Pursuing the elusive verticutter

Early in September, I took on what has become an annual pilgrimage to the rental center in pursuit of a vertical mower for renovating my lawn. The problem was that about everyone else in my area had the same idea. I got there after work on Friday and waited with 10 other would-be renters for the next return to come in. When the sun was going down, and I was still in line, I knew it was a lost cause.

The rental-store manager then said to come back at 6 a.m. on Saturday to get a good spot in line. I did so and finally got my vertical mower. I felt like I was waiting in line for Super Bowl tickets. Had I been a commercial operator wanting to rent this equipment, I wouldn't have been too happy. "Reliable availability" is certainly a plus for purchasing rather than renting equipment, as one reader remarks in "Opposing Views" (page 12). I'll attest to his remark.

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Whether you rent or purchase renovation-and-maintenance equipment, you must match your particular needs with the features offered. This issue includes three articles devoted to useful renovation/maintenance tools: aerators, vertical mowers and topdressers. Accompanying the articles are product descriptions of units currently on the market. Use this information as you research your next purchase or rental.

You use the versatile vertical mower primarily for thatch removal and preparing turf for overseeding. However, you also can use it for maintaining surface uniformity and controlling grain. In some cases, you can use it for light cultivation. Because of turfgrass' perennial nature, cultivation is particularly challenging, unless you plan to do away with the existing turfgrass. Unlike row crops, where you can plow a field after harvest, you don't have this luxury in an existing turf situation. Depending on the blade spacing, depth of cut and number of passes you make, vertical mowing allows you to work the turf and soil with minimal disruption to the existing turf. By light verticutting, you can correct grain on golf greens or, if you want to be more aggressive, you can vertical mow for cultivation. Learn more about vertical-mower options in "Equipment Options" (page 30).

For deeper cultivation in existing turf, your best bet is to use an aerator. Like vertical mowers, you have numerous options from which to choose. Hollow-tine, solid-tine, deep-tine, water-aeration and shatter-core are a few options. Depending on your needs, you can use walk-behind or ride-on units. David A. Willoughby with the Agricultural Technical Institute describes your options (page 14).

I mentioned using vertical mowers for correcting turf-surface uniformity, but-for best results-you should follow verticutting with an application of topdressing. Monty Montague with Turfco Manufacturing Inc. provides tips on calculating rates and needs as well as making equipment choices (page G1 or C12, depending on your issue).

Along with budgeting for next year, you're probably beginning to store equipment away for the winter. There's a right way and a wrong way to store equipment if you want it to be ready for use in the spring. Larry van Deusen, an instructor at the State University of New York-Cobleskill, takes you through the step-by-step process of storing grounds-care equipment (page 22).

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