Flail Mower

Anybody using a flail mower to grind prunings from the orchard into mulch? I have seen pictures of large orchards using big tractors and heavy duty flail mower/shredders. It looks like the perfect system, but I’m not sure if its possible with a smaller tractor. I push the prunings with pallet forks on a loader and burn them at the moment.

I thought about mulching them with a brush hog as well as a larger mower… and have always come to the conclusion it would be better to burn, than to spread any possible disease around in the orchard.

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I mow my blackberry canes down after they die and turn them into mulch. I brush hogged old trees for years. If it’s less than 10’ tall and a few inches thick I put the blades to it.

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I think the rule of thumb is 6 to 8 horsepower (at the PTO) per foot of flail mower.

I considered one for mowing my orchard because of the offset available on some models, thinking it would make it easier to mow under the tree branches. But with the horsepower of my tractor I could only find a mower with about 16" of offset. Now I’m thinking of a self-powered offset trailing mower such as the ones made by Swisher.

For what it’s worth, a friend mows his vineyard with a small Kubota with a flail mower and it really does a nice job mowing and mulching up his grape vine prunings.

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I’m sure a flail mower would work better, but a regular bush hog works pretty good. I don’t burn any prunings at the farm, but drag the prunings to the row middles and hog them down. There really isn’t much left after I go over them a couple times.

Like I say, a flail mower might do the same in one pass, but a bush hog does a pretty good job in a couple passes.


Even after running my bush hog over the prunnings multiple times, I still have a lot of branches left that are ejected from the rear of the rotary mower. Also, some of the branches fly in all directions which creates safety concerns.

I have learned that very few small heavy duty flails are made that will get the job done. The entry price seems to be over $5K which may not be practical or even possible. Rears makes a nice one for about $7000.

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Do you know what make/model of flail your friend uses?

Tractorbynet.com has a lot of threads about various flail mowers. And flail vs rotary mowers.

As far as disease, the literature always warns about brush infecting nearby trees, but I’ve used my property for piling brush from scores of orchards for many years- my steep terrain and the wild nature of my property allows this without damaging the aesthetics of the place. My nursery and orchard have not been adversely affected by pathogens I’ve brought in- so far. I begin to suspect the danger is highly exaggerated. Certainly most pathogens are destroyed once the brush is chopped up and the feeding frenzy for easily available carbs builds up. However, I’m sure this happens more quickly when piled up.

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You are probably a little more concerned about appearance than I. I’ve seen pictures of your orchard and it pretty much looks like a finely manicured lawn in the row middles.

I’m not quite as picky, so a bush hog does a good enough job for me. Actually one pass generally chops the brush up pretty good by my standards. The only reason I make a second pass is because sometimes there is so much brush the mower will push some of it out of the way, without going over the top of it.

Generally after a the first few months of spring I don’t notice any more shredded twigs. Only some of the bigger branches (i.e. 1.5" dia.) which lay too flat for the mower to pick up are all that’s left. But I’m sure a flail would chop it up finer.

As a general thought on disease of the shredded wood, I’ve read some recommendations by Extension agents indicating a flair mower is the preferred piece of equipment. However, I haven’t seen any research comparing the disease potential of flail mowed prunings vs. bush hog mowed prunings.

I think the recommendations I’ve seen are based upon “good management practices”, sort of like disinfecting pruners after each tree. My own instinct is that there is probably little difference in disease pressure from mowing prunings with a rotary mower vs. a flail mower. The trees carry so much more wood and disease potential, I can’t imagine the mowed prunings on the ground would make much of a difference. Most of the diseases affecting peach trees attack live wood anyway and don’t live on dead wood. Armillaria is one which lives on dead wood, but it lives in the soil on tree roots anyway.

Flail mowers might be a tad safer from flying debris than a rotary mower, but I don’t use my rotary mower when anyone is near anyway.

All that said, if money was no object, I’d buy a flail mower, but a much cheaper bush hog type rotary mower works pretty good for the money.


Talked to him today, he said its an older 54" Rears, wasn’t sure of the model, bought it used at an auction. He runs behind a 24hp Kubota which he feels is a little underpowered for the mower but manages to cut through tall grass and shred prunings with it by slowing down the ground speed or adjusting the height of the cut and taking two passes. It does give a nice, clean looking cut when done.

