Making the Most of Your Mower

While commercial mowers are incredibly efficient at performing their appointed task — making tall grass short — they can also be a strong contributor to your bottom line in other ways with the right mix of attachments. Not only can attachments help increase productivity and finish quality on the turf, they also can extend the useful season of your mowers beyond the cutting season.

There has never been a better selection of attachments for mowers than we have today. Some attachments are designed to enhance the performance of the mower on the turf, while others are built to allow the mower to perform functions other than cutting grass, including snow removal, dethatching, aeration, spraying and a number of other tasks.

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Mowing attachments range from collection systems and mulch kits, which are typically offered by the mower manufacturer, to those available from aftermarket suppliers, such as dethatchers, aerators, sprayers, spreaders and other maintenance tools.

MOWING ATTACHMENTS INCREASE PRODUCTIVITY AND VERSATILITY

“Almost all of the mowers we sell go out the door with either a mulch kit or a collection system,” says Casey Bliss, owner of Bliss Power and Lawn Equipment in Sacramento, Calif. “We've seen an incredible increase in the number of contractors installing mulch kits over the past five years. It's increased to the point that we sell nine mulch kits for every one collection system we sell. Mulching has grown to be much more prevalent than bagging in our market.”

Bliss says that virtually all of the mulch kits and collection systems he sells are offered by the mower manufacturer, and are specific to the brand's products. Many manufacturers also offer mulching-specific blade sets, which can significantly improve mulching results, especially in locations with tough cutting conditions such as frequent heavy, damp grass.

Despite the trend towards mulching, manufacturers have pushed the development of collection systems, especially for riding mowers. A growing number of manufacturers have introduced “quick dump” collection systems for their zero-turn mowers, which allow the operator to dump clippings without moving from the seat of the machine. While some contractors appreciate this convenience, Bliss says that many of his customers don't opt for the quick dump setups, as most often catcher capacity is a sacrifice that's made for the convenience of easy unloading. For his customers, who primarily use collection systems for fall leaf collection, capacity takes priority over convenience.

An interesting new twist on the quick-dump collection system comes from Walker Manufacturing and its Hi-Dump system, which is an available option for the company's riding mowers. Hi-Dump places the collection system on an articulating hydraulic lift that is powered by a small electric motor. The system can raise the catcher to a height of up to 67 inches, allowing the operator to easily raise and unload clippings in the bed of a pickup or trailer via toggle switches near the operator seat. The process of raising, unloading and lowering the collection system back into position takes approximately 20 seconds, according to the manufacturer. The Walker system does not sacrifice catcher capacity for this convenience, and the system adds only 3 inches to its overall height.

Aside from mulch kits or collection systems, landscape professionals typically add mower attachments to help them meet specific needs or customer demands they experience in their day-to-day operation. Good examples of such situation-specific needs would be a sports turf manager utilizing a striping kit on mowers to provide a distinctive finish on sports fields, or a parks crew adding a trash bag holder to the mower chassis for storage of litter that gets picked up during the day. While there is not enough room in this article to describe the multitude of attachments offered by mower manufacturers and a product description of each, you should contact your dealer with specific questions regarding available attachments. If you find that what you want isn't offered by the maker of your mower, you can look to companies that specialize in attachments to fit mowers of any brand.

Keep in mind, though — especially if you're in the market for a new mower — that some attachments work better with front-cut mowers and some are designed for mid-mounts.

ACCESSORIZING

In addition to acquiring attachments for your mower, you can also consider various accessories. Exmark's Dan Dorn said the company has added some new and unique accessories for its zero-turn riders now that the roll-over protection system (ROPS) has become a standard feature. “In addition to significantly increasing operator safety in a rollover situation, the ROPS provides a secure, easy-to-use attachment point for attachments such as light kits, sun shades and other accessories.”

Dorn says the company's light kit allows the operator to see more clearly in low light conditions. Exmark began offering a light kit for its zero-turn mowers in 2004, the same year the company made a roll-over protection system (ROPS) a standard feature on its zero-turn riders. While Dorn cautions that the system isn't designed for mowing during nighttime hours, he says the light kit allows operators to increase safety and productivity during the lower light hours near dawn and dusk — hours that many contractors are already working.

MULTI-TASKING WITH YOUR MOWER

The aftermarket is rife with products designed to expand the capabilities of your mower. From seeder and sprayer attachments, to snow removal blades and blowers, there are a number of ways to make your mower continue to produce, even after the mowing season has passed.

Landscape pros living in locations with seasonal mowing often store their mowers for several months each year. For them, investing in a carefully selected suite of attachments may allow them to utilize the mowers to make money when they'd normally be in storage. For example, if the addition of a snow blade allows a contractor to utilize his zero-turn mower to clear a parking lot or residential area, it is most definitely more useful, and has more earning potential than if it was sitting in storage.

While an interesting theory, according to Dan Eckles at Honest Engines in Lincoln, Neb., using mowers for other tasks such as snow removal, especially the zero-turn models popular with his customers, is not something his customers are doing on a large scale. “We have quite a few customers who do lawn work in the summer and snow removal in the winter, and if they're doing both, they have both types of equipment. They aren't outfitting their mowers to push snow.

“We typically don't recommend any attachments other than those offered by the mower manufacturer,” Eckles said. “Our opinion is that professionals use the right tools for the job. If you use a mower for tasks other than mowing, it increases the likelihood of premature wear in components, especially drivetrain components.”

For Bliss' customers in central California, the mowing season lasts all year long, so he says that there isn't a huge demand for mowers that can multi-task among his customers. The most common non-mowing attachments his customers purchase are spreaders and sprayers. In fact, he says that his company often custom-builds sprayer units for customers, as opposed to ordering a sprayer kit from an aftermarket manufacturer.

“Since many of the companies manufacturing sprayer kits for commercial mowers are located in the Midwest, the cost of shipping a heavy product half-way across the country makes it tough for us to profitably sell them,” he said. “As a result, we design and build sprayers of our own design for many of our customers. We have sourced the mechanical parts of the sprayer from local vendors, and we fabricate the sub-chassis that attaches to the mower in-house. We have outfitted hundreds of mowers with sprayers for our customers, and it's worked out great for everyone involved.”

Aside from spreaders and sprayers, Bliss' company offers only a limited number of aftermarket attachments, most from JRCO's line of products. When queried as to why he doesn't stock a greater variety of aftermarket attachments, Bliss cited concern about product liability in his home state of California as a strong reason for not getting too involved “turning mowers into something they aren't.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

For landscape professionals, there can be much to gain by investing in specific mowing attachments that make the mower better suited for the conditions it is likely to encounter. Attachments such as collection systems and mulch kits make a mower better and more versatile at the job it's designed to do — cutting grass. Dethatching and aerator attachments can be a valuable productivity booster as well.

And while it's easy to get caught up in the fantasy of being able to make a mower meet your needs performing other tasks such as trimming, bed edging or snow removal, the reality is that, as landscape professionals, there is a “right” tool for every job. If the job is something other than cutting grass, chances are you will have better long-term results by investing in the actual piece of equipment you need instead of trying to make your mower into something it's not.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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