths of up to 25 feet.
Each year, manufacturers produce improved equipment and add features to enhance quality, durability, safety and efficiency. One such improvement is quick, no-tool adjustments of cutting heights, which can be changed from ½ inch to 6 inches in seconds. Mowing height can be critical to the turf’s health and appearance. On sites with varying types of grass with different cultural needs, a deck that operators can change easily is very valuable.
Decks with mulching kits can decrease the need for bagging. These mowers cut grass blades into small pieces that are left on the lawn, saving bagging time and disposal costs. The units also can help with leaf cleanup. Using a mulching mower to chop up leaves makes them suitable to disperse on the lawn, as well as easier to bag and haul. Floating decks and decks with extra rollers and or larger-diameter caster tires can prevent scalping and smooth out bumps when mowing uneven ground and shorter grass.
Mowers and tractors are very costly, and to have one sit for four or five months out of the year makes no sense. Among the attachments that can increase the versatility of mowers and tractors are snow-removal equipment, leaf vacuums, aerators, brooms, trailers, seeders, sprayers, spreaders, buckets, augers, and tillers.
With fall a few short weeks away, a leaf-collection system might help boost productivity. Leaf and debris vacuums feature larger-capacity collection hoppers, and larger-diameter suction tubes are less likely to clog. Some vacuum-collection units have hydraulic lifts that allow dumping without leaving the mower’s seat.
Fall is also the ideal time to aerate. Core aerators typically are best for relieving soil compaction, improving percolation and gas exchange, and reducing thatch. Piston-action aerators mechanically pull a plug out of the ground. These aerators can produce more holes per square and pull a cleaner and deeper plug. Drum-type aerators pull a plug, but quality and quantity depends on soil condition. Spike-type aerators don’t leave a mess and can break soil layering, but they actually can increase compaction.
For more productive, environmentally conscious weed control, managers should consider specifying boom sprayers with drift-containment shrouds. This type of equipment allows for spraying without worrying about wind speed or direction and potential drift damage. Using them, crews can spray for weeds almost any day. The attachments are available for front- and rear-mount machines. Widths range from 80 inches to 20 feet.
Crews can use brooms with bristle heads for sweeping dirt, grass clippings, sand and light snow. Brooms made with rubber paddles can move larger materials, including stones, gravel and heavy snow.
Finally, snow and ice management attachments — including blowers, throwers, plows and salt spreaders — are available for all types of vehicles, including mowers, tractors, skid steers, and utility vehicles.
For improved efficiency, manufacturers have developed arms that can hold an edger, a line trimmer and a blower so workers can perform several operations while mowing without leaving the seat. Also, they have rolled out simple accessories such as one to spray mosquitoes during mowing and others that mark the equipment’s path when applying fertilizers or spraying for weeds.
Some accessories are designed to improve safety and comfort. These accessories include: rollover protection bars, soft and hard cab enclosures, headlights, curb jumper ramps, all-terrain tires, flotation tires, and full-suspension seats to enhance operator comfort and lumbar support.
Most manufactures now make attachments much easier to put on and take off. Many require no tools or offer one-pin installation. The benefit is simple: The easier an attachment is to put on and take off, the more likely that operators will use it cost-effectively.
The most important thing in the selection process is to make sure the engine and hydraulics of a vehicle can support the attachment. The average tractor must be able to run or pull blowers, mowers, post-hole diggers, turf aerators, fertilizer spreaders, sprayers, wood splitters, and an occasional haunted hayride. If buying a new tractor or mower is in the plans for next year, consider the possibilities of using it for multiple tasks, and buy accordingly.
When buying attachments, managers must take into account frequency of use, dependability, compatibility, parts inventory, and, of course, its impact on the budget.
In short, managers need to do their homework before buying any attachment. They can do so by asking peers who have used certain items. Attending field demonstrations and testing equipment in person really helps in deciding whether equipment will perform in certain situations.
Some managers prefer attachments made by a vehicle’s manufacturer. They seem to fit better and normally don’t have as many problems. But when going to another vendor for attachments, choose one that has a track record of making that specific attachment.
Renting attachments also is an option to increase productivity or to maintain the budget and save space in the shop. For example, deep-tine-aeration attachments and top dressers are pieces of equipment that are used only a few times each year and, as a result, are good candidates for rental.
Also, if an older mower is ready for retirement but remains in adequate working condition — even if it is not reliable enough for daily mowing — consider outfitting it with a time-saving attachment, such as a broom or vacuum. Any type of attachment that is used often but that doesn’t put a great deal of strain on the vehicle might help extend the useful life of the equipment.
Adding attachments to a mower or tractor might seem like an excellent way to increase productivity, but managers first must consider the machine’s current schedule. If the plan is to add an aerator to a tractor normally used to pull a mower, managers need to make sure that mowing is not a critical operation that occurs at the same time as aeration.
The best attachments extend the use of the mower or tractor into seasons or times when it is not normally productive. For this reason, snow blowers and leaf vacuums are two of the most popular attachments.
Mower and tractor attachments can greatly improve a grounds department’s efficiency, improve the site’s condition, and make big-ticket equipment purchases more cost-effective. One important, early step is to make a wish list, then check out all of the options. Winter is trade-show season, and attending one of the many industry trade shows is an excellent way to see, test and compare the latest equipment.