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Mulch-mowing vs. side discharge

 
Jeremy Bunag
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Posts: 231
Location: Central IL
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First, to deter some hijacking-by-parallel-answers:

  • [li]Yes, I use a gas mower.  Most practical for mowing my 3 acres of grass[/li]
    [li]Yes, I'm working towards decreasing this lawn, replacing it with trees (currently sticks) and gardens of pretty and/or useful sort[/li]
    [li]No, I don't plan on changing my mower anytime soon.  I'm cheap, and I like to use things until they're dead.[/li]


  • Now, with that out of the way...

    The current thinking is that mulching (no bagging nor discharge in any direction but down, usually with special blades) is what should be done, "it's the best."  It finely cuts the grass down for super-quick breakdown and feeding of your lawn.  No unsightly cut grass on the top because it all trickles down much easier so finely cut.

    That all makes great sense to me.  But I like side-discharging now, and here's why:

  • [li]It's still "mulching"/returning the grass back to the soil[/li]
    [li]The "feed" grass gets moved from areas of great growth over to the areas of lesser growth (the wonderful areas don't just feed themselves, it shares the wealth out from the edges)[/li]
    [li]I still don't see grass littler sitting on top (probably because of my not horribly dense yet nature of my lawn)[/li]
    [li]I can cut the grass when I've let it grow too long without it bogging down (I'm lazy sometimes)[/li]
    [li]Blades are cheaper (I'm cheap all the time)[/li]
    [li]When I do cut grass too long, I feel like I'm helping the thinner parts of my lawn more, with a more substantial mulch to hold/protect the dirt better[/li]
    [li]My mower deck blade area stays cleaner longer (I always found the mulch-cut grass stuck a lot easier to my deck)[/li]


  • So far the only think I don't like has to do with the blowdryer effect, where one of my young trees/sticks ends up on the wrong side of the mower for a close pass.  But I can probably manage that by not daydreaming while mowing.

    Have I missed something else wonderful in closed mulch-mowing that isn't translatable into side discharge?  Or something horrible about side discharge that is fixed by closed mulch-mowing?
     
    Joel Hollingsworth
    pollinator
    Posts: 2103
    Location: Oakland, CA
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    I've read that a grass barrier of nastertium or similar can help trees to become established.

    It might also help absorb the side discharge, or at least add some distance between the mower and the sticks.
     
    Jeremy Bunag
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    Posts: 231
    Location: Central IL
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    Interesting thought!  Would look real nice too!
     
    jeremiah bailey
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    I always make several concentric rings around trees, with the side discharge facing away. A mulch, living or other, bed helps too. I've started using a mulcher, but I still have the habit of making several rings around trees, with the tree to the left of the mower. The same goes for other obstacles as well. I make several passes with the mower blowing away from the obstacle. Mulching around trees helps alot for other reasons. Competition, water conservancy, etc. I try to keep the mulch bed out to nearly the drip line.
     
    Jeremy Bunag
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    jeremiah bailey wrote:
    I always make several concentric rings around trees, with the side discharge facing away. A mulch, living or other, bed helps too. I've started using a mulcher, but I still have the habit of making several rings around trees, with the tree to the left of the mower. The same goes for other obstacles as well. I make several passes with the mower blowing away from the obstacle. Mulching around trees helps alot for other reasons. Competition, water conservancy, etc. I try to keep the mulch bed out to nearly the drip line.


    I'm fairly generous with the mulch as well, and I too circle obstacles in this way.  However, when I'm doing "the back and forth" sometimes I end up on the wrong side of the tree, a little too close.  Like I said, I think I just need to stop daydreaming!   But also, with the high lift blades in, it blows it quite far, more than the 1 or two mower deck widths margin I try to put around the trees.  Most of the time I'm not as worried about the latter situation, mulch is mulch as long as it's not coming at you at 60 MPH!  And at a couple deck widths away it's not coming that fast.  It's the "Oh crap, did I just pass by that twig with my chute right next to it (or even the edge of the mulch circle)?"

    Despite my apparent attempts to kill them, the vast majority of my trees are still alive though!    I guess I'm making them stronger!  Which they need with some of the Mother Nature wind we get round here sometimes!

    Thanks for the suggestions, they're knocking around in my head underscoring my need to practice these actions...
     
    paul wheaton
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    I really like the bit about taking grass from the thick spots and shooting it to the thin spots.  I never thought of that before.

     
    jeremiah bailey
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    You can shoot it where ever you want, as long as you can aim the discharge chute that way. If you do an inward clockwise spiral around the yard, you'll end up with a nice size pile of grass. That is if your mower has the umphf to handle masses of clippings. Mulching set ups kind of do the same, especially when you get rather thick areas. They don't discharge per se, so it tends to build up mass in the deck. When you get to a thinner area, or tilt/raise the deck, it clears.

    I missed the daydreaming bit before. Maybe you need to put orange road cones around them. Or a proximity sensor that triggers an air horn. Or both, just so the neighbors really love ya! Barring that, just consider it "hardening off."
     
    Jeremy Bunag
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    jeremiah bailey wrote:
    Mulching set ups kind of do the same, especially when you get rather thick areas. They don't discharge per se, so it tends to build up mass in the deck. When you get to a thinner area, or tilt/raise the deck, it clears.


    That's the part the tends to thicken up the deposits on the underside of my deck, I think.  My favorite part of mowing my "wastelands" (the part in the far back of my property that I hardly take care of that didn't get seeded very well that the big/ugly/woody/what-have-you weeds own) is mowing over the dead, thick, straw-almost-woody weeds, imagining them kind of sandblasting my underdeck and chute as they blow around and out.

    jeremiah bailey wrote:
    Maybe you need to put orange road cones around them. Or a proximity sensor that triggers an air horn. Or both, just so the neighbors really love ya! Barring that, just consider it "hardening off."


