Dealing with clippings

More than any other part of the landscape and lawn-care business, dealing with clippings is probably one of the most cumbersome. It can be tiring, sweaty work that can take a lot of time. In fact, when Grounds Maintenance surveyed readers on how long they spend picking up and disposing of clippings on an average day, most said they spent between 45 minutes and 2 hours. A few said they spent between 3 and 4 hours per day, and one reader actually said he spent 5 or more hours per day!

Once you've collected them-and most do: 79 percent of our respondents said they use grass catchers-dealing with those clippings is a problem too. After all, at least 25 states ban yard waste from landfills (see "Market Update: Recycling and yard-waste bans," March 1998 Grounds Maintenance), and more are likely to follow suit. Most-42 percent-said they composted the clippings themselves. Others-22 percent-said they used them for mulch. Other users said they: * Composted clippings on their customers' sites (14 percent) * Bagged them for or hauled them to a municipal or professional composter (14 percent) * Bagged them for a landfill (12 percent). Other disposal techniques included: * Used them as cattle feed * Burned them * Blew them into the rough or woods * Used them for fill in low spots * Used them as fertilizer.

Of course, you know why you go to all of this trouble: beauty. Fifty-nine percent of GM respondents said they picked up clippings because the aesthetics of the site required it. "I hate to leave a mess," wrote one reader in White River Junction, Vt. "Plus, the customer realizes I take pride, and it shows."

An obvious choice: Mulching mowers While most GM readers said they used grass catchers to collect clippings, others (39 percent) said they took advantage of mulching mowers. Mulching mowers have become increasingly popular because their technology has improved so much over the last few years. Originally shunned by many grounds managers because of problems with clumping and streaking, the units' designs have changed so that they are much more efficient today. Today's units are specially designed so that air flow "stands up" the grass, cuts it, holds it long enough to cut it again and then evenly blows the clippings into the turf without clumping. All of this depends on the design of the deck, cutting chamber and blade design.

Dedicated mulching decks are available, as are mulching attachments or kits. For example, John Deere (Raleigh, N.C.) offers a Tricycler mulching attachment for its GT Series, 300 Series and 400 Series of lawn and garden tractors. A 44-inch mulching deck is available for the GT and 300 Series.

Even with today's improvements, mulching mowers still have occasional problems with wet or extra-tall grass. In situations where you want the option to bag when you can't mulch, many dedicated mulching mowers also offer a bagging option. Deere offers several walk-behind mulchers with side-discharge options and a rear bagger as standard. Similarly, The Toro Co. (Minneapolis) offers a "dual" deck: its 48-inch Guardian Recycler/Rear Collection deck. Available on its Z Master Outfront ZRT riding mower, Toro describes it as "the industry's first two-in-one combination recycler/rear-collection deck" and says it "guarantees the correct deck for any condition." The unit switches between mulching to rear collection by removing a baffle using a crescent wrench. It offers a 6.9-inch-diameter chute and a welded four-blade steel impeller that processes clippings via a commercial blower (maximum speed of 3,800 rpm) into a 70-gallon hopper. The unit's hopper exhaust is directed downward into the turf, and the hopper features a sensing device with a 12-volt horn to alert you when it has reached capacity. Another added feature is a blower-engagement system that allows you to turn the blower on or off. On competitive units, Toro says, the blower runs constantly, even while operating in the side-discharge mode. Toro offers a Recycler deck on its heavy-duty walk-behind mowers, too.

As expected, other companies have worked toward adding mulching mowers to their lines or improving the mulching mowers they already offered. As an example, Kubota Tractor Corp. (Torrance, Calif.) offers mulching options on most of its mowing products today, including its F-Series of outfront riders, which features a rear-discharge mulching deck; its FZ2100 and FZ2400 models, with a 60-inch mulching rear-discharge deck; its lawn tractors, which have optional mulching blades; and its walk-behind mowers with an optional mulcher kit.

LESCO (Rocky River, Ohio) has a new 52-inch hydro in its line of walk-behinds that has both mulching-kit options or grass catchers. In addition, each offers a full range of hydraulic and belt-drive models and choice of engines. Ariens Co. (Brillion, Wis.) offers the Standard Mowing System. Included on its walk-behinds, the system mulches clippings and includes a 2.5-bushel rear bag for use when mulching isn't appropriate. "Unlike most walk-behinds that excel at one function," Ariens says, "Ariens Mowing Systems are designed for superior performance at all four functions-mulching, bagging, discharging to the side and vacuuming." Ariens Swivel System mowers are another option. These units also mulch, bag or side-discharge clippings or vacuum leaves. Standard features include the 2.5-bushel rear bagger, side-discharge chute, Mulch-Master plug and mulching cover.

