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Lawn Care

How to have fun with the X-Mark 30 walk behind mower

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How do you cut a flat strata site with several long open lawn sections and some tighter spots? You use X-Mark’s 30 walk behind mower. Standard 21′ mower would be fine but it would require extra passes; and a big ride-on mower can’t access many of the tight spots.

I don’t often get to use the X-Mark 30 walk behind because, as a landscape supervisor, I usually move around different crews; and we often leave mowing to the newer workers.

But once in a while people go missing, especially during the summer months. There are weddings to attend and camp sites to populate. Then I get to help out and everything starts with lawn care.

Why X-Mark 30?

  1. Obviously, the larger deck means you have to make fewer passes which reduces user fatigue. As a landscape professional I’m used to fatigue but new guys get spooked by their own sweat. Fewer passes is a dream for them. It was so much fun cutting long straight stretches of lawn, it inspired this blog post.
  2. Because the mower is bigger, it takes some getting used to. It’s self-propelled and feels like a tank. It will crush any garden gnome that gets in the way.
  3. One drawback is that you will need help to load this beast on and off your truck, unless you have a ramp.
  4. The gas tank is huge so you can cover a huge area before re-fuelling.
  5. One cool feature is that the front wheels get adjusted separately: just lift the pin and the wheel pops out so you can insert it into whatever height you desire, quickly.

 

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Making fewer passes on long straight lawns is a bonus.

 

X-mark tech notes

You can read X-Mark’s notes on their website if you like. All I want you to know from this blog post is that the X-Mark 30 walk behind is surprisingly fun to use. If you have long straight stretches of lawn definitely try this beast.

 

 

 

 

 

Is vertical edging worth the trouble?

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I hate vertical edging but sometimes I have to do it because blade attachments aren’t available. Then, when I finish I’m close to developing a rash that will only go away after I complete blog posts like this one.

Why vertical?

Why do we vertical? Why flip a machine on its side and shred your edges? Because it’s convenient. You’re already there, your flat edging is completed and now you just burn out the edges and bail. There is no need to walk back to the truck to change attachments or change blades. And you don’t have to train workers on a new machine.

Personally, I think vertical edging is too much trouble. Let’s examine some of its limitations below.

Vertical limitations

Let’s consider many of the limitations of vertical edging. And before we get into it, note that some big companies don’t allow you to vertical. This is mainly because it gives your site or home an inconsistent look; and it also increases the chances of worker injury and site damage.

 

Shredding plants

This is my biggest problem with vertical edging. As you go along the edge, inevitably you will encounter plants growing over the edge. So you either skip the edge or you shred the plants. Most workers just shred the plants. Either way your site look suffers.

By contrast, the blade edger has a metal cover which discreetly slips under the plant and allows for edging without injury to the plant.

 

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Damage isn’t limited to plants. This pot is missing a lot of plastic already.

Injury risk

Since there is no cover over the line edger you’re bound to eat a few rocks and other debris. Definitely wear goggles every time and close your mouth; and kiss your baby skin goodbye. To avoid getting hit workers angle the edger from the recommended 90 degrees which nicely leads us to the next point.

By contrast, the blade edger blade is covered with a shield and a rubber flap on the bottom.

Erosion

When you shred the edges at 45 degrees every week you eventually get erosion. Think of the UK coastline. This can lead to client complaints as the owners’ lawn edges retreat. Also, anything short of 90 degrees is ugly. If your edge can’t break your ankles, it’s not done right.

Reestablishment

Sometimes you fall behind on boulevard edging and when you finally get to it, you have no hope of re-establishing the edge. The plastic line is too weak.

By contrast, the blade edger digs in with a new blade and easily re-establishes the edge. This is also true for soft edges where the edge is gone.

Hard edges also look inconsistent and it’s slow work because as the plastic line shreds I have to constantly reload it by tapping the attachment head.

 

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While blade edgers can be kicked off course by sidewalk blemishes, vertical edging is much less consistent.

