July 1 2002 12:00 AM

Consider the many special delights
a lawn affords:
soft mattress for a creeping baby;
worm hatchery for a robin;
croquet or badminton court;
baseball diamond; restful green perspectives leading the eye to a background of flower beds,
shrubs, or hedge;
green shadows ?
This lawn, a carpet all alive
With shadows flung from leaves
as changing and as spellbinding as the waves of the sea,
whether flecked with sunlight under trees of light foliage,
like elm and locust, or deep, dark, solid shade,
moving slowly as the tide, under maple and oak.
This carpet!

Katharine S. White
Onward and Upward in the Garden 1979

Mowing the grass may seem a mundane chore, but as Katherine White said, the lawn is a living entity that is an important part of each person?s life.

Taking on the responsibility for maintaining this very visible icon ? the lawn ? can be a daunting task and one that can make or break a landscape maintenance company. The quality of the work performed becomes a live billboard advertisement for the landscape contractor. If used properly, he can build a significant client list just by telling prospective clients to look at the job being done at a particular property.

Today?s lawn mowers offer an amazing array of options, including whether you sit on them, walk behind them, or stand on them. They help to make lawn maintenance chores easier, faster and more profitable than ever.

Productivity, cost containment, and reduced man-hours per job are the primary means of increasing profitability through equipment choice, and each type of machine offers a different mix of benefits. Your choice of equipment can have a direct effect on your bottom line.

Zero-Turn-Radius Mowers
While there are many models of stand-on and walk-behind mowers available, zero-turn-radius (ZTRs) mowers are the leaders in the landscape industry, as we cut our way into this new millennium. Zero-turn mowers offer advantages in maneuverability, productivity and maintenance requirements. Some contractors believe that walk-behind units, unless used with a sulky, tend to be more demanding on the operator, and much slower due to walking speeds.

Maintenance managers appreciate the benefit of speed found in zero-turn mowers. The ability of the mower to easily maneuver around trees and shrubs offers time savings, which means more profit per job. Management loves the price points compared to other riding mowers.
Zero-turn mowers can get into places that only walk-behinds used to manage, saving the time and man-hours required to have double equipment and double staff on a job.

Their powerful engines, reliable functions, compact design, and labor-saving features make a perfect mower for the professional. The zero-turn rider can mow more acres per day in equal or less time than other types of mowers, according to manufacturers, allowing the contractor to bill more acres per day. This increased productivity is significant.

Manufacturers offer a variety of cutting decks to various sizes of engines, from air cooled to liquid cooled. Each year the cutting decks seem to get bigger; some now go up to 72 inches in width. Some ZTRs have the cutting decks out in front, while others have a mid mount.

?True zero-radius turning allows the operator to cut and trim effortlessly by continuously passing the mower over uncut grass, without the wasted time and motion of wide turns, foot pedals and shifting gears,? said Ruthanne Stucky, director of marketing at The Grasshopper Company. ?By eliminating the time and effort associated with jockeying into position on turns and trimming, you end up being more productive. In addition, you actually have more time and energy to take on more jobs, with a resulting increase in your bottom line.?

Dixie Chopper says that adding a Flex-Deck to one of its machines is ?like hiring an extra man for your trim crew.? The manufacturer?s Web site states that ?Dixie Chopper owners who use the Flex-Deck report that they have cut trim crew man-hours in half, and increased productivity by 25%.?

Bob Walker, president of Walker Manufacturing, comments, ?Berms, rolling contours, irregular areas, curbs, street dividers and virtually any other area that can be cut with a walk-behind mower can be mowed faster and more easily with a Walker.?

?Many owners report their jobs are completed 33 percent to 50 percent faster, thanks to the quick maneuverability, reduced operator fatigue and the elimination of secondary trimming,? says Walker.
Maintenance schedules and good management practices are crucial to getting the best from your equipment. Stucky adds, ?Another thing to consider: choose a machine that is easy to maintain and then plan to perform a few minutes of scheduled maintenance, according to the manufacturer?s guidelines in the operator?s manual. This can save hours of unscheduled down-time when parts fail due to neglect of simple inspection and prevention.?

Stand-On Mowers
One type of mower that is becoming popular with a number of contractors is the stand-on mower.
Since its introduction, the stand-on mower has received a standing ovation. With mowing decks from 36 inches to 62 inches, the stand-on mowers are less expensive than zero-turn-radius mowers.

Sebert Landscaping, Bartlett, Illinois, purchased sixty stand-on mowers. Terry Farmer, general manager of Sebert claims, ?Our guys bet for them because they get the job done fast, and they?re easy to handle once they?ve learned how to maneuver them.? According to Farmer, the stand-on mower is the best all-around mower on the market, but notes, it really depends on the cutting area.

Money can be a high priority factor in the selection and purchasing of mowers. Competitively priced, the stand-on mower, at $5,000 to $7,000, has carved out the middle range. It?s priced between the walk-behind at the low end of the scale, and the ride-on mower at the high end.

Walk Behinds
Then there are the walk behinds. Probably the smallest walk behind in the commercial arena is the 21 inch. This one has been a standard for many years. Lightweight, easy to push walk-behind products offer a unique benefit, according to Jim Lewis from Lewis Landscape Services, Tigard, Oregon.

?One of the problems we face in Oregon is mowing lawns in the rain. Unlike other parts of the country, we can?t just say, ?We?ll stop mowing until it quits raining,? because that could be weeks in Oregon. So we have to find a solution. This problem is even more prevalent when you only offer a year-round service, as our company does. Mowing in the rain produces two problems. First, the grass clippings clog up the deck and the bag. Second, the wheels of the mower begin to slip on a self-propelled mower.?

?After using several kinds of mowers, we found that Honda Commercial mowers were far superior in handling these two problems. In fact, we found that these mowers were the only mowers that worked under such conditions. Not only can we mow in the rain without the clippings clogging the deck, the wheels seem to keep working in the rain as well.?

As we move up in size, walk behinds move up in class when a self-propelled unit is added. These self-propelled units can range up to 72 inches. By being self-propelled, it saves a lot of wear and tear on your maintenance crew. Thirty-six and 48-inch self-propelled walk behinds are the basic mower, especially for beginners.

Riding Mowers
These babies are the cat?s meow. Riding mowers today, with all the new technology and all the bells and whistles, really make your crew hum.

For large turf areas, these riding mowers can make the job not only easier on the crew, but they cover a lot of ground quickly. These mowers come in many shapes and sizes. Depending on the size of the job, they too have a variety of cutting deck sizes.

Whether you?re working with a 21-inch push, walk-behind mower, a stand-on mower, a zero-turn or a large riding mower, the key to keeping these machines working is proper maintenance. Given your choice, choose a machine that is easy to work on and easy to maintain; then plan to perform a few minutes of scheduled maintenance. Remember, this can save you hours of unscheduled downtime when parts fail due to neglect.

The bottom line
Beautifully maintained lawns are noticed and appreciated, and the lawns function as your ?business card? to everyone who passes by them. Make lawn maintenance a profit center for your company by choosing equipment that best meets the requirements of the majority of your jobs, and maintaining your equipment according to manufacturer specifications.

July 2002