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Mulching mowers are coming back.

WHEN MULCHING mowers were introduced 10 years ago, the market for them was soft. But now that landfills and garbage collection services have started refusing lawn clippings, mulching mowers are coming back with a vengeance.

That's good news. This second generation of mulching mowers is better than the first, and all the benefits remain: mowing is faster (no bag to empty), clippings contribute to the lawn's fertility, and yard waste is kept to a minimum.

WHAT MULCHING MOWERS DO, AND HOW THEY DO IT

Mulching mowers are made to chop grass into fine pieces that drop down into the mowed turf that remains. The result is a clean-looking lawn with no visible clippings. The clippings that drop into the turf dry out and quickly decompose.

Here's how mulching mowers do what they do. Instead of simply blowing clippings into a bag or out a side shoot, airflow keeps cut grass suspended under the mulching mower's higher-than-normal deck. As grass flies around under the deck, the mower's blade recuts the clippings as many as a dozen times, before they finally drop into the turf below.

Since deck and blade both determine a mower's airflow pattern, a generic replacement blade can reduce a mulching mower's efficiency. Stick with the original.

In the same way, you can't turn a conventional mower into a mulcher by simply replacing a standard blade with a mulching-style blade.

HOW MUCH POWER?

When the first generation of mulching mowers came out many were available with 3.5-or 4-horsepower engines. Users found them to be generally underpowered. Since mulchers cut each grass blade more than once, they need larger-than-normal engines.

When you shop, consider 4 horsepower to be the bare minimum for a push-style mulching mower, 5 horsepower the minimum for a self-propelled mower. You won't know how important this is until you find your new mulching mower bogging down or stalling in damp grass, where a conventional mower would keep cutting.

In addition, look for overhead valve engines. They deliver more usable horsepower, and use a pump system for oil instead of the more common splash-lubrication system (the latter can be ineffective when the engine isn't level--as when you're mowing a slope).

PURE MULCHERS VS. COMBINATION MOWERS

While you can buy single-purpose mulching mowers, most mulching mowers can be set up to bag grass as well. At first this seems counter-productive, since the whole point of mulching mowers is to leave grass where it falls. But there are several good reasons to have the bagging option.

* When grass is especially wet or long (when you'd be removing more than a third of the grass's length in a cut), it's easier for the mower to bag grass than to mulch it.

* When you need grass clippings for mulch or to make compost, you'll need a rear bagger.

* If you use your mower to vacuum up fallen leaves in autumn, you'll need a bag. Some mowers are billed as good leaf mulchers, but their success depends on the quantity of leaves on the lawn and how leathery the leaves are.

HOW GRASS CLIPPINGS AFFECT YOUR LAWN

At about 85 percent water, cut grass blades dry up quickly. Cut into small pieces by a mulching mower (less than half the blade length of grass that's bagged), they decompose quickly. And at 4 percent nitrogen, decomposing grass fertilizes your remaining turf as it breaks down. In fact, if you cut your lawn with a mulching mower, you can reduce the amount of fertilizer you give your lawn by as much as half.

For years people worried that grass clippings would cause thatch buildup. Because grass blades contain so little lignin (the slowest part of grass to decompose), mulching doesn't contribute to thatch at all.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:lawn mowers
Author:McCausland, Jim
Publication:Sunset
Date:Jun 1, 1992
Words:622
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