This year is expected to be one of growth for lawn and landscaping businesses. Homeowners have been more focused on their outdoor spaces since the start of the COVID-19 lockdowns began, paving the way for increased jobs for lawn and landscaping companies. The $115.6 billion industry is set to grow by at least 0.9% in 2022, according to at IBIS World, after an already busy 2021. Jobber’s most recent financial news, for example, shows revenue growth for lawn and landscaping contractors increased 14% in 2021 and work is expected to continue its upward trend in 2022.
More work is great if there are enough employees to do it all. The lawn and landscaping workforce shortage has only increased in recent years, as demand for its services has also risen. This has led business owners to rethink the jobs they take on and the work they complete. Many lawn and landscapers are becoming more selective in the work they accept, taking on fewer, but larger and more profitable jobs — and adding more efficient equipment in the process.
As lawn and landscaping businesses grow with the increase in work available, many contractors may need better equipment and may be wondering what machines to upgrade to. Many are looking for more efficient and powerful mowers that can help them complete large jobs faster with fewer workers.
Green Industry Pros asked several manufacturers what mid-size and heavy-duty mowers they would recommend to small businesses looking to improve their fleet.
“In today’s workforce and overall environment, machine and operational efficiency are more important than ever,” says Ron Scheffler, senior product manager for Doosan Bobcat North America. “Owners and operators are still up against limited hours in the day and limited seasons, but they are challenged now on having to do more with less.”
“Productivity remains a key factor for contractors today as they face staffing issues and increased demands on their limited time,” he says. “So, any contractor looking to upgrade their equipment, be it a zero turn, a tractor, stand-on or walk-behind, should keep productivity in mind. And productivity is a factor of a few elements coming together: What kind of maintenance downtime can I expect from a given machine? Size of cutting deck and groundspeed certainly contribute to productivity but they go and-in-hand with operator comfort.”
Ferris’ suspension system, for example, is designed to improve operator comfort and allow for faster and longer mows. Many Ferris mowers use the Vanguard Oil Guard system, Dwight says.
“Features like the Vanguard Oil Guard found on several of our units means that a mower can go 500 hours between oil changes, resulting in less downtime for routine maintenance,” he says. “Even the configuration of the fuel tanks on some of our equipment results in fewer stops for refueling throughout the day.”
Sean Dwyer, global product manager at Husqvarna suggests there are five factors to consider when thinking about upgrading to a higher production mower.
“There are five things we feel will improve productivity to help grow the business,” he says.
Those factors are:
1. Better performing and wider cutting deck: Productivity is all about achieving a clean cut and even clipping dispersal on the first pass. If you need to double cut to make things look good, your productivity is lost, he says.
2. Premium commercial engines: High-quality commercial engines with higher horsepower will increase productivity and typically have features like high-capacity air filters to increase engine life and reduce maintenance costs.
3. Efficient drive system: Although ground speed while cutting will always be at the mercy of the grass conditions, moving between jobs faster will increase productivity.
4. Increased fuel capacity: Having a mower with a larger fuel tank means less fuel stops and more time cutting.
5. Operator comfort: The easier it is for the operator to maneuver equipment comfortably, the more productive they can be, Dwyer says.
Another way to increase productivity is to reduce the need for refueling, says Nick Minas, product manager at John Deere Commercial Mowing. Electronic fuel injection (EFI) engines are becoming increasingly common in commercial mowers, which is the case for Deere’s Z955R EFI ZTrak Zero-Turn Mower, launched in 2019.
“We have seen continued growth of machines equipped with EFI engines in this space,” says Minas. “Uptime and fuel-efficiency continue to be top concerns of professional landscape contractors, driving manufacturers to develop more solutions for equipment, such as EFI engines.”
The 29-HP EFI engine on the John Deere Z955R EFI model reduces fuel use and boosts fuel savings, he says.
“The Z955R EFI also supports the growing demand for higher horsepower EFI machines, along with the comfort features found in our R-spec models,” Minas says.
EFI engines are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mower technology, he says.
“The commercial mowing industry is very dynamic, and there are several trends that we expect will continue over the next few years,” Minas says. “New technology entering the market is appealing to customers, as it provides new solutions to common problems, such as operator comfort and machine uptime. As we debut new products and develop new offerings, business owners and landscaping professionals should strive to identify new ways to increase productivity and decrease downtime.”
