The stepping stone of a successful program

Equipment breakdowns can wreak havoc, but they can often be avoided with a little preventative maintenance done on a regular basis.

The tips here are designed to provide some basic maintenance items that everyone on your crew should know. Remember, these tips are not a substitute for the equipment manufacturers’ recommended maintenance schedules.

Photos by Mitch Broadbent.
Adjusting the bedknife on a Toro Reelmaster 3100 cutting unit.


The most important maintenance item on any piece of equipment in the shop is greasing. Almost every machine has bearings or bushings that are lubricated through grease fittings, and each fitting needs to be greased on a regular basis. You can follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for the greasing intervals, but a basic rule of thumb is to grease at least once a day. However, the more you grease, the less chance there is of bearing failures.

The best time to apply grease is right after washing. In fact, this should become part of your routine if you wash your machines after each use. There is no such thing as over greasing. Greasing after washing is important because it purges any water that gets into the bearing. When cold water hits a warm mower, the metal expands and allows water to be sucked past the rubber seals and into the bearing. If the water is not purged, it will cause rust to form in the bearing, which will cause premature bearing failure.

The proper way to grease a fitting is to apply two to three pumps of grease from a grease gun to the fitting. That’s enough to provide the proper amount of lubrication without damaging the bearing with excessive hydraulic pressure. It also limits the mess made by the old grease that will be pushed out.

Fluid and filter changes are another imperative maintenance item. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for the proper interval, but remember that sooner intervals are better than later intervals. Take advantage of slow periods or off days to perform an oil change. Remind your operators to check and top off fluid levels daily. Not only is checking fluid levels important for equipment maintenance, but it could also provide an indication of a fluid leak. Hot oils can damage turf, so finding a leak early could save you time and money in repairs.

It is wise to pay close attention to your fuel and air filters. In extremely dry or dusty conditions, an air filter will get dirty very quickly. The dirtier the filter, the less air gets through to the engine, which can cause hard starting and poor fuel economy. Also, low-quality fuel or a microbial infection in diesel fuel could plug up a fuel filter, which can also stop an engine in its tracks. Check your air filter weekly, or daily in dry and dusty conditions. Have your diesel fuel supply tested often, and replace fuel filters per the manufacturer’s recommendations, or when they get clogged.


Mowers have the most impact on the appearance of the turf. They are also used on a regular basis; that level of regularity demands precision.

The most temperamental cutting device is the reel. Reel-type cutting devices require a lot of adjustment, especially as the height of cut gets lower. The two primary adjustments are height of cut and bedknife contact. A reel’s height-of-cut adjustment should not change much from the time it is initially set, but it is best to check it once a week. This is most important on equipment with multiple cutting units, as variances in height-of-cut settings will be noticeable on the turf. Bedknife contact will change with each use, as the bedknife is wearing against the reel during its operation. It should always be checked and adjusted after each use. Refer to the operator’s or service manual for adjustment specifications and individual adjustment procedures.

Rotary mowers are less labor intensive to maintain. They are more efficient than a reel, cutting approximately 90 percent of the grass it contacts as opposed to only about a third of the grass a reel contacts. The trade-off is that a rotary mower cannot cut as low as a reel. Rotaries don’t require many adjustments, which means you get more time to spend maintaining your reel mowers. As long as the belts are tight (if it’s belt-driven) and the blades are sharp, a rotary mower should be good to go any day it’s needed.

In order for either a reel or rotary mower to perform optimally, the cutting blade surface must be sharp. The benefit to a reel mower is that the contact between the reel blades and the bedknife acts as a self-sharpening agent. But, the cutting surfaces won’t maintain their sharp edge unless the bedknife is adjusted for the proper contact. Turf equipment manufacturers have different recommendations about how much contact is required, so check the contact before each use. Rotary blades should be checked about every week or so for sharpness. While checking the blade edge, check the sail (non-cutting side) for damage or wear. Sharpen and balance rotary blades as needed.


Aerators are generally only used for a limited amount of time. An aerator might get used for two weeks in the early spring and two weeks in the early fall, and that’s it for the season. Even though it is only used for a short period of time, it will put in a lot of hard hours when it is called upon for duty. Because of this, breakdowns put a serious damper on an aeration schedule.

The best thing to do to ensure an aerator makes it through its scheduled usage is to check it over before it goes out. Don’t assume that because it worked fine the last time it went out that it will work fine this time. Make sure the routine maintenance is up to date. Check with the last operator to see if there were any problems. Take it somewhere out of the way and test aerate. Check for loose bolts and fasteners. Then, when aeration is finished, check with the operator to see if he noticed any problems. Don’t put off any repairs; make them now so the machine will be ready for the next time.

Another thing to keep in mind about aeration is that tines break, and they break often. Order plenty of tines to have on hand before you begin to aerate. Aeration follows a tight schedule, and equipment technicians should be prepared to go out onto the course if necessary to replace a tine or two.


If a mower or an aerator breaks down, the turf may be affected, but it probably won’t be damaged. If a sprayer breaks down, the health of the turf may be in jeopardy.

Performing a nozzle catch test on a Toro MultiPro 5700-D.

One thing that will stop a sprayer in its tracks is a clog. Most sprayers have some kind of strainer or filter to keep larger particles from making their way out of the tank and into the precision parts of the spray system. If too many large particles get caught in the strainer or filter, the flow will be blocked. The best way to prevent that is to premix the chemicals outside of the spray tank. This is especially important when using powdered chemicals. Mix them with water in a 5-gallon bucket, and then pour into the spray tank. Always follow the chemical manufacturer’s mixing directions. It is a good idea to do the same thing for chemicals in dissolvable bags. The bags don’t always dissolve completely, and the plastic can wind up in your strainer or filter. After a spray tech has completed the application, spray out three full tanks of clean water to clean the system.

Any sprayer, electronic or manual, has to be calibrated on a regular basis to make sure that the actual application rate is equal to the intended application rate. This is accomplished by performing a nozzle catch test. A nozzle catch test shows what the sprayer is actually applying to the turf. It will also indicate whether a nozzle is not performing up to specifications. To perform a nozzle catch test, fill the spray tank approximately half full with water. Extend all the booms and engage the sprayer with the desired application rate as if you were going out to apply chemical. Place a metered pitcher under one nozzle for one minute. Compare your results to the specifications provided by your nozzle manufacturer. Repeat the procedure for all the nozzles on every boom. A variance of more than 5 percent is considered unacceptable. Replace any nozzles that do not meet their specification. If all of the nozzles are out of specification, but are consistent with each other, there could be a problem with one of the sprayer’s components.

These simple tips should help keep your equipment running in top condition. Healthy turf starts with proper and consistent equipment maintenance.

The author is a service writer for a commercial turf equipment distributor in the greater Philadelphia area.