Riding Mowers and Garden Tractors

If your lawn is very large, consider a riding mower, a lawn tractor, or (for really big jobs) a garden tractor.

The riding mower lets you do just what the name implies. Most major brands of riding mowers have such options as mulching attachments and grass collectors to ease your clean-up chores. These models range from 6 to 10 horsepower and include both battery engines and gasoline-powered engines with battery, rope, or rewind starters.

The lawn tractor is a larger version of the riding mower. Its horsepower ranges from 8 to 12. Between one and three rotary cutting blades will handle swaths up to 42 inches wide. If you are considering buying one of these models, read the fine print: You may find that the price does not include the mowing attachment (the mowing deck), which is just one of several attachments available.

The garden tractor has 5- to 30-horsepower engines that are fueled by either gasoline or diesel. (See About Four-Cycle Engines for a discussion of the relative merits of diesel and gasoline engines.)

Several manufacturers offer four-wheel-drive vehicles for greater pulling power. The variety of farming implements available makes this tractor ideal for the part-time farmer. Whether you are planning to buy a riding lawn mower, a lawn tractor, or a garden tractor, keep this rule in mind: It is better to buy equipment that is slightly more (rather than less) powerful than you need. Whatever type you buy, you will almost certainly use it more than anticipated.


Many attachments are available for riding mowers, lawn tractors, and garden tractors, including mowing decks, grass collectors, utility carts, lawn sweepers, spreaders, harrows, and snowblowers. Most tractors also have lawn aerators, front-mounted snow/dozer blades, plows, and discs. Examine the selection available, and find out if the hitch on your model will take implements made by other manufacturers.

Basic Safety Rules

Riding mowers and tractors may look like big toys, but they can be dangerous in the hands of careless or unskilled operators. To avoid accidents, follow these suggestions:

  • When using a mower, first check the area to be cut—is there any debris that might be thrown across the lawn by the rotary blade? If so, remove it.
  • Do not allow any passengers, particularly small children, to ride with you. A bump could throw them off.
  • On hills, always mow up and down the slope rather than across it. This will prevent the machine from tipping over on its side.
  • If your tractor has a key, always remove it when the machine is parked. Not only does this reduce the chance of theft but it also prevents children from starting the machine.
  • Park tractors in neutral; make sure the power takeoff is disengaged and the safety brake is set.
  • Before letting anyone (especially children) operate the machinery, teach them how to handle it.


After each use, hose down your riding mower or tractor to remove damp dirt. Then wipe it dry or let it sun-dry.

After every third use of your rotary mower, remove and sharpen the blades. Follow instructions in the owner’s manual to remove the mowing deck. Then use the procedure outlined in Lawn Mower Maintenance to sharpen the blades.

Because heavier demands are made on lawn and garden tractors, they have several grease fittings on such places as the wheels, steering gears, and drive shaft. (See your owner’s manual for the specific locations.) These tractors need to be greased annually, twice annually if used regularly. A grease gun with a flexible hose to reach in narrow areas is a necessity.