Another example of an EFI mower is Ferris’ ISX 3300. Dwight says it’s the most productive gas powered zero-turn in the company’s line-up. The 3300 includes ForeFront Suspension for a smoother ride and provides more precise tracing of the terrain, leading to an improved cut.
“Its 11 gallons of fuel capacity and groundspeeds of up to 12 mph ensure that the ISX 3300 is all about getting work done,” he says. “Plus, select models feature powerful EFI-ETC technology for easy starting and smooth, consistent productivity.”
Doosan Bobcat’s mowers have several features for contractors to consider when they need more productivity from their machines, Scheffler says. For one, the Doosan Bobcat AirFX deck has a vacuum lift that allows grass to stand up before it reaches the blades.
“The newly engineered, bolt-on, replaceable Air-Gap baffles provide more efficient airflow, which generates a cleaner deck at the end of the day,” he says. “This allows the landscaper to spend more time mowing and less time cleaning up.”
Doosan Bobcat also offers light kits and a two-speed lever for its ZT7000 series.
“The ZT7000’s Hydro-Gear ZT-5400 hydrostatic transaxle drive system delivers maximum output and torque, featuring a two-speed operation that delivers transport speeds up to 19 mph,” Scheffler says. “This feature is exceptional and allows owners to go from job to job quickly without having to move their truck or trailer. That time savings can add up to significant productivity.”
Reducing Maintenance Downtime
Maintenance issues are no joke and have a real impact on a contractor’s bottom line. Frequent maintenance problems can affect the number of jobs a contractor can take on and stall a business’ growth. It’s best if machine parts are easily accessible for repairs when needed, and the time between servicing mowers can be extended.
Deere has an extensive dealer network to help service machines when repairs are needed.
“John Deere NEVERSTOP Service and Support provides landscape contractors with the solutions needed to keep their fleets up and running, allowing them to focus on the important things, like growing their businesses,” Minas says. “When it comes to parts, we know you want choices, so John Deere has a complete portfolio of OEM and aftermarket part options.”
Contractors should prioritize serviceability in the mowers they are considering, says Steven Benedict, turf care product manager at KIOTI Tractor.
Operator Comfort Leads to More Profits
Each manufacturer stressed the importance of operator comfort in relation to job productivity. Not only do ergonomic features reduce operator fatigue, they help retain workers.
“Operator comfort is something winning contractors are starting to think about more and more as they try to get as many productive hours as they can on a machine in a day,” Ferris’ Dwight says. “Operator comfort matters whether it is an owner operator contractor or if the contractor is trying to be an employer of choice for the mower operator.”
For New Owners and Beginners
Lawn and landscaping looking to upgrade to better-quality equipment that may come at a higher price point, there are many options. Many contractors start their businesses with used or new mowers in the $5,000 range. As they pick up more jobs and need to add or improve equipment, there are several models available in the $7,000-$10,000 range that can make a difference in quality, productivity and fuel savings.
Doosan Bobcat’s Scheffler recommends the ZT3500 model for contractors new to the industry, who are looking for solid but affordable equipment with which to start.
“It’s built with steel fabricated spindles, easy serviceability and a powerful Kawasaki FX-series engine,” he says. “This is a smaller, compact, sit-down commercial product, where owners can get into tight areas with more maneuverability. This model lets an owner get more items on their trailer at a lower price point. Overall, this is a great and efficient machine for a landscaper owner/operator.”
KIOTI’s ZXC zero-turn-radius mowers line includes nine riding models built for a variety of commercial mowing needs. Models feature traveling speeds of 9-10 mph and include Briggs & Stratton, Kohler or Kawasaki engines, combined with Hydro-Gear transmissions. Owners can choose from 48-, 54- or 60-inch mower decks, each with a fabricated, reinforced 10-gauge steel deck and standard notch blades. The 12.5-gallon fuel capacity requires less frequent refueling.
“The seat and deck lift lever positioning ensures the mowers comfortably accommodate users of all builds, and optimized control connections and linkages create a precise and responsive driving experience,” Benedict says.
Dwight says the Ferris FW25 comes with several important features, namely its PTO switch. The switch allows the operator to stop the blades without cutting the engine. The FW25 has a 10-gauge steel deck that comes in 36- or 48-inch widths.
