Pro Power Equipment for Home Gardeners

IF YOU CHILL YOUR FOOD in a Sub-Zero refrigerator, make your morning omelet on a Wolfe stove, or drive a pickup truck or SUV to work (even if your route isn’t off road), then you may be the sort of consumer who would enjoy commercial-grade outdoor power equipment.

Commercial-grade outdoor equipment, such as tillers, augers, and mowers, is built to work hard and last long. What home-owner doesn’t want that? To get professional-level durability and toughness, many outdoor power equipment consumers are willing to pay extra for the power that commercial equipment has to offer.

When Randy Dawson of Perry, Iowa, wanted something sturdy and hardworking to turn the soil in his large vegetable garden, he purchased a commercial-grade tiller. Large-frame tillers are the best option for gardeners with a lot of ground to cover. These ground-eating machines offer wider tilling widths than standard tillers and can turn over the soil of a large garden in no time. “At the time, I had a two-acre garden to till, so I wanted something durable,” Dawson recalls. Each spring, he breaks up the soil for planting. And each fall, using his tiller, he works amendments such as manure, compost, and leaves into the soil. When neighbors or friends ask to use the tiller, he lends it. He’s only “replaced a few tines and some spark plugs” after 12 years of consistent use. “It’s been a great tiller,” he says.

Property owners who use their acreage for multiple purposes—leisure, gardening, and animal ownership—may find that commercial-grade landscaping equipment, such as an earth auger (a power-driven posthole digger), becomes the most-used tool in the shed. On his property, Randy Dawson has found an earth auger extremely useful. He initially rented one for specific projects, such as putting up fencing. He ended up purchasing a gas-powered earth auger for chores around his property. In summer, he puts his earth auger to good use digging postholes for garden and animal fencing, deck supports, and birdhouse poles.

As a gardening tool, an earth auger is invaluable. “I planted all the trees in my yard using my earth auger,” he says. Whether he was planting a one-inch caliper sapling in a hole dug by a four-inch auger, or larger trees and shrubs with root balls requiring the 10-inch auger attachment, the earth auger drilled perfect and compact holes without backbreaking labor. For larger plants, such as balled-and-burlapped trees, Dawson digs holes with his earth auger first, then widens them to the appropriate width with a spade. (Sometimes he drills multiple holes and connects them using the spade.) The augerdug hole has a flat bottom, which he fills with compost before planting. The end result is a professionally planted tree with minimum ground disturbance in the yard or garden bed. And when the garden is just a memory midwinter, Dawson refits the auger with a razor-sharp attachment to drill holes for a favorite wintertime sport—ice fishing.

Dawson selected a small-scale earth auger because “the auger will only drill as fast as the ground conditions let it.” In his rich Iowa soil, his small earth auger is more than adequate. A larger machine may be more appropriate for rockier soils. For fall bulb planting (especially for oversized bulbs such as Allium giganteum or naturalizing Narcissus species), an earth auger could prove to be an invaluable tool.

According to Bill Harley, president and CEO of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), homeowners who purchase commercial-grade outdoor equipment are part of an increasing trend. The OPEI doesn’t keep specific statistics on homeowners who buy commercial-grade equipment, but Harley sees this emerging market as “people who mow more frequently, who are serious about their yard care, who own large properties, and who are do-it-yourselfers.rsquo;

‘Consumers who buy commercial-grade lawn equipment are going into dealerships that sell equipment to both types of markets (consumer and commercial), and they are stepping into the commercial area looking for more power, more durability, and more efficiency,” says Harley.

A big crossover area is riding mowers. Industrial mowers are more durable and built to take daily use, because their market is composed of landscapers and professional grounds maintenance companies. Nearly daily use of equipment means that it has to be built to take hard use. The fuel capacity is larger for commercial mowers, so that less time is needed to fill’er up. (Commercial mowers’ gas tanks are nearly twice the size of consumer mowers’.) But one of the biggest benefits of commercial riding mowers is that they are faster, attaining speeds up to 10 miles per hour, compared to consumer mowers’ average maximum, 6 miles per hour.

Another type of commercial grass cutter, the reel mower, features rotating spiral blades that cut the tips of each blade of grass at an angle rather than chopping grass tops the way a traditional lawn mower cuts. Reel mowers can also be “ganged” in multiple mower groups and pulled behind a lawn or garden tractor, an ATV, or even a golf cart. Used for large sports fields or institutional mowing needs, sized-down consumer models offer a gang of seven reel mowers that mow more than a nine-foot-wide swath on each pass.

Commercial-grade mowers and other equipment may be more powerful and faster and offer great convenience and value, but this can be a double-edged sword. “Consumers need to be careful about safety,” warns Bill Harley. You should follow all the same safety rules using commercial equipment as you do with regular consumer products. And, Harley adds, “Consumers should get some training from the dealer. They may not be used to the power.” 

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