Cutting a wide swath

Regular visitors to parks, campuses or golf courses may look out at the vast expanses of land at these locations and admire the beauty of the seemingly endless acres of green turf.

But if you're responsible for taking care of all that greenery, you might be thinking something different...like, "It's going to take me forever to mow all that."

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So, any machine that can make that task less time-consuming and costly would be a welcome addition to a lawn care operator's equipment options. Large-scale rotary mowers-machines that cut paths of seven feet or wider-can make those long days at the helm of a mower a little less grueling.

Wider mowing paths mean you cut more turf in less time. That means you don't need as many machines or as many workers to get your mowing done. That can make a significant difference when you're measuring your cutting area in acres, not feet.

"You can use one machine, where in the past you would need two or three machines and two or three people," says Mike Koppen, product manager for commercial products at John Deere.

Parks, school grounds, business parks, golf courses and municipalities are the types of institutions that typically could benefit from the increased productivity that large-scale rotary mowers provide.

Wide open spaces What you gain with rotary mowers in cutting width, you sacrifice to some extent in maneuverability. For these machines to be most effective, they have to have a clear path. Check the areas you're responsible for to make sure there are no trees, light fixtures or other obstacles that would make a large-scale rotary impractical.

Once you've determined you can use a large-scale rotary, you have to decide how wide you want your cutting unit to be. Some units are only seven feet wide. At the other end of the spectrum, machines typically used on sod farms or airports can be as wide as 20 feet.

In general, as the width of your cut increases, so should the horsepower of the machine propelling your mower. Higher horsepower also will provide the oomph that mowers need to get the job done on berms and hills.

Once you determine that a mower can make its way unobstructed through a field of turf, the width chosen is the operator's preference. Some operators who want to maintain better visibility prefer narrower cutting widths. That way, you can spot a rock or tree root that could interfere with the mowing.

What to look for Large-scale rotaries are available as units that attach to the rear of tractors or as self-contained vehicles with the cutting units in the front. The self-contained units usually come equipped with a diesel engine to provide the power needed to drive the cutting blades.

The rotaries designed for commercial use deliver a higher-quality cut than the rotaries built for agricultural use. Typically, the commercial rotaries have a height-of-cut range from one to five inches.

The cut is not as good as that provided by most reel mowing units, but in many cases, parks and school campuses don't demand that level of attention to their turf. In addition, rotaries typically require much less maintenance than reel mowers.

Large-scale rotaries are available with a range of engine configurations: air-cooled or liquid-cooled, gas or diesel. In general, liquid-cooled and diesel engines are the most economical to operate and best suited for heavy-duty use. Your choice will depend on how much you will be using the machine, the terrain you will be mowing and your cutting width.

Engine power can also vary. For example, a 72-inch front-mounted cutting deck typically requires a 30-hp engine to achieve optimal performance. As a general rule, increase engine size by 5 hp for every added foot of cutting width.

If your terrain is mostly flat, your turf tends to be dry, and your cutting width is not too large, a 2-wheel-drive transmission could be sufficient to provide the cut you desire. But for hilly, damp areas and wider cutting units, a 4-wheel drive transmission is generally more versatile and efficient.

Typically, large-scale rotaries have three cutting units-one in the middle, and two on either wing. Some machines allow the operator to lift up either or both wings, so you can get through narrower parts of your cutting area.

Various styles of cutting decks are available: deep-draft decks, side-discharge decks, rear-discharge decks and mulching decks. Deep-draft decks provide a desirable cut in dense turf or in wet conditions. Side-discharge decks are often used to deliver a lower height of cut. Rear-discharge decks are desirable for high-traffic areas. Mulching decks finely chops clippings and eliminates the need for cleanup, but are not recommended for heavy turf conditions.

Many mowing units can disperse the clippings evenly to avoid clumping and leave clean-looking turf after mowing.

Rotary mowers are prone to scalping the turf in uneven or undulating terrain, so you should look for machines with flexible, floating decks or other features that protect the turf from scalping. Most decks feature anti-scalp rollers that allow decks to closelyfollow ground contours.

A comfortable ride Since you wouldn't have a large-scale rotary unless you needed to use it a lot, you should make sure that you'll be able to spend a lot of time on it. That means a unit that is both durable and comfortable. Ergonomic features such as adjustable seats and tilt steering wheels can reduce the fatigue of a worker cutting turf all day.

"There's a lot of effort going into increasing operator comfort," says Peter Whurr, vice president of product management for Textron Turf Care and Specialty Products.

Manufacturers also strive to have easily accessible panels on their rotary mowers that allow operators to get inside and perform routine maintenance more easily.

If you want to get even more productivity out of a large-scale rotary, you might choose a unit that can accept attachments, such as snowblowers or brushes.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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