The Grasshopper Co.'s (Moundridge, Kan.) Mid-Size 600 Series of out-front rotary riders features 44- and 48-inch Combo Decks, which mulch, discharge or bag. It also features a choice of Quik-D-Tatch Vac grass-collection systems. The company's Gemini 700 and 900 Series also offer similar decks and options. Grasshopper says conversion to the Quik-D-Tatch Combo deck is easy: "Just remove the discharge-restriction plate and the left and right shrouds (two bolts under each deck), and attach the discharge deflector to disperse clippings evenly." The deck-driven vac carries wet grass, high-moisture leaves, pine straw and dethatching debris through the collector tube. The force of the cutting blades discharge clippings and debris directly into the trash-ingesting impeller. Collection systems are rear-mounted and come in several configurations. The Model 25 Trail Hopper has a 25-cubic-foot hopper and uses a fifth-wheel hitch. The Model 15 Collector has a 15-cubic-foot hopper with a lever-actuated dump from the operator's seat. And Model 12 features a 12-cubic-foot hopper that you also can dump from the operator's seat. Also available is an 8-cubic-foot model with twin slide-in mesh bags and reinforced fabric top and another with single or twin slide-in mesh bags with a metal top. You also can mount a PTO-driven Remote Vac in place of the deck. It features a flexible, 12-foot long, 6-inch-diameter hose with hand-held swiveling nozzle that rotates 360 degrees.

Cub Cadet Corp. (Cleveland) offers mulching walk-behind mowers from 18 inches and up. Described as having "three-in-one capability," these units mulch, bag and side-discharge like many of their competitors. These mowers range from an 18-inch model to a 33-inch unit.

At Husqvarna Power Products (Charlotte, N.C.), the company describes its line of walk-behind mowers as "all about choices. Bag, mulch or discharge, self-propelled or you propel..It's not your grandfather's mower anymore." A mulch kit is standard on five models-43RC, 51, 51D, 51MD and 51MDT-and optional on another-50DK-while a side-bagger is optional on Models 50DK, 51D, 51MD and 51 MDT, and a rear bagger is optional on Model 51.

Dixon Industries Inc.'s (Coffeyville, Kan.) ZTR 5022 commercial mid-mount riding mower is another entry into the mulching field. Offering mulching- and catching-accessory options, the zero-turning-radius units also feature Hydro Gear hydrostatic transmissions and 42-, 50- and 60-inch deck options. Cutting heights range from 1.5 to 4.5 inches. Exmark Manufacturing Co. Inc.'s (Beatrice, Neb.) version of the mulch-bag-discharge mower deck is its TriVantage deck. Offered on several of its lines, including the Metro and Turf Ranger Series, the decks cover a variety of sizes. Also available on most units is an optional 3-bushel grass catcher.

An even more creative name for its mulching mower comes from Snapper (McDonough, Ga.). Featured on its walk-behind mowers, the A.I.R. Mulching System (Adjustable Intake Recycling) "converts from mulching in spring to picking up leaves in fall (with optional bagging system) to side-discharging," the company says. Snapper also offers several mulching attachments, including the Ninja Mulching System, a blade kit that converts 5-hp and higher standard walk-behinds into mulching units. Several riding units also convert from side-discharge to mulching to bagging with optional accessories. And on both riders and walk-behinds, you can purchase units with Snapper's Hi-Vac deck.

The former Ransomes America Corp. (Lincoln, Neb.)-recently consolidated with Jacobsen to become Textron Turf Care and Specialty Products-pushes the environmental bent in promoting its mulching option. Called an Envirodeck, this deck option available on the Ransomes family of rotary mowers cuts the grass with a 22-inch lower blade and then mulches the clippings with a 21.5-inch upper blade. Other deck options are two deep-draft, side-discharge decks (with 63- and 72-inch cutting widths), designed to reduce windrows, and a 60-inch rear discharge.

The Jacobsen brand (Racine, Wis.) has its own version of the mulching mower. Its Turfcat out-front rotary mower features two mulching accessories: "mulcherizer" decks and a mulcher kit. The mulcherizer decks "cut and recut clippings and leaves, then force them back down into the turf," the company says. "A dual-action flap smoothes and spreads the clippings evenly without windrowing." At Bunton (Louisville, Ky.), another Textron-owned company, the company's line of mid-size rotaries includes a mulching-plate accessory. The same is offered on its mid-size, gear-drive rotary walk-behinds.

