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Proper lawnmower care for winter

Thursday, December 16, 2010

For lawnmowers to last, putting them away for winter has to include more than parking them in a garage or shed. Take some time to properly maintain your lawnmower before we get any farther into the winter season. Ward Upham, horticulturist for Kansas State University Research and Extension, has offered some advice.

For starters, any gasoline left in the mower is likely to deteriorate -- become thick and gummy -- by next spring.

"That's why servicing your mower before storing it has to include draining the gas tank or running the motor until it's out of gas. Or, you can treat the gas with a stabilizer and then run the engine long enough to burn up and replace the untreated gas that was left in the carburetor bowl," he said. "Then, while the engine is warm, you might as well change the oil, too."

For lawn equipment with a battery, pre-storage service also should include cleaning the battery terminals as they usually corrode during the mowing season.

He recommends removing the spark plug and lubricating the mower's cylinder by putting a few drops of oil inside the spark plug hole. (For safety's sake, replacing the spark plug should be among the last fall maintenance tasks.)

"These chores are the minimum," Upham said. "I've found it's a good practice, though, to go ahead and ensure everything is in good working order, too. That generally requires you to review the owner's manual. But it can really reduce the time losses and frustration caused by poorly performing equipment when our next hectic spring rolls around."

He begins the additional maintenance by checking the manual and getting the dirtiest chore out of the way --cleaning the mower deck. Typically, manufacturers recommend doing this twice a year. "And, if you want to make cleaning easier the next time, you can follow up by spraying your clean, dry deck surface with vegetable oil."

While the deck is exposed is also a good time to consider whether the blades need to be replaced or sharpened.

Upham said other late-fall maintenance can include what's needed among the following:

* Check all nuts and bolts to ensure that vibration hasn't shaken them loose.

* Inspect the entire length of belts and replace any that look worn or torn.

* Inspect the pull-cord leading into the flywheel casing or inspect the electric power cord, if appropriate. Replace if either is frayed, cut or cracked.

* Check air filter for buildups or blockages.

* Lubricate parts as recommended by your owner's manual.

* Clean and replace the spark plug.

"This kind of check-up can make a big difference in how early and how easily you get started next spring. It can affect how many problems you develop through the growing season. It can even have an impact on the life of your mower," Upham said. "It takes a little time, particularly if you've never done it before. But it's well worth the investment."

Editor's Note: Delta George is a K-State Research and Extension agriculture and 4-H extension agent assigned to Bourbon County. She may be reached at (620) 223-3720.