Garden Clippings

By Mike Lang
February 2008
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February usually includes a few warm days that get the blood flowing and the thoughts heading in the direction of the garden. Once there, gardeners ponder the question, 'What can I do?'

Garden features, such as fences, decks, patios or other structures, can be built during this time, and some shrubs and trees can be dormant pruned. Seeds can be planted for transplanting later in the spring, and there is the never-ending task of cleaning up leaves and other spent foliage. One of the most important items to take care of this time of year, however, is making sure your lawn and garden equipment is ready to go for the fury of spring growth.

Outdoor power equipment is often taken for granted since it seems to be there and ready to go at all times. Lawn mowers, for instance, are put away as soon as we wipe the last bead of sweat from the brow, and we give little thought to the unit until the next time we are ready to use it. If it wasn't done before it was put away for the winter, now is the time to give Old Reliable a little TLC.

Give your gas-powered mower a tuneup each year, whether you think it needs it or not. If you mow 30 times a year, at an hour per mowing (for a smaller lawn), that would be similar to putting several thousand miles on a vehicle. At the very least, an oil change would be in order.

It used to be common to dump last year's gas from a piece of equipment that had not run for some time. This isn't necessary now if the unit has only set for a few months. With only unleaded gas available now, gas separating and causing lacquer in the carburetion system is no longer a concern.

It is important to check - and change, if possible - the air filters on these small engines. An air filter that is restricted by dirt, even if it's not readily apparent, often causes the motor to be less efficient and adds undue wear on the unit. Remember that the environment in which these machines work each time they're used is quite dirty.

Along with a clean air filter, make sure the motor itself is clean. The metal fins that stick off of the main portion of the motor serve the same function as the radiator on our vehicles - to cool the engine. A small amount of disassembly of the engine cover may be required on some mowers to ensure that the cooling fins are clean and able to function properly. Compressed air, a brush or a squirt from the garden hose can take care of this problem and deter the damage that could otherwise be caused from the lawn mower running too hot.

It's also good practice to change the spark plug at least every other year for reliable performance. A weak spark from the plug reduces the fuel efficiency of a mower and contributes to faster wear. Always replace the plug with one that is recommended by the engine manufacturer. Do not stick just any plug in to make it run. The numbers and letters on a spark plug refer to the amount of spark and the distance the plug extends into the motor. The wrong length or spark of the plug can cause damage.

Changing the oil is always a good idea after a lawn mower has set for some time. Moisture can build up inside the engine when it sits through a cold winter, and as we all know, oil and water don't mix. There are two schools of thought on oil changes. One is to change it after the engine has been running, to make sure that the oil has circulated in the engine and cleaned any contaminants from the parts. The other is to change the oil when the engine is cold, so that all the oil is at the bottom of the machine, making it easier to get most of the old oil out. I've had several of the best mechanics around lobby for both ways, so I'm calling it a draw either way.

Before calling it quits on servicing your mower, make sure the blade is sharp and the deck is clean. These two items allow for a nicer cut from the blade and better dispersal of grass clippings from the deck.

Servicing your lawn mower may not be what you have in mind when you feel that urge to get going in the yard, but it will pay off when mowing season arrives.


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