Counting sheep

Mowing (the focus of this issue) is probably the most labor-intensive operation of all grounds-care tasks-but it also has the greatest immediate impact on the visual appeal of your grounds. Whether it's a golf green, athletic field or residential property, the cut and quality of the turf is one of the most important determinants of the usability and aesthetics of the outdoor facility.

Although we have made great strides in mowing maintenance since Edwin Budding's introduction of the lawn mower some 170 years ago, mowing equipment still requires labor to operate it. With the unemployment rate at its lowest in 30 years, we are faced with a humongous labor shortage-a fact certainly felt by grounds managers.

To deal with labor woes, grounds managers are looking to more productive mowing units, and manufacturers are responding with designs to meet their needs. Take zero-turn mowers, for instance. Their sales have skyrocketed in recent years. It seems with every week that goes by, a new model is introduced. In fact, in this issue, we have included a special insert on zero-turn mower specs to help you find the model that best suits your needs. Their maneuverability, speed and creature comforts make them more productive, which means that you can get by with a smaller labor force to handle the mowing.

I'm sure the innovations are far from over. With computer technology, global positioning systems and robotics, we may be looking at laborless mowing someday. Sounds like something out of Popular Mechanics magazine, doesn't it? But it isn't too far-fetched when you remember we had laborless mowing units quite a while back. They were called sheep. Don't laugh, they may be coming back. I recall a Vermont turfgrass researcher who suggested about 20 years ago that we take another look at sheep as a biological and sustainable alternative for mowing highway medians. I can see the road signs now: "Counting sheep may be hazardous to your health."

Kicking off this issue is an overview of the evolution of the lawnmower and some insights on where designs are headed (page 16). Learn what mower-design gurus are dreaming up for the future.

Although zero-turns are coming on strong, intermediate walk-behind rotaries still remain popular for handling turf in tight confines littered with obstructions. With the speed and tight turns these mowers are capable of, they can slalom between obstacles while maintaining respectable productivity. Turn to page 36 for a description of intermediate mowers from which you can choose.

Aside from the area of turf you maintain, there are other important factors that come into play that determine your need to mow. Weather and fertility come to mind as obvious factors, but you also have to consider the turfgrass species you have on your site. Some grow rapidly and require frequent mowing, but others are slower growing. Dr. Bridget Ruemmele, a turfgrass researcher at the University of Rhode Island, compares growth characteristics of turfgrass species in "Watching grass grow," (page 28).

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