Best Lawn Tools And Their Use
( Originally Published 1906 )
The few essentials—Types of mowers—The power mower—Preventing damage from horses—Rollers—Sweepers—Rakes—Weeders—Trimming tools—The use of the shears—The simple grass hook—Hose, and hose —Keeping life in it—Turfing irons—The scythe.
THE essential tools for making and maintaining a lawn are comparatively few. The possible tools are many. At the beginning of things a good plough, a sub-soil plough, and a steel-toothed harrow must be had, but these can hardly be properly called lawn tools; they are equally essential to the fundamental ground work of any part of the estate. The special tools for after maintenance consist of the lawn mower, the roller, and the rake.
The mower can be had in various patterns and at prices ranging upward from two and a half dollars, the figure varying both with the style of construction and the width of the cut.
For all ordinary purposes buy a lawn mower not less than twelve inches wide. If the lawn is of any size above that common in the ordinary suburban lot it will be wise economy to procure a machine of not less than sixteen-inch cut, and where the labour can be easily had, it may be well to go several sizes larger even up to twenty-one inches.
At the best of times, and under the best of conditions, the work of mowing the lawn is somewhat burdensome, therefore buy a mower of the ball bearing type. The ease with which a machine of this type can be operated as compared with one of the older articles, is some-thing extraordinary. A mere child can very well handle a medium sized machine of the modern light running model. There is absolutely no reason why you should make your-self a draught-horse when the inconvenience can be avoided for many years by the investment of a five dollar bill in the beginning. All modern lawn mowers throw the clippings to the rear so that they may be left on the lawn when the machine is used without a catch-box, as is usually the case where mowing is done at frequent intervals.
For large lawns mowers drawn by horses are great time savers, and if a horse is kept at all the purchase of a horse mower should be decided on at once. It takes very little time to hitch up the horse of an evening and run over the lawn. For the average garden there is no neccessity to buy a mower which can be set very close to the ground; in fact, the possibility of being able to shave the surface is a dangerous feature, in the majority of cases.
For putting greens, where as low clean-cut and even a surface as possible is essential, a special type of mower is used, and it can be taken over the ground after the cutting with a machine of the regular type. In general a lawn should not be cut closer than two inches.
Some mowers combine rollers with the knives. These are most useful on narrow strips of grass bordering walks or flower beds where it is impossible to use the heavier type of roller. But the light weight of the machine that is involved with ease of manipulation, for the average purpose, renders the roller useless as a factor in the maintenance of the lawn. It is only in the larger type of machine, which is drawn by a horse and which carries the driver upon it, that the rollers become efficient, therefore it is far better to separate the two tools and have the small rollers on the mower merely for the purpose of supporting the rest of the machine. Large driving wheels are an advantage. They give a high gearing and the knives being operated at a high speed cut more evenly and with less pull. When properly adjusted the knives sharpen themselves on the plate, the only care necessary being to keep the machine clean.
For very large estates the motor combined lawn mower and roller is an engine that should be considered. The thorough and frequent rolling that a lawn will thus receive is a factor of considerable importance in favour of such a machine. They will weigh up to three thousand pounds, and the two operations of rolling and cutting can be conducted at one time without the use of a horse. Such great pressure effectually stamps out crab grass.
There is always this drawback to the use of a horse on the lawn : that holes will be made by the feet. This is obviated to some extent by the use of lawn horse shoes, 'contrivances of leather and wood which are tied over the hoofs, thus distributing the weight over a larger area. It is unfortunately true that the greater necessity for rolling exists at the time of year when the ground is most susceptible to surface injuries.
WEIGHT OF ROLLER
The roller should weigh three hundred pounds, or even more if there is a man strong enough to operate one of greater weight. Heavy rolling in the spring saves the lawn from burning in the summer and obviates, in a degree that is very rarely understood, the necessity for summer watering. Therefore the heavier the roller the better. One man should be able to operate a three hundred pound roller, but it will take two people to properly use a heavier tool.
Lawn rollers are also made with weight boxes attached by which the weight of the tool can be adjusted to the strength of the operator. It is no use buying a roller which weighs less than two hundred and fifty pounds. Of the larger size draught rollers there are many patterns and they can be had in all weights up to two thousand pounds, which will cover a track of six feet. The smaller-sized rollers which are adapted for general use will cover a track of twenty inches.
An ingenious improvement is the water ballast roller in which the cylinder is ballasted with water or sand so as to increase its weight by which means a three hundred pound machine can have its efficiency actually doubled.