“(The PTO switch) is an ideal time-saving and convenience feature for when you need to walk away from the mower to move an obstacle or piece of debris,” he says.
Toro Mid-Size ProLine mowers have easy-to-use controls, making them a quick study for new employees. Prolines come with Kawasaki FS engine drives, a bull nose bumper, 18-inch rear wheels and deck sizes go up to 60 inches. Cut height can be adjusted quickly and easily.
"The ProLine is a great option for contractors looking to up their game with a reliable and powerful machine that landscape crews love to operate and will deliver a high-quality cut for years to come," says Jared Nuessen, marketing manager at Toro.
Toro recently launched its new Revolution series, which takes two of Toro’s mower platforms — the GrandStand and the Z Master — and added lithium-ion battery power technology.
"We like to say that the new Toro Z Master Revolution zero-turn mower is big, bad and battery-powered," Nuessen says.
Built on Toro’s commercial-grade Z Master 4000 Series frame and Turbo Force deck, the new Toro Z Master Revolution includes the company's patented MyRIDE suspension system.
Meanwhile, Honda has a commercial line of walk-behind mowers at affordable prices. The Honda HRC216K3HDA, for example, features a 21-inch steel deck with front axle and bumper protection. The walk-behinds include hydrostatic easy-start Honda engines, self propelling transmissions, ergonomic heavy-duty steel piped reinforced handles and mulching and bagging options.
Upgrading Your Fleet
Lawn and landscaping contractors who have been in business for a while and want to upgrade to higher-quality construction, larger fuel capacity, more powerful engines and better rider comfort also have plenty of options in the $10,000 and greater range.
The John Deere M and R Series Commercial Walk Behind Mowers feature completely redesigned controls and improved weight distribution, improving operator comfort and requiring less effort to raise the front end of the mower. In addition, the R Series offers 8.5 inches of ground clearance, reducing interference with curbs and the risk of property damage.
Agile across various terrains, KIOTI’s new ZXS Series of stand-on zero-turn-radius mowers offers efficiency and comfort for all the jobs on your list. Launching in 2022, the series includes two models, the ZXS48 and ZXS54, to choose from. Each model features a 24-horsepower Kawasaki engine with Hydro-Gear transaxles. Choose from 48- or 54-inch mower decks with a fabricated, reinforced steel deck, standard notch blades and a seven-gallon fuel tank that requires less frequent refueling. Removal of the operator pad reveals extra space and access to all serviceable components such as transaxles, drive belt, battery and fuses for painless maintenance and upkeep.
Meanwhile, Scheffler says the Doosan Bobcat ZT6100 with its extra features, like a rotating bumper and larger drive wheels for a wider footprint make for an effective mower upgrade.
“This model also comes with the option for a
l hitch receiver, so as an owner who is growing their business, they would have the option to utilize a tow-behind aerator or other applicable attachments,” he says. “For a top-of-the-line experience, our 7000 model has an all-new FX1000V Kawasaki EFI engine, which is super-efficient and uses 25% less gas than standard carburetor-type engines. And with a 15-gallon fuel capacity, an operator will only have to stop once to get gas during the day.”
In Doosan Bobcat’s walk-behind category, Scheffler recommends the company’s new line, WB700, which it soft launched at GIE last year. The three machines in the lineup have 36-inch, 48-inch and 52-inch decks to choose from.
“These will be pure commercial mowers and the warranty will match that of our current commercial product lineup,” he says. “This includes all hydraulic components and our durable, tough deck cutting system with a true floating deck and steel-fabricated spindles. Ergonomics focused on operator comfort, easy to use and easy to control, these units will be great for trimming and task work and are excellent complements to our ZT lineup.”
Cub Cadet’s PRO Z 900 with EFI engine in either its 60-inch or 72-inch deck size offer the most productivity and comfort, the company says. A 72-inch deck will maximize efficiency, but it’s also too large for some properties, which is why a 60-inch option is available. These units are fitted with Cub Cadet’s largest engines, decks and comfort features to reduce operator fatigue, like an air-ride seat that adjusts to the operator’s personal preference. This line of mowers comes in both lap bar and steering wheel options, the latter gives the operator greater control on slopes and hills of up to 20-degrees.
