Smoothing out the rough spots

No scalping? No problem. Mowers for rough terrain don't have to be rough on turf.

It's not too much to ask for. You want a rotary mower that is comfortable, can cut turf fast and handle any kind of terrain. Oh yeah, and no scalping, right? No longer is this combination of specifications just wishful thinking. Manufacturers have answered with equipment that can do it all without scalping turf down to dirt clumps.

The need for rotaries For many years, turf managers faced with mowing large acreage had few choices. They would use PTO-driven agriculture mowers called "shredders" that they pulled behind tractors. The industry responded by creating rotary mowers designed exclusively for the landscape turf manager.

These rotary mowers - self-propelled models as well as those that implement pull-behind technology - evolved into machines that could cut all kinds of grass. Turf managers are showing their appreciation: Ninety-eight percent of all mowers sold today are rotary mowers.

Now without the scalping Until recently, rotary-mower technology was limited to higher cutting heights. At 2 inches or lower, most rotary decks would scalp turf on uneven ground. Even with floating designs, wide decks would scalp uneven terrain at lower heights. What the industry needed was a mower with all the inherent advantages of existing rotary mowers but that could cut at lower heights.

Now, several manufacturers are building quality finishing mowers that follow contours and cut as close as 0.5 inch without scalping.

These newer cutting units come as self-propelled or pull behind. What makes them different from other rotaries is the size and number of cutting decks and the number of rollers per deck.

Choose from the following options p Striping. One of the disadvantages of rotary mowers is lack of striping. However, this can be overcome with the addition of rear rollers on some rotary cutting decks. These rollers also help reduce scalping.

p Deck design. The design of the cutting decks is also an indicator of scalp prevention. The decks should pivot side to side and front to back, and move up and down independently to closely follow ground contours.

Anti-scalp rollers, present on most mower decks, should be more numerous on contour mowers, especially with rigid decks.

However, other options are available, such as flexible decks. A few manufacturers even supply mowers with several completely independent decks. Looking at your options, you'll see that some mowers are fairly conventional with a few extras added for better performance on rough terrain. Others are specifically designed for contours. Your needs will determine which is right for you.

p Safety. One of the most important characteristics to look for is safety. Rotary mowers can sling objects with incredible force and, thus, present a real risk of injury to the operator and bystanders. Some manufacturers offer a range of discharge options. Consider the direction of the deck discharge as a safety consideration, especially if you mow with pedestrians or golfers in close proximity.

Strong rollover protection and seat belts should not be considered optional for mowing on sloped ground. A low center of gravity and rollover protection structure (ROPS) should be mandatory for these situations.

p Traction. Traction is especially important on uneven terrain, so consider tires and drive systems. Hydrostatic 4-wheel drive with differential lock is a good choice for extreme terrain. One manufacturer has a hydraulic weight-transfer system that shifts the weight of the deck to the vehicle to aid in hill climbing.

Customize your contour mower With so much versatility in the selection of rotary mowers, you should be able to match a mower to every mowing situation you encounter. Who would have ever imagined that we would have the ability to cut large amounts of grass at 0.5 inch - not to mention stripe - with rotary mowers?

And if that weren't enough, mulching decks are now an option on most manufacturers' rotary mowers.

With all of these options, you should have no trouble smoothing out the rough.

Who: Cub Cadet Commercial
What: The Tank
Description: The M60's ground-following, pivoting front axle is designed to eliminate turf scalping. The mower is powered by a Kawasaki V-twin OHV engine available in 23 or 25 hp. The 60-inch deck has a 10-gauge steel top, reinforced at the spindle area.

Who: John Deere
What: 1400 Front Series
Description: Foot-activated differential locks allow you to lock both drive wheels together for extra traction on hillsides and in slippery conditions. The lower center of gravity and wider tread width as well as optional 4-wheel drive offer increased stability and traction in forward and reverse. Liquid-cooled Yanmar engines power the mowers, which are available with deck widths of 60 and 72 inches.

Who: DewEze
What: ATM Series
Description: The automatic self-leveling systems of the ATM-72 and ATM 725 keeps the operator, engine and controls vertical for mowing on slopes 30 degrees or more, depending on turf conditions. The two halves of the 70-inch (ATM-725) and 72-inch (ATM-72) decks float independently to make a clean cut in ditches, over crowns and on uneven terrain. The ATM-72 has an air-cooled diesel, 3-cylinder, 27-hp engine while the ATM-725 is powered by an air-cooled gas, 25-hp engine.

