A mower tune-up now lasts all summer

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It’s finally time to get outside and make your yard look beautiful for the coming months. Here are some tips to get you started:

Clean your mower. Dried grass and mud can get into the mechanical parts and cause problems, especially with the engine’s cooling fans. It’s important to keep grass and mud away from covering your filters and fans. Your engine needs air circulation to prevent overheating, which can cause it to lock up or even catch fire.

After each mowing and after your mower cools, it’s always a good idea to spray off the top and underside of your mower’s deck with the garden hose. When you’re done, simply wipe the mower and let it dry in the sun. Some models even have an area in the back to attach the hose directly to the mower for cleaning.

Change your oil. It’s best to do this before the first mowing of the season and then occasionally through the year. Old oil can damage the engine as moisture and other impurities build up in the oil whenever you use your mower.

Check the instructions on your mower or the owner’s manual for the proper oil for your model. It’s also a good idea throughout the season to check the oil level each time before you start your machine. If it’s low, add some extra but be sure to avoid overfilling the reservoir or leaving any spilled oil on your mower’s engine parts.

Change the spark plug, too. This is always a good idea at the start of each season. If you think your spark plug is in good shape and you simply want to clean it, remove it with a socket wrench and clean the plug with a wire brush. You also might want to use one of several spray-on cleaning solvents that are commonly available.

Spark plugs should be replaced after every 25 to 30 hours of use. If your mower engine turns over but then dies, your plug is good but there are other problems. If your engine never starts, then it could be time for a new spark plug.

Sharpen or change your blade. I recommend sharpening an old blade before the first cut of the spring. During a season of mowing, it’s common to run over twigs, rocks and other natural or man-made obstacles hiding in the grass. These obstructions can damage the blade and reduce mowing efficiency.

At the start of a new season, start with a sharp blade and also rake your grass before mowing to remove new obstacles that have been deposited there since last fall. These items, if mowed over, not only pose a hazard to your mower but also to you and others in the immediate area.

Adjust your cut. For the first few mows of the spring, cutting the grass a little higher than normal. If you usually cut your grass at 2 or 2 1/2 inches, cut it at 3 inches to let the roots take hold better, ensuring a healthier and stronger lawn. Also keep your cut higher and avoid mowing as much during dry or hot weather when a longer yard will stay greener and in better shape.

Patch and seed. If you have bare patches or areas of dead grass after the winter, dig them out with a spade or a shovel, apply a patch of sod or a mix of topsoil and grass seed. If you are seeding, rake the topsoil and grass seed together until the mix is smooth and covers the full bare spot. Then cover these areas with straw to keep birds and other animals from eating the seed.

For both sod and seed, water these areas daily for at least a week and avoid mowing over them until the new grass has firmly taken hold and needs to be cut.

Follow these tips and you will be on your way to having a well-functioning lawnmower and a beautiful lawn that you can enjoy all season.