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Backyard Gardener: Lawn mower maintenance

Hello Mid-Ohio Valley Farmers and Gardeners! October is moving along quickly and Halloween will be here before you know it. Harvest continues on the farm and our wonderful summer vegetables are winding down for the season.

Cold weather is just around the corner and soon many homeowners will be mowing the lawn for the final time this year. If you are done cutting the grass for this year, here are a few tips for servicing your garden tractor or mower before putting it away for the winter.

As the price of everything increases, it more important than ever to take care of our gardening equipment. A few minutes spent on maintenance now will pay off next spring!

Follow the recommendations found in your owner’s manual. Yes, it pays to read the manual. Most recommend draining the gas tank or at least adding a gasoline stabilizer. Untreated gasoline can become thick and gummy.

This prevents potential problems with water accumulation or fuel line clogging. Start off next spring with a fresh tank of gas (unfortunately it will most likely be more expensive next year).

Go ahead and change the spark plug or plugs. A few drops of oil squirted inside the spark plug hole (after you remove the spark plug) will help lubricate the cylinder.

Now is an excellent time to sharpen the mower blades so they’ll be ready next spring. Check the blades for major damage. If they cannot be fixed go ahead and replace them. If they just need sharpened and you don’t have a grinding wheel in your garage, take the blades to a service technician.

If you sharpen your own blades, the following steps can guide you through this process. Remove the grass and debris from the blade with a moist cloth and dry. Smooth out any nicks from the cutting edge, using a grinding wheel or hand-file.

If you are using a grinding wheel, match the existing edge angle to the wheel. If hand-filing, file at the same angle as the existing edge. Grind or file until the edge is 1/32 inch. Sharpening to a razor edge may result in the edge folding over during use resulting in a poor cut.

If you are using a grinding wheel, avoid overheating the blade as this may warp it. Clean the blade with solvent or oil for optimum winter storage. It is a great idea to purchase new blades to have on hand next season as a back-up to attach when you remove this blade for sharpening.

While the blade is off, give the underside of the mower deck a good cleaning of all dirt and grass clippings. This will extend the life of the deck and prevent you from having chunks of decomposing grass clippings falling from the deck onto your garage or storage shed floor.

A good coat of light oil can prevent rusting of the deck. If there is some rust starting apply some rust preventive paint.

Change the engine oil, other fluids, replace filters, and inspect belts for wear. Your operator’s manual will list specifications on fluids, filters, etc. for replacement. Changing the fluids and filters will optimize your mowers performance and extend engine life.

Oh yes, check the belts. Many mowers have several belt for the drive train and the mowing deck. If they show major signs of wear change them now. Purchase the highest quality belts to prevent equipment during the mowing season. The new Kevlar belts are more resistant to stretch and are more resistant to high shock loads.

Batteries are also increasing in price, so make yours last as long as possible. Make sure to clean the battery terminals, which usually corrode during the season. You can use a wire-bristle brush but I have several of the special battery terminal cleaning tools for this job which are cheap and effective.

The battery can then be removed or connected to a battery maintainer that will keep it charged over winter. If you remove the battery, be sure to store it in a protected location for the winter. A small amount of grease can be applied to terminals when reconnecting to the battery to aid in preventing corrosion.

Questions? Contact me at the Wood County WVU Extension Office 304-424-1960 or e-mail me at jj.barrett@mail.wvu.edu. Good Luck and Happy Gardening!

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Question of the Week: Is it too late to spread some grass seed on those bare spots in the lawn?

In most years, yes. Extension recommends that most cool season grasses such as blue grass, rye grass and tall fescue be seeded no later than October 15. Though plantings later than October 15 can be successful, the odds of success diminish each day as we get closer to winter.

The problem with late plantings is not that the seed will not germinate or that young grass plants are sensitive to cold. Most often, the problem is developing a strong root system. Unless the young grass plants have a fairly extensive root system, the freezing and thawing that takes place during winter heaves plants out of the ground, and they dry out and die.

You do have an option called dormant seeding, where grass seed is planted late in fall so it stays dormant until spring. Then as conditions warm in spring, the seed is already in place and ready to germinate.

The time to dormant seed grass would be the last week of November. The seed should be planted so there is good seed to soil contact. In the event we get early snow, do not plant the seed over the snow.

Dormant seeding is risky, so you may want to consider waiting until spring. Ideally, a snow cover is desired over a dormant seeded area to help assure the seed stays in place but winter weather conditions are unpredictable. Warmer than normal conditions without snow cover is one potential problem.

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