Handheld, backpack and push blowers are more powerful than ever, enabling contractors to more quickly clear properties of even the most stubborn leaves and debris. Still, a well-designed mower-mounted debris-removal implement can prove to be a worthy investment, especially on larger properties where some serious cleanup is required.
The main reason is the potential labor savings. For instance, Ruthanne Stucky, marketing director for Grasshopper, says one operator running a Grasshopper zero-turn mower with a mounted Buffalo Turbine Blower can clear as much area as four operators with backpack blowers—in a quarter of the time. "It won't take many jobs like this to pay for the blower," Stucky says.
Similarly, using a vac collection system such as the Grasshopper PowerVac, in conjunction with the mowing deck, clears both leaves and grass clippings in one step. "This not only saves time, but also fuel," Stucky points out.
The proof, however, is in the performance. And a poorly designed vac system, blower or other debris-collection tool could be more trouble than it's worth, causing additional employee downtime and mower wear and tear.
Lean and mean, and made to clean
In regards to a vac collection system, which several commercial mower manufacturers now offer, it's a good idea to quiz your dealer on what makes his brand suited to the task of debris cleanup. Units that are prone to clogging, big and clumsy or a challenge to empty will not help you meet your objective of being more productive.
Tim Cromley, Walker Mfg.'s marketing manager, says the Walker GHS (grass-handling system) is an integral part of the Walker mower design. "Built from the inside out, there are no bulky tubes or blowers sticking out of the side," Cromley explains. "This makes for a compact design, which helps the landscaper maintain mobility and maximize productivity."
Stucky says a vac collection system that's powered by the mower's deck can be an important distinguishing feature. "This way, you avoid having an extra engine to service and fuel," she explains. "Select a system that easily converts between collection and discharge mowing to maintain flexibility in your mowing operation."
Debbie Crum of Trac Vac offers a counterpoint. "It's helpful when the deck and vacuum are independent," Crum says. "A vacuum system that's powered by the mower engine limits its use to full engine speed and full deck speed. Plus, driving the vacuum from the mower can reduce mower engine life, which is probably more costly to rebuild or replace than an auxiliary engine, such as the 6.5-hp Briggs Intek found on our Model 655 collection system."
Either way, ask your dealer how the vac collection system is designed to work with the mower deck to leave a clean, finished appearance on the lawn. "Our GHS decks are specifically built to handle grass and debris," Cromley points out. "It comes from literally hundreds of design adaptations that balance airflow and cutting quality. One unique feature is that the blades on a GHS deck counter-rotate toward the center, so the material discharges at the rear-center of the deck."
Won't choke when it's crunch time
You also want a vac system that will be hard to clog. Large-diameter intake hoses are helpful. Stucky says it's also important for a catching system to create powerful vacuum action, but not a lot of turbulence.
"Air volume and air speed are important factors," says Linda Beattie, commercial public relations for Commercial Grounds Care Inc. (CGC), maker of the Bunton and BOB-CAT brands of commercial mowers. "You have to look at them together to determine the level of performance. A catcher with high air speed and low volume may have a tendency to plug under many conditions. Also, look for a catcher that has the least amount of turns or bends in the hoses and blower housing."
"A good vac system will be effective in a wide variety of conditions, including high-moisture so you can finish picking up leaves after the early snow thaws, or go out early in the morning when there's dew on the ground," Stucky adds.