By Emily Birnbaum, Special to the Gazette
Before Lyn DeWitt used to mow her lawn, she would take her children inside her Bethesda house and shut the windows to escape the mower’s fumes and loud motor. As the communications director for the Audubon Naturalist Society and generally an environmentally aware citizen, DeWitt decided that she had enough of the gasoline-powered mower.
That’s when she decided to harness the same sun that helped the lawn grow in the first place — and her company, Solar Mowing, was born.
In 2009, DeWitt bought her first battery-powered mower for roughly $400. Although it cost about $200 more than the average gasoline mower, she said it was worth the investment because it was quiet, convenient and did not pollute the air. She then found a small company in Virginia that outfitted her truck with a photovoltaic solar panel and storage batteries. Thanks to the solar panels, she could charge her mower all day as she worked.
“I come from a long line of entrepeneurs who always had their own businesses, so it felt very natural for me to start a business out of this,” DeWitt said. “My uncles had a lawn equipment business, my father sold Christmas trees in the winter and flowers in the spring and summer, and my uncle owned a small fruit farm.”
She invested about $30,000 on the truck, solar panels, mowers and other equipment. She enlisted the help of her 14-year-old daughter, Anna, and several young adults.
Since 2009, the company has grown to six mowers, eight trimmers, three trucks with solar panels and a dozen employees. A year ago, it was certified by the Montgomery County Green Business Certification Program, signifying its effective environmental stewardship. It received a runner-up award at Bethesda Green’s gala in 2011 in a category recognizing local green services.
According to the Solar Mowing website, the company abides by a few distinctive standards. First, it mows, not according to a set schedule, but when it is best for the lawn.
“Lyn is mowing the lawn so it’s best for the lawn in the long term, unlike some services who just do it on a schedule and they’re not really thinking about the best interest of your lawn,” said Andrea Witt of Bethesda, a customer for three years.
Also, the company leaves the grass about 3 inches tall, which prevents the germination of weed seeds and increases nutrient uptake.
Finally, Solar Mowing makes sure to leave clippings on customers’ lawns. The clippings, which workers mulch into a fine product that falls between the cut grass, help because they feed the soil.
“It’s a perfect fertilizer,” DeWitt said.
The quieter mowers are the biggest benefit of going solar, she said.
“Normally, if you see a lawn service arrive at a neighbor’s house, you know it’s going to be very noisy and it’s sort of not a great experience if you’re sitting on your back porch to hear all the mowers and blowers going,” Witt said. “My next-door neighbor told me that Solar Mowing was so quiet that it didn’t disturb her at all when she was sitting outside.”
Since last year, Solar Mowing has had a few major changes.
Operations manager David Jiminez said he and DeWitt have been expanding the company’s services to compete with larger companies.
“We now do mulching, weeding, pruning, spring cleanup and fall cleanup,” DeWitt said.
The company focuses on environmentally friendly practices, using compost and natural materials, she said.
Prices vary with lawn size, but a basic mowing, trimming and blowing package generally runs about $35 per cut. That’s comparable with other companies that use gasoline-powered equipment, according to DeWitt.
Solar Mowing works in Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Garrett Park, Kensington, Rockville, Silver Spring and Takoma Park. More information is at solarmowing.com or call 301-787-5018.