    I like the air horn idea!  Hmmm...would my neighbors care...?  Heh heh heh
     
    jeremiah bailey
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    That's the part the tends to thicken up the deposits on the underside of my deck, I think.  My favorite part of mowing my "wastelands" (the part in the far back of my property that I hardly take care of that didn't get seeded very well that the big/ugly/woody/what-have-you weeds own) is mowing over the dead, thick, straw-almost-woody weeds, imagining them kind of sandblasting my underdeck and chute as they blow around and out.

    Imagining is one thing. Does that actually work? I hate lifting my deck to clean out the buildup. If it does, I might have to find a vacant, overgrown lot to mow.
     
    Joel Hollingsworth
    pollinator
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    jeremiah bailey wrote:
    Imagining is one thing. Does that actually work? I hate lifting my deck to clean out the buildup. If it does, I might have to find a vacant, overgrown lot to mow.


    Or keep a deepish patch of woodchips between where you mow and where you store the mower, to drive over just before putting it away?
     
    Jeremy Bunag
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    jeremiah bailey wrote:
    Imagining is one thing. Does that actually work? I hate lifting my deck to clean out the buildup. If it does, I might have to find a vacant, overgrown lot to mow.


    Does it clean down to the metal?  Not with what I mow.  I think if you did polyp's (OK, maybe that's a bad abbrev...sorry) wood chip idea, that would make a nice blender that could loosen some of the harder stuff, but I think you might sacrafice blade sharpness a bit.

    I know that the chute has gotten crusty and then un-crustied by mowing the thick dry weeds.  I guess the worst hurt you could have mowing a vacant lot is getting some stowaways coming back to your lot!
     
    Brenda Groth
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    we have both here..the walk behind power mower tha I use is a mulching mower..or at least it is set up that way now..and i love the results..esp this last weekend when i mowed the leaves.

    the rider my husband and son use..i don't..is a side discharge or bagger..guess it might be able to be set up for mulching too..don't know..but right now they are using the side discharge..

    it is ok for what it does..usually not our lawn but our field areas get mowed with that one..or the more remote areas that we might mow..

    if i had my choice i would have mulching..it works well for me....and we have about 3 or 4 acres of mowed lawn or field as well..and my son has a radio control dirt track..which he mows around out in his field..he uses the rider for that as it is not level..
     
    Jeremy Bunag
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    Jeremy Bunag wrote:

    Does it clean down to the metal?  Not with what I mow.  I think if you did polyp's (OK, maybe that's a bad abbrev...sorry) wood chip idea, that would make a nice blender that could loosen some of the harder stuff, but I think you might sacrafice blade sharpness a bit.

    I know that the chute has gotten crusty and then un-crustied by mowing the thick dry weeds.  I guess the worst hurt you could have mowing a vacant lot is getting some stowaways coming back to your lot!


    Well I used the ol' mower to obliterate some cardboard boxes for my compost a while back, and I was just taking off the deck for the season (so I can now handle snow) and was pleased with the lack of the typical buildup I saw on the underside!  "I gotta take pictures!"  Yeah, there's still some in a couple places, but boy was it easy to clean up this year.  And the normal grass pathway that usually has inches of buildup had none...woo hoo!  Took me wayyy less time to scrape away the remaining stuff...

    Here are a couple:

    IMG_3709 (Small).JPG
    [Thumbnail for IMG_3709 (Small).JPG]
    IMG_3716 (Small).JPG
    [Thumbnail for IMG_3716 (Small).JPG]
     
    William von Rentzell
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    The need or wish to side discharge grass clippings is something one should carefully consider when buying a mower. Most of the walk behind rotary mowers that are listed as 3 in 1 accomplish side discharge in the most efficient way, but not all. What is the most efficient way and why? First it is important to know how these mowers cut. Almost all cutting occurs as the blade passes across the front of the deck of the mower, with the clock face reference, from about 10 to 2 o'clock. The natural path of grass clippings off the rotating blade is away radially. That means that the easiest exit path for the clippings that imposes the least load on the blade and least likelihood of being smashed onto the underside of the deck is the one closest to the point at which the rotating blade cuts the clippings off of the grass plants. Approximately 2 o'clock is therefor the best place for the discharge port to be. Since all the rotary mowers I know about rotate the blade clockwise as viewed from above, that'd be on the right side of the mower deck. A mower designed to exclusively discharge through a dismountable chute in it's rear discharge port for rear bagging requires more energy to get the clippings to it and since those "chutes" all discharge to the left of the mower, the chutes themselves introduce mower loading additional resistance to the clippings / air flow the blade creates.. My Neuton CE-5 14" SLA battery pack powered mower is a great example. It is designed for rear bagging and mulching mode mowing but I bought a chute that inserts in place of the rear bag. It works fine for side discharge unless I let the grass get too long before mowing. Then it loads up converting function to mulching mode pretty quickly. A lot of the 3 in 1 cordless electrics now available have a spring loaded cover and a chute insert for a discharge port at ~ 2 o'clock. Their advantage is clear. Were I not in the midst of the patent process for an "improved rotary mower blade" design, testing of which my Neuton offers unparalleled ease of process, I would never have replaced my 13 y/o Neuton EM 4.1 14" SLA powered mower with it's current younger brother, my CE-5, last fall. Both the old and new 14" Neutons use the same battery pack, the newer versions of which are more easy to modify for in use power consumption testing. The objective of the "Improved Rotary Mower blade" is greater efficiency.
     
    It's in the permaculture playing cards. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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