These days, having a well-trimmed, emerald green lawn is as much a requirement of suburban American life as it is a point of pride. It seems like some of the novelty of maintaining one has worn off a little in the last fifty or so years – maybe because lawn mowers haven’t experienced the same technological leap as, well, everything else in our lives. But, even though your adult lawn mower might look a lot like the one you pushed around as a kid, making sure to choose the right features for your lawn can make the chore a lot less tiresome.
The most important thing you need to consider when choosing a mower is how much lawn you have to mow. Unless you invest in a ride-on mower (which is a topic for another day!), most mowers are hand-propelled, but vary wildly in size, power, and maneuverability. For medium or especially larger lawns, unless you’re very particular about the cut of your grass (more on that later), the mower that’s going to save you the most time and grief is a Gas Powered Rotary Mower. This is only one brand in that style, but it has a few nice features you’ll want to keep an eye out for. First, the blade (which, for a rotary mower, is essentially a long, flat razor blade that spins in a circle and hacks your grass) adjusts in height, which helps you not only fine tune the look of your grass, but also makes it easier to maneuver around uneven surfaces. It also spits grass cuttings directly into a bag attached to the back of the base, so you don’t have to collect it later, and you can empty it easily into your trash (or, better yet, your compost bin!). And, finally, because it’s gas powered, as long as you start on a full tank, you don’t have to worry about running out of juice half way through your lawn.
This Poulan Push Mower is another gas powered rotary mower, with adjustable blade height, but rather than discharging cuttings into a bag, it spits them back out onto the lawn. Now, this can be useful if you intend to leave the cuttings as mulch, but if you have to go back and gather them again, it can be even more a pain on your back than starting the machine up – which is one of the two major drawbacks of a gas-powered mower. As you can maybe see in the pictures above, most gas mowers have to be manually started with a pull-cord – like a motor boat engine – that’s almost always in a place you have to break your back to get to. The other thing is… they run on gas, which is expensive, smelly, and polluting.
Regardless of what type of power your mower uses to run, you want to pay attention to the length of the blade used to cut the grass – in the case of this Greenworks Cordless Electric Mower, 18 inches. Which is only 2 inches less than the cut radius of the Earthwise model, but remember, that’s 2 inches off every pass you make – which on a larger lawn can add up pretty fast.
As I mentioned before, the main drawback for electric mowers is power, but I don’t just mean the battery life (and forget the corded ones, unless you have hardly any lawn at all – talk about being tethered, and plugging one into too many extension cords can kill your motor!). Electric mowers tend to have a little less cutting power than their gas-powered equivalents. Unless they specifically claim to have equal power to a gas mower, like this Worx Elecrtic Mower/Mulcher does, and maybe even then, be aware that an electric model might not cut quite as well or as cleanly.
If you’re really big on the appearance of your lawn, though, there’s no way to beat the cut you get from a cylinder or reel mower. I know, I know, I’ve gone back from your dad’s mower to your great grand daddy’s – but if you want a really fine finish on your grass, a reel mower, like this Great States American Reel is really the only way to go. They do make gas and electric powered cylinder mowers, but they tend to be a little harder to find than the more common rotary models. Of course, a hand-push mower is far and away the most labor intensive kind of mower, both in the push and pull and the grass collection later (though some do come with collection baskets!), but because it replaces the brute force of a spinning razorblade with a gentler pressure cut, you can get that gorgeous fine cut and bowling finish you’d see on a golf course.
Really, the most important thing to do when choosing a mower is to actually try it out. Price hunt to your heart’s content, but make sure you at least step into a physical store before you put your money on the table. You want to see if the mower is (or adjusts to) a comfortable height for your grip. Make sure you can figure out how to adjust and replace the blade easily (and make sure it has a sufficient number of adjustable settings for your needs), and if it folds for easier storage, like this Black & Decker model, make sure you can fold and unfold it without too much trouble – and if it doesn’t make sure you have an easily accessible place that’s big enough to store it outside. If it’s a gas model, test out the ignition line to make sure you won’t hurt your back starting it up; if it’s electric, ask about battery life and a second set of batteries, just in case. If there’s a mulcher or a removable basket, make sure you can figure out how to open and close or remove and reattach them, respectively. More or less, my best advice would be, make sure your mower feels right before you buy… you’re probably going to be spending a lot of time with it.
Or, if you really are incurably fed up with your lawn mower, a RoboMower might be what you’re looking for. You run a line of wire around the perimeter of your lawn (or divide it into chunks if you have a really big yard), set the RoboMower down inside, and let it do its thing. You’ll probably have to run it a lot for larger spaces or taller grass, and over time the rechargeable battery (like all rechargeable batteries) can lose a little of its oomph, but if you’re sick and tired of pushing around a mower, and jungle-high grass is out of the question, this Roomba-style mower might make a nice alternative.
Where do you fall on the cost/effort/appearance scale? Do you still take great pride in the look of your lawn, no matter how much effort it takes, or would you wade through waist-high grass to get the paper if your neighborhood ordinances would let you? What, for you, is the price to be liberated from your lawn? Let me know in the comments!