 

By contrast, the blade edger just digs into the hard edge and flies away. This is the best place to start training new workers.

 

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The top edge is my blade edger work; the bottom is a private landscaping company with line edgers. No contest!

Tight edges

My blade edger blade can nicely start and finish the lines by fitting tightly against the hard edge/soft bed zone. Vertical lines struggle here so the beginning and end of many edges stay shaggy.

Tree wells

I can blade edge around a tree well in seconds and leave it looking sharp. Vertical edging around tree wells is a pain.

Sucking exhaust

Vertical edging requires you to lift the engine higher which means the exhaust is much closer to your head. If you start getting dizzy, it’s the exhaust. This blog post assumes that you or your employer aren’t paying big dollars for the much cleaner Aspen fuel. Burning regular gasoline mixed with oil in a small engine isn’t very ecological. I want the engine down by my waist with the exhaust pointing back.

 

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Only blade edgers can nicely sharpen up stepping stones.

 

Is vertical edging worth the trouble? I don’t think so. Do you? Please leave comments.

 

Chafer beetle battles: time for nematodes

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This week is the third week of July and that means it’s time to buy nematodes to your lawn, if it’s suffering from European Chafer Beetle damage. Chafers are invasive insect pests and the larvae feed on the roots of grasses which causes serious damage to lawns.

 

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Animals looking for grubs can destroy your lawn overnight.

 

 

Then later we get animals digging up lawns looking for juicy grubs and lawns are destroyed overnight.

Chafer beetles are here to stay, too. But we can take the fight to them.

 

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Juicy grub from this spring.

 

Nematodes

If you failed to pre-order nematodes earlier in the season then just go down to your favourite garden store and ask if they have any in stock. Nematodes are tiny worms that live in the soil. If you apply them correctly they will chase down Chafers in your lawn. Do this in late July.  You might want to read my previously published blog to see how I did it.

Chafer cycle

Chafer beetles emerge out of lawns and soil in June and fly into trees to mate. Then they go back into lawns to lay their young.

 

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A very pregnant Chafer beetle heading for the lawn.

 

This is why the late July nematode application is critical. Once the grubs get too big the nematodes aren’t effective.

So, let’s review: buy nematodes in the third week of July and apply them in late July.

Follow the directions carefully. Your lawn should be soaked before nematode application and after. Also, remember that nematodes are photo-sensitive. Direct sunlight will kill them so apply them early in the morning or evening.

This is my blog post about my residential application. It might help you.

Lawn care

According to municipal handouts, healthy lawns should only need an hour of watering a week. Keep your grass at least 6cm high and leave the clippings on your lawn. The clippings serve as free fertilizer.

 

Conclusion

Keep your lawn healthy. If you have Chafer damage buy nematodes now and apply them at the end of July. Follow the directions. And pray!

 

 

Plastic lawns: are you sure you want one?

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Why do people install costly plastic lawns? This is a good question. And so is this one from a person on Quora.com, “Why would daycares install plastic turf?” Let’s take a look.

Easy maintenance

It’s easy to maintain plastic lawns. I imagine you just gently sweep them or hose them down. People are busy and maintaining natural grass is expensive. You need machines, time, gasoline or electricity, you have to deal with green waste and fertilizer purchases and it all requires effort. Probably weekly effort.

That’s why some people hire professionals like Proper Landscaping to keep their lawns beautiful; and some give up by making a costly plastic turf purchase.

Situations calling for plastic lawns

Chafer beetles

On the West Coast, our lawns are plagued by European chafer beetles. The larvae are in the lawns and animals come dig them up thereby destroying patches of lawn. Now, the cheapest fix for this is raking, top-dressing with soil and over-seeding. But it gets very old when you have to do this annually. All of a sudden, plastic turf starts to look attractive.

 

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Animals dig up lawns looking for juicy European chafer beetle grubs.

 

Patios below grade

I’ve seen shady, below grade patio lawn patches that turned to nothing every winter. It was a constant fight to keep five narrow strips of lawn alive. So, the owners all opted for plastic turf because it eliminated the headaches with maintenance.

