The Balancing Act

What does the 2009 landscaping budget look like? If it’s anything like mine, things are a bit tight but, like many others, I never really had a huge budget to begin with. Managing smaller budgets can be tough, but there are plenty of ways to make sure that turf receives proper care and maintenance without breaking the bank. This month, I’ll let you in on a few of my secrets to balancing the needs of turf with the budget.


Mowers are the hardest-working machines, so having one that fits my needs is a key to productivity. The type of mower chosen should depend on the type of grasses. At Virginia Tech, I use two different types of mowers–a rotary mower and a reel mower.

Typically, rotary mowers are used for grasses that are kept at a higher height, such as cool-season grasses. On cool-season fields, I usually do not cut the turf below an inch and a quarter since a lower cut places more stress on the grass, possibly resulting in increased susceptibility to disease or impaired growth. Review the different sizes available before choosing a rotary mower. A smaller deck-size one will cost less but will also require more work on a larger field.

Another option is a reel mower, which is more commonly seen on golf courses. I use a reel mower on Bermuda grass, which I cut at around one-half inch. As with the rotary mower, the size (and the amount of money spent) should depend on the amount of grass that needs to be cut. I was able to save a few dollars and purchase a three-gang mower instead of a seven-gang, and it only requires a few extra passes to mow the stadium. If you have a limited amount of space and don’t mind a little extra time and effort, choosing a smaller mower may be a great option.


Using spreaders is one of the easiest ways to distribute fertilizer on turf, but choosing the right spreader may not be the easiest decision. There are several types to consider, including the drop spreader, rotary spreader and hopper spreader. Of course, the budget and size of the field will influence a selection, but the wind conditions in an area are a critical factor in a decision.

I use a drop spreader for the football field because I can control exactly where the fertilizer is going, especially if it is windy. Since it gets fairly windy here in Virginia–particularly in the fall–a drop spreader is ideal because it drops the fertilizer straight to the ground, preventing uneven coverage and avoiding waste. Drop spreaders are generally lower in cost than other types, and can be attached to a tractor or pushed by hand.

If you live in a not-so-windy climate, a rotary spreader is a good choice for a field that requires precision application–the best reason to choose one of these spreaders. Although it can be attached to a tractor, I prefer a walk-behind since you can more easily control the amount of fertilizer that is dispersed, and increase or decrease the speed of distribution if needed.

A third option is a hopper spreader, which vibrates back and forth, distributing fertilizer. A hopper spreader is similar to a rotary spreader in that the fertilizer is airborne during distribution, so it’s more prone to blow in the wind. I occasionally use a hopper spreader, which I attach to a tractor. As with most spreaders, size will be a key factor in the price. If you don’t mind refilling frequently, a smaller load size will greatly decrease expenses.

Even if a particular area isn’t prone to wind, be sure to evaluate the microclimate to be treated. Stadiums, buildings or hilltop locations can force air more strongly into an area than you might expect. Rent, borrow, or demo different models to take a test run before purchasing one.

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