PRODUCT REVIEW: John Deere Mulch On Demand Mower Deck

The John Deere Mulch On Demand deck can be found on several of its commercial mowers, including the ZTrak PRO 900 Series. This deck design allows operators to switch back and forth between mulching and side-discharge right from the operator's seat. A simple pull of the lever closes the discharge chute and smooth-moving baffles that create three distinct cutting chambers around each of the three blades.

Deere points to the benefits of mulching as a big selling point of Mulch On Demand:

  • Improve safety and prevent damage to cars, windows and other property because stones and debris can't fly out the side of the mower
  • Time savings from reduced need to rake, bag and blow clippings off of sidewalks and driveways
  • Better horticultural practices by mulching clippings into the lawn to take advantage of the fertilization properties.

But that's just talking about mulching in general. What about this concept of Mulch On Demand? We asked landscape contractor Bruce Birdsong of Precision Landscape Management in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Over the past four years, he's been replenishing his 40-mower fleet with John Deere zero-turns featuring Mulch On Demand.

"Mulch On Demand is exactly why we started looking at John Deere mowers in the first place," says Birdsong. "We'd been preaching to our clients how we were a more environmentally friendly company. We also participate in a program in Texas called 'Don't Bag It!' where you leave your clippings on the lawn instead of bagging them and throwing them in a landfill. So this Mulch On Demand deck really got our attention because it seemed to fit very well with what we were trying to do as a landscape maintenance company."

Need to mulch, but not always. "The Mulch On Demand is a true recycling deck," Birdsong adds. It's also advantageous that you can quickly convert back to side-discharge if needed. "If an area was a little too thick to totally recycle (mulch), we could discharge there if we had to, and then switch back to mulching."

The only other way to do that, Birdsong relates, would be to screw baffles into the underside of the deck from property to property. "That simply would not work from a time and productivity standpoint," Birdsong points out.

Birdsong first arranged to demo a few Deere mowers equipped with Mulch On Demand. Then he added a few to his fleet, and then a few more. Now his entire fleet consists of John Deere Mulch On Demand mowers.

Cut quality. "This is the first thing we thought about when looking at the Mulch On Demand deck," Birdsong says. "If it didn't cut well and perform the way we needed it to, we would've never bought one in the first place. But it does an extremely good job at both ends. If you're in wet grass and cannot mulch, this deck will do a good job of dispersing those clippings on out."

Performance issues. Thus far, Birdsong says he hasn't had any real service or performance issues. "Each of our crew leaders just needs to know how this deck functions. Grass can build up a bit on the back side. If the baffles don't move right, just stop for a second and make sure you clean under the deck a little bit." This hasn't been a real issue, Birdsong points out. As Deere has improved the deck's design, clipping buildup has become less of a problem.

Cost. There is a "premium" you pay when purchasing a Deere mower with the Mulch On Demand deck. But that's to be expected, Birdsong says, and wasn't an issue for him. "We've definitely made that money back through productivity gains alone," he relates.

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