Find the Best Lawn Mower For You

With so many choices, find the best lawn mower can be difficult, but make it easier on yourself with these tips.

| March/April 2013

Folks maintained lawns and cut meadows long before the advent of power tools — motor-powered tools that is. Lawns belonging to early European aristocrats were kept trim by gangs of gardeners wielding grass-trimming scissors. Peasants who tilled those same estates made hay with scythes, and that work, which was every bit as tedious as it was grueling, stimulated the minds of 19th-century inventors who, lucky for us, spawned entire industries aimed at offering better ways to manage rank vegetation.

Today, whether you are interested in maintaining a nicely manicured lawn, managing native grasslands, improving pastures or just beating back the weeds, there are literally hundreds of mowers to choose from. We’ve included here a roundup of a few of the latest and greatest types to help get you started.

A mower by any other name

As with many fully evolved creatures, the amount of variation in mower types boggles the mind. Some mowers make the cut with a multiblade reel that shears the grass against a fixed bedknife. Indeed, this so-called reel-type mower was first invented in the early 1800s. The reel mower is specifically adept at making fine cuts suitable for formal lawns and golf courses. In today’s terms, the reel mower is one of the finest finish-cut mowers available. Reel mowers can be human-powered or motor- or engine-powered, and, in the case of large estates and country clubs, teams of connected reel mowers are pulled, pushed or otherwise powered by tractors.

Most other types of finish-cut mowers utilize motor-, engine- or PTO-powered horizontally spinning blades. The smaller of these devices are pushed by the operator, and some are self-propelled (operator walks). The next evolutionary step in finish mowers involves some means for the operator to ride along. These riding-type finish-cut mowers include zero turning radius (ZTR) machines; three- and four-wheel dedicated riders; and lawn, garden or subcompact tractors with a dedicated mowing deck attached. Larger rotary-type finish-cut mowers tend to be mounted on a compact tractor’s three-point hitch, although many trail behind, and some mount between the front and rear wheels. Large finish-cut mowers that mount to the front of equipment like tractors and utility vehicles also are available.

Rough-cut mowers are at the opposite end of the extreme compared with reel mowers. All these brutes are powered with their own engine or through a PTO (some are hydraulic) located on the vehicle to which they are attached. These machines are capable of munching tall weeds and grass, crop residue and saplings up to several inches in diameter. Most rough-cut mowers use heavy, horizontally oriented rotary blades that cut, shred and pulverize their way through vegetation. Some rough-cut mowers are flail-type (see the Image Gallery for an example). Rough-cut mowers are perfect for managing meadows and ditches and, in locales where the climax ecosystem is forest, keeping it out of your open fields. If you are looking for that nicely manicured look in your back 40, a hybrid mower might be in order.

There aren’t that many hybrid rough/finish-cut mowers out there. Some of the largest capacity hybrids make the cut with a series of small-hinged hook- or T-shaped blades (flails) attached to a heavy, horizontally oriented shaft or drum that rotates at high speed during operation. This so-called flail mower works by slinging the legion of little cutters at sufficient speed that they sever, shred and pulverize coarser vegetation. When spun fast enough, some of these mowers make a cut that’s clean enough to please all but the most discriminating lawn owners. Other hybrid mowers tend to be beefed-up rotary-style cutters with strong fixed blades that can be turned fast enough to make a clean cut on the lawn and are tough enough to stand up to coarser material.

mother earth news fair 2018 schedule


Next: September 14-16, 2018
Seven Springs, PA

Sit in on dozens of practical workshops from the leading authorities on modern homesteading, animal husbandry, gardening, real food and more!