Grit Blogs > Nature and Gardening at the Edge

Confessions of a Lawn Tractor Driver

Minnie Hatz headshotA lawn tractor is not a tractor. I mainly drive lawn tractors. That is probably about right for my driving skills. I am not always successful at backing a fertilizer spreader. I have knocked the grass catcher off a couple of times. I have been stuck in loose dirt and high centered. Mostly these things have taken place where other people can see me in my embarrassment. I can only imagine what kinds of things could happen if I spent much time on a full-sized tractor.

In my defense, I have a lot of grass to mow. Also, most farm tasks that require a full-sized tractor are not the obstacle course that lawn-mowing presents, although maneuvering is certainly a useful skill for all.

I can certainly see the value of the bigger tractors. They can do a lot of work that can not be done either way. Perhaps someday my tractor driving skills will improve to where I can "graduate".

Some things that I have learned on the garden tractor: Watch for low hanging limbs, swings and other things that may be out of your main vision as you watch the edge of the mower platform. Not only can you do real damage to yourself, but also the mower or grass catcher can be damaged. Also, you can do damage to the shrub or whatever is above you.

As tempting as it is sometimes, I don’t take passengers and I don’t disconnect the interlocks to allow getting off the tractor while it is running. I read the safety instructions and I am pretty sure that these warnings and interlocks are present for a reason.

I don’t mow when it is wet and I always wear shoes. While those may sound unrelated good tractor for tires and feet are important. Dry grass cuts much nicer also.

I plan my mowing and remove all reasonable obstacles first! It is almost impossible to remove an obstacle while the tractor is in motion. I would say, just don’t go there! Do it the safe way and clear the path first or at least stop the tractor to remove obstacles.

An ongoing project is smoothing out the contours so that I can avoid backing and tight squeezes. Sometimes due to growth of shrubs and other factors, backing, tight squeezes, multiple passes and the like are just impossible. Of course these situations increase the possibility of hitting something such as a fence, a rock or other landscape feature. I haven’t seen a rear-view mirror for a lawn tractor but it wouldn’t be a bad idea. I try to plan my direction of travel to give the grass catcher side more clearance and thus avoid some scrapes and rubs. I also try to check behind me to be sure the way is clear. We all think we know the exact placement of things on the lawn but backing into trees and the like can happen.

Another good strategy is to mow in a very low gear. Not only does this give a better cut but it certainly helps avoid problems. A few seconds with the eyes on the mower deck and watching clearance can translate into several feet of travel and possible contact with some object.

Perhaps someday I’ll feel more confident on a "real" tractor. In the meantime, I am trying to stay safe and not do any real damage. Whether you drive or walk to mow, keep it safe.