A few years back a study was done on common medical recommendations made by doctors for specific illnesses and such. It was very surprising how much of their advice was not rooted (I love tree metaphors) in actual research, as opposed to logical leaps made from research- and leaps made from those leaps. Certainly the doctors had lost track of the source of their “information”- some of it wasn’t even research based to begin with. .

Imagine how much this kind of thing happens in horticulture, where research is much more limited and spread to a wide range of species in a wide range of soils and climates. That is why I always like to see the research- so I can make my own logical leaps.

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Thanks for the suggestion. I spent a good while on the site. Lots of folks with the Bestco mower report it works well. I could buy three Bestco mowers for the price of one Rears and I can order the Bestco with hammer blades. Caroni is reasonable in price and folks report it works well, but no easy option for hammer blades.

Looks like the best option may be to reduce the size of the pile of the peach prunings and blackberry pruning by pushing them with the pallet forks and mowing the leftovers with a Bestco flail.

Thanks for noticing! The Pick Your Own folks expect the farm to look their front yard. Everything I grow is sold PYO, so keeping the place well groomed helps create a lot of return customers and word of mouth advertising.

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I don’t doubt it at all. I have pretty much given up making my orchard look picturesque, what with all the tractor ruts and all (from pulling a 5000+ lb. sprayer when ground is soft). In fact, I have a disclaimer on my Website, so people know what to expect:

"We welcome you to our farm, but please understand our farm is a “working” farm. This means all the normal hazards and risks found in nature, or on a farm, can be found on our farm, including but not limited to: holes, ruts, water (about 6’ deep), biting and stinging insects, snakes, rodents, poisonous plants, barbed wire fencing, thorns, terraces covered with mulch, sticks & wire stakes (which could be an eye hazzard), etc.

As such, please know when you enter the farm, you enter at your own risk. We cannot be responsible for accidents.


We do not allow pets in the orchard."

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I expect that a civil case lawyer would be less discouraged by that assertion than most of your potential customers.


That’s very true in almost any case. However, both MO and KS passed bills loosely called “Right to farm” bills. Essentially (among other things) the bills were designed to protect “direct marketer farmers”.

Basically, the legislation (for MO) says if you post a sign with a certain verbiage warning the customers of the inherent risk of being on a farm, and register your farm with the MO Dept. of Agriculture as an agritourism site, then when Mom brings little Johnny to the orchard and he climbs a tree, falls out and breaks his arm, the farmer isn’t going to be liable. One can still get sued over things like this, but because it passed on the ballet, it’s supposed to offer a lot of protection.

As you can imagine, trial lawyers fought the passage of this law pretty hard, but they lost.

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That is the best legislation passed in your state in a decade, I bet. The lawyer lobby must not hold as much clout as here in NY (maybe the insurance lobby trumps them there). People need to be protected from the carelessness of landowners if their jobs require them being there, but balancing the rights of people fairly is not easy to accomplish in a political system fueled by so much money. Fear of litigation is a double edged sword. When I was on the board of directors of a huge apartment building in NYC, (400 units) fear of being sued certainly made us more careful about keeping sidewalks and such safe. We stayed well stocked with salt in winter and let employees know to spread it promptly after clearing snow, for example.

Very true. I’m certainly not against lawyers. They provide a needed service in our society. My brother is a lawyer, and I think you’ve mentioned yours is too. Everyone hates lawyers until they need one, generally in a crisis situation, then they are generally very thankful they have an expert on their side.

I’m sure the legal field attracts more than its fair share of greedy people (the occupation seems to disproportionately reward greed). Politics seems the same to me, except that it rewards people who have greed for mostly power instead of money. Nevertheless, I’ve met quite a few lawyers who are fine, kind people I’ve been proud to know, as well as politicians I believe to be truly motivated to serve people, and not so much themselves.

Yup, the broad stroke people paint against the both is dangerous to democracy- baby with bathwater. But the nature of civil litigation is the lawyer is required to get as much money as possible for their client (and themselves) which has more recently become the nature of our political system- even honest politicians need vast contributions to stay competitive- but we could change that. This discussion now needs to be transferred to the lounge, I think.

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