Happy New Year Avid Golfers, and welcome back to the monthly behind-the-scenes question and answer session that is “Ask the Superintendent.” January is often a time that we, as superintendents, look to evaluate the previous season, organize things (personally and professionally) and set a few new goals for the upcoming golf season. Last January, we took a deeper look at green goals, so if you missed it and are looking to set a few new benchmarks this year for your green assets, take a quick look at the AVIDGOLFER website, www.myavidgolfer.com/the-magazine and check the archives for this gem.
Now on to this month’s pressing question from members/golfers and, it is, how and when do I winterize my lawn equipment? Of course, with a focus on the star of lawn maintenance equipment, the lawn mower. Now is the time to give your mower (walking or riding) a little rest in North Texas after the leaf drop and now that the warm-season grasses such as Bermuda, Zoysia and Saint Augustine have gone dormant. We will not be back on heavy mowing cycles on these grasses until spring (around April). Without further ado, let’s go through a few steps to safely winterize your lawn equipment.
General Comments on Lawn Equipment Care and Winterizing
It is clear that some of us are obsessed with growing, mowing and manicuring grass. This extends to all things connected to the art and science of turfgrass, and this article is written from the perspective that all this information is useful when quality turf is your goal and lawn equipment is essential. If you are just starting to see the joy of intensely managed turf and turf-maintenance machines (mowers, weed eaters, bowers etc.), take heart this information will still be valuable as you start your green journey or if you just want to get your money’s worth out of your current mower and other lawn-maintenance equipment. Your lawn mower has been a loyal and critical partner in your lawncare efforts (big or small) all season. so give it the attention it deserves. By spending just a little dedicated time prepping your mower for winter storage, you will most certainly ensure a happier reunion in the spring. Tip No. 1 for proper mower storage is to make sure that your owner’s manual is on hand for quick reference anytime you are working on your mower. If you have lost the original owner’s manual, take heart that the internet is the home to thousands of owner’s manuals that cover most models.
The Last Mowing and Winter Equipment Cleanup
It is important, after the last official mowing of the growing season, that you properly clean your mower and other lawn-maintenance equipment. For some, the last mowing will be earlier (essentially when the grass stops actively growing); and for others who use the bag attachment or mulching blades on their mowers to handle the fall leaf drop, it may be later in the season. Either way, properly cleaning your mower and attachments before storing them for the winter is the first step to success. Professional tip: before you start to wash your mower, remove the spark plug lead wire and tape it out of the way with electrical tape. Wash all of the grease and debris from the entire machine, using mild cleaner/degreaser and a pressure nozzle and hose. Be sure to wash under the deck and do not forget to inspect and clean the blades. When inspecting/washing the blades, think safety first. For walking mowers, gently turn the mower on its side to gain access and be careful not to touch the blades with your bare hands. Wear protective gloves or use a flathead screwdriver to remove debris. Larger mowers may require a jack and jack stand for access and safety. Make sure that the mower and all its parts are completely dry before storing. Make sure you have a dry, protected area that is well ventilated and provides safe storage for everything. Give other items, like weed eaters and hedge trimmers, a good cleaning, as well. Blowers may be used even in the winter, but while you are cleaning and inspecting the fleet make sure everything receives some TLC. It is important to never store gas-powered lawn equipment near a furnace, water heater or any appliance that has a pilot light. There are numerous lawn sheds that are affordable and easy to install. They also come in a variety of materials and sizes. Remember to store fuel cans separately from your equipment and in approved spill-proof containers and/or cabinets. Be sure to grease any fittings after the washing. The end goal for this task is that the lawn equipment should be clean and optimally operational when the process is complete. Don’t forget to add line to your weed eater.
On Batteries and Fuel Stabilizers
If your lawn mower has a battery (riding lawn mowers etc.), it is always a good idea to remove the battery for winter storage. Be sure, once removed, to store the battery in a cool, dry and secure place away from gas cans, water heater or furnace. When disconnecting your battery, always disconnect the negative cable first and make sure to clean the battery with a cloth and use a wire brush or a battery terminal cleaner product to clean the battery terminals for storage. You could also take the extra step of coating the battery terminals with a terminal protection product; these are available at your local small-engines store or online.
If you are using gas-powered lawn equipment, then part of your ongoing responsibility is the safe storage of fuel. Only use federally approved fuel containers and storage cabinets. Sometimes, even the most diligent people forget that when we allow fuel to sit too long in our lawn equipment, we often have issues when we start up the equipment the next season. In fact, gas will begin to break down within the first 30 days. Yikes! The best way to handle this situation is to use a fuel stabilizer. Fuel stabilizers are added to your fuel and prevent the fuel from breaking down and clogging your equipment’s fuel system, and there are few things more frustrating than a mower that won’t start for that first spring mowing. I normally do not call out name brands for products, but for fuel storage or fuel stabilizers several of the major engine manufacturers recommend STA-BIL Storage Fuel Stabilizers. So if you start looking for a product, that one has a proven track record. Add the stabilizer to your gas can, following package directions. And before you add fuel to your can, add fuel/mix to the equipment and be sure you run your equipment long enough to burn through any non-treated fuel. Fuel stabilizers keep fuel fresh for up to 24 months.
If you have electric lawn equipment, the winter storage is a little easier, as the lack of gas as a fuel source makes things easier. Remember that part of the upfront cost of lithium battery-powered equipment is the fuel is essentially renewable, built in and made to store easily between uses. There are still washing and lubricant requirements, if you plan to let your electric lawn equipment sit idle for an extended period of time. However, no doubt that storing electric equipment for the winter is easier than storing gas-powered equipment. Think this through when it’s time for new equipment, electric verses gas.
Be sure that you take care of your lawn equipment properly when it’s time to winterize and store them for extended periods. Look ahead to next season and how glad you will be that the equipment is ready to go.
Wishing you a safe and prosperous New Year … and keep aspiring to win Yard of the Month.