Mowing Machine Mania

A cutter exists for every occasion.

| May/June 2008

Folks were maintaining lawns and cutting 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 scythe and rake.

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 mower models to choose from. We’ve included a roundup of a few of the latest and greatest here 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 multibladed reel that sheers the grass against a fixed bed knife. 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-powered, and, in the case of large estates and country clubs, gangs of connected reel mowers are pulled, pushed or otherwise powered by tractors.

Most other types of finish-cut mowers utilize engine- or PTO-powered horizontally spinning blades. The smaller of these devices are pushed by the operator; 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 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 are also available.

Rough-cut mowers are at the opposite end of the extreme compared with reel mowers. These brutes are all 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 below). Rough-cut mowers are perfect for managing meadows and ditches and, in places 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.

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