Lawn Mower Safety

With the welcome of spring comes lush green grass in lawns across America. So, tis the season to fire up the lawn mower. For some, mowing the lawn is a necessary chore and for others, a welcomed excuse to spend time outside. For all parties it is a task that requires keen awareness and good judgement.

If you have never accidentally struck a stick, rock, or toy left out on the lawn with your mower, count yourself in the minority. Even if you meticulously scout your lawn for hazards before you mow, you can’t be sure that they’ve been eliminated. An item struck by a mower blade can be flung out the shoot before you even knew you hit it, which can cause damage to your home or worse, an unsuspecting bystander. Accidents with mowers can happen in a split second and sadly, they are not a rare occurrence.

Did you know that 20,000 people each year are injured in lawn mower accidents and an average of 75 people are killed? The United States Amputee-Coalition reports that 800 children are run over by lawn mowers annually and 600 of them require limb amputations. These accidents are 100% preventable. Follow safety guidelines and keep your family from being included in these statistics.

Follow these general precautions before fueling and starting your lawn equipment:

  • Become familiar with proper equipment operation including starting, stopping, and engaging blades and drive before starting.
  • Inspect the unit and attachments for signs of wear and damage.
  • Make sure belts, shafts and connections are properly tensioned or tightened.
  • Verify shields and guards are in place and safety features are not overridden.
  • Only refuel the engine when it is cool.
  • Never smoke when working around fuel sources.
  • Place equipment in neutral and disengage blades before starting, if possible.
  • Never operate equipment in a closed building as this can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Follow these general precautions when operating any power mower:

  • Remove all litter and debris from the area to be mowed: Rocks, roadside debris and other objects can be deadly when thrown by a mower blade.
  • Only operate the unit on stable ground or footing to avoid potential slips and falls.
  • Only operate self-propelled mowers and riding mowers at safe travel speeds.
  • Do not disable safety features such as auto-clutches and shut off switches, or secure levers and switches in the “on” position to simulate operator presence.
  • Do not leave the unit running unattended.
  • Keep hands and feet away from mowing deck, blades and moving parts.
  • Be aware of bystanders, keep children and pets indoors, and if other bystanders are nearby, allow at least 50 feet of safe distance between them and the mower.
  • Do not operate the equipment when fatigued or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Only operate equipment with adequate visibility and light.

For mowing on slopes:

  • Small walk-behind mowers: Mow across slopes to avoid potential for slipping and having feet go under mower deck.
  • Riding mowers: Mow up or down slopes to avoid potential for overturns.

For a regular reminder the Amputee Coalition put together this checklist. Cut it out and post it in a place you see every time you mow, stop by the Extension Office for a copy, or access it online at


Continue caring for your landscape and enjoy your time outside. Remember to keep hydrated and to protect your skin from the sun. Stay smart! Stay safe! Have fun!

Cicadas are Coming, but Keep Calm and Garden On!

I have heard quite a bit of concerned scuttle about the anticipation of the 17-year cicadas emerging this spring. They are coming, but there is no need to panic! While these insects can cause some damage to young woody trees and shrubs, it is unlikely that the damage will be devastating. If you are worried about cicada damage on your property consider netting young trees using a mesh cover or cheese cloth with holes smaller than 1/4 inch. Old wives tales about banding or wrapping tree trunks with an assortment of materials will do little to protect your plants, because the immature cicadas that climb the trunks do not actually cause any damage. The adult females, who are fully capable of flying past those trunk wraps, are the culprits. They lay their eggs within the twigs of woody perennials. If you notice a cicada party in your yard keep a look out for damaged twigs and prune them within three weeks of the damage. Pesticide control is not recommended for cicadas because applications are more likely to harm beneficial pollinators than make a dent in the temporary cicada population. Do be prepared for these boogers while out on your motorcycle or 4-wheeler. Making skin contact at a decent speed with a 2 inch insect can be unpleasant, but they mean you no harm and there is no need to fear being bitten or stung by cicadas.

Perhaps some of the cicada’s bad reputation can be traced back to they way we talk about them with our friends and neighbors. Cicadas are often called “locusts” in conversation, but locusts and cicadas are very different critters! If you know the biblical reference to “a plague of locusts”, imagining a cloud of insects coming to munch everything in it’s path can be scary. Locusts are very similar to grasshoppers and they can cause a natural disaster. Cicada’s however are more of a singing seasonal annoyance than locusts which I think of as a flying brush hog. All in all, the 17-year cicadas will emerge, find their mates, lay their eggs, and then take another 17-year hiatus until 2033, when the cycle continues again.  

The Label is the Law

The word “pesticide” inherently has a negative connotation, after all anything that ends with “cide” refers to the death. However, pesticides are generally used to improve the conditions of an environment. They kill pests. The definition of what is considered a pest can change depending on the situation and the opinion of the parties involved. Herbicides, insecticides, rodenticides, and fungicides are all examples of commonly used pesticides. Anti-bacterial/viral soaps, sprays, and sanitizers can even fall into this category, because they kill bacteria and viruses. Given that the applicators and users follow the directions specific to the product they are using, there is very little resulting risk to humans. These directions include proper storage, application, and treatment or use of the affected environment following application.

When using ANY type of pesticide, the label is the law and there are no exceptions. Whether the substance can be purchased and used by anyone or requires a special license, the protocol is the same. Read the label and follow the instructions. If you have any doubts about using the product correctly, do not use it. In nearly all cases where an issue arises associated with pesticide use it is a result of not following directions. These substances can be credited to improving the quality of human life in many ways over the centuries, but they are to be respected.

In general, when confronted with a situation that prompts the question, “Should I use a pesticide for this?”, I look for an alternative method that could solve the problem first. For example: Sugar ants found their way into my candy drawer. Should I use ant spray to get rid of them? -Maybe, but first let’s clean it out, wipe down the trail from where the ants were lead inside, and see if that stops them before we decide to spray.

Following the directions for pesticide use allows us to solve problems while still being good stewards. Being good stewards is important to maintaining the health and safety of our environment on all scales. So, if using a pesticide is appropriate for your situation, make sure to take the steps needed for proper safety and use.