Excel Industries Inc. (Hesston, Kan.) also has made improvements to its mulching-mower line. It recently introduced its new UpperCut Deck on the Hustler ShortCut line of mowers. Described as a "quantum leap forward in rear-discharge mowing" and a "giant step forward in mulching technology," the company describes how the UpperCut deck works. "Virtually all mulching or recycling decks trap the grass under the deck to cut and recut the [clippings]," says the company. "Of course, as it does this, new material is constantly being added as the mower moves forward. As a result, you get an embarrassing deposit of clumped grass whenever you stop or slow to turn. The UpperCut solves this problem this way: three mowing blades cut the grass and channel it up above the center blade to the UpperCut chamber. Here, four combination cutter/fan blades cut and recut the grass and discharge it out the rear."

Not to be left out, Woods Equipment Co.'s (Oregon, Ill.) Mow'N Machine riding-mower series includes an array of mulching and grass-catching options. All cutting decks are built from heavy-gauge steel plate electrically welded with a rounded profile to aid in precision trimming. An additional feature is a "shrub saver" discharge chute.

Scag Power Equipment (Mayville, Wis.) doesn't offer a dedicated mulcher because it says it has found that its mulching kit works just as well. The kit includes a plate that closes off the discharge chute so that clippings get recut inside the deck before falling back to the ground.

Choosing to catch clippings In some situations, you simply can't use a mulching mower. As many readers indicated, customers often insist that you pick up the clippings. Not only is aesthetics a main concern, but so is cleanliness. Larry Rowe, the owner of a lawn-care service in Nampa, Ind., wrote, "Apartment complexes don't want grass tracked into tenants' apartments." He dumps his clippings at a farm site where it is used as mulch. Walter Borwell, the horticulturist at a university in Cincinnati, says he bags his clippings to keep them out of freshly mulched landscape beds. Though his site doesn't compost the clippings, it does have a dump site on the property where he can dispose of them.

Still others simply feel that bagged clippings give the appearance of a healthier turf, whether it's true or not. Angelo Dimezza Jr., an athletic field supervisor (Philadelphia), says he bags his clippings because it keeps fields looking "good and healthy." He also believes that doing so "prevents turf damage, diseases and pests." Tom Houlnan has similar reasons for bagging. The golf-course superintendent in Hinckley, Minn., says he bags to "reduce thatch in bentgrass." He composts the clippings on his site.

Many mowers offer systems to help make the bagging process work more efficiently. For example, Walker has designed an integrated grass-handling system (called a "GHS") that incorporates an internally mounted 10-inch paddle-wheel blower with a Powerfil oscillating delivery spout. The spout evenly spreads grass clippings inside the molded polyethylene hopper to pack it full. Walker says its GHS will "guarantee a full load every time." To prevent overfilling and clogging, Walker also offers an automatic signal horn to warn you when the catcher is full and ready for dumping.

Ariens also emphasizes the efficiency of its grass catchers. Its optional two-bucket Bagger Vac lets you vacuum six bushels of clippings, leaves and debris before having to dump your load. The two-bucket bagger is available on the company's Imperial rear-engine riding mowers.

Exmark promotes the catcher on its mowers as "The most popular bagger around." The company's 3-bushel bagger fits all Exmark side-dischargeunits and features an impact-resistant bag and base that flex to prevent turf or catcher damage on uneven terrain. No tools are necessary to attach it, and a large opening provides for easy dumping.

Deere's F1145/F900 Series of out-front riding mowers concentrate on large-capacity material-collection systems, too. The hard-plastic-topped material-collection system combines three bags to hold a 10-bushel capacity. Heavy duty and engine driven, the system can be installed or removed in 5 to 10 minutes.

Snapper and Kubota users also have a variety of choices in catchers. Snapper rear-engine riders are offered with a choice of a 5-bushel single-bag catcher, a 6-bushel twin-bag catcher, and a Bag-N-Wagon, which pulls behind and handles 30-bushel jobs. The single- and twin-bag catchers also are available on Snapper's Yard Cruiser riding mower. Kubota's FZ-Model outfront mowers are available with a low-profile grass catcher, which holds 12 bushels, and grass catchers also are available on both walk-behind mowers and lawn tractors. Bunton offers a grass catcher on its mid-size gear-drive rotary walk-behinds, as well as its BHT line.

