While technically the calendar says spring, it feels like summer here in the valley of the sun. As we go through the transition period in California and Arizona from ryegrass back to bermudagrass or paspalum I want to touch a little bit on getting your mower ready for the season. It’s always a good idea to start each season off with a clean, sharp, and ready to use mower. There is nothing worse than going out to cut your lawn and pulling on the lawn mower cord a dozen times only to find the mower won’t turn over. There are some simple things you can do to keep it running well and last for several years.

Before I go into maintenance of your mower I will touch on the two different types of mowers on the market. You can choose between a rotary mower and a reel mower. The reel mowers I will refer to will be self-propelled mowers instead of push reel mowers. The reason I’m skipping on the push reel mowers is because it’s tough to push through thick bermudagrass during the summer months. While it can definitely be done, its just not my favorite thing to do on a 115-degree Arizona day.

There are several brands of reel mowers on the market so deciding which one to buy is going through the various options and deciding what is most important to you. Some of these choices include desired height of cut, number of reels on the mower (the mower reels, the tighter you can mow), weight of the mower, cutting width, and deciding if you will be collecting clippings or letting them lay on the ground. Most of the new reel mowers have a front bucket attachment but there are still a few on the market that drop clippings out the back of the mower.

If you’ve never used a reel mower or seen a lawn after its freshly cut by one you’re missing out. The look of your lawn is completely different with a reel since it cuts your grass as though you used a pair of sharp scissors. The rotary mowers have a tendency to tear the leaf blade which can open up the turf canopy to disease or insect attacks. While these occurrences are very rare in our dry climate its something to keep in mind. Depending on the type of mower you purchase you could mow as short as a putting green or keep your lawn at a couple inches. Remember that mowing shorter requires more water and fertilizer than keeping it a little longer. My recommendation for this type of mower is ¾”-1 ¼”. I personally think bermudagrass and ryegrass look best when maintained at ¾”-1”. Some brands that I would look at are Toro, John Deere, and McLane. I’m not endorsing any particular brand but these are a few that I have personal experience using. There are dozens of others on the market that have excellent attributes but I have never personally tried them.

The most popular type of mower for households is a rotary mower. This is simply because of cost, ease of use, maintenance, and most of us saw our parents using one when we grew up. A rotary mower is used for mowing between ¾”-3” depending on they type of grass you have at your house. Rotary mowers can be electric, gas, or battery driven. A rotary mower has a blade that spins around on the bottom of the mower chopping the grass. These types of mowers are better than a reel mower for uneven surfaces, hills, weeds, and difficult to maneuver areas. There are more rotary mowers on the market than I can possibly review so I would tell you to read the online reviews, annual repair costs, and price. A good rotary mower will typically run you between $200-$500.

Maintenance of your mower

It’s always good to start off each season with a good tune up of your mower. Most of these machines are relatively simple in terms of maintenance so not a lot of mechanical knowledge is needed to get them up and running.

  1. Drain the gasoline and use fresh gas for the upcoming season. If you haven’t used your mower in a while this is an important step since the gasoline may have been sitting in the mower for months.
  2. Check the oil level. If you’re unclear as to the type of oil and how much to add refer to the owner’s manual.
  3. Change the spark plug. You will need to purchase a spark plug wrench in order to remove it. These can typically be bought for a few dollars and a new spark plug is less than $10. I recommend doing this once a year.
  4. Flip the mower on its side and clean the entire underside of the mower. Remove any of the built-up clippings and debris so the mower is clean.
  5. Remove the mower blade and take it in to be sharpened. If the blade is dull it will cause your grass to be torn instead of getting a clean cut.
  6. The final piece of the rotary mower is the air filter. These foam or paper filters easily come out and can be blown out with an air hose or replaced yearly.

If you have a reel mower there are a couple additional items to needed for mower maintenance.

  1. Follow all of the steps above except number 5. If you need to sharpen the reels I would suggest taking them to a machine shop to be backlapped and sharpened. When the shop back laps your mower, they put a grinding compound on the reels and spin the reels in reverse. This compound is like using a sharpening tool on your reels. They then wash off the compound and check the contact between the reels and bedknife.
  1. Check the bedknife to reel contact by using a piece of paper. A sharp mower will cut the paper like a new pair of scissors. If the paper is tearing then you need to adjust the contact between the two or have the blades sharpened. You will want to check the contact in several areas across the entire width of the bedknife.

If you have any questions hit the “Ask Jay” button on the top right of this page.