Lawn Care over Summer’s Dog Days

Credit: Scotts Lawn CareAugust might be a sleepy month, but the attention you give your lawn in this last full month of the season could help it stay healthy through the winter. Your local Cooperative Extension offers tips more tailored to your particular region, but here’s some advice that should work for most of us.

Unfinished business

If you rushed through early-spring mower-prep chores, your mower might still be showing some hesitation. For either flaky operation or, worse, stalling while running, look back at what you didn’t do. Pull out the spark plug, check the gap, inspect it and at least give it a good wire-brushing (then rub some engine oil into the threads) before putting it back in. Replace the air filter if you hadn’t. But before you put on a new filter, spray a little carburetor cleaner into the intake port. That, plus the use of stabilized fuel—or even some ethanol-free gas—should restore some of your mower’s lust for life.

Sharpen that blade

Optimally, you began the season with a sharp blade, but it’s also good to finish the season with one. Grass cut cleanly can be healthier going into the fall and winter. For an easy-to-remember guide, you get about ten hours of good cutting before you need to sharpen the blade. Having a spare keeps you from losing time while getting a blade sharpened.

Cutting remarks

Grass this time of year needs plenty of water unless you’ve let it go dormant—easy to do if your region has had drought conditions. Besides watering in early morning and late evening, cut the grass a bit shorter than the usual three inches. But don’t scalp it; there’s still enough sun to burn the lawn. When you cut, as with the rest of the year, slice off no more than a third of the grass’s height.

Mulch vs. bag

Behind on pulling the weeds? Think twice about mulching this time of year. While leaving clippings on the lawn generally provides a good (and free) fertilizer, you don’t want to do the work of the weeds—and spread their accursed seed even more broadly. Consider bagging instead, and spread a broadleaf weed killer next month if you’re not averse to a little chemical warfare. The alternative? Learn to love weeds, which suits us fine once they’re plunked into a yard-waste bag.

A little lawn quilting

This magic period of less-direct sunlight, before the leaves start falling, is a good time to plant grass seed in bare areas—a patch here, a patch there. Clear away any thatch or other growth, and loosen up the soil. But you can’t have it both ways. Weed killer tends to keep new grass from sprouting. Check the label of whatever you’re thinking of putting down to see how long you should wait after reseeding before you use the product.

Better still, skip the chemicals. Fight the weeds where they are and yank them up, one by one. Leave one behind, on a skewer you’ve stuck into the ground, as an example to others. It might not make a difference, but you’ll feel in control for a change.

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Craftsman App Latest for Rider Care

Craftsman Smart Lawn app
Craftsman Smart Lawn

If so-called smart-home products for property upkeep really were useful, they and your smart phone would together handle the tasks at hand and leave you to do what you feel like doing. But then again, ordering you around instead is what makes them smart. Craftsman’s new Smart Lawn app for your lawn tractor or riding mower, like John Deere’s and Cub Cadet’s apps before it, won’t maintain your tractor for you. Its valuable role, however, is in taking the guesswork out of keeping your machine running.

Smart Lawn app runs on your iPhone or Android phone and connects via Bluetooth to 2016 Craftsman riding mowers, the 42-inch Craftsman Z6500 ($2,500), Model 20400, or the 50-inch Craftsman Z6700 ($3,000), Model 20410. The two have v-twin Kohler engines, hydrostatic transmissions and steering wheels instead of lap bars for easier, safer control.

Once you’ve set up your free account and entered your machine’s model and serial numbers, the app will advise when to charge your battery, sharpen the mower blades and change the oil and air filter based on hours mowed. Besides stats, the app offers how-to information and parts ordering. Should you need it, a connection to weather data will let the app suggest the best time to mow—which might help if you’re at liberty to vary your own schedule.

John Deere Mower Plus

John Deere MowerPlus app
John Deere MowerPlus

Just in time for spring, John Deere announced its free MowerPlus app, which takes a broader approach. As with Craftsman’s app, you can enter the model and serial number of the Deere equipment you own and get maintenance recommendations based on hours mowed. There’s also how-to advice, plus links to your local dealer. But the app isn’t limited to Deere products—you can use it with any brand and model gear.

The iOS version of MowerPlus (there’s also one for Android) gives you data on your current mowing session with average speed, area covered and other real-time statistics. You can pull up an aerial view of your mowing path to help you vary your mowing pattern. And a region-specific seasonal timeline gives you climate-relevant tips and reminders all year long, including tips on when to fertilize, seed and aerate the soil.

MTD Products’ Cub Connect

Cub Connect tractor app
Cub Connect

Cub Cadet was first with its app, Cub Connect, which pairs to specific Cub Cadet tractors and riders and also advises when to change oil and filters, sharpen blades and charge the battery. It offers step-by-step video instructions—with access to your operator’s manual—and lets you browse and order parts, schedule work with your local dealer and even call customer service. As with the other two, the iOS and Android version are free.

Having easy access to tutorials, your user manual and parts listings is very helpful with all three of these apps. Keep in mind, though, that tracking maintenance with a tractor or rider’s standard hour meter doesn’t require an app on your phone. The app works off this basic reading of hours mowed, and by cracking open your tractor or rider’s user manual, you can learn yourself how frequently to change oil, sharpen blades and carry out other tasks based on hours mowed.

Of course, if you’ve had that opportunity but have never managed to track these tasks, such apps were developed with you in mind. Their plentiful extra features add to that basic convenience.

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