Contractors looking to upgrade should consider Grasshopper Horizontal engines and pump-and-wheel-motor drives. Grasshopper model 329B can mow more than 6.5 acres per hour and is a good fit for contractors looking for high-end, high-capacity performance at a practical price point, the company says. Model 329B includes a 29 horsepower Vanguard Big Block horizontal crankshaft engine and 16cc pump-and-wheel-motor hydrostatic transmission system. DuraMax cutting decks are available in 52-inch or 61-inch widths and constructed with formed and welded U.S.-grade seven-gauge steel, double-layered with 10-gauge steel across the spindle plane. DuraMax decks feature 8-inch spindles, 5.5-inch cutting chambers and ¼-inch MARBAIN blades. The operator station and multi-point integrated suspension system provides improved comfort, although contractors can upgrade to Grasshopper’s to a higher-grade suspension seat, as well as DuraFlex suspension forks for the front caster tires.
Husqvarna says the 500L series is an exceptional value in the “premium” commercial class and like the Z400XS series, is available with a 54-inch or 60-inch deck. Along with a higher strength chassis and heavier duty construction throughout, it also features rugged Hydro-Gear ZT5400 transmissions with ground speed up to 12 mph.
Toro's upgrade mower of choice is its Z-Master 4000 HDX Pro. The mower includes a 31 horsepower Kawasaki FX921V engine, heavy-duty commercial grade hydros, semi-pneumatic caster tires, 24-inch Turf Tires and a 52-inch, seven-gauge, high-strength steel Turbo Force cutting deck. Other features include an hour meter, USB ports, phone holder, and a cup holder.
Stand-on mowers offer a compact size with tight turning radius, which can be helpful when mowing lots of smaller lawns. Many of these models provide a wider cut than walk-behind mowers and can handle hills and ditches. No other mower can beat the speed and versatility of the stand-on.
The DEWALT X554 was built with commercial specifications, such as the 26 horsepower Kawasaki FT EFI engine, a 12cc Hydro-Gear pump and Parker Wheel motor transmission, a 2-inch-x-3-inch tubular frame, a single lever deck height adjustment system and a two-year, no hour limited warranty.
“The stand-on functionality, along with the control panel and adjustable hip pad, allows the operator to easily hop on or off to remove mowing obstructions,” Krakowiak says.
Deere’s stand-on mower line includes its E, M and R Series QuikTraks.
“The 600 Series mowers deliver industry-exclusive stand-on technology, combined with quality, durability and support that operators expect from a John Deere mower,” Minas says. “Some key features included best-in-class stability, even on hills and mounds, a compact design that offers better sightlines and maneuverability in tight spaces and excellent operator position, including an adjustable spring step and angled pad.”
The Ferris Soft Ride Stand-On SRS Z2 features an adjustable operator platform with suspension technology designed to improve operator comfort and increase productivity without sacrificing cut quality.
“The Z2’s balance provides stability and maneuverability that exceeds expectations for traction and handling,” Dwight says.
The Cub Cadet PRO X 600 line is available in 36-inch through 60-inch deck sizes and delivers a quality cut with stripes, but it’s the PRO X 654 that hits the sweet spot between productivity and cut quality, the company says. With a 54-inch deck, contractors get the maneuverability of a machine with a smaller deck without giving up the efficiency advantages of a large deck. It was designed with operator comfort in mind, with adjustable hip pads and a fully adjustable suspension platform to travel comfortably over tough terrain.
The Toro GrandStand MULTI FORCE stand-on mower is built to deliver a high-quality cut no matter the terrain, while also offering several attachments to support snow removal, leaf cleanup and pre- and post-season turf maintenance. Attachments allow the machine to work as everything from a snow plow, thrower and power broom, to a power bagger, blower and leaf plow attachment, and even a dethatcher and aerator.
The perennial favorite the zero-turn is a favorite of many lawn and landscaping contractors. There are many on the market these days, making it difficult to choose between all the options. The newest zero turns offer quality construction, more power and more fuel capacity. Here are some mid-size zero-turn models recommended by manufacturers.
Husqvarna says when looking at a mid-size zero turn mower, the Z400XS series covers the bases well and is offered with a 54-inch or 60-inch deck size. The cutting deck is 6 inches deep, with an oversized discharge opening to give a quality result, quickly. The XS series zero turns are powered by FX Kawasaki engines, while the Parker HTE12 transmissions provide responsive operation that can return a fuel savings of up to 10% compared to competitive models, the company says. In addition, dual fuel tanks provide 12-gallon capacity for all-day cutting. For operator comfort, features like the suspension seat with vibration reduction, automatic park brake system and quick-adjust cutting decks come standard on the Z400XS series.
