Mulchers: Uses and Types of Mulching Machines

What are Mulchers?

Garden shredder
Garden shredder

Mulchers are machines that have the capacity to efficiently produce usable mulch from general vegetation or recycled organic products. Typically, this is done by cutting, shredding, or chopping up organic material into relatively even pieces.

The most common and effective organic material used is vegetation. Although, there are now several diverse types of mulch being produced that are not all organic and therefore several types of mulchers that manufacture various types like plastic sheeting and geotextiles (landscape fabrics). Impact and roller shredders, skid steer mulchers, mowers, and other conventional types that are in existence are geared towards the use of organic vegetation.

There are the older types that were engineered and produced for other purposes but ended up being suitable for mulching due to their ability to cut organic and inorganic material into pieces. The most pertinent example of this kind of mulcher is the standard lawn mower (also termed mower, grass cutter, or lawnmower is an adjustable machine that uses one or more revolving blades or more recently, plastic/synthetic strings to cut grass and hedges evenly to the desired height and shape).

The lawn mower was invented and patented as far back as Eighteen thirty (1830) in England by Edwin Beard Budding primarily to cut the grass on grounds that were mainly used for sports and extensive gardens. Before the invention, only scythes (an ancient agricultural tool typically consisting of a curved blade attached to a wooden handle used to harvest crops by manually cutting the stems) and reapers (harvesting farm implement based on an upgrade of the scythe) were used and were understandably cumbersome especially for large areas.

Fundamental mulching was first understood and used by the Scottish and Irish approximately over two centuries ago but was not widely known or used and did not become popular and widely used until comparatively recent times.

With the subsequent acquisition of knowledge about the efficacy of the use of mulching for the agricultural purposes of nourishment and protection of crops came the understanding and realization that dead organic matter can be very useful in those aspects for living organic matter.

Therefore, the existing technology of lawn mowing took on the additional usefulness to that of providing evenly cut lawns, of also producing ideal material for mulching which is arguably even more important than mowing. This effectively designated the common lawnmower as not just a lawn mower but also a mulcher or a mulching lawnmower.

Mulching Lawnmower

Lawn mower

A mulching lawnmower typically refers to a machine or implement that is designed to cut ground surface vegetative material into relatively even pieces that can be used as mulch. The term is also used to refer to other machines that may have been originally designed for uses other than mulching but are suitable for that purpose and are used mostly or strictly to produce mulch such as the standard lawnmower and the garden shredder.

Standard lawnmowers can be used in some instances where customized mulchers are either not available, or too expensive to acquire or rent. In such cases, the lawnmowers are used for mulching purposes while still achieving mowed lawns.

Garden shredders, roller shredders, and wood chippers are machines that are primarily for cutting organic garden debris into smaller pieces for easier control and management are also used for mulching.

Mulchers like wheeled lawnmowers, impact shredders, and roller shredders are designed to handle only terrestrial surface vegetation and not elevated plants or arboreal material. There are some shredders that can deal with tough material like some high shrub and tree branches but they must be harvested and fed to the machine.

Similarly, there are hand-held mowers (both bladed and synthetic/plastic bladed types) that can be used on high foliage but cannot deal with large volumes nor tough material like branches.

For the processing of larger and denser vegetation like orchards and even forests, more powerful and specialized equipment that can deal with tough, dense, and high-elevation vegetation is required.

This type of equipment is typically attached as appendages to articulated (utility vehicles that have permanent or semi-permanent pivot joints which allow them to make sharp and tight turns) heavy-duty vehicles that can handle large volumes of tall dense vegetation such as forestry mulchers.

Forestry mulchers

Skid steer mulcher clearing forest land
Skid steer mulcher clearing forest land

Forestry mulchers, forestry mulching machines, forest masticators, or brush cutters, are machines that are used to produce mulch mainly by cutting up and harvesting forest or in some instances jungle vegetation.

Most forest mulchers are made up of a mulching or cutting bit which typically consists of a metal cylindrical drum equipped with steel cutting or chipping tools with serrations, shredders, or blades that rapidly shred vegetation.

This contraption is usually designed to be attached to heavy-duty agricultural or construction articulated vehicles like tractors, excavators, or skid steers as appendages that can be coupled and uncoupled from the vehicle as needed.

Forestry mulchers have the necessary length of mechanical arms to reach the treetops and high-hanging vegetation and are therefore used to clear forest areas for construction, maintenance of roads, mounting powerlines, or sanitizing the foliage around them, habitat preservation, invasive species control, wildfire prevention, limiting the amount of heavy equipment needed on a site, and management, while at the same time producing mulch.

Deciduous forest mulch
Deciduous forest mulch

These machines have the capacity to clear over fourteen hectares (14 ha) of vegetation in a day which will produce a very large volume of mulch. This material will remain as mulch on the forest floor unless it is collected for use elsewhere.

Unlike the effects of using other heavy-duty equipment, forestry mulchers can be used on land like forests and have a very little damaging impact such as extensively disturbed soil, devastated habitats, and uprooted trees.

There are several types of forestry mulchers that are designed for attachment to different kinds of heavy equipment vehicles such as the skid steer loader which is designated a skid steer mulcher after being coupled with the mulching attachment.

Skid Steer Mulchers

Bobcat skid steer mulcher loaded into a truck for transportation to the mulching site
Bobcat skid steer mulcher loaded into a truck for transportation to the forestry mulching site

A skid steer mulcher is a compact, rigid-framed, internal combustion engine-powered, multi-purpose, heavy-duty machine vehicle, with mechanical arms which can receive different attachments known as a skid steer loader machine with a mulching appendage attached to it for the heavy-duty cutting of vegetation like forests.

The skid steer loader machine is also known as a skid loader, bobcat loader, or a skid steer and is designed for use in different roles that may include heavy lifting, automated action at different heights, heavy loading, mechanized processing, maneuverability, e.t.c. The mulching attachment is what renders the machine a skid steer mulcher.

Bobcat skid steer loader with earth moving attachment
Bobcat skid steer loader with earth-moving attachment

The term skid steer is derived from the machine’s unconventional system of turning which appears as if the vehicle is skidding. This is achieved by its system of turning which is known as differential steering which involves the drive torque (the rotational equivalent of linear force or moment of force) of a land vehicle concentrated far more on one side than the other.

The wheels on either side are also synchronized as pairs and move independently of each side. This greatly improves the overall maneuverability of the heavy vehicle allowing it to effortlessly make sudden awkward turns.

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