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Lawn care tips

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How do I prepare a lawn mower for winter

Written by Dave Worner on 30-Jan-2017 10:27:47


As the nights draw in on winter’s approach, and grass growth begins slowing down, you may be wondering what jobs are left in the garden.

Well, one of the most important jobs will actually take place in the shed or garage, and that is preparing your lawn mower for winter. Trust me, you will be thankful you've done it come springtime!


The first thing you need to do is work out when you're going to do your last cut of the year. This will depend on weather temperatures.  It may change from year to year, but around the first frost is always a good point to start. I like to use my mower to collect the fallen leaves, of which most are usually down by mid December.  Plus, Christmas is the time for every proud homeowner to show their lawn off all year round. And it's fair to say dreaming of a white Christmas will only be a.......dream! So the next best thing for me is nice straight stripes on the lawn.


I always start my preparation for winterising before the final cut of the season, as one of the first things you want to do is empty the fuel tank.  So on my last cut when filling up I will estimate how much fuel I'll need. If I happen to run out of fuel while mowing, I just top up a little bit more to get the lawn finished.  No sense in filling the tank right up, just to pour most of the fuel back out again once finished.


Check your operator’s manual for any manufacturer specific advice. You may have two different manuals one for the lawn mower and one for the engine so best check both. If your mower is still within the manufacturer’s warranty, you might invalidate your warranty by doing some of the maintenance yourself, which I describe below. So best to check first with the manufacturer or your local lawn mower dealer.  Here are my tips:


Step 1: Clean the mower of any debris 

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No need to go to town on it as the chances of you spilling some oil or fuel later on are likely.


Step 2:  Drain the fuel tank

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Petrol can go stale very quickly, especially during the winter months.  This will lead to the engine struggling to start and not running smoothly if at all come the springtime.

Hopefully, you won't have much fuel left so you’ll just be able to run the engine until it runs out. However, if you still have considerable fuel in the tank after your final mow you will want to remove it. You can either use a syphoning kit or disconnect the fuel pipe at the bottom of the tank and letting it drain into a container. Once the fuel has been drained, you will want to start the engine again and let it run until it stops to make sure all of the fuel has been flushed from the system.


Step 3: Oil change

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Your operator’s manual will tell you how regularly you should change the oil, and unless you’re mowing commercially, once a year will generally be fine. The manual will also explain how to change the oil for your mower.  Generally, this can be done by removing the dipstick and turning the mower on its side with the air filter pointed upwards and letting the oil drain into a tray.  Alternatively, a bolt at the bottom of the oil sump may need to be removed. Once all of the oil has drained out, you will stand the mower back up or insert and tighten the bolt. You will then want to pour the waste oil into a bottle with a lid (maybe an old oil bottle).  Unless the mower has been used commercially, the oil can be taken to your local recycling center and deposited.


Once the mower is empty, it’s now time to fill it with fresh oil.  Again refer to the operator’s manual regarding the type of oil to use and how much should be added. Be sure to check both the engine and lawn mower manual if separate. The dipstick will guide you as to how much you have put in. It is easier to put more in than take it out, so be sure not to overfill.


Step 4: Remove/replace the mower blade

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To do this you need to turn the mower back on its side, remembering that the air filter should always point upward (to stop any oil running into the filter and blocking it up). I suggest you wear gloves when doing this, as the blade could be sharp.  You will need a suitable sized socket and ratchet to remove the nut holding the blade on.  (Be aware that some mowers are self-tightening, so turning the bolt anti-clockwise may not always loosen it).

Now running a mower with a sharp blade is one of the most important things you can do to have a healthy lawn and to equally have a healthy mower!

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While now is a good time to change out several things on your mower, it might also be worth replacing the mower blade. I will always wait till the second cut of the year before I put a brand-new blade on my mower, as the first cut of the year will always pick up debris left over from the winter. So for now, I will just clean the current blade with a wire brush and sharpen the tips.  It's always a good idea to have a brand-new blade on hand, just in case the blade gets damaged throughout the season, but also as a guide when sharpening the current blade.  The ideal blade should have a 30° angle on the edge. There are a number of ways to sharpen the blade, and many people will use a bench grinder. However, I find locking the blade in a vice and using an angle grinder the easiest way to sharpen the blade and get the right angle.  Once the 30° angle has been restored, you will need to make sure the blade is equal on both sides or balanced if you prefer. Now there are machines that do this, but the simplest way is to knock a nail into the wall or fence post and hang the blade on it. If the blade hangs level then you know it's equal on both sides.  If not, take the lower side and grind a little bit more off until it hangs level.

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If unsure or not confident about doing this, just replace the old blade with a new one, or take the old blade to your local lawnmower dealer as most will offer a sharpening service.


Step 5: Wash the mower

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While the blade is off, this will give you a good opportunity to get a good look under the mower for any damage.  This is also a great opportunity to give it a thorough washing off. Remember to wash the box off as well, and make sure any vents in the box are free of muck and debris, as the vents help the mower collect the grass more efficiently.

Once washed off, replace the blade and make sure it's on correctly, the right way up.


Step 6: Change the spark plug

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To ensure that your mower will spark into life in the spring, it's a good idea to replace the spark plug with a new one.  However, if the spark plug is in a good condition once removed, a good clean up with a wire brush could be enough to prolong its life. To remove the spark plug you will need a specific spark plug socket. Some mowers may come with a correct socket; however, if yours did not, see the operator’s manual for the socket size needed.


Step 7: Changing the air filter

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Now that the mower is washed off and dust free, it's time to change the air filter.  However, like the spark plug, if it's actually in good condition you can just clean it and reuse it. It is important when the filter is off to cover the area and intake with a paper towel so that no dust or dirt gets into the mower.  If it's a paper filter, just giving it a tap on the worktop over a bin will dislodge any dust that is trapped in it.  It could also be a sponge filter, in which case washing it in a little bit of clean petrol could be enough to prolong its life.


Step 8: Grease and lubrication

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Once the mower is dry, it is a good idea to lubricate any moving parts on the mower, including wheels, levers and cables. Generally, a good application of a WD-40 type spray will help prevent any rusting and help with lubrication.


The sooner you complete these end-of-season maintenance steps, the better off you will be when spring returns and the grass begins to grow. Otherwise, you might find out that your mower doesn't want to start. In which case, you end up having to take it to your local dealer with everybody else who has a mower that doesn't start. And before you know it, it is getting close to May and your grass is a foot tall!

Topics: Lawn mower maintenance

Dave Worner

Written by Dave Worner

Dave aka "The Lawn Guy" is a lawn care expert with 20 years lawn care experience with 18 years experience as a greenkeeper at Hindhead Golf club. He provides professional lawn care services in Haslemere and the surrounding area.

Other posts by Dave Worner

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