CHOOSING A LAWN MOWER

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There are more lawn mower options available today than ever before as manufacturers recognize consumers want choices. If the selection options now seem overwhelming, begin your deliberation considerations by thinking about power - human, battery, electric or gasoline power, that is. You can provide the pushing effort, or walk behind a self-propelled mower or ride on a tractor mounted mower.  For most homeowners these choices will be influenced largely by lawn size and the time and physical effort you are willing to devote to mowing. 

An Overview of Mower Types

  • For small lawns, you might choose to provide the power and push an old-fashioned reel mower. They work best on lawns that are mowed at 2 inches or less and they tend to leave tall weeds and grasses unmowed. If you miss a week of mowing and the grass gets too tall, you will need to “double mow” to get the lawn back to the desired height. Reel mowers are not recommended for St. Augustine grass, Bahia grass or tall Fescue as they require mowing above 3 inches.  Pushing reel mowers, or their gasoline powered versions, on Bermuda grass or Kentucky Bluegrass, however, can be very effective.  If this option works for you, you can you can save time on a trip to the gym! 
  • Battery powered and electric rotary mowers are getting more robust every year. Like reel mowers, trendy battery-operated cutters are best used on small lawns. For some, battery life is limited to 20 to 40 minutes between charges while other models are now offering much longer power performance. To conserve battery life most of these mowers cut a narrower swath and require you to push them though there are now a few self-propelled electrics on the market as well. Similarly, electric mowers - with cords or cordless - offer ease and turn-key readiness for small lawns. Battery and electric mowers are quiet and do not require gasoline storage.
  • Walk-behind gasoline powered rotary mowers are the most commonly used. These machines can comfortably handle most mowing tasks on lawns up to 20,000 sq. ft.  They are available in push or self-propelled designs, with pull start or battery start models. Electronics have all but eliminated the starting difficulty of your father’s or grandfather’s mowers. Most models cut a 21 to 22-inch swath although twin-blade models with cutting swaths of up to 32 inches are now available for larger lawns.
  • For estate size lawns, riding mowers are likely the best choice. Many of these models are mounted under garden tractors while others are on a chassis specifically designed for mowing. Zero turning radius is a great option that, with practice, allows much more efficient mowing and less trimming of areas tractor mowers can’t otherwise reach. Tractor mowers are also particularly useful for properties that have hills and garden beds. Those considering the purchase of a riding mower should anticipate sizable garage space for storage. 

Fun Features

Mulching and clipping collection are very useful options. Many mowers offer both options but mulching with grass clippings is the best environmental  option. In mulching setup, mowers chop clippings finely, allowing them to remain on the lawn to decay and release the nutrients they contain to feed the lawn. By recycling these nutrients, you reduce the fertilizer needed for the lawn by 25 to 30%. If the lawn gets too tall, or if you want remove leaves from your lawn, being able to collect clippings with a bagging unit is very handy and saves time. Leaves and clippings can be composed or used as mulch in plant beds.

Mower Maintenance

Once you have a new mower, proper maintenance is paramount to extend mower life and lawn quality. Dull blades can be detrimental to the health of your lawn. Reel mowers require frequent adjustment to keep the reel blade in proper alignment with the bedknife. This requires minor adjustment every few weeks and annual attention by a sharpening specialist. Rotary mower blades should be sharpened a couple of times each season. It is important that the blade is properly balanced each time it is sharpened to insure that the same weight of metal is ground off each end of the blade. If you hit an immovable object while mowing, the blade should be inspected for sharpness and balance before continuing to mow. Checking oil before each mowing and following the recommendation in your owner’s manual will allow you to get many years of service from your mower.

To keep your gasoline-powered mower operating well, add a fuel stabilizer when needed to keep it in fresh condition. Lawn mowers need clean air to start quickly and have a long service life so replace or clean your air filter at least annually and more often if you have dusty conditions where you mow. A fresh clean spark plug every year keeps most lawn mowers ready to start at the first pull.

Lawn Mower Safety

Safety is paramount. Lawn mowing is not for children and it is best to insure that young children are not sharing the lawn with you while you mow. Mowers have built in safety features designed to prevent injury. Modern lawn mowers will not start with the mowing blade engaged and will stop immediately if the operator releases the handle or dismounts. All mowers have safety shields to reduce the likelihood of objects being thrown by the spinning blade. Never disconnect or remove these safety features. Read and follow all precautions in the equipment owner’s manual. Fuel the mower before you start mowing and never refuel a hot mower. Always disconnect the spark plug before inspecting or servicing the blade. Wear shoes that provide proper protection and footing when mowing.  Avoid mowing slopes that are wet or too steep for good traction.