Jan. 18 2010 12:00 AM

Exmark’s 21-inch Walk-Behind Mower

THE SMALL, GATED RESIDENTIAL COMMUNITY OF MOUNTAIN COVE in Azusa, California, had almost become accustomed to the poorly maintained grass growing there. The endless ruts in every patch of turf, the greenish stains smeared out on the sidewalks from all the clippings that had shot out haphazardly onto the pavement—these things marred an otherwise classy neighborhood.

The landscape contracting company the community had hired to do the maintenance hadn’t been doing a very good job of keeping things presentable. So when the community turned to Alpha One Environmental Landscape to take over the landscape maintenance duties, their hope for a well-maintained-looking neighborhood was riddled in skepticism.

“We went in there and we immediately knew it was going to be a challenge,” says Steve Quintana, owner of Alpha One, Orange, California. “The grass was very anemic. There was obviously a lack of nutrients, a lack of irrigation—the whole property had been neglected. It was a joke. Once we got in there, it took us a couple of months to finally whip it back into shape.”

One problem Quintana and his team were quick to recognize was the fact that the previous landscaping company had been using too large a mower. Its mower of choice had been a 36" walk-behind. This type of mower might work fine on other types of properties, where the area is larger and flatter; but in a neighborhood such as Mountain Cove, where the vast majority of turf is nestled in tight, narrow spaces and there are many slopes to deal with, such a mower is entirely impractical. Something else was needed that would work better on that terrain. This is where Exmark’s 21" walk-behind mower came into play.

Alpha One had been working with Exmark for some time, test driving many of its new mowers and offering the manufacturing company their input on what worked well, and what didn’t with their products. Because of this, Quintana and his crew members already knew from experience what they could expect from Exmark’s 21". This mower was light weight enough so that it wouldn’t pose much difficulty for anyone trying to navigate it along tricky slopes. Most importantly, it was small enough to get around all the tight neighborhood spots.

“These were spots where you simply couldn’t use a 36" mower,” explains Quintana. “They were either unsafe or too narrow for those types of machines.

“When we took over, the community was still pretty angry with the previous company. They kept using 36" mowers, even after the local Homeowner’s Association asked them not to.

They had torn all those ruts into the ground. It looked awful. I don’t think they had anything smaller though, so they kept using them,” says Quintana.

Where larger mowers had failed, the Exmark 21" excelled. Not only was it smaller and more maneuverable, but it came with heavy duty wheels—9" in diameter—which allowed it to navigate the rough terrain areas. It didn’t hamper Quintana’s crew members with clogging problems, which is a common mishap when it comes to mowers. It’s also made of fewer parts than normal mowers, so it was lighter to push around and caused less stress on the turf. And for extended range, Exmark’s 21" offered a larger gas tank than what many would expect from a walk-behind.

“We knew right from the beginning that this mower would be the best solution for us,” says Quintana.

Alpha One put four of its crew members to work at Mountain Cove. Using the Exmark 21" walk-behind, they were able to mow every spot of the community properly and thoroughly within six hours. To help protect and improve the soil, they used a bagger/mulcher attachment to shred grass clippings and spray them onto the turf as mulch.

“The machine also allowed us to disengage the blade while the engine was still running,” says Quintana. “This was great, because if something gets lodged and the operator needs to stop the machine, all he needs to do is just let go of the handle bars. From there, he can open it up and figure out what’s wrong. When he’s done, he can just hop back on the machine and off he goes.”

Because the turf was on grated terrain, they used a self-propelled version of the mower to help ease operator fatigue. The light weight, aluminum deck also made the mower easy to navigate, particularly on slopes, where heavy machinery can often pose safety risks. In less than a day’s work, the landscape was neat, trim and looking much better.

But simply mowing could only transform the property so much. There was more work to do. The previous company had also done a sloppy job in irrigating the property. Alpha One had to go in and reprogram the whole system to get it watering efficiently. The company also had to apply fertilizers to improve the soil’s health. It took time, but within a couple of months, Mountain Cove was healthy and beaming bright shades of green once again.

As for the residents, they couldn’t be happier. Says Quintana: “We’ve gotten a lot of compliments from the homeowners. They’ll come out and say, ‘Wow, you’re a far cry from the last company.’” To get the job done right, you have to have the knowledge as well as the right tools. In Alpha One’s case, finding the right tools took some forethought, but it paid off. The Mountain Cove community has never looked better.