How to Buy a Lawn Mower
Find out from an expert what you need to know before buying a lawn mower.
The New Breed of Mower
When it comes time to ditch the old mower and look for one that better suits your—and you lawn’s—needs, there is a good bit to know beforehand.
Total disclosure, before we get into this: For various reasons, though I am a university-trained turf expert with decades of experience working with both professional turf managers and home gardeners, I don’t have a personal lawn: no grass, no mower, no blower, no edger, no bagger, no nothin’. Yet this liberates me; though I do care that you get the most out of your lawn, it doesn’t matter one iota to me what kind or brand of mower you choose.
All that said, I do a fair amount of regular research—in the line of garden-writing duty—looking at new lawn mowers, visiting “big box” outlets as well as small, locally-owned shops. Take the occasional an eye-numbing traipse through the Internet (including countless consumer reviews), and I've tried out several walk-behind, electric and riding mowers.
It has all come a long, long ways since Edwin Budding, the Englishman who patented the first mechanical lawn mower, writing in 1830 that “Country gentlemen may find in using my machine themselves an amusing, useful and healthful exercise.”
Before getting into types of mowers and new innovations, there are some important considerations for choosing a mower in the first place, including your yard’s size and type of grass. Also how many things you have to mow around, how much time and exercise/exertion you want to spend mowing, and how willing you are to take care of and store machines. Oh, and the size of your pocketbook; sometimes it may make more sense to just hire it out.
In the past two or three years, national standards have dictated that new mowers have engines that are quieter and more fuel-efficient, and emit far fewer harmful environmental pollutants. Powerful new battery-powered mowers are game changers in all these respects.
By and large, most name-brand mowers are pretty comparable these days, with minor variations in style, location of controls, types of wheels and deck configurations.
However, there are huge differences between models within each brand. In most cases, you get what you pay for, especially with regards to construction quality (heavier steel, welded vs. bolted fittings), engine size, two- or all-wheel drive, and mowing width. Be sure to shop around, look at different brands as well as differences between styles and sizes within each brand.
Best advice? Shop where you can talk to someone who knows the business, not just the sales. Try out expensive ones before buying. And make sure the manufacturer or shop stand behind their warranties.
Right Mower for Your Lawn
For very small yards and all but the coarsest types of grass, a simple push-type reel mower without an engine, or a battery or cord-powered electric mower, can make a lot of sense, and both are quiet and easy on the environment. Today’s push mowers are lightweight and low-maintenance but still require physical effort to put to good use. Newer electric mowers are super energy efficient, and can be as powerful as gas powered mowers. And there are some interesting twists with robotic electric mowers, though they are expensive, and practical only in the smallest spits of grass.
The most commonly-used walk-behind gas engine-powered mowers are relatively inexpensive, ideal for small to average size lawns, and work well when coupled with a mulching blade. Newer models have all-wheel drive, making an easier, safer job of hilly or rough terrain. These mowers can last several years if cared for and not just pushed up under the porch in the fall, though their small engines are very susceptible to damage from gasoline that has added ethanol which can turn to water or gum up the works (special fuel additives can help on this).
For larger lawns, riding mowers with rear-mounted engines, and larger garden tractors with front-mounted engines and the ability to host snowplows and other attachments, are ideal. Their costs rise with size, construction quality, engine size, and all the optional add-on stuff such as a leaf catcher.
One of the biggest trends is in the larger “zero radius turn” riding mowers which steer using rear wheels and mowing decks that allow people to make clean cuts right up to and around nearly any object—a real time-saver. Instead of a steering wheel, most have two steering levers to help maneuver the mowers closer to and around trees, utility boxes and whatever else you have in the way of a fast cut. Note: some models have steering wheels which are more comfortable for many people and can be easier to control on hills and in tight turns.
Regardless of what kind of mower you choose, there are other little but important mower options to consider, way beyond built-in cup holders. Make sure the seat is comfortable for you, and all controls are easy to reach. Decks should be easy to raise or lower for different grasses and for cleaning out clogged grass clippings (some have a convenient coupler for attaching a garden hose to make this easier).
Many have options for side discharge, rear bag or the more practical (and lawn friendly) mulching. Rear wheel drive gives better traction on hills and in rough grass, and even small mowers with large rear wheels are easier to maneuver. Keep in mind that slick tires are durable, but don’t offer as much traction on wet grass or slopes as those with ribs or studs. And for riding types the more you have to stop, back up, or stuff to mow around, the more you’ll appreciate an automatic transmission.
Crucial down-the-road advice: Warranties are important, but so is buying from a place where the salesman will remember you when you have questions or need fast service. Believe this.
Finally, keep in mind that, just like with a new car, style is not all you are paying for. For a fast, clean, safe lawn cut, think about what you need for your size and type of lawn, and visit several stores before plunking down the cash it will take to help you do your chore without it being as much of a chore.
Latest and Greatest Electrics
I help a good friend mow her Yard-of-the-Month lawn from time to time, because she keeps my dog when I am out of town. She uses an electric mower for its quiet, nearly pollution-free environmental friendliness and convenience, but its small motor and the limitations of being tied to an electric cord makes for more work and effort.
This spring I hooked her up with a brand-new EGO POWER+ from Home Depot, and after the first try we both agreed that it cut mowing time in half. In spite of its light weight, it is powerful enough to cut Southern centipede and St. Augustine grasses smoothly. Its larger rear wheels make it easy to maneuver, especially after we raise or lower the handle to suit our heights. It is quiet, and the amazing 56-volt lithium battery holds more than enough life to get the job done without recharging (which takes only half an hour anyway). And we appreciate the bright LED headlights for sometimes finishing the job after dusk.
Most importantly, there is no more cord to drag from the garage and around the yard, no more getting it tangled on everything, and we can mow around stuff instead of having to do the boring 180 degree turn back-and-forth. It even folds up to the size of a suitcase, making it easy to store anywhere.
Thumbs up on this innovative new mower! For more info go to www.egopowerplus.com.