10-Mowing Tips for would-be groundskeepers is our topic this morning.

No, we didn’t really need 30-acres.  We could have gotten by with two acres per person, just fine.

But I had this wild dream years back when I was running a vocational school:  I wanted to open a “heavy equipment school” so that the masses of do-nothing rich intellectual output masses could go someplace and learn to do real productive work.

You know there was a tank school and a fighter combat school, right?  Honestly a D6 Cat, or bigger, is a rush, too… rock claw on a 9D?  On a steep slope?

I also wanted to open an explosives school, but 9/11 demonstrated that others had beaten me to market on that idea.  Did have a nice course on training clients in advance.  “Don’t say ‘Pull it!'”

# 1: Dirty Equipment Works Fine

Riding lawn mowers – like my 10-year old 48″ Husqvarna – don’t really qualify as “heavy equipment” out here.  Though, the neighbor’s 60-HP air-conditioned tractor with a massive stump-grinder on the back, sure does.

I have learned a lot about maintenance  from watching people around here:  Their tractors (riding and up) are usually just “hosed off” when work is done.  This contrasts with all those YouTube channels where people go off to minutia about the best wax to use on which equipment.

Clean doesn’t get work done any better, or any faster, than shiny-new, waxed and pampered outdoor power equipment.

Sure, you “have to maintenance” gear.  Oil gets changed, blades and belts.  But in terms of a good detailing?  That’s time wasted, as I see it. Our riding mower gets a hose-off about every third mowing.  If I remember. A quick “lick and a promise” of buffing at the start of mowing season” and that’s it.

This isn’t a Fire Department.  Where, after every run, my son’s going through the rig’s inventory, washing and drying hose.  Rechecking tools and kits…

Maintenance at this level of detail matters on a fire engine (or oil rig, or in light aircraft).,  Attacking a lawn?  To get with looks, get the job done.  Who has “buffer time” to piss away?

Happens to everyone:  If you haven’t had a piece of equipment fail in the most difficult spot possible, you simply haven’t been working very long.  Happens to everyone one.  Waxing your rider won’t change when it happens, or where.

# 2:  Basic Lawn Strategy

So I check the tires and oil here in a few minutes.  There are two basic strategies to the mowing that follows.

The first is “Counterclockwise Toward the Middle.”

Most of the MTD (and branded for everyone, seems) mowers have right-side discharges.

Very first “Law” of mowing handed down by Pappy before I was turned loose with a19″ walk-behind at age 12 (an old Toro) was “Never throw where you have to mow.”

His “Firehouse logic” held that if you threw freshly cut grass (to the right) and your next row of cutting would be to the right, then your mower would not only have to cut that row but also everything you’d blown over on your last pass.

The alternative – general strategy – is to mow counterclockwise (viewed from above) – but start this pattern on the inside.  As you work outward from the middle of your mowing field, the grass will only be cut once.

# 3:  Keep the Blade Cutting

Another one that should be obvious:  When you release the blade clutch and things spin up, mow for as long as you can without backing up or going over previously cut lawn.

Although we have a complicated lawn (beds around bases of trees, power poles, guy wire stand-off, un-bedded trees, and an complex foundation outline), I’ve come to judge my weekly efforts against a simple metric:  Cutting time to tractor time.

Usually, I begin with a “perimeter cut” around the foundation and complicated trees, then I decide  which direction.  Usually it’s counter-clockwise – outside to middle.

If everything goes perfectly, 2-1/2 acres of lawn can be flattened in about 90-minutes.  That compared with 100-120 minutes if I get “artsy.”

# 4:  Use the Fastest Tool

Sure, I could back-up and get the mower much closer to flower4 beds and the foundation than I do.  But what’s the point?

If I’ll still have to come back with the string trimmer later, get as close as you can, but without sacrificing the “keep the tool cutting” mindset.

# 5: Limb-Up Trees

Here’s another one of those “It’s so obvious” things.  

Fore the longest time, I cursed mowing around our magnolia tree.  Damn limbs were hanging down and even flattened out to the steering wheel, I was getting bugs on me.

“Why at I letting this slow me down?”

The lower limbs, up to about 5-1/2 feet went shortly thereafter, and I’ve never looked back.  If something is “screwing up the pattern” change it.  In this case, 5-minutes with a small electric chainsaw 5-years ago resulted in much-reduced hassles from that point on.

# 6:  Run Over or Clean Up?

It’s an eyeball judgement.   My usual rules are “Pine cones and 1/2″ twigs” are fair to run over.    One-inch if rotten-looking deadfall.

This decision is a personal one, though.  Some people will stop for even quarter-inch twigs.  After a season, we change blades in the spring – because this “run-over” policy is hard on blades.  On the other hand, convenience for the operator has to figure in.

Pedal to the metal, right?

# 7:  Wet or Dry Mowing?

I like to mow very early in the morning.  Reason?  There’s no dust kicked-up to speak of.  This means I can save the mask that would have been used mowing, for more important chores, like going into the liquor store.

Pappy was of a mind that wet grass, just like shaving cream, lubricated the cutting and gave a smooth job as a result.

The other school has one good argument:  If you mow dry, you won’t get the caked-on cuttings on the underside of the mower.

Another personal choice, but I can tell you that not once after trying things like scraping all the cuttings from under the mower, did I find it worked any better or faster.  I personally put under-deck cleaning in the “No return on time invested” pile.

Which is a damn useful way to judge things – just most people don’t.

Take every task you set upon, every day, and ask “What’s the fastest way to achieve my goals here?” You want a workmanlike job, sure.  But after that?  Zero ROI!

If the answer is that 15-minutes of tractor lifting and scraping has some pay-off you can find, good luck with that.  I have never seen a professional lawn crew go to any particular lengths to clean under the deck.

Still, there are people who wax their tractors monthly, too, I suppose.

# 8:  Use the Clock

I will be posting this just after 6 AM.  That leaves me half a cup of coffee while I top off the tires on the mower and “pre-flight it.”

At very close to 6:30 AM, things will fire up and 120-minutes later, not only will the yard have had its “haircut” – but so will I.  Again, if you’re into the habit of “personal time and motion” study, it’s useful to group tasks.

The haircut and the lawn are natural “mates.”  At the end of either, my first inclination is a hot shower and a sandwich with as beer.

Yeah, but at 11 AM?  Problematic, isn’t it?

I don’t think so.  And I’m the one scoring my life.  (My playbook says if you get up, work like hell for 4-5 hours (write column, mow, edge, haircut, clean-up) one beer with a “breakfast sandwich” is a good reward.

# 9:  Carry Basic Tools

Wear light gloves – no blisters from the steering wheel.  Keeps hands a bit cleaner.

Clippers for errant bushes that don’t understand what a crazy man on a rider looks like.

And the drink holder?  Don’t drink and mow.  Instead, that’s a great holder for a can of fire ant poison.

It may seem just a bit maniacal to approach the lawn this way.  But, if you can save 20-minutes a session and you mow 20-times a year- that’s 400-minutes or 6.66-hours a year of time saved.

If someone hands you a block of hours that big, they’re your friend.

# 10:  Mowing Time Productivity

Use the time on your mow to come up with more time-saving ideas.

Suggested uses?

  • New pattern of mowing that provide for more “tool on task” with less backing-up or running in reverse.
  • Work out the schedule of the rest of the day.
  • Dream about the sandwich and cold beer.  Mmm…hot shower…yeah!
  • Design a tool holder for the tools you wish you had at hand.

This last one is my “thinking time while mowing” project today.  I want to build a holder so the string trimmer can “ride along.”  Then, when I finish the mowing along the front fence, I can simply dismount and trim on the spot.

May seem like a worthless idea except:  1) It’s gong to be into the 80’s already when I get done with the mowing part.  Do you really like walking around on a hot summer morning lugging a trimmer and batteries?  There’s 3-5 minutes (or more) walking to and froe from the shop.  Again, 20-times 5 minutes a year is over an hour and a half.

But, remember the time to design and build the carrier has to be amortized, as well….

On your mark, get set…MOW!

8:04 AM Update:  Basic Mowing Complete.

8:36 AM Update:  4 battery changes later, the yard is edged. 200+ feet of fence, and so.  Now I’ll look over eBay and see what’s going on with ham gear. While I’m doing this, sweat will stop pouring off my head and I can administer one of my self-done haircuts.

Noticing how profuse Mr. Sweat was, Elaine put two beers in the freezer…

Write when you get the yard done,