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What Mower Should I Use?

by Dawn West, All About Lawns Columnist

There are two basic types of mowers: Rotary Mowers and Reel Mowers. Rotary mowers are the most commonly used mowers and generally fall into three categories: hand-pushed rotary mowers, self-propelled rotary mowers, and riding mowers. Reel Mowers are usually self-propelled, except for the most expensive models, commonly used at golf courses.
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Rotary Mowers

Rotary Mower
Rotary Mower

These are the most common of mowers, most famous for their noise that wakes you out of bed as your neighbor mows their yard on Saturday morning. The self-propelled models consist of a small engine that usually sits on top of the "deck". The engine powers a small metal blade that spins parallel to the ground. The self-propelled models use the power generated by the engine to move the mower forward, independent of a push. A riding mower resembles a mini-tractor that the operator simply sits on and drives. So what type is best for you?

Hand Pushed

In general, if you have to mow a relatively level lot and have an acre or less to mow, this could be the right one for you. Just remember that they require the extra effort to push and can be heavy at times.

Self Propelled

If you have a larger lawn, a hilly lawn, or need assistance in mowing, the self-propelled may be your answer. Since they move by their own power and require you to only walk behind and guide them, they offer a nice benefit for those who want to lighten the load of hand pushed mowers.

Riding Mowers

Generally, riding mowers are used on lawns that are one acre or more in size. With the operator generally sitting on top, they operate much like a tractor. For those of you who model yourself after the "Yard God" next door, these babies are what you like. However, they generally require larger storage space, are less mobile for travel, and cost quite a bit more then their hand-pushed and self-propelled counterparts.

Buying Tip

With many people moving toward the purchase of mulching and self-propelled mowers, it is always best to have enough horsepower to adequately mow your lawn during your lawn's peak growing season. For hand and self-propelled mowers, try to buy mowers with at least 5-6 horsepower. Most mowers have the horsepower listed on the engine, but if you're unsure, ask for assistance. Additionally, remember that unless you want to keep mixing fuel and oil together, try to purchase a four-stroke engine. They tend to be more efficient and require less maintenance down the road. Although these options may cost you a few dollars more now, they could save you a lot more money and headaches later! For more info on mulching mowers see: Buying Tip 2

Reel Mowers

Reel Mower
Reel Mower

You might be more likely to see one of these push versions in an antique store than in your neighborhood. However, that's not to discount their usefulness. As a rule of thumb, unless you like a good workout, don't have a hilly lawn, or live on a putting green, reel mowers are NOT commonly used on lawns that are either larger than a quarter acre in size or take over an hour to mow. However, if you have a small lawn and want to wow your neighbors, a reel mower may be for you! The benefits of their use are:

  1. They commonly don't use an engine, so they are quiet and nonpolluting.
  2. They generally cut closer to the ground and give your lawn a cleaner look.
  3. They are best used on soft grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass, Bent grass, Zoysia, Ryegrass, Centipede grass, and Fescues. You will even see them used almost exclusively on putting greens and Bermuda grass.

About the Author
Dawn West B.A. holds a B.A. in English from Harvard University and teaches writing at Oregon State University.

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