BY KAREN WEIR- JIME RSON
At first glance, the term “tractor” and the words “lawn” and “garden” do not seem to go together. “Tractor” implies a large farming implement capable of tilling, planting, and harvesting the back 40. Lawns are hardly a crop, and gardens usually involve the tamer pursuits of flower culture and small-scale vegetable rearing. Why would one need a tractor for such pursuits?
And yet tractors, lawns, and gardens belong together. Lawn maintenance and gardening are not hobbies for the unfit, after all. If you’ve ever edged a large property, carried 40 bags of mulch from your car to the garden, or hand-tilled a large vegetable plot, you know that these endeavors aren’t for the faint of heart (or lower back). The good news is that the home gardener has at her disposal all the power and technology of modern agricultural machinery scaled down to fit a large yard or acreage.
LAWN TRACTORS VS. GARDEN TRACTORS
Admittedly, the nomenclature of these machines is confusing. Some companies use the terms almost interchangeably, or simply call the largest offering in their lines “tractors.” But the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) distinguishes the two based on their power and capabilities (see “At a Glance,” page 86). The OPEI defines a lawn tractor as a machine with an 11 – to 18-horsepower engine but without enough power to run ground-engaging equipment, such as a tiller or blade. A garden tractor, on the other hand, is powered by a 14- to 26-horsepower engine and can run such implements as plows, tillers, blades, and snow throwers.
Both lawn and garden tractors mow grass, but they are also powerful and versatile machines that do a variety of lawn maintenance and gardening tasks. If you have a large lawn (more than an acre) and a sizable garden (more than window boxes or patio containers), then the extra investment in a lawn or garden tractor may be worth it.
Lawn tractors are the first step up from a mow-only riding lawn mower. A lawn tractor features a mower deck that ranges from 36 to 48 inches. The deck may or may not be detachable–that depends on the model and brand. You can attach a lawn cart (and tote those 40 bags of mulch) and add bagger attachments for cleaning up grass clippings.
For homeowners who have multiple acres with both lawn and garden (and the need for more power and versatility), the step up to a garden tractor is worth the money. A garden tractor mows (with decks as large as 60 inches wide), but is also designed to do heavier work. They come with larger tires than a lawn tractor and the ability to add bar-tread tractor tires that make work in mud, gravel, or uneven terrain much easier (and safer). Garden tractors have power take off(PTO) or hydraulic power options that allow you to add accessories that can plow, cultivate, till, and move ground. You can add a blade for soil grading or snow pushing as well as a snow-thrower attachment. A roller attachment allows you to smooth out bumps in your lawn and a sweeper attachment makes cleanup quick for even the largest lawns. And if you have stables or kennels on your property, a garden tractor is compact enough to get into small spaces inside buildings for activities like moving bedding and mucking stalls; dump carts make these chores even easier.
Most models of both lawn and garden tractors come with important safety features, such as switches that prevent accidental start ups and controls that stop the engine and powered attachments when the driver leaves the seat. And, depending on the model, they may feature headlights, which makes work after dark possible.
MAKING THE CHOICE
When it came to choosing among a riding mower, a lawn tractor, and a garden tractor, Reuben Peterson chose the most hardworking option to maintain his acre lot in Madrid, Iowa. He uses his garden tractor year round; with two large vegetable gardens (one measures 150 by 35 feet; the other, 100 by 35 feet), his Ariens garden tractor comes in handy for nearly every aspect of his gardens production as well as grass and snow maintenance in his yard.
“I till the gardens in both the spring and fall with a four-foot rear-end tiller attachment,” explains Peterson. After planting his vegetable crops in the spring, he uses his garden tractor primarily for mowing the grass throughout the summer. The tractor’s large mower deck keeps his lawn clipped and trim–even in the hard-to-mow areas like his orchard and around the buildings on the property. To keep his turf tidy, he uses a vacuum attachment to remove grass clippings after each mowing.
When it’s time to harvest vegetables, Peterson hitches a pull-behind wagon to his garden tractor to help him collect sweet corn, carrots, and cabbage. And in late summer– tomato time–he uses his tractor-wagon combo to haul freshly picked fruit from the garden to his greenhouse. “I cart the tomatoes to the greenhouse, set them out on the benches for a few days, then take them to the house. My wife and I canned 100 quarts of tomatoes last year,” he says.
When winter comes, his garden tractor remains on duty. In Iowa, one might expect snow any time from late September through early May (May 12 is the last frost date). Peterson’s garden tractor enters snow-removal mode during these months. Equipped with a snow-thrower attachment, it allows him to keep his driveway and sidewalks clear throughout the season.
If you find yourself faced with tasks like Reuben Peterson’s throughout the year, a versatile lawn or garden tractor just might make your life a little easier. H