The time has come for landscapers and gardeners to haul out their tools, knock the dust off and fuel up for this year's season of lawn care.
Equipment like tractors, rototillers and weed eaters make gardening and landscaping work faster and more efficient than ever. But to get the most out of those tools, it is important to take care of them and provide them with the proper maintenance and upkeep.
Tom Gross, owner of Town-County Lawn & Garden in New Sewickley, Beaver County, said the best thing to do is start early and start before you first use the equipment. He said most dealers get behind on repairs and routine maintenance by April and May because people have waited too long.
“You want to try to get your service done in February and March,” he said.
According to Gary Kalkbrenner, owner of Gary's Small Engine Service Center in Butler, equipment upkeep is all about the details.
The problem many people run into, Kalkbrenner said, is not looking close enough at the specifics of parts and procedures needed for their particular pieces of equipment.
“Every manufacturer gives you books when you buy (equipment),” he said. “And they tell you what to do to maintain it.”
Gross said there's a list of things to check each year when it's time to get the equipment out, including changing the oil, cleaning the air filter and sharpening the blades. These things can be done at home or with a local dealer.
Something people often underestimate the importance of is the sharpness of the lawn mower blades, Gross said. It's the number one thing for getting a machine ready for the year.
“One of the biggest things is a sharp blade,” he said. “It makes everything work easier.”
ng it away for the winter.
Even after the initial tuneup, equipment may need to be checked throughout the summer depending on the conditions in which the machine is run.
“(If) you use it in dirty conditions then it should be changed more often, otherwise it should be changed once a season,” Kalkbrenner said. “If you ingest dirt in an engine, that's like throwing a handful of sand in there.”
The life and quality of your engine depends on its maintenance, he said.
“You're decreasing the life of that engine, and that's something people don't understand,” he said. “I have engines with thousands of hours and engines in worse condition that are just a few years old.”
The most frequent issue Kalkbrenner sees day to day is a lack of understanding about how to store and treat fuel, particularly ethanol-based fuel.
“The other real big problem — that is probably 95 percent of the problems we see — is fuel,” he said. “If the fuel has been left in there untreated, it can gum up the carburetor and then we're replacing parts. In a car, you usually don't see that effect because you're going through the gas so fast.”
Shane Rodgers, owner of Stan's Lawn and Garden in Cabot, said his biggest issue is with ethanol fuels.
“We recommend people use their gas up in 30 days because it goes stale in 30 days.”
To prevent this, Rodgers and Kalkbrenner each recommended treating the fuels or simply using it before it goes stale.
Gross recommends trying to find non-ethanol gasoline, or recreational gas, if possible to run in your equipment.
“If you're going to store it long term we highly recommend you treat it with something,” Rodgers said. “The ethanol oxidizes and its basically like a loaf of bread, it gets moldy basically.”
He also recommended emptying equipment of all fuel before putti