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Making the Most of Mowers
Mowers and tractors serve as the workhorses of grounds care, performing both mowing and snow-removal duties in many organizations. But in many organizations, those tasks are not enough.
Because of tight budgets, grounds managers need to further enhance the flexibility and value of these key pieces of equipment by purchasing attachments and accessories that expand their capabilities.
To do so, managers need to determine the attachments that best meet their departments’ needs, as well as the most effective way to coordinate the use of this equipment.
Because of the dominance of mowing duties, mowing decks have become the most popular attachments. Many rotary mowing decks, with widths ranging from 36 inches to 25 feet, are winged to provide flexibility and efficiency when mowing larger areas and smaller landscaped spaces.
Responding to facilities’ needs, manufacturers annually redesign mowing equipment with new features designed to add quality, durability, efficiency and, of course, safety.
“We can mow the grounds when students and professors are outdoors without the worry of objects flying out and hitting someone,” says Walter Bonvell, grounds foreman with Xavier University in Cincinnati. His equipment operators use a mowing deck with a built-in grass collector.
Mike Mongon, property manager at Fairview Country Club in Greenwich, Conn., says his operators use out-front rotary decks with adjustable height.
“I can change the cutting height from 1/2 inch to 6 inches in a few seconds,” Mongon says. On sites that feature varying types of grass with different needs, a mowing deck that operators can adjust easily is a valuable piece of equipment. Mowing height also can be critical to both the health and appearance of turf.
Mowing decks with mulching capability continue to be productive attachments.
“This helps especially with leaf cleanup in the fall,” says George Van Haasteren, certified grounds manager with Dwight-Englewood School in Englewood, N.J. “Using a mulching mower to chop up the leaves makes them suitable to disperse on the lawn and makes them easier to bag and haul off site if necessary.”
Because mulching mowers cut grass clippings into small pieces that decompose quickly — returning nutrients and organic matter to the soil — equipment operators spend less time bagging and disposing of clippings.
Floating decks and decks that feature extra rollers help operators prevent scalping when mowing uneven ground and shorter grass. Striping kits and rollers also help operators create the highly manicured look of pristine athletic fields.
One manufacturer has introduced an articulating mowing deck with three separate sections that maneuver independently of one another. While most rigid three-section decks — available in widths of 61 inches and 86 inches — can conform to three contours, the articulating deck can conform to 27 different configurations. This feature is especially helpful when mowing on berms and uneven terrain.
Among the additional attachments that increase a mower’s versatility are leaf vacuums, aerators, brooms, trailers for hauling other equipment or materials, snow removal equipment, seeders, sprayers, spreaders, buckets, augers, and tillers.
“At Dwight-Englewood, we have a 35-horsepower tractor that we use for aeration, seeding, fertilizing and moving soil with the bucket attachment,” Van Haasteren says. “This tractor is also a part of the snow-emergency operation.”
The attachment possibilities seem endless.
“With the mower we use, we can drop off the front mowing unit and put on an assortment of attachments, including a snow blower, a plow blade, a finish-grade rake, a stump grinder, a trencher for small drainage or root pruning, and a leaf and debris blower,” Mongon says.
For managers, greater equipment flexibility equates to a solid return on investment.
“Today, mowers are very costly, and to have one sit for four or five months out of the year seems crazy,” Bonvell says. “We purchased a snow broom and a snow blower to use during the winter months. The 48-inch snow broom has ended up being one of our top-rated pieces of snow equipment. Because our sidewalks are 4 feet wide, this unit is perfect for removing about 3 inches of snow down to the pavement.”
The unit’s hard-top enclosure keeps its operator out of the weather.
“We also use a different type of tire in the winter and put chains on the tires for added traction and safety,” Bonvell says.
The selection of accessories for mowers and tractors has expanded even further. For example, attachable arms boost productivity by holding an edger, a line trimmer and a blower so the equipment operator can perform several operations while mowing. The arm enables the operator to use the tools without leaving the machine.
Another accessory sprays mosquitoes during mowing, and others mark the machine's path when applying fertilizers or spraying for weeds.
Some accessories are designed to improve safety and comfort. They include: roll-over protection bars, hard and soft cab enclosures, headlights, curb-jumper ramps, all-terrain tires, floatation tires, and full-suspension seats that enhance operator comfort and lumbar support.
Making the Right Choice
Ensuring the performance of mowers and attachments requires that managers understand both existing equipment options and department needs.
“The most important thing in the selection process is to make sure the engine and hydraulics can support any piece of equipment you plan on attaching,” Mongon says. “The average tractor is asked to run or pull blowers, mowers, post-hole diggers, turf aerators, fertilizer spreaders, sprayers, all kinds of grading equipment, wood splitters, and an occasional hay ride.”
Adds Van Haasteren, “When purchasing attachments, you really need to take into account frequency of use, dependability, compatibility, parts inventory in case of break down, and of course, if it fits into the budget.
“Before I purchase or rent equipment, I usually do my homework. I ask others who have used certain items. Attending field demonstrations and being able to test equipment out really helps to decide whether or not equipment will perform in certain situations.”
Product compatibility goes a long way toward ensuring a return on the investment in equipment.
“If the original manufacturer has made attachments for the equipment, I'll purchase theirs instead of a generic brand,” Bonvell says. "They seem to fit better, and normally we don't have as many problems. If you have to go to another vendor looking for attachments, I would go with one that has been in the business making that specific attachment.”
Purchasing new equipment is not the only option.
“I rent attachments, as well, depending on the type of work I need to perform,” Van Haasteren says. “Deep-tine aeration attachments and top dressers are pieces of equipment I use a few times throughout the year. I do not have the space or budget to purchase these items, so sometimes it’s better to lease or rent, depending on the job.”
When operators share equipment, it is all too common for them to assume the other person will take care of routine inspection and repairs. To avoid conflicts, managers should make one person responsible for the equipment.
Attachments and accessories for mowers and tractors can greatly improve a department’s efficiency, improve the site’s condition and make equipment purchases more cost effective. The challenge for grounds managers is coordinating purchases, schedules and operations so the organization sees the promised return on its equipment investments.
Old Equipment, New Life
If an older mower in adequate working condition is ready for retirement but is not reliable enough for daily use, a manager might consider outfitting it with a time-saving attachment, such as a broom or vacuum. An attachment that does not put a lot of strain on the vehicle might extend the equipment’s useful life.