Maintaining spring cleanup equipment helps ensure the busy season starts off on the right foot.
“Maintenance enhances the life of your product, and without it, you’ll face expensive repair bills that can lead to inefficiencies on the job,” says Noah Hunter, director of customer care, technical support and warranty at Husqvarna. “It’s simple. Landscape companies can’t work with broken equipment. Routine maintenance means small issues can be resolved before they become large and take equipment out of commission. Failure to perform routine preventive maintenance can lead to equipment operating with less power, more fuel consumption and less desirable results overall.”
While part 1 of this article described the best ways to prep your crews for spring cleanup season, in this article, manufacturers and landscape professionals detail how to make sure equipment is in tiptop shape and offer up a few mulching tips.
Before crews head out to do the cleanup work, it’s important to take an equipment inventory.
“When you're pulling the equipment out of storage, go through things,” says Jason Wilk, senior product manager at Echo. “It’s a really good time to make sure air filters are clean and in nice shape. Make sure you don't have cobwebs or anything. I’ve seen mufflers get packed with insects over the storage time range, and that will prevent the unit from starting or accelerating.”
Hunter agrees that maintenance of all products should start with a visual inspection by checking for things like clogged cylinder fins, broken components, cracks or leaks.
“Any products with cutting equipment require regular inspection of blades, bars, spur sprockets or chain,” Hunter says. “Pros will want to sharpen or replace any parts that are dull if needed. Additionally, routine maintenance should include checking the safety function of chain brakes.”
Hunter adds that landscape pros should inspect the muffler screen arrestor and make sure it’s not clogged, ensure that sparks don’t fly from the muffler and test their products for performance, making sure all the product switches and functions are working along with achieving proper idle RPM and max RPM.
Once equipment has been inspected, landscape professionals should clean it.
“An engine fails due to overheating, lack of lubrication or dirt ingestion,” says Jeff Taylor, manager, product services, Stihl. “Dirt ingestion is due to an improperly maintained air filter, and overheating is due to not cleaning the unit regularly. As you cut grass or are using a chainsaw, you’ve got sawdust or debris that gets packed around the cylinder of the engine, and that debris doesn’t allow the engine to cool properly.”
Taylor adds that providing crews who clean equipment with safety gear is just as, if not more, important.
“Anytime we're doing this type of work, we need to make sure we're dressed properly and using protective gloves and some eye protection, because we will use compressed air from time to time to help us clean the product,” Taylor says.
Perform preventive maintenance
Regular service maintenance items include adding fresh fuel, changing air filters, fuel filters and spark plugs and adding grease to bevel gear head or hedge trimmer gear cases, if applicable, Hunter says.
“There are some small maintenance items that can be done on a weekly basis," says Glenn Lovell, senior technical services technician at Oregon Tool. "Or, like when you're done in the evening, and maybe you've got a half-hour to give a glance over the air filters and check to make sure your chain is still sharp and not completely dull.”
He adds that landscape pros can use systems to keep track of that maintenance, whether that’s through pen and paper, a whiteboard or software.
“It can be really hard to set aside time to check all of those things, especially when you’re running as fast as you can to get the different jobs done,” Lovell adds.
For trimmers, Taylor adds landscape pros can also inspect and clean trimmer lines to save on downtime throughout the season.
Wilk suggests making sure there’s grease in the gear case, that drive cables are lubricated and that equipment is generally tuned up.
Make sure screens aren’t plugged up and that fuel lines are clean as well—landscape pros should make sure they aren’t brittle or gummy, as this can cause fuel line failure, Lovell says.
“When it comes to lack of lubrication, make sure the fuel mix is quality and that gasoline is mixed regularly and not stored for more than 60 days,” Taylor says. “On a two-cycle engine, lubrication is in the fuel mix, so it's important to get proper fuel flow.”
It’s important to not forget to inspect and lubricate the gear box located at the cutting attachment.
“That’s an item that’s often overlooked,” Taylor says. “Remove the grease plug, inspect it and add grease if necessary in the gear box.”
While battery-powered equipment requires less maintenance in general, it’s important to make sure it’s stored in a warm, dry place.
“If you’re looking to maximize the life of the battery, care and storage is most important,” Taylor says. “Keep them stored in an area that's dry and away from extreme temperatures. The 50- to 70-degree F range works well, but the main thing is don't store it below freezing or above 100 degrees F.”
Landscape pros can clean the batteries and battery compartment with a dry cloth as moisture can add to corrosion issues.
Additionally, some battery products have an air filter, so it’s important to clean those, first ensuring the battery is removed to avoid accidental startups. Then, landscapers should wash it, air dry it and reinstall it.
Properly equip crews
Wilk notes that a lot of spring cleanup success revolves around crews having the proper equipment on hand.
“You don't want to be using a huge backpack blower in flowerbeds and blow all the mulch out of the beds into the lawn, and on same token, when you're trying to do cleanups, the last thing you want to be doing is trying to tackle a whole leaf cleanup job with only handheld blower,” Wilk says. “So, it's all about having the right amount of equipment to get in there and get the job done and get out onto the next as fast as possible.”
Sidebar: Mulching tips
“Understand customers’ expectations and document their conversations to minimize the likelihood of having to return to correct any mistakes. Conversely, if the customer only needs a rough cut rather than a fine mulch, knowing this ahead of time by referring to one’s notes will allow the contractor to work quickly while still making the customer happy.” — Matt Nelson, director of development, Diamond Mowers
“Make sure you’re giving your crews the proper tools so they can do the work efficiently.” —Nick Carlson, founder of Mulch Mate
“Stay on top of preventive maintenance. Rainy days and the mulching off-season provide great opportunities to keep equipment in top shape, so landscape professionals can avoid inefficiencies by taking advantage of the downtime they have to ensure everything is in working order.” — Nelson
“Crew members should be cognizant of thrown debris. While our instincts tell us not to touch a mulcher when it is in use, thrown vegetation or rocks can catch people by surprise. Flag off areas that need to be mulched, as well as the manufacturer’s published clearance radius, to keep people safe from harm.” — Nelson
“Listen to your crews for inefficiencies. We used to put down 80 yards of mulch in a day but were dead. How could we fix that? That’s when Mulch Mate came along, and our guys were doing 200 yards a day, and they were happier because they were using less physical labor.” —Carlson
“Replace polycarbonate windshields and doors any time they are damaged. Inspect for cracks or deep scratches whenever the structural integrity of the machine is compromised and replace the component immediately.” — Nelson