Power Play 6

String Trimmers & Brush Cutter


THE FIRST TIME I LAID HANDS on a string trimmer, I felt like the Wicked Witch of the West. The gentlest squeeze of my hand activated the whirring string at the base of this broomstick-like weed-whacker. It leapt into action, grinding away the messy outer edges of my yard and garden. Straggling weeds lay felled at my feet. Errant grasses cowered and succumbed. I felt a maniacal laugh coming on.

If you are of a certain age, you may remember how manicuring the yard used to be done—the primary trimming tool of choice was the dreaded, carpel-tunnel-injury-inducing, handheld grass clipper. I remember as a kid spending hours on my knees in penance to a neat-as-a-pin suburban yard. It was my job to trim the no-man’s-land-area that the push mower couldn’t reach. Begrudgingly, I clipped long wisps of grass that huddled furtively along the edge of the house. Grasping the awk ward, out-of-balance tool and squeezing together the reluctant blades, I grew to hate clipping. I was never so happy to have a younger brother as the day that he was deemed steady enough to work these treacherous blades and inherited the job.

Simply put, a string trimmer is a yardcare necessity (unless you’re Edward Scissorhands). As with most modern conveniences, you are presented with more options than you may know what to do with. String trimmers are available in both gas-and electric-powered options. You can purchase gas-powered string trimmers in both two-and four-cycle engine models. Two-cycle engine models require an oil and gas mixture to run, and may be the best choice for heavy-duty trimming of rough and inconsistent plant material. Four-cycle models run on straight gas. Both are fairly loud—creating a high-pitched whine as they efficiently cut their way through your weeds.

For quieter and emission-free grass trimming, an electric-powered string trimmer may be for you. You can get an electric trimmer in either a corded (requires an extension cord) or cordless (battery-powered versions with charges that last up to a mile of trimming) model. Both offer good trimming power for suburban yards. As a rule, the higher the amperage on the trimmer, the better the performance.

What can you do with a string trimmer? It’s a cleanup crew in stick form. We use ours in our orchard in hard-to-reach areas of our yard, such as beneath our low-to-the-ground dwarf apple trees (laden with apples). We also use a string trimmer to manicure areas that a rider or mower couldn’t travel over, such as a steep ditch on our property.

A string trimmer becomes even more useful if you purchase one that comes with a variety of attachments. Your trimmer can convert from a weed whacker to an edger, tree pruner, hedge clipper, or power broom—apparently, you can do about everything but mix up a pan of brownies with a string trimmer.

String trimmers are fairly easy to use, as evidenced by the swarms of ground maintenance members waving them like magic wands over the lawns of office complexes and public parks. They are lightweight, portable, and durable. When string trimmers do run amok, it is nearly always operator error. I have a little bit of experience in this. I was trimming around a newly planted apple tree when I got too close and cut clean through the trunk at the ground level. I stood there staring in disbelief at the little apple tree, now lying prostrate on the ground, while visions of sweet cider faded from my mind. I realized that I’d accomplished in one second what rabbits had been trying to do all winter… lob off my beloved apple tree. I shut off my trimmer and went inside to confess my logging episode to the planter of the tree—my husband. I was more careful after that.

In addition to cleaning up weeds around your mailbox, string trimmers can also chew up the base of that mailbox if you aren’t careful (as well as mar metal light poles and strip the paint off buildings). String trimmers cut a 10 to 17 inch swath, depending on the model, so give your trees and buildings a wide berth until you’ve mastered the weed-whacking finesse needed to work around structures or plant material. Older trees that can’t be taken down by a string trimmer can still suffer from “string-trimmer syndrome”—decline and death caused by damage to the cambium layer.

I like several things about the string trimmer I own. It came with a shoulder strap, which is great because although it only weighs nine pounds, it seems to get heavier the longer I work. The string comes on a spool, so when it runs out (depending on what you whack with it, you may go through string fairly quickly) you can replace it with a new one. I must say that my particular model is a bit tricky to change, and I’ve taken it back to the dealership twice to have them show me how to do it. When you’re buying a string trimmer, ask about string replacement and learn how to do it before you take your trimmer home. Gener ally, trimmer string is released by the bump method (you push the spool on the ground to release string) or by automatic feed.

If you have a large overgrown area, then you may want to power up a notch to a brush cutter. The difference between the two is chomping ability and power. In kitchen appliance terms, a string trimmer is like a hand mixer and a brush cutter is like a Kitchen Aid mixer. Use a string trimmer to trim grass and small weeds with stems that are no larger than a pencil. A brush cutter tackles robust-stemmed plants such as stringy burdock, gnarly giant ragweed, and thorn-covered Rosa multiflora.

All this daring slashing and chomping requires attention to safety—after all, you are wielding a giant plant-eating stick with teeth. Your grass trimming and brush cutting attire should consist of gloves, long pants, long sleeves, safety glasses, hearing protection, and closed-toe shoes. Better to be safe than toeless. H


For more on string trimmers, visit www.hortmag.com/ope.

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