While Ralph Waldo Emerson was plodding behind a pony-drawn reel mower may well have been the moment he first mumbled those famous words, “If a man owns land, the land owns him.” Yes, Ralph, a large piece of land may seem attractive until it comes time to maintain it. And when property owners realize this concept, that's where you come in. Often at a time when the client has really let the landscape get out of hand, giving way to unwanted weeds and brush. Perhaps the client is cultivating a portion of the property while letting another part unfold its native flora. A change of heart or hand may engender occasion to come to terms with an overgrown landscape. Whatever the reason, and depending on to what extent it has grown, there are tools of the trade aplenty to subdue various vegetative heights.
GETTING AT THE THICK OF IT
Starting at groundcover level, Joe Fahey, vice president of marketing at Echo, Inc. (Lake Zurich, Ill.), assures that string trimmers are very capable for clearing out tall grass. Just make sure, he advises, the cutter has enough power for the thicker grass. The Echo SRM 260 with its 25.4-cc engine is designed for commercial use and will handle thick turf.
Redmax (Norcross, Ga.) manufactures a heavy-duty trimmer/brush cutter with a 33.6-cc, 2-cycle engine that mows down the heaviest of brush. The BC3400DL normally comes with a loop handle. For safer handling, marketing manager Tommy Tanaka recommends switching to the J-handle.
Richard Steffen, sales manager for Bachtold Brothers, Inc. (Gibson City, Ill.), has the perspective of longevity, having been with the company for 48 of its 56 years. He pinpoints that string trimmers are inadequate for an entire overgrown lot because the string won't hold up. A lawn mower can't get heavy material into the deck and a commercial lawn mower can't discharge the material from the deck. He recommends the Bachtold Brothers Hi-wheel Weed and Brush Cutter, a self-propelled unit. “The Hi-wheel has a high 26-inch wheel and tire, with 13 inches of clearance and positive traction drive to avoid getting hung up in conditions that have rough, uneven terrain, gullies, washes or holes that animals have dug. If you don't have positive traction, it's like an old car with rear wheel-drive that got stuck in a snow bank: One wheel spins and the other won't pull you out. It just stands still.” The Hi-Wheel also has a steel blade that cuts saplings up to 1.5-inches in diameter, as well as the heavy weeds and high grasses.
The Contour high weed mower is Billy Goat Industries' (Lee's Summit, Mo.) answer to tackling a large amount of overgrown acreage. It is a pedestrian, walk-behind unit, with a quarter-inch steel, normal lift blade that cuts knee-high grass down to a finished quality. If it hits an immovable object, the blade and engine stop to avoid damaging the crankshaft.
The Contour is suited for several purposes. Often, it's used in rental applications where mowings are not frequent. The popular European garden concept of letting native flora have its way still needs occasional maintenance. Sowing native seeds, grasses and flora will produce an attractive, wild garden. But at season's end, it gets cut down to make it manageable for the growth next year. Will Coats, president of Billy Goat, cites his own home as an example of an appropriate application of the Contour.
“I've got areas that I cut with a finishing mower. But I don't feel like cutting the whole thing. I have acreage and I like to let the native grass grow to a point where it gets a little bit too high. Then I cut it down and start over again. But you don't want to let saplings get a chance to get a foothold or else you're chopping down trees again. You need to cut it down a minimum of two times a year if you want to let it go. The goal is to decide how much you want to mow.”
A more rugged Billy Goat walk-behind unit called the Outback Brush Cutter knocks vegetation down into a more manageable, maintenance mode, taking down saplings that are up to 2-inches in diameter as well as weeds and briers that are taller than your head. It has a low tip speed so that hitting a stump, rock, buried gas can, tire, log or any type of debris hidden by overgrown vegetation won't damage the engine. “If you mowed some of the things that a brush cutter mows with a normal commercial mower,” says Coats, “you'd break the blades, the spindles, the housing and engine. It would be catastrophic.” A regular lawn mower with a high tip speed achieves a good cut quality but doesn't have enough torque to cut through heavy vegetation. It has a lift blade to stand the turf up and cut it evenly. The Outback has a flat blade designed to cut the vegetation, lay it over and chop whatever is in the housing, not produce a finished quality.
