Get lawn, mower maintenance done now, before cold temps arrive

We are quietly slipping into mid-autumn. Lately, we have been enjoying temperatures in the low to mid-70s with some cool frosty mornings.

Is this what we consider a second summer? It depends on who you talk to. Some say it only can occur after a killing frost, while others say it occurs only in November after most of the leaves have fallen.

Either way, now is a great time to winterize your lawn mowers.

Most homeowners use a rotary-type lawn mower that requires periodic maintenance to keep it working efficiently and safely. Use the operating and service instruction manual provided with the mower to consistently perform the suggested maintenance. If the service manual cannot be located, basic engine maintenance is essential.

Most mowers require an oil and filter change (if equipped) after every 50 hours of use. Check the lawnmower model number and research the correct oil and oil filter recommendations suggested by the manufacturer.

Before working on the mower, be sure the blade and all moving parts have stopped. Also, detach the spark plug wire preventing the engine from starting accidentally.

When accessing the underside of the mower for inspection or cleaning, always turn it so that the air-filter side of the mower is up; otherwise, oil will drain out into the air filter and cause all sorts of issues. Keep spark plugs and air filters clean; replace if needed. Clean the underside of the mower. The metal deck can rust out if old grass residue builds up. To reduce fire hazard, keep the engine area free of grass, leaves, and excessive grease.

An often-overlooked maintenance item is keeping the mower blades sharp. Shredded or brown tips of grass blades are an indication of a dull or damaged mower blade. It is advisable to have an extra mower blade on hand so that a replacement is available when poor cutting is detected.

Frequently tighten the blade and engine mounting bolts as well as any other nuts, bolts, and screws. Check mower wheels, bearings, and axles for wear and lubrication. Replace loose, wobbly wheels. Be sure to keep the drive mechanism on self-propelled mowers in good working order. Check belts and gears for wear and fit.

Before final storage, drain the gas tank in gasoline-powered engines or add a gasoline stabilizer to the fuel and run it through the engine. Old fuel can become thick and gummy, causing all sorts of issues the fallowing spring. Finally, remove the battery cables from the battery terminals (if equipped) and clean with a wire-bristle brush to help prevent corrosion. After removing the battery, be sure to store it in a protected location for the winter.

Preparing landscaped beds for winter is another fall maintenance item. Cultural practices completed prior to the beginning of winter will ensure a healthier landscape for next spring.

In the world of horticulture cultural practices generally means employing different methods normally without the use of pesticides to reduce pest damage and their numbers while maintaining a healthy garden. Pests may include insects, diseases and anything else that is not wanted and can cause damage.

Many diseases and pest problems encountered this season may survive until next season if left on the ground or in plant debris.

Remove all annual flowers and annual vegetable plants including the roots from garden beds to prevent overwintering insect and diseases. Diseased plants should not be composted unless the compost pile reaches temperatures that kill the pathogen; bag this material and place in the trash if allowable in the area you reside.

Dead stems and foliage should be pruned on most perennials and wildflowers. Of course, this task is garden specific as some people prefer to leave certain herbaceous ornamentals such as tall grasses uncut to enjoy their winter interest. Moreover, seed heads of achillea (yarrow), echinacea, rudbeckia and other perennials are also important food sources for many of our overwintering bird species.

Fall is also a great time to divide perennials and plant new perennials. Applying 2” of organic mulch to these newly planted perennials will help retain the soil temperature to encourage root growth and prevent heaving of plants over winter’s freeze and thaw cycles. Tender bulbs and tubers such as tuberous begonias, cannas and dahlias should be dug up and stored after the first frost.

Be sure to take advantage of other great sources of organic material abundant this time of the year. Rather than disposing of fallen tree leaves just run the lawn mower back and forth mulching the leaves into the lawn. Another option is putting the shredded leaves directly into your garden or compost bin.

Maintaining lawn mowers and putting gardens to bed this fall is just as important as any other gardening chore you perform throughout the season.