Meanwhile, the Ferris ISX 2200 zero-turn mower has the company’s ForeFront Suspension technology for operator comfort and a two-belt iCD cutting system for cut quality. Its heavy-duty Hydro-Gear ZT-4400 Transaxle drive system provides more power. Some ISX 2200 models come equipped with a Vanguard 28 horsepower engine with EFI and Oil Guard for reliable performance.
The DEWALT Z260 zero-turn lawn mower has a 24 horsepower Kawasaki FS engine and features a commercial-grade Hydro-Gear dual ZT 3400 transmission, a 60-inch fabricated deck, a heavy-duty 1.5-inch-x-3-inch tubular steel frame, a high back seat and ultrawide foot pan.
Fuel-type plays a large role in the purchasing decision when upgrading a fleet of mowers, driven by customers either looking for ways to decrease fuel costs or exploring alternative fuels such as diesel. To meet this trend, Deere has focused on expanding its equipment lineup to offer more solutions for customers, such as the Z955R EFI and Z994R diesel zero-turn models. These zero-turns offer professional landscape contractors more power, productivity and fuel solutions.
Deere recently debuted the new Fastback PRO Rear-Discharge Mower Deck for its line of gas and diesel Z900 ZTrak Mowers. Available in 60- or 72-inch cutting widths, the rear-discharge mower deck increases productivity and improves operator comfort while still giving a good cut. Designed for a variety of applications, the addition of the new deck offers a solution for professional landscape customers who want the rear-discharge placement of grass or debris. As a result of the design, the chance of damage from objects being thrown from the mower deck is decreased, Deere says.
While at a higher price-point than most of its commercial mowing line-up, Deere’s ZTrak zero-turn mowers aim to provide landscape contractors power, productivity and fuel solutions. Specifically, the Z955R EFI and Z994R models feature two ComfortGlide suspension seat options, the Comfort and Convenience package, and the Brake-N-Go machine starting system. Additionally, a large, open operator station and foot platform provides extra legroom, allowing for multiple foot positions for increased operator comfort, the company says.
The Cub Cadet The Cub Cadet PRO Z 500 Series, 54-inch and 60-inch deck sizes carry a fully commercial rating, providing a higher engine grade and a heavier frame, deck and transmission. A machine of this size will have a higher cut quality compared to a lower cost machine, the company says. Both models come with lap bar and steering wheel options; the latter gives the operator greater control on slopes and hills of up to 20-degrees.
Grasshopper recommends model 226V-G4 for contractors looking to upgrade from an entry-level zero-turn mower. Powering the model 226V-G4 is a Vanguard 26 horsepower vertical crankshaft engine and a HydroGear ZT-4400 transaxle hydrostatic transmission system. The company says these offer more power, greater longevity and smoother operation than entry mowers.
Cutting decks are available in 52-inch or 61-inch widths and feature formed and welded U.S.-grade steel, double-layered across the spindle plane more than 1/4 inch thick with seven-gauge sides. Grasshopper mower decks include greaseless spindles enclosed in 8-inch spindle housings anchored by six bolts, 5.5-inch deep cutting chambers, ¼-inch thick MARBAIN blades and a reinforced angled leading edge and are designed to deliver high-quality cuts and durability to withstand tough conditions.
Comfort is built in to the design with an operator station that puts operational controls and adjustments within reach and a multi-point integrated suspension platform to reduce vibration and fatigue. Capable of mowing up to five acres per hour, model 226V-G4 is designed to propel contractors to the next level as they look to grow their businesses, the company says.
Semi-autonomous Robotic Mowers
Cub Cadet has launched a mower that is half robot, half mower. The company’s SurePath technology has been introduced to the market with the PRO Z 960 S and PRO Z 972 S, the industry’s first GPS operated semi-autonomous mowers.
The mower is designed to give landscapers more efficiency by minimizing overlap and operator fatigue, while making tight turns with the push of the button. The technology allows landscapers to reduce downtime, training/onboarding, maximize precision and increase speed while maintaining a high-quality cut with perfect stripes, the company says.