Dog damage

The first time I ran into a company installing plastic lawn was in White Rock. By the way, if you’re still considering plastic lawn after reading this blog post, then I can put you in contact with this installer. Now, back to White Rock.

The owners have a narrow lawn patch and a large dog. They also like to use their sunny patio. But the small patch of lawn was no match for their dog. The copious amounts of dog urine “burn” the lawn because it’s way too much fertilizer for the lawn to absorb.

You can spray the dog spots with water in theory but in practice people just kick the dog out and let it do its business.

So, in this case, plastic solved their problem.

 

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This used to be a nasty dog-damaged patch.

 

Poor access

One case from England showed an enclosed backyard where the only mower access was through the house! That’s not a good situation. I guess you could use a line-trimmer but you would still have to go through the house and the result would be a nice looking lawn. Here plastic lawn made sense.

 

 

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The only access here is through the house so the owner opted for plastic turf.

 

The case against plastic lawns

I don’t like anything artificial in nature. If I had a house, I would either go for some sort of green alternative or I would maintain the lawn without gasoline mowers. If I had to use a gas-powered mower, I would definitely use Aspen fuel instead of regular gasoline.

I would never let my kids attend kindergarten with plastic turf.

Why not plastic turf? This is the key question.

Heat

Plastic lawns heat up and may require summer watering. And summer watering may not be possible with summer watering restrictions. A few years ago my son played a soccer match in sunny White Rock and the plastic turf was so hot, his plastic cleats were super hot. And I don’t even mention the off-gassing that may be going on as the heat hits the plastic. Right now, heat absorption is the biggest problem with plastic lawns.

Science notes

Maria Ignatieva, writing in Science (October 12, 2018, vol. 362, issue 6411) states that, “…..substituting …with plastic lawns eliminates real nature from cities and arguably reduces overall sustainability given that they reduce habitats, decrease soil organisms, pollute runoff water, and may have yet unknown negative consequences for human health through plastic particles.”

When I mentioned the above quote in my answer to the Quora question, some people got mad. I’m not saying you can’t have your plastic lawn. If you have deep pockets, do it. It’s your lawn.

But, plastic lawns kill or severely diminish life in the soil because they limit water infiltration and cook the soil as they heat up. Also, not many organisms want to make plastic turf their home.

Conclusion

I totally agree with Ignatieva, plastic lawns are not the answer. Overall, plastic lawns heat up our cities and they remove real nature from them. I personally would never buy one.

But, there are some desperate cases where plastic eliminates maintenance headaches.

 

The biggest NO-NO in lawn care

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Somebody on Quora.com posed this question and it took me just seconds to decide what the biggest no-no in lawn care is. I hate lawn scalping so much, I call it the ultimate sin. Just remember that new workers have to gain experience and are likely to make mistakes. It’s not the end of the world but they must be aware of it. Careless mowing shouldn’t be tolerated.

Here’s what scalping is and why it’s a sin.

Scalping

Scalping happens when your mower slips off the edge of your lawn and the blades cut into it. This leaves a nasty brown spot in your lawn. New lawn care workers are warned not to get too close to the edges because line trimmers are coming along to take care of the danger zones.

Note that line edgers can also slip and scalp lawns so be careful. The machine is different but the effect is the same ugly brown lawn patches. Or worse, patches.

 

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This is a line edger scalp. Always line trim at the same height as your lawn.

 

Why it’s a sin

So, what’s the big deal? If you scalp your lawn doesn’t the grass just regrow? Not so fast.

It’s ugly

First of all, the scalp looks ugly. This is especially serious close to high-profile lawn areas. And also in late fall just before the lawn cutting season ends. Obviously, late season scalps will not cover over and will remain ugly all winter.

I witnessed this once when a ride-on mower dude made several mistakes on the very last cut of the season. My then-boss drove by and freaked out. If the dude wasn’t a perfect ride-on mower drone, he would have been fired. Remember, lawns should look great all season. Don’t scalp them.

