Unlike buying a car, you can’t test-drive a lawn mower before deciding to purchase it. However, there are similarities to buying a car, such as knowing what type of model you want, how much you can afford to spend and what features are “must-haves.”
Just like cars, lawn mowers come in several different model types: reel, rotary, gas-powered, electric-powered and battery-powered. Then of course, there are tractor-style mowers that range from the model that simply cuts the grass to the one with all the “bells and whistles.”
Reel vs Rotary
Reel mowers are push mowers with blades that cut through the grass with an efficient, scissors-like cut. It actually provides a better cut than a rotary mower. However, a reel mower requires more time and effort on your part – it can be quite a workout! They are not ideal for large lawns, thick lawns or long grass, such as zoysiagrass. On the plus side, a reel mower is better for the environment and is practically maintenance free. In addition, they take up less space in your garage or storage shed. Power reel mowers are available but they are very expensive.
A rotary mower is the most common mower found in North America. It is powered by gas, electricity or a battery. Gas-powered rotary mowers are the most popular of the three, and can be found in 2-cycle or 4-cycle, although 2-cycle lawn mower engines are being phased out because of their high amount of exhaust, so look for a 4-cycle engine (and save yourself time mixing fuel).
Electric push mowers are less expensive and are generally easier to maintain, although they aren’t ideal for a medium-sized lawn or larger. If your mower will need to extend beyond 150 feet past its power source to cut the grass, then don’t consider an electric mower. Keep in mind that with an electric mower, you will have to buy an extension cord. A battery-powered mower will cut up to 5,000 square feet of lawn on a single charge. They are rather heavy, so consider a self-propelled mower especially if your lawn is hilly or slopes.
If your lawn is greater than 20,000 square feet, or if physical conditions limit your activity, you should consider a riding mower, or garden tractor. A riding mower typically has a 30- to 42-inch mowing path, which is ideal for large lawns. The larger the lawn, the wider the mowing path you’ll want.
Now that we’ve covered the types of mowers available, let’s take a look at some of the features.
Once you decide on the type of mower you want, you’ll need to make some choices on the features. Just like buying a car, there are some features you need, and some you can live without.
The first consideration is power. Gas-powered mowers offer the most power. The typical power range is 3 to 7 horsepower. How much power you need depends on your lawn – if it consists of thick, dense turf such as St. Augustinegrass or zoysiagrass, then you should opt for the extra power. If your yard is hilly, on a slope or if you just want to save some time, then consider a self-propelled mower.
Next, take a look at the mowing deck. It should be wide enough to suit your lawn and you should be able to adjust the height to the proper level for your grass type. Try adjusting the height, and see if it is easy or difficult to do. Decide if you want a deck made of steel, aluminum or plastic. Aluminum decks are lighter and rust-resistant, but they cost more. A plastic deck will be lighter, which is a consideration depending on how you store the mower (if you lift it or hang it, for example).
If you want a bag attachment, then consider if you prefer the discharge (where the clippings are thrown) on the side or the back of the mower. A mulching mower should be a consideration if you want to leave the clippings on the lawn – it will chop them into small pieces so they break down easier. Long clippings can look unsightly and prevent sunlight from reaching the grass blades, but they do not cause thatch (that is a common misconception).
If storage is a concern, then look for a mower with a collapsible handle, or one that is light enough to hang from the wall or side of the shed. The handle should also feel comfortable in your hands. Finally, consider how it starts. A push-button electric starter is a nice feature for the physically challenged.
For those in the market for a riding mower, or lawn tractor, there are many features to consider such as headlights, plow attachments, towing capability, seat width, mowing width, hydraulic decks, gas tank size and maintenance. Unlike push mowers, you can sit on a riding mower and test its comfort.
And don’t forget about safety features, such as “automatic off” levers that stop the mower when you release the handle.
New on the market are robotic-style mowers and mowers that are remotely controlled. But keep in mind, these are not for the budget-conscious individual.
Regardless of the type of mower or its features, just be sure that it fits your budget, your needs and above all your lawn and grass type.