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Popularity of battery-powered landscape equipment grows

One of my most tedious landscaping tasks is removing those droopy palm tree branches. It takes climbing a ladder propped against a tree and using my smaller corded chain saw to reach up and hack away — three or four times a year, minimum.

So I figured a powered pole saw might be in my future. Now, you’re talking about a homeowner who always has favored gas-powered small engines for his outdoor equipment. Not anymore.

Lithium-powered batteries have changed that. I’m all in.

Here’s a huge thumbs-up after a recent small sampling of battery-powered landscape tools manufactured by Craftsman, Ryobi and SnapFresh, a relative newcomer to the field.

I’m not alone. According to the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, a Virginia-based trade association, hand-held power equipment for lawns and outdoor use grew by more than 17 percent in 2020 with 29.3 million units shipped and electric units seeing double-digit growth. Analysts say the global market for outdoor yard tools will climb to more than $26 billion by 2024, with cordless equipment expected to have the most growth.

Jason Dengler is not surprised that a longtime fan of gas-power tools would convert. It’s all about the advancement of lithium batteries, the product manager for Craftsman said. Over the past decade, lithium-ion technology has replaced the cumbersome ni-cad (nickel cadmium) batteries.

“There are two major benefits,” Dengler said. “Lithium-ion performs at a higher power rate and provides power at a more consistent level.”

Ni-cad batteries gradually lost power. With lithium-ion, it’s like on or off. The battery stays fully charged till the end of its run.

Dengler also said the cost of the newer batteries, which are lighter, too, has dropped. Plus, manufacturers have developed tool systems with interchangeable parts and with one battery able to run dozens and dozens of tools.

Until my sampling of the products, however, skepticism ruled. More than 20 years of maintaining a half-acre of oak and maple trees, plant beds with shrubs and bushes and a rolling lawn on Long Island made me a gas-powered believer.

But I also had to have my gas-powered equipment serviced about every six months, and I had to store gasoline and mix it with two-cycle engine oil.

“Going from gas to electric, think maintenance and ease of use,” Dengler said. “With cordless tools, there’s no need to store gas or make trips to the small-engine mechanic. It’s snap in the battery and go.”

Here’s a bit of my experience working with battery-powered versions:

40-volt Ryobi brushless string trimmer, model RY40209BTL, MSRP $179 (includes battery and charger).

Light and quiet, it was used to cut the small patch of lawn in front of my daughter’s house and to whack away at a bunch of overgrowth along a property line. Easy assembly. Snapped together and apart in two pieces.

40-volt Expand-It Ryobi pruner attachment, model RYPRN33, MSRP $99.

The attachment provides a 9½-foot reach and fits the “power stick” of Ryobi’s brushless string trimmer. Once again, light and quiet. It made short work of slicing away more than a dozen dying, drooping palm tree branches.

40-volt Ryobi 26-inch brushless hedge trimmer, model RY40640, MSRP $199 (includes battery and charger).

The dying, dried-out branches of more than a few shrubs came off easily. At this point, saying “surprising power” should be a given. Lots of muscle and much easier to maneuver than corded trimmers, which I’ve used forever. Not having to worry about tangling or cutting an extension cord made the work much smoother.

40-volt Ryobi 550 CFM brushless jet fan blower, model RY40470, MSRP $338 (includes battery and charger).

Loved this blower. Light — just 10 pounds — and featuring a turbo-boost button, it whisked away the dried leaves and palm tree fronds from the front of my house for easy sweep-up. I’ve used a top-of-the-line gas-powered blower for the longest time, and the cordless version performs comparably. Plus it’s quiet compared with my gas monster.

One criticism from online reviewers is that this model can drain the battery quickly. So have a second battery charged and ready to go for more demanding tasks.

20-volt Craftsman 8-inch, 2-in-1 hedge trimmer and grass-shear kit, model CMCSS800C1, MSRP $80 (includes battery and charger).

Handy, handy, handy. Instead of a long-bladed trimmer, here’s one for smaller jobs and one that my wife absolutely loved. She helped trim some of the dead shrub branches caused by drought and excessive heat and was amazed at how easy it was to use this tool.

Neat alternative to the long-bladed hedge trimmers. Switching between the hedge trimmer blades and grass-shearing blades was simple, too.

20-volt Craftsman cordless pole chainsaw kit, model CMCCSP20M1, MSRP $149 (includes battery and charger).

Snapped together in a few minutes, and we were off to the palm tree and my irritating ash tree in the front yard. Trimmed more than a dozen palm tree branches and dozens of small branches on the ash tree.

One difference from the Ryobi pole saw: This unit does not have a reservoir for chain oil and automatic saw lubrication. You have to apply oil between cuts. A little annoying but not a deal-breaker.

20-volt SnapFresh leaf blower, MSRP $85.99 (includes battery and charger).

A mini-blower with two speeds and up to 130 mph of force that is perfect for smaller areas. Weighing just 2.7 pounds and measuring a little more than 16 inches long (about 43 inches when fully assembled with tubes), women and older users are going to love this unit. At least, that’s what my wife says, and who am I to disagree?

It worked great outside the front door, where leaves and debris seem to continually gather during windy days, and along the pool deck too.

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