Excavators 101 for Landscape Contractors

Advice on where and how to use a compact excavator in landscape contracting, along with tips on how to buy a good one.

The KX040-4 excavator from Kubota.
The KX040-4 excavator from Kubota.

If you are a landscape contractor who installs trees, hardscaping or water features, you likely have a need for a compact excavator. But you might be surprised by some of the other tasks that lend themselves well to this type of machine. Keith Rohrbacker, a Kubota product manager, offers some insights—along with tips on what to look for when purchasing a compact excavator.

Common Uses

Excavating. Excavators are often used to clear land for projects such as building retaining walls or excavating to create decorative water features even in the most confined spaces.

Grading. The grading buckets and blades on an excavator can create any desired landscape effect in no time. For example, Rohrbacker says that improving drainage is a breeze with Kubota's 6-way blade KX121-3. The dozer blade tilts 10° for shaping swales and berms, and angles 25° in each direction for placing spoil and fill.

Planting and fencing. A compact excavator’s auger makes it easy to drill tree-planting holes, while its long reach can set trees in place on hillsides and other tricky terrain. Additionally, the compact excavator can easily reposition the auger to speed along fence post installations.

Thumb applications. The hydraulic thumb option works with the bucket or a grapple to grasp objects and move them. It’s very handy to handle brush debris and for tree-trunk loading. Hydraulic thumbs are great for loading trucks with unwanted rocks and concrete debris, and for placing rocks into fence builds.

Tight spaces. "Kubota's smallest compact excavator, the K008-3, is very popular among landscapers," Rohrbacker points out. "It features a retractable undercarriage that can retract to only 34 inches wide that allows one to traverse through doorways. One can easily enter the backyard without removing fence sections or gate posts. This model is often used for trenching applications between the house and fence, or for sprinkler installations. And at just 2,200 pounds operating weight, it is easily towed from one job to the next."

Unique uses. "One of the first thumb applications I got to see was a landscape contractor clearing a lot in Florida," Rohrbacker tells. "He was using one of our KX121 excavators to push down trees. I was amazed at how easily the excavator pushed the trees over, and then they cut off the root balls. The contractor would use the thumb and bucket to grasp the root balls and fling them across the lot to help remove the soil from the root balls. After the tree limbs were removed, the contractor used the thumb and bucket to grasp the logs and load them on the truck.

"In Missouri we visited a U45 customer landscaping a rather large yard," Rohrbacker goes on to tell. "The stone in the wall that he was building was so beautiful, and I asked where he got the stones from. It turns out the rather long wall around the perimeter of the property was built with stones he removed from the yard. No doubt this homeowner had a tough time growing things until he decided on landscaping his property!"

Things to look for when buying

Variable track width is an important feature for a landscape contractor. This will allow you to access really tight spaces, such as through a garden gate, while still having excellent stability when working.

Always be sure to demo a piece of equipment before buying it. Pay attention to the overall feel of the machine. User comfort and ease of operation are also important considerations. What features does a certain machine possess which will enhance operator experience and productivity?

Finally, talk to your dealer about things like serviceability and fuel efficiency. These are areas that can help you reduce your longer-term operating costs, which is the name of the game in landscape contracting.

Should I just rent?

Deciding on whether to buy or rent a piece of equipment really is dependent upon the specific contractor and their individual business needs, according to Rohrbacker. During more difficult economic times, having rental options allows customers to complete their project while conserving their cash flow and lines of credit. "However, as more people stay in their homes longer and choose to work on property improvement projects, the demand for a contractor to purchase a Kubota may be higher and over time the benefits are sure to pay off," Rohrbacker says.

"As an added benefit of ownership," Rohrbacker continues, "many of Kubota’s equipment offerings prioritize the economy while supporting the environment since we have upgraded our new equipment as well as several of our existing lines with Tier IV engines, improved fuel economy, and improved operator comfort."

Kubota dealers can tailor finance programs to meet the customer’s specified needs. Through Kubota Credit Corporation (KCC) or Kubota Leasing, competitive interest rates, flexible down payments and multiple payment terms are available. Kubota offers a variety of installment credit promotional rates and leasing options. Visit www.kubota.com/finance-home for more information.

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