It is important to buy a sectional roller for lawns. The smaller sizes are made in two sections and the larger horse-power rollers will run up to six sections. The great advantage of this arrangement is in the ease with which the tool can be turned without tearing or dragging the surface of the lawn.
For cleaning up grass clippings or fallen leaves, sweeping machines are made but generally the work is done by hand rakes. These are of light construction, very wide, and are either wood or steel wire made in a series or arched teeth. For scarifying the surface of the lawn, as for instance when it is necessary to haul up crab grass or for seeding, an ordinary sharp-pronged steel garden rake is much better.
For deep-rooted weeds like dandelion there are a number of special weeders which are attached to long handles and which enable the operator to work without getting down on his hands and knees.
These tools all operate on the principle of cutting off the crown of the plant an inch or two below the surface and some of them have a claw, or other gathering arrangement, by which the severed crown can be lifted and thrown into a handy receptacle. Others again are made on the style of a gouge by which a cylinder of soil containing the root is withdrawn.
A very simple and the most handy tool of its kind for use where the worker does not object to bending his back or getting down on his knees is what is known as the American asparagus knife. Though introduced primarily for plunging into the asparagus beds to cut off the young growth some inches below the ground, it has been found to be especially adapted as a lawn weeder and is more often used for this adventitious purpose than it is for the purpose for which it was especially designed! This consists of a steel blade about ten or twelve inches long, widest at the top where it has an expanse of about an inch and a half. A V-shaped notch at this end which is rough sharpened with a chisel edge can be thrust deeply into the ground for cutting off such roots as dandelion or dock or it may be used as a surface shaver in attacking plantains. All these small weeding appliances range in price from twenty-five cents to half a dollar, and earn their money's worth easily in the first season.
When cutting out large strong growing weeds with long roots, holes are made in the lawn which must be filled with good garden soil and immediately sprinkled over with a pinch of lawn mixture, so that the grass may take immediate hold to the entire exclusion of weeds.
EDGING AND TRIMMING TOOLS
The edge of the lawn where it borders walks or flower beds needs careful trimming and maintenance. If it becomes irregular or is battered down, very much of the neat appearance of the lawn itself is lost. The traffic across the lawn will also have a tendency to batter down the edges. Once a week, when mowing is taken in hand, the edges should be carefully examined, and with the garden rake, turned upside down, any broken portions may be easily rebuilt. If this little detail is attended to regularly, and the damage not allowed to become exaggerated, it is surprising how little time and work will be occupied in maintaining a decent appearance.
The lawn mower will not cut the edges, and although there are attachments made for certain styles of mowers and even special edge cutters in machine form, it cannot be said that they have proved practically successful. They easily become clogged with dirt or pick up stones and the cutting edge is damaged. Then the irregularity of the height of the lawn above its surroundings renders it somewhat difficult to exactly gauge the depth to which such a cutter should be set. In actual practice, even on the very largest estates, it is found better to use what is known as edging shears for trimming. The man handling the shears usually follows the man with the mower. These shears, which are set in long handles, the knives working upward and downward, can be used very easily and any irregularity or unevenness of the surface or the edge itself is easily followed and the grass trimmed off accurately.
Even in small gardens it is worth while to invest in a pair of edging shears rather than the spring shears sometimes referred to as sheep shears, which are frequently used by suburbanites, not only for trimming, but even for cutting the entire surface. Work with this tool is laborious, and, except for trimming, will result in an irregular patchy job.
The sheep shears should, however, form part of the equipment of the lawn tool outfit. They are really necessary for finishing off in angles of buildings or the borders of formal beds, and especially for trimming after the mower close up to the trunks of trees or masses of shrubbery where it is not possible to run the machine. Particular care should be exercised to keep the lawn mower well clear of the bases of trees or overhanging branches of shrubberies which skirt the lawn. In the one case there is danger of "barking" the trees from the projecting parts of the mower, and it is utterly impossible to run the knives directly up to the tree; in the other case the mower is likely to clip off a lower growth of the shrubs just where they form unions with the grass. This will result in giving the shrubbery itself an appearance of being an excrescence upon the lawn—a thing set down upon it accidentally and improperly, rather than part of a happy and tasteful composition and union in the surrounding borders and distant masses of other shrubs and trees. After the mower has been used to cut the larger surface of the grass the spring shears are taken in hand and any untouched corners or tufts of grass are hand trimmed.
Another useful hand cutter is the grass hook, a modified form of sickle designed especially for cutting grass with a sharp, easy swing. It is a sort of miniature scythe. Its disadvantage is that one has to crawl over the ground when working. It is useful in small gardens, however, where there are narrow borders of grass, for which it would hardly be worth while purchasing a machine mower with small knives.
