In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
June, 2004
Regional Report

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A reel mower is good for the environment, good for your health.

Much Ado About Mowers

If you have a lawn, lawn mowers are a necessary evil. How many times have you cursed as you pulled that darned cord to get the thing started? Cursing the old mower is a part of life for some gardeners. Here are a few tips to make your mowing life a little easier.

Your Basic Mower
There are three basic types of lawn mowers, and your selection should be based on the type of lawn you have. If your lawn is small, you might consider using a push-powered, reel mower. Reel mowers have been around for a long time, and their advantage is that they are good for the environment. Another benefit is that you get exercise while you're mowing.

The downside is that they are really hard to push through long grass, so you need to be committed to your lawn and not let it go for more than a week between mowings. Sharpening the bed knife occasionally and keeping the bearings greased is the only required maintenance for a reel-type mower.

Rotary Mowers
Rotary-type mowers have a blade -- sometimes more than one -- that spins under a bell housing. Larger lawns usually require some sort of self-propelled mower, usually gasoline powered. The problem with this type of machine is that it's heavy to handle and it will be necessary to store fuel. These are the mowers with the pull-cord starting mechanism, unless you have one with an electric battery starter. Then you're talking about some serious money.

There are two-cycle and four-cycle engines. Two cycle means you add oil to the gasoline to keep the engine lubricated. Too much oil in the mix means you will be following behind "Old Smokey." Four-cycle engines have a separate oil sump and use straight gasoline. Most riding mowers are four cycle.

The Quiet Option
Electric lawn mowers are a good choice for most home gardeners because they are environmentally friendly and lightweight. You don't have to store fuel. But there is the chance that you might run over the electrical cord. Electrocution isn't always the end result of running over the cord while mowing, but it certainly isn't something you want to do very often.

Routine Maintenance
Mower maintenance on both electric and gasoline-powered rotary mowers involves keeping the bell housing clean by turning the mower on its side and hosing the housing after each use. If you have fungus problems on your lawn, you might consider washing the machine with a solution of bleach or Lysol to prevent spreading the fungus disease every time you mow.

The blade on a rotary mower should be sharpened periodically, especially if you frequently mow over rough, rocky areas, or if you see that the grass blades are torn and ragged after mowing. To sharpen the blade, ALWAYS make sure the spark plug wire has been removed or the mower unplugged. Wear gloves and use a socket wrench to remove the nut that holds the blade to the shaft. A socket wrench will not strip the nut. Sharpen only the beveled edge of the blade with a metal file. Hold the file at the same angle as the bevel and file in one direction only, never back and forth.

Once the blade is sharp, check it to see that it is balanced. A balanced blade will hang from your finger or a screwdriver in the 3 o'clock/9 o'clock position. If the blade hangs crooked, it should probably be replaced. A replacement lawn mower blade costs only about $8, so you might want to just forget about sharpening altogether.


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