Just when you were ready to forget garden timetables until next year, this weekend's work schedule focuses on winterizing powered equipment so you don't waste dollars having the machines repaired next spring.
With the money you now save, you can be a bit more generous decorating for the holidays.
Properly cared for, powered garden equipment lasts for years. It's not uncommon to find power lawn mowers still going after more than 20 years of grass cutting, but not without annual maintenance. An hour's work this weekend will probably save up to $100 at the mower shop next spring -- money that can be better spent upgrading the landscape.
Start by finding the owner's manual for each piece of powered equipment you own, such as power mower, weed trimmer or edger. Read the section devoted to winter maintenance, then follow the instructions. To avoid future problems, photocopy each manual and put in a file for garden equipment.
If you can't find the owner's manual for the lawn mower, what follows is a detailed servicing guide for all gasoline-powered mowers.
If you failed to drain the fuel tank after you cut the lawn the last time, do so now. Remove the vent cap of the gas tank and use a basting tool to siphon off as much fuel as possible. Lift the mower off the floor so you're able to siphon off the last remnants of fuel. Next, stuff a clean cloth in the tank to absorb the last drops of fuel there, then use the cloth to wipe down the exterior of the mower housing. Activate the choke and fire up the engine. Let it run until it sputters and quits for want of fuel. By doing this, you've saved $75 in repair bills next spring.
Drain and replace the crankcase oil. Look for the drain plug at the base of the engine. On some mowers, the drain plug is on the underside of the mower, in which case you should raise the mower so the left wheels are on the ground and the right wheels in the air.
Use a socket or wrench to remove the drain plug, moving a catch basin in place to collect the old oil; use an empty plastic gallon-size milk jug and a funnel to store the dirty oil until it's disposed of later. Return the drain plug in place, then add clean engine oil (10W-30 or 10W-40). Check the filler gauge to make sure you add the proper volume of oil and no more.
Replace the spark plug. Disconnect the ignition wire, then use a socket wrench to remove the old plug. Jot down the series, then buy an exact replacement at the auto supply store. Most mower spark plugs are gapped to 30,000 fractions of an inch. Use a feeler gauge to gap the new plug properly.
Add a tablespoon of clean engine oil to the spark plug chamber, then slowly pull the starter cord to distribute the oil evenly on the walls of the engine cylinder. A dozen slow pulls of the cord should do it, then install the new spark plug, but leave the ignition wire off.
Clean the air filter. Remove the cover and separate the filter parts to get to the sponge air filter. Add warm water and heavy-duty detergent, putting the filter and parts into the solution. Work soap through the sponge with your hands, eventually cleaning under running water.
Wash filter parts, too, then dry with a clean cloth. Add a little clean motor oil to the sponge, work the oil throughout, then assemble filter parts and install on the carburetor intake from which it came.
Clean the carburetor linkage. These are the exposed metal parts at the carburetor base that activate choke and throttle controls from the upper handle assembly. Pick up an aerosol can of carburetor cleaner at the auto supply store, and spray the linkage thoroughly to remove dirt, grease and grime. In less than a minute, the linkage should be spotless.
Lubricate the control cable. Using graphite or household oil, let oil flow inside the cable housing from the control handle at the top of the mower to where it ends at the carburetor linkage. Use enough oil to coat the inside of the cable housing to prevent rust.
Use a paint brush to clean around the wheel height adjustment levers, then lubricate with household oil. Clean upper metal housing, coating with a clean cloth to which an ounce of clean engine oil had been applied. A film of oil on the metal housing deters rust during winter storage.
Expensive mowers have Zerk fittings on abrasive parts, in which case you should use a grease gun equipped with a canister of multipurpose grease. Check for fittings on axles, bearings and such. Lubricate until grease spills out the overflow chamber. Wipe with a cloth promptly.
Now, move the mower on its side. Ideally, locate the mower so the upper handle is supported against an object such as a wall, with the left wheels on the ground.
Remove the rotary blade. Use a piece of lumber or firewood to lock the blade in place while you use a socket wrench to remove the bolts securing the blade to the rotating shaft. Immediately return the bolts in place, later buying a replacement blade for the mower. When you do, take the old blade with you for identification.
Clean the underside of the mower housing. Handy tools are a putty knife or a steel-wire brush. Scrape away dried grass clippings so the mower housing is spotless. Check for signs of rust, in which case you would apply two or three coats of a rust-proofing paint to the underside. Allow a few days between coats for drying.
Finally, store the mower for the winter. If the mower stays in the garage, this is the best time to clean it to accommodate power equipment. Use plastic to cover the mower for the winter.
Riding mowers and garden tractors require detailed servicing that is spelled out in owner's manuals. If you have misplaced the manual, write the company for a copy, but remember to include the model and serial number of your unit.
To replace mower blades, it is imperative that the mower deck be "dropped" from the mower or tractor. Drain the fuel oil completely, change crankcase oil and filter and lubricate moving parts.
Electric-start mowers and tractors should have ignition lines disconnected from battery terminals, then the battery cleaned and stored indoors for the winter. If need be, label ignition wires accordingly for positive and negative terminals.
Rural homeowners with diesel tractors are cautioned not to drain fuel lines because this usually ruptures fuel seals during storage. A 50-50 mix of diesel fuel and kerosene in the fuel tank is now the recommended procedure for winter storage.
With weed trimmers, drain the fuel tank (most often simply a matter of removing the vent cap and turning the unit upside-down), engage the choke and fire up the engine to consume the last drop of gas in the fuel line. Replace the spark plug so the unit is ready for spring work.
Jack Eden is the host of "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500 AM).