Bill Parsley, president of Robin Outdoor Power Products (distributed by Carswell Import and Marketing Associates in Winston Salem, N.C.), says the NB411 Pro Power Plus Trimmer is the company's most popular brush cutter. With a 40.2-cc, 2-stroke engine and a heavy-duty blade, it is used extensively on roadsides in Japan and the United States to clear heavy brush, situations inaccessible to larger movable equipment.
To handle stands of heavy grass, vines, brush and small-diameter saplings that will overcome a trimmer, Husqvarna (Charlotte, N.C.) has introduced three new models of brush cutters for heavy commercial use. Mark Michaels, product manager for Husqvarna, assures that each addresses the essential qualities of a brush cutter. For comfort and speed, he suggests selecting a brush cutter that has an efficient vibration dampening system, an ergonomic harness to help spread the weight of the machine, and a handlebar angled with the cutting head directly in front of the operator. For maximum efficiency, look for a powerful engine with some type of emission controls, that provides high torque and horsepower within the range of 1.0 to 4.0, with rapid acceleration. Consider also how it accommodates transportation and storage. The Husqvarna brush cutters that meet these criteria are the 343R, 345Rx and the 345Fx.
An appealing concept for commercial use recommended at Echo is to buy a single power head and various attachments as needed. “You're not buying engines,” says Fahey. “The Pas or Pro Attachment Series permits you to operate the string trimmer, the brush cutter and the extended hedge clipper pole pruner with one engine.”
Stihl Inc. (Virginia Beach, Va.) provides options for dealing with various types of overgrowth, as well. The 4-MIX FS 110 and the FS 250 brush cutter can be used with the PolyCut head, metal grass blade or brush knife. The PolyCut head, fitted with three thermoplastic blades, trims large areas; the metal blade, with four cutting edges, handles large areas of tough weeds and heavy grass; the steel blade with eight teeth, cuts thick, dry weeds and reeds; and the brush knife clears tough, tangled weeds, undergrowth and scrub. The STIHL 4-MIX KM 110 R split-shaft Kombisystem operates with the FSB blade attachment.
Shindaiwa's solution to overgrown brush is its B450 brushcutter, which can handle clearing undergrowth, grooming tree farms or tearing through brambles. “It can be used with various types of cutting attachments,” says Jay Larsen, communication manager for Shindaiwa (Tualatin, Ore.). “For example, standard metal blades and Shindaiwa's Super Flail Head are effective for mowing down tall grass. Shindaiwa's patented Tornado Blade operates with less kickback than conventional tree blades and can easily cut down brambles and small tree trunks up to 4 inches in diameter.” The B450 is powered by a 2.3-hp, 41.5-cc engine.
While many of the properties you care for are likely to be in a manicured state — either through your efforts or because they were well-taken care of before you came into the picture — chances are you will encounter overgrown brush from time to time, and this heavy-duty equipment can simplify your work. If you don't deal with brush often enough to warrant owning the equipment yourself, you can find the equipment at your local rental store. And while you'll be out some extra expense, having this equipment at your disposal will save you a lot of time and aggravation.
Clare Adrian is a freelance writer who resides in Columbia, Mo.
Manufacturers recommend these techniques and safety precautions when operating trimmers and brush cutters:
- Read the product owners manual.
- Follow a regular maintenance routine.
- Make sure the steel blade on a brush cutter is properly secured to the shaft and that it is not damaged or worn.
- Clear the area as much as possible of debris that could be thrown back at the operator.
- Use caution when cutting close to fences, sides of buildings and other obstacles so debris does not ricochet back to the operator.
- Wear long pants, non-slip gloves, steel-toed shoes, face shield, hearing protection in the form of ear muffs or plugs, eye protection such as safety glasses or goggles, and long sleeves.
- Don't allow bystanders to be within fifty feet of the product when in operation.
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