The edging iron, which is used for trimming the edges, is a serviceable tool but is hardly a necessary part of the equipment for the amateur with only a city lot. This tool consists of a half circle of steel set in a handle, and is used to trim around borders and curves. It is specially serviceable for straightening up and squaring sides of the lawn which have spread over their original line. This trueing becomes necessary every once in a while, be-cause the traffic and the natural inclination of the soil to spread and level out uneven edges tends to destroy the strict original line.
In the spring time it is well indeed to take the garden line and, by means of it and a two-edged board, follow around all the edges of the lawn with the edging iron, cutting down into the ground below and thus straightening out the unevennesses that may have resulted from the winter.
THE HOSE AND ITS CARE
Notwithstanding what has been previously said regarding the use of the hose and the propriety of watering as little as practicable, a hose should enter into the equipment. The standard rubber hose is known as four ply, and perhaps more particularly in the hose than in any other of the tools it is economy to buy the highest-priced goods on the market. Cheap hose is the most costly in the long run. A good quality pure rubber hose will last several seasons whereas the cheaper article will generally be worn out before it has been used twelve months. Exposure to the air, and the fact of being continually wet, is destructive to any but the very best quality of rubber, and further the water pressure is a matter of much moment. If a high-pressure city supply is used for watering the garden it will often be necessary to have a hose that will stand pressure up to two hundred pounds. Many of the poorer grades of hose offered are not guaranteed above seventy-five pounds. The difference in price of the two qualities is about 30 per cent.
Unless the ground is peculiarly rocky a plain hose is better than an armoured hose. This latter consists of a rubber hose which is wound over by a spiral wire covering. It is considerably heavier in use, but its worst characteristic is that when dragged across a lawn, and especially on edges crossing walks, it cuts into the surface and makes ugly channels, particularly if the ground is wet and loose.
Garden hose is regularly manufactured in multiples of twenty-five feet lengths. There is a great advantage in having just a little more than is actually necessary. The reserve length is always handy in case of accident and the consequent necessity of cutting down one of the sections. As offered in the stores the hose comes complete with front and end couplings for attachment to the faucet and for uniting with any other length. The standard dimensions of garden hose are three quarter inch and one inch hose. It is better to use the larger size.
Nozzles to be used on the hose are of various types. One of the best is what is known as the graduating spray. By means of this attachment the water can be thrown in a fine or coarse spray or in a solid jet. This adds considerably to the general utility of the hose and it can be used as well for watering and for washing.
After use the hose should be carefully wound up and taken inside, out of the sun. Never leave it lying around when out of use, and never allow it to stand loaded with water.
The stop nozzle, though occasionally convenient, is often dangerous. Far better to throw the end of the hose down on the lawn letting the water run from it, then run back to the stand pipe or faucet, cutting off the supply at that point.
If you have more than twenty-five feet of hose some arrangement for winding it is a great convenience. The hose reel is usually made with travel wheels; the union being made with the stand pipe the reel can be wheeled out into the garden thus extending the hose in the direction in which it is to be used. If the hose is wound on to the reel after use it will be practically drained of water, and the gathering up is done without any dragging over the surface and cutting the edges of the lawn, or scratching the hose itself by being drawn over gravel walks.
In lawn making from sods the turfing iron is indispensable. This consists essentially of a long necked thin flat spade fitted at such an angle that it works flat on the ground, or rather in the ground, as it is used under the sod both for cutting and relaying. Its use in laying or repairing with sods lies in the ease with which, by its means, any irregularites of the surface or of the sod can be straightened out. For instance, if a sod of uneven depth is laid down it is easy with the turfing iron either to cut out the ground from below at one end or to distribute properly the quantity of loose soil at the other end—soil which is always kept handy in the wheel-barrow when working on the lawn, and from which a handful is taken and thrown under the sod.
THE NEGLECTED SCYTHE
Just because so few people nowadays under-stand its manipulation, the scythe—the ideal cutting instrument—has fallen into disuse. For newly made lawns it is infinitely superior to the lawn mower as it cuts without tearing, without pulling. And a lawn mowed by an expert shows no signs whatever of having been cut. The inevitable streakiness which follows the use of the lawn mower operated in different directions is not seen after the scythe is used. Another advantage of this instrument is that the depth at which it will cut can be graded to a nicety, and there is no necessity to follow it up with trimming shears because it can be used in the sharpest corners. Its use is restricted, however, to very large lawns and it is not a tool to which the amateur gardener need give any attention.