What is the best loader for landscaping?

Moving and positioning pallets of turf, mature plants, pavers, bulk bags of soil, road base or mulches, wall blocks or stone facings is a big task. And when it comes to ripping up degraded surfaces such as paths, driveways, old public playgrounds and overgrown vegetation, you need the right equipment.

Compact loaders are one of the most versatile pieces of equipment widely favoured by landscaping companies and contractors. On skid steer loaders, the left or right-side drive wheels can be driven independently. The machine is steered by skidding its fixed side wheels across the ground by operating the left and right wheels at different speeds.

Compact loaders with rubber tracks are commonly referred to as compact track loaders (CTL) or multi-terrain loaders. The performance of these machines is excellent on soft, sloping or sensitive surfaces that present challenges to wheeled skid steer loaders.

In general, skid steer loaders may cost less, move faster and are more manoeuvrable within a smaller radius. They are ideal to work on roads, hard or compacted surfaces and on moderate grades. If you intend operating in rocky and abrasive conditions a skid-steer may be the most cost-effective choice. They tend to be lighter in weight and have lower purchase and maintenance costs than tracked machines.

Compact track loaders perform better where you can’t tolerate wheel ruts or the possibility of damaging surfaces, or you need to climb stockpiles of material and work on mushy ground. Many of the latest models are specially equipped for challenging vegetation mulching operations, unloading heavy pallets and levelling construction sites.

Many operators claim the overall productivity of a CTL surpasses that of skid steer, however it’s about selecting the right machine for the job. Within both types, there are two main lifting options; radial lift or vertical lift.

Choice of lifting configuration

There are arguments for both, however you need to think about what type of jobs you will be undertaking, as the difference between these becomes apparent when you start lifting from the ground position.

Vertical lift machines provide maximum reach at full lift height, reaching 35-40 percent higher than a comparable size radius lift machine. The flip side is around five to ten percent higher investment cost than radial lift machine in the same class, due to the more complex boom design of vertical lift loaders.

Lifting the bucket in a radial lift machine, the load moves in an arc, where the arm starts its path close to the machine, then moves out and has maximum reach at mid- lift height. As it is lifted higher, the load moves back toward the machine.

While this gives maximum reach at the height of a truck tray, it doesn’t lift as high, meaning it may not reach the height of truck sides or allow sufficient reach into dump bins.

Track loaders perform best where ground conditions require high traction and flotation, while minimising damage or disturbance of the ground. Due to their more stable footprint, track loaders give more operating capacity versus comparably sized wheel units. This stability also provides a more comfortable ride for the operator; an important consideration if you are spending hours at the controls.

Tools and attachments

It’s usual for a compact loader to come equipped with a basic 4 in 1 bucket. As the name suggests, this tool enables you to lift, scoop, level, grade, push and grab. However, there are plenty of attachment suppliers who can sell you tools for every application.

The list of attachments is long and includes mulchers, ripper blades, auger, pallet and bale forks, laser levelling blades, sweepers, concrete mixers, road profilers and more. Some of these are costly items, so you may need to include the additional cost in your investment calculation.

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