 

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A classic lawn scalp where the mower slipped off the edge. The brown part is where the blade took out healthy grass. It’s ugly.

 

Meristems

Grass blades grow from meristems. These are growth points located roughly in the lower third of each grass blade. So, when you cut below this point, the grass doesn’t regrow. The ugly patch gets covered over eventually as neighbouring grass spreads out. That’s if you’re lucky.

Scalp first aid

Smart lawn care workers quickly throw grass clippings over the scalp to make it look green, not brown. They also use line edgers to even out the green grass around the scalp to make it blend in more. Then pray to God your foreman doesn’t discover the mistake. By next week you could potentially blame someone else.

I’m kidding, of course. Mistakes happen. Just mow better next time. Mastery takes time.

Conclusion

Don’t scalp your lawns. It’s the ultimate sin in lawn care.

 

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Never run your mower through tree wells. It’s a bad habit. Just look at the wheel marks and the ugly brown scalp.

Mow like a pro: basic mistakes to avoid

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When new workers come on board it’s always fun to see them mow for the first time. Then the fun ends and mistakes must be gently corrected. Stay patient as the new workers get used to new sites. They mow like pros and you train them like a pro.

Let’s take a look at some examples from last week.

 

Missed lawns

It happens even when the yards are connected together but it can’t wait until next week because the unit owner will call to complain. Point out the miss and send the worker back. Easy.

 

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A completely missed lawn.

 

Tarp management

Workers are responsible for their tarps and must haul them out for collection to the road. Otherwise they get left behind and the office gets more unnecessary phone calls. The blower at the end of the day is the final check but it’s always a good idea to check on new workers.

 

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All tarps must be pulled out to the road for collection.

 

Mohawks

Mohawks happen when the mower doesn’t overlap properly. And they look awful one week later. Check your lawn before leaving to make sure it looks great.

 

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This mohawk will look worse a week from now.

 

Diligence!

Let’s not get sloppy, the gate must be moved, if necessary. The entire lawn gets mowed. No excuses. Kick the gate and go.

 

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Don’t cross your lines

 

So, your lawn is completed and you’re moving on. Do you take the shortest route to the gate? It would be the fastest route but it would ruin all of your beautiful laser lines. Don’t do it. Follow the edge and leave the lines intact. Never cross your finished laser lines!

 

 

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Learn to exit properly without cutting across your laser lines.

 

Mowing like a pro isn’t difficult. It just takes some time and patience. Practice, practice, practice!

A perfect mower for small lawns

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There I was cutting long stretches of lawn on a huge strata site when I hit the corner pictured below with my commercial Honda mower. I took one quick look at the reel mower by the wall and dismissed it as a toy for homeowners. But I’ve been thinking about it and now I feel like reel mowers deserve their own blog post.

 

 

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Lawn size

Lawn size determines the right type of mower to use. Considering the miles of lawn I had to cut on this day, using a reel mower would have been out of the question. But reel mowers are perfect for small lawns. Like this one.

 

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This is a perfect lawn for reel mowers.

 

Reel mower

A reel mower is a mower in which the blades spin vertically (north to south) and use a scissoring action to cut the blades of grass. A reel mower should have between three and seven blades, depending on the model type. Don’t forget to get them sharpened once in a while for a nice, clean cut.

Modern reel mowers are light-weight, easy to maneuver and they start every time! They are quieter and since they don’t burn gasoline they are cleaner. Using a reel mower is a great form of exercise and you don’t have to suck unhealthy exhaust fumes.

You can check out the various reel mower models available here. The owner of the reel mower above sounds perfectly happy with it. He cuts his small lawn between our weekly cuts so his lawn stays nicely cut and he gets his exercise.

And all this happens without generating any kind of pollution. According to the Audubon Society, 800 million gallons of gas are used to power lawn mowers annually in the United States, which produces significant amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

So the next time I run into a reel mower parked against the wall, I won’t dismiss it. I just wish I could use it to cut the miles of lawn I have to cut.  Sadly, it won’t happen. But if you have a small lawn, don’t even think about buying a gas-powered mower. It would be expensive overkill.

