Home Grown

Tips and resources for farmers and gardeners

Spring Lawn Mower Maintenance

Longer days. Birdsong. Growing Grass. These
are all indicators that it's time to pull out the lawn mower and get it ready for another season.

It has been sitting in the back of the garage or shed all winter - maybe even under a pile of rags — collecting dust and moisture. There is probably some rust on the metal parts and caked debris underneath.

Of course, all we think we need to do is just top it off with gas and crank it up. We're ready to attack the jungle of grass blades.

Unfortunately, most lawn mowers are not given the adequate attention they need in spring. Little thought is given to the actual mower itself. Most people have probably not thought about the mower since they bought it.

Mowers are investments, with prices ranging from a couple hundred dollars to several thousand. They demand as much attention as you would give an automobile to keep them running properly.

Good spring lawn mower maintenance begins with fresh gas in the tank. The tank should have been emptied for winter storage. If not, drain the gasoline now and discard. Gasoline can separate and become gummy during the winter. Replace with fresh gasoline.

Next, disconnect the spark plug and examine the contacts. They should be smooth and shiny. Rusty connections can prevent starting or resulting in misfiring. Take some emery cloth or 400 grit sandpaper and lightly go over the spark plug to remove some rust. Take care not to rub too hard; it is easy to damage the contacts. If rust is severe, replace the spark plug. They are relatively cheap in the grand scheme of things and will help make the mower purr.

While the spark plug is disconnected, you'll want to turn the mower carriage over and examine the blade. Before you do this, though, make sure the gas cap is on securely.

When inspecting the mower blades, carefully run your hand over the blade. The cutting edge should be sharp enough to cut a piece of paper cleanly. If not, you should sharpen the blades.

Clean the under carriage thoroughly. If rust is starting to develop, remove it with a stiff steel brush and steel wool. Repaint the underside with a rust-resistant paint, and allow it to dry thoroughly.

Check the engine oil to make certain it is at proper levels. This should be done at least twice as year.

Check mowing height. An ideal mowing height is 2 -3 inches for most grasses. Refer to the owner's manual if wheels have notches for raising or lowering.

Tighten all nuts and bolts that might have loosened over the winter. Check handle attachments carefully. Give the machine a thorough cleaning, removing accumulated grit, grime, leaves and grass clippings. Examine collection bags. Repair or replace damaged ones. It does not hurt to hose them down with some soapy water.

Finally, reconnect the spark plug and get mowing!

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David Robson, University of Illinois Extension, horticulture educator, Springfield Center, (217)782-6515.
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