Attachments Increase Reel-Mower Effectiveness

To groom quality turf most effectively, you have a variety of reel-mower options and attachments from which to choose. Today, you can find standard features and a range of optional equipment simply be referring to your mower's sales brochure or calling your distributor. Any of these products can contribute to improving the quality of your turf areas. Some of the typical reel-mower options are:

  • Choice in number of blades
  • Roller type
  • Roller scrapers
  • Turf-penetration devices.

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The final results you desire will determine which of these products is most useful for your course. Let's look at each to give you an idea of what each offers.

Choices in number of blades

The number of blades on a reel affects several factors in your mowing task: efficiency, grass-blade length the unit can cut, clip spacing (also known as clip rate) and the height of cut.Generally, you have the following choices:

  • Four- or five-blade reels. This is the number of blades most commonly used for mowing golf-course roughs and other high-cut informal turf areas.
  • Six-, seven- and eight-blade reels. You'll typically choose this number of reel blades for grooming golf-course tees, fairways, approaches, greens and other low-cut formal turf areas.
  • Ten- or 11-blade reels. Most turf managers save 10- or 11-blade reels for manicuring golf-course tees, fairways, approaches, greens and other lowest-cut, very formal turf areas. The reel's diameter and blade spacing determines the height-of-cut ranges of these units.

As the number of reel blades increases and the space between the blades becomes narrower, the length of grass the mower can effectively cut and discharge is reduced. For example, the recommended height-of-cut range for most five-blade models is 0.313 to 0.5 inch; for most eight-blade models, it is 0.125 to 0.219 inch.

The number of blades on a reel also affects clip spacing. We compute clip spacing (see Figure 1, above) using the following formula:

Speed of the unit (inches per minute) divided by cutting-unit rpm divided by the number of blades in the reel assembly = clip spacing.

The maximum clip spacing for a five-blade reel is 0.40 inch; for an eight-blade reel, it's 0.25 inch; and for an 11-blade reel, it's 0.18 inch. The advantage of a closer clip spacing is a smoother turf surface and a much-improved after-cut appearance. The benefits of maximum clip spacing depend on the manufacturer's recommended cutting-unit speed, height-of-cut range and mowing frequency. You can find the recommended height-of-cut range and mowing speed in your operator's manual.

Roller types

The density of some turfgrasses may require you to add a roller in front of your reels to increase turf penetration and improve the mower's height of cut. This is especially important in turf areas with a thatch layer. Three types of rollers are available to facilitate cutting-unit penetration during mowing. These options (see Figure 2, above) are:

  • Full roller. This roller penetrates very little into turfgrass. Its use is best in situations where you are mowing tougher turfgrasses, which will tend to "pop up" after the roller goes over them.
  • Swaged roller. Only the outer edges of this type of roller, and not the roller's center, touch the grass. Thus, it has less effect of penetrating the grass surface.
  • Grooved roller. These rollers offer the maximum penetration of the grass surface because of the many contact points that result from the grooved roller surface.

Select the roller that gives the best penetration in your turf situation.

Roller scrapers

Keep in mind that grass clippings, sand and soil can build up on rollers during mowing and affect a mower's height of cut. Therefore, in addition to using a roller, consider including a roller-scraper option, if one is available. Wet turf conditions increase the need for roller scrapers.

Turf-preparation devices

Turf-preparation devices work with rollers to stand the grass up for better cutting and decrease the buildup of grain, thatch and sponginess. These devices are important because rollers tend to make turfgrass blades lay over, making them difficult to cut. Therefore, these turf-preparation options help to stand the grass blades back up.

They include:

  • Combs
  • Brushes (rotating or fixed)
  • Groomers.

Combs are the least aggressive of the preparation devices. Mounted behind the front roller, they comb grass up to facilitate cutting and discourage grain formation.

Brushes (rotating or fixed) brush grass up more effectively than combs and limit the tendency of grain formation. You also mount them behind the roller.

Turf groomers are the most aggressive of the preparation options. Mounted behind the roller, they use several small metal blades on a rotating shaft to stand grass blades and cut horizontally growing grass stems.

All three of the previously described options fit onto the reel-mower unit. Other, special-purpose units fit in place of the reel unit itself. Two special-purpose units are:

  • Dethatching reels
  • Spikers.

Dethatching reels have blades similar to a turf groomer in shape and design (see photo, page G 33). However, the length of their blades is almost the same as the diameter of a regular reel blade. These rotating blades sever stolons and throw thatch to the grass surface for disposal. An advantage of periodic dethatching is healthier grass with less grain and a smoother playing and mowing surface. In addition, you can sometimes reduce the amount of fertilizer and water you use because your turf will experience less run-off when you remove the thatch.

Spikers (see photo, page G 33) are for situations where you want more penetration into the soil surface. The spiker unit has numerous special-profile rotating blades that act like daggers to spike the turf surface. These openings allow quicker access of chemicals or water to the turf's root systems. Thus, turf treated after spiking usually responds quicker to the substance applied.

To gain the greatest advantages from mowing equipment, consider equipping each of your reel mowers with options specifically tailored to your mowing environment. In doing so, you'll maximize the performance of each piece of mowing equipment you own.

Jim Lones is a professor in the turf-equipment technology program at Lake City Community College (Lake City, Fla.).

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