 

European chafer beetle battles: critical June-July

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This past June as I walked to my car in the morning I noticed a fat European Chafer beetle heading for the nearby lawn. Of course! June is the time the beetles fly into nearby trees to mate and then head back to delicious-looking lawns to deposit their young.

June

The European Chafer beetles aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. We’re stuck with them. I could have stepped on the beetle with my Stihl boots but that would have been a nasty start to my day. So instead of incorporating the beetle into the sidewalk, I observed her. Once she hit the lawn she disappeared very quickly.

 

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This picture sequence should remind you to order nematodes from your local garden centre. More on this later.

 

July 8, 2018

While helping my buddy with his wild backyard I turned over unused garden beds. And in the process I dug up many beetles and a few young grubs. The grubs will mature in lawns and beds before emerging as beetles next summer. And to mature they will feed on grass roots which in turn attracts animals. Crows, birds and raccoons will happily dig up your lawn looking for these juicy grubs.

 

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European chafer beetle larvae 2018.

 

What can you do?

Step one, take better care of your lawn. My buddy is way too busy to “baby” his lawn. He has previous chafer related lawn damage that never got fixed. All three municipalities in the Tri-Cities recommend raking over your damaged lawn and then applying topsoil and over-seeding with deep-rooted grass. Water your lawn daily unless there are watering restrictions in place. Once your lawn is established water 1-2 times per week. Keep your lawn at least 6 cm high and leave clippings on the lawn.

Step two is optional and it involves applying nematodes in the third week of July. The basic idea is for the microscopic nematodes to chase down the grubs and eat them from the inside. You can read my blog about the procedure. There is one catch which makes clients nervous: you will have to apply the nematodes every year.

 

The chafer beetles are here to stay but you can help your lawn by keeping it healthy.

 

 

 

Lawn care mastery: beginner tips 2018

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Lawn care is the first thing new recruits get to do and they must master it before they can graduate on to other machines. The list below is intended for beginner landscapers.

 

Exceptions

 

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Watch out for exceptions! Normally the left wheels would be on the sidewalk but here the lawn is extremely high above the sidewalk. If you put the left side wheels on the sidewalk you will scalp the grass, effectively erasing it. And that’s the ultimate sin in lawn care. Instead, position the mower the way you would on a soft edge between bed and lawn. The line trimmer will take care of the rest. Your mowing should always be stress-free so watch out for exceptions.

 

Tarps

 

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Here the worker correctly brought a tarp close to his mowing area but then he left. Before you move on, always pull out your full tarps to the road for easy collection. Sometimes blowers missed them and then people call to complain about missed tarps. And that’s embarrassing. So always pull out your tarps for easy collection. They are the worker’s responsibility.

 

Exiting your lawn area

 

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This is a common mistake. Here I had to go back the way I came so I followed my existing laser lines. DO NOT cross your beautiful straight lines on the way out. Yes, it would be the shortest way out but it would destroy your presentation. Always exit using the existing lines. Never cross your mow lines.

 

Collisions with trees

 

 

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This tree is getting hit repeatedly by mowers and line trimmers. It stresses it out and it may not survive the abuse. Stay away from trees.

 

Yes, trees are very resilient but repeated hits from mowers and trimmers stress and eventually kill trees. Never collide with trees. Stay away.

 

All done?

 

 

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So you made it! You got through your mowing assignment. Now you just have a few more steps to take.

One is deck clean-up. Before you move the blades, undo the spark plug cable (it’s in front of the mower) to avoid any accidental blade engagement. Then remove all debris so the machine is ready for the next day.

Also, refuel the mower with straight gas and do it on a tarp just like the deck cleaning.

 

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That’s a lot of debris from one deck.

 

Remember, lawn care should be stress-free! Just follow the hints above for nice, stress-free lawn care life. Once you master lawn mowing you will get to use other machines. It’s all about quick skill acquisition. Have some fun.