Who: Encore
What: Mid Cut Prowler
Description: The Mid Cut ahs a full floating deck that articulates, following terrain with the front wheels but independent of the mower. This keeps both front wheels on the ground over rough terrain to improve the stability of the ride and the cut while reducing scalping. To provide a level cut at high speeds, a PTO shaft feeds power to the blades and a heavy-gauge welded steel deck with special reinforcement channels controlling vibration.

Who: Ferris
What: IS 4000Z
Description: The full 4-wheel IS Independent Suspension is designed to improve the quality of cut. The IS system on the rear wheels separates the chassis from the cutter deck by connecting the rear deck to the wheel motor bracket. This reduces instances of scalping. It also forces the rear drive wheels down, minimizing breaks in contact. Consistency of cut is further enhanced with front suspension system: two suspension arms with shock/spring combination attached to each front wheel. Choose from 61- or 72-inch cutting widths, 27-hp Kawasaki or 31-hp Daihatsu engines, respectively.

Who: Ingersoll
What: Hydra Cutter Mower
Description: The 48-inch cutter with hydraulic motor cuts weeds and brush up to 1-inch thick. The single steel blade with swinging knives on each end provides a cutting width of 48 inches. The cutting height is adjustable from the tractor seat. The tractor-mounted front bumper pushes over tall weeds, providing one-pass cutting.

Who: LasTec
What: 421D
Description: With four articulating 21-inch cutting decks and hydrostatic drive, the 421D offers stability with a low-center of gravity that provides greater side-hill stability and safer cutting on severe terrain. It is powered by a 38-hp Kubota water-cooled diesel engine.

Who: Progressive Turf Equipment
What: Pro-Flex 120
Description: With this new pull-behind, five independent floating decks give you the flexibility required to mow contoured areas not suited for traditional rotary mowers. The mower can also cut grass while in reverse. Cutting heights are adjustable in 0.25-inch increments from 1 inch to 3.25 inches. The mower comes complete and ready to mow, and requires 30 to 40 hp.

Who: Ransomes
What: AR 250
Description: This articulating rotary mower features five steerable floating cutting units, allowing it to closely follow ground contours and perform in a variety of cutting conditions. It is powered by a 36-hp standard or 44-hp turbo-charged Kubota diesel engine. It offers a parallel-series, 4-wheel-drive transmission for increased power and traction, as well as 98-inches cutting width. Side-discharge and Envirodeck twin-blade mulching decks are available.

Who: Rich Manufacturing
What: The Convertible
Description: Specifically designed to accommodate rough terrain, this commercial mower doubles as a zero-turn riding mower and a walk-behind. As a riding mower, it can cut turfgrass at speeds up to 9 mph. With a flip of a lever, you can convert it into a hydro walk-behind for hard-to-reach areas. Choose from a Kohler or Kawasaki engine, and deck sizes of 48, 52 and 61 inches.

Who: Swisher
What: Trailmower
Description: The 60-inch Trailmower features a floating deck to reduce scalping when mowing uneven terrain. It attaches to lawn tractors and ATVs for any large mowing application. The side-discharge cutting deck is made with rugged, heavy steel and offers variable height-adjustment handles.

Who: Toro
What: Groundsmaster 3500-D
Description: The 3500-D gives you the ability to vary tire tracking with the Sidewinder cutting system, allowing the decks to slide 12 inches to the left and right of center. The Series/Parallel 3-wheel drive traction system provides extra traction for steep areas. The mower has three independent, Contour Plus 27-inch semi-recycling decks and is powered by a 32-hp Kubota turbo-diesel engine. The mower provides a 68-inch width of cut with an optional 72-inch width for less undulating turf.

Who: Wright Manufacturing
What: Sentar
Description: The Operator Balance Control allows you to radically adjust your weight distribution to tackle steep inclines and uneven terrain with this mower. It also allows you to shift from standing to sitting while mowing. The Rapid-Hite adjustment changes the deck height in seconds while maintaining the deck, pulley and belt alignment.

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