Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


Vancouver Landscaper Moves from Power to Push Mowers

Switching to natural lawn care. Spring of 2002 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

By Isabelle Oppenheim
Formerly owner of 'Grow On You' landscaping.

This year, I thought, we are taking the big leap: we will mow ALL of the lawns that we maintain with reel push mowers! Running a landscaping company that specializes in strata and commercial maintenance, the move is pretty bold. Most of my competitors use all the power equipment they can, that's what everybody does.

The thought of using push mowers had crossed my mind before and in fact, for the past couple of years most of our small lawns have been successfully maintained with reel push mowers. But there is this one big lawn spreading between 5.5 acres of townhouses, parking lots and perennial beds. The lawn area itself represents probably a quarter of the property. No one thought this lawn could possibly be maintained with reel push mowers on a weekly basis. "It will take too long" or " The terrain is too rough, there are too many roots sticking out from mature trees growing all over the property" or "It will be way too difficult and the workers will be exhausted" and even " people will complain if you don't pick up the lawn clippings".

So as usual, we started the season mowing the lawn with power mowers. After the winter the lawn tends to be too long in certain spots, thick with moss in some areas (in rainy Vancouver BC anyway) and covered with pine cones and small branches. Those debris will jam any reel push mower.

The week after I showed up on site with two reel push mowers (these mowers are probably 40 years old, 18" wide and have been regularly serviced and sharpened since we have owned them). My two employees Doug and Sam were frowning, they asked if I had brought along at least one of the power mowers just in case. But still, they had packed up big lunches that morning and were quite willing to give it an honest try. After all, it was Doug who had encouraged me do go ahead and do it. He had previously worked pushing mowers for a gardening company called Human Power Tools that does all of its lawn and hedge maintenance with only hand tools.

That day, the only power tool that could be heard on site was the line trimmer. That tool is difficult to replace for the maintenance of that big of an area with so much detail and edging around the buildings, the roots and the beds.

To our surprise, we finished mowing the lawn one whole hour earlier that day and my two workers had only good things to say about the experience: the mowers are lighter and therefore easier to turn and to push. Yes, they had to go back and forth more often because the push mowers are narrower than the power mowers, but they saved precious minutes by leaving the clippings on the lawn. Emptying the bags and carrying the tarps full of clippings to the trailer usually takes up a lot of time. Adding to the list of benefits: no stopping to fill up the mowers with gas, considerably reducing the amount of trips to the dump, cheaper cost in tool maintenance, great looking lawns, reducing by 40% the amount of fertilizer needed over the season. Why did I hesitate at all?

I had one concern: the lawn clippings. In some areas the lawn had been quite long and the lawn clippings were noticeable. On the other lawns we maintain, it had never been a problem and not one client had ever even mentioned it. All I have to say is that it's been 3 weeks since we have been mowing this big site with reel push mowers leaving the clippings on the lawn and we have had no complaints.

All together a very positive, cost effective and enjoyable experience.

Natural Lawn Care and Fertilizers, Spring of 2002.

We have been experimenting with two different organic fertilizers. This is our first year using only organic fertilizers on the lawns so we are just starting to see the result of the applications that were done at the end of March/beginning of April. We lime our lawns in February so that the pH factor has a chance to adjust before the lawn is fertilized.

One fertilizer we used is from Gaia Green and is called "Gaia Green Turf & Athletic Field Blend" 6-2-3. The other is from Welcome Harvest Farm and is called "Seasons Lawn Fertilizer" 6-2-4.

The main difference between the two is that, according to the instructions on the bags, you cover about twice as much surface with the Seasons fertilizer. The manifacturers are discontinuing the product but you can still find it in some garden centers. Gaia is available in garden centers as well.

Gaia is certified organic and Season's is not. Season's is pretty close to organic though, close enough for lawn care I think.

Perhaps because Gaia is more expensive, well advertised and well presented in the brochures, I was left with the impression that it was probable a better product. What I did notice is that ALL of our lawns are growing like crazy right now, regardless!

In the short term I would say that Seasons was financially the more interesting of the two but it seams like it won't be available for much longer. I think it is probably in the long term that I might notice a difference.

There are other products out there and they vary in price. Keep in mind that "organic" might not necessary mean natural and no chemicals involved (unless it had been certified organic). Read the list of ingredients.

Search Our Site[new]

pointer Return to Contents' Page pointer

Revised October 1, 2004

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture