Round and round

Features - Maintenance

Zero-turn mowers can make mowing more efficient.

October 3, 2022

Landscapers are utilizing zero-turn mowers to mow large areas faster and more efficiently.
Photo courtesy of Bob Cat

It’s pretty simple economics — any machine that makes you money is a wise investment. That’s the philosophy on zero-turn mowers espoused by Brad Ricketts, president of Brad’s Lawn Care in Illinois.

“Our mowers are clearly different and thus allow us to differentiate ourselves from other local lawn service providers. Our zero-turn b agger machines are a premium and make probably the most money but require the most maintenance,” Ricketts says. “They offer a great cut while recycling the clippings; they cost less upfront and are perhaps better performers overall.”

Most models of zero-turn mowers have four wheels with some brands having a small, pivoting fifth wheel, usually mounted at the center of the machine, with the drive tires end up rotating independently during operation.

The zero-turn mowers are great for residential highly landscaped yards, Ricketts says. “We have approximately 200 residential clients — some of these are HOAs — so we are servicing around 300 lawns each week with the machines. They are extremely efficient. They are a premium machine and do cost a bit more. We usually replace them every two to three years before they go out of warranty.”

Ricketts says his zero-turn mowers need to be greased every two to three days at required intervals, “so they do require more maintenance.”

“But the operators (and myself) love how they perform so it is a bit of a trade-off,” Ricketts says.

Ricketts has one brand of mowers for commercial properties as he believes they are better suited to handle rougher conditions. “We don’t use them as much, so they are on a much longer trade cycle, probably five to eight years. We do have several attachments that make the machine very valuable to us throughout the year. We use them to mow most of the season and then switch out one machine and equip it with a powerful turbine leaf blower. We also have snow blades for both units for snow removal in the winter.”

Employees begin mowing on a stand-on and then graduate to a better mower if Ricketts believes they are responsible with the machines.

James Camillo, president of Landscape Pros Management in Florida, has seven zero-turn mowers in his fleet.

“I replace them every two to three years and they are maintained on a weekly basis,” Camillo says. His crews get training on the zero-turn mowers on a monthly basis.

“We have been keeping a close eye on the new autonomous machines what with the labor shortages we have been experiencing of late,” Camillo says. “The mowers seem almost seem idiot proof to me. We maintain large areas of commercial homeowner communities and commercial properties and cannot maintain millions of square feet of turf without larger 52-inch and 60-inch zero-turn mowers.”

Ricketts says he replaces his zero-turn mowers every two or three years.
Photo courtesy of Exmark

Conley Bryan, maintenance manager at South Carolina’s Grandscapes, says the company has seven zero-turn mowers in its fleet to mow larger properties more efficiently and with less manpower.

“The general upkeep and maintenance is worth the time and labor savings. We have replaced them every three to five years. Mowing properties with rough terrain can shorten the lifespan of the mower, whereas well-maintained residential yards cause very little wear and tear.”

Bryan said mower blades are sharpened or replaced as often as twice a week, filters are cleaned weekly and belts are inspected daily. Oil is changed every 50 hours.

“The overall comfort for the operator has improved dramatically. The seats are adjustable for the driver’s weight and front suspension quality is much better than in the past,” Bryan says. “Controls are very user friendly but becoming efficient and making perfect stripes can take many hours on the machine.”

He said new members to the staff are trained daily with close supervision by experienced crew leaders until they are “up to speed.” He added, “We also have different training topics weekly throughout the year, so mower operation comes up frequently.”

Pete Tolson, principal of Lawn Landscape Environments in Indiana, has three zero-turn mowers in his fleet. He says they are efficient and are replaced around every five years.

“We wash them every week in mud seasons (spring and fall), grease them weekly and change the blades weekly,” he says. “Oil changes and all other maintenance is done by manufacturer recommendations.” He says new team members need an onboarding process while seasoned team members almost never do. “The mowers help us complete large areas in a timely manner,” he says.

As for the newer models he is keeping an eye on, he is looking for “better seats, better serviceability, more plastic and the ability to add accessories such as OCDs (operator controlled discharge) easier.”

Tolson tells his crews to be especially careful when using the zero-turn mowers on areas that are wet, such as severe slopes. “They can cause turf damage so easily and an inexperienced operator can do turf damage quickly.

“A few drawbacks that I notice is they make a larger impact on the turf the wetter the conditions are than a walk-behind mower,” he adds. “Another is that operators can get comfortable operating on hillsides that they have mowed over many times in the past with no problem, (i.e. loss of traction) but a change in conditions can change mower handling very quickly. Once traction is lost, it happens very fast.”

The author is a freelance writer based in Connecticut.