Scag's grass-handling options are varied on its riders and walk-behinds. Its zero-turn riders offer a 44-gallon-capacity plastic garbage-barrel-type hopper, powered by a 6-hp Kohler auxiliary engine. Its smaller zero-turn, the SSZ, has a 48-gallon molded container with a 6-hp Briggs & Stratton engine. A smaller version of the SSZ has a grass-handling system powered by the deck spindles. On the company's Turf Runner, a bagging rider, a 7.14-bushel hopper catches clippings, or you can switch to a side-discharge mode. The three-wheel STHM has a 44-gallon plastic barrel powered by a 6-hp Kohler engine. Scag's walk-behinds, both belt-driven and hydro-driven models, offer a 4-cubic-foot metal or fabric grass catcher.

LESCO offers either a side-mounted metal grass-collection system (with a 2.5-bushel capacity) or a fabric collection system (holding 3 bushels) on its intermediate-size mowers. In its riding mower line, a zero-turn-radius unit incorporates a collection system with twin baskets that hold 16 bushels. You can remove the baskets individually for dumping. On its line of out-front mowers, LESCO offers a collection system that operates with an auxiliary engine and vacuums clippings and other debris back through the fan system and then deposits the material in a collection hopper. This system has a capacity of 15 bushels of material.

Choices in sweepers and vacuums Though bagging clippings and using mulching mowers are the most popular choices among GM readers, others said they took advantage of turf vacuums or sweepers (22 percent of respondents). Deere offers a combination vacuum-sweeper, which works on paved areas as well as turf. Using a heavy-duty steel impeller, the unit creates suction to pull in clippings and other debris rather than sweeping the ground (although a stationary brush is an option). Exhaust from the large, pull-behind units is directed downward and to the rear, and an optional 10-foot hand-held intake hose allows you to work in hard-to-reach areas. Both the Models 152 and 162 feature a 5-foot width and a 3.1-cubic-yard hopper that you can empty without leaving your seat.

Agri-Fab (Sullivan, Ill.) offers its Mow-N-Vac unit. "It accomplishes the big cutting jobs with ease and vacuums debris; some units come with an attached shredder for further debris breakdown," the company says. The units pull behind a large mower or tractor and offer a 32-cubic-foot capacity. The 5-hp unit offers a 6-inch-diameter spriroflex hose and a vented hard top, as does the 8-hp model. You can purchase an optional remote-hose kit for either model as well. Lawn sweepers are a second option from Agri-Fab, along with tow-behind units having hopper capacities from 9 to 12 cubic feet. A 26-inch push sweeper holds about 7 cubic feet in its hopper.

Lambert Manufacturing Corp. (Ansonia, Ohio) offers a different choice in the vacuum category: a motorized push vacuum that also converts to a blower. The debris bag on Model VB-321 holds 4.5 cubic feet, and it features a 21-inch intake nozzle. A 10-foot hose also is available for hard-to-reach places. Lambert also offers several models of trailing sweepers (with 9.7- or 17-cubic-foot hoppers), as well as non-motorized push sweepers. Model R-368 has a 6.8-cubic-foot hopper and a 26-inch swath, while Model B-369 has an 8.1-cubic-foot capacity.

Toro offers a debris vacuum similar to Agri-Fab's unit. "Excellent for removing debris from turf and hard surfaces," according to Toro, it offers 2,000 cfm with a four-blade steel impeller, which reduces clippings and leaf bulk by 3 to 5 times, and a 9-cubic-foot collection bag. It has a 30-inch intake that delivers up to 30,000 square feet per hour.

Goossen Industries Inc.'s (Beatrice, Neb.) VersaVac system offers five interchangeable decks for attachment to its 32-inch diameter pull-behind vacuum. The decks include a 72-inch rotary mower deck, a flail-rake deck, a brush deck, a rubber-finger rotor deck and a vacuum snout.

A unique sweeper from Shindaiwa (Tualatin, Ore.) is an alternative to blowers, push brooms, spreaders and rakes. The PowerBroom is a gas-powered hand tool that, according to the company, "lets you sweep, clean, shovel, rake, fill, spread, squeegee, push, gather, mop, dust, scrape, flush, swab and scrub almost any material on nearly any surface." It features an aluminum-alloy tube handle, flexible sweeper fins made of DuPont Alcryn synthetic material and offers an optional debris shield.

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