How to Choose the Right Lawn Mower for Your Lawn

When you become a homeowner, you'll find many things you need to buy. Homes require power and hand tools, appliances, furniture, home goods like curtains and linens, and various equipment to keep things running smoothly inside and out. A lawn mower can be one of the more expensive pieces of equipment you'll need, but it's an essential one if you have any grass at all.

Before you head out to examine your favorite models in person, take a look at your property and carefully assess what your prospective lawn mower needs to handle. Lawn mowers come in two basic types, reel and rotary, but the variations on those types are seemingly endless. You'll need to choose your lawn mower based on the size of your lawn and its terrain, the features you want, and even how much time you have to spend cutting the grass each weekend.

Consider Your Lawn

The size and terrain of your property will dictate what you require of a lawn mower. If you have a postage-stamp yard of 1,000 feet or less, a walk-behind rotary or reel motor with basic features will suffice. If you have a larger yard, you'll want a self-propelled walk-behind rotary mower or even a riding mower, depending on how large your yard is. Most people consider a quarter-acre too much to mow with a walk-behind mower, even a self-propelled one. You might be tempted to buy a walk-behind mower for your more extensive lawn, but consider that what takes hours to mow with a walk-behind could take minutes with a riding mower. How much time do you have to spend cutting grass? 

When it comes to your lawn's terrain, you'll need to consider what features will work best. Lawn mowers come with all kinds of features, and many of them are intended to make mowing a difficult lawn easier. If your yard has steeper portions, a self-propelled mower with a rear-wheel-drive will help you navigate them (it's much easier to push a mower uphill if it makes itself). If you have many obstacles to work around, a front-wheel-drive self-propelled mower is a right choice. If you have rough terrain all around, you can even buy all-wheel-drive self-propelled mowers.

Gas or Electric?

Rotary lawn mowers, which are the type with a blade with spins around beneath a metal deck, are typically powered by either gas or electric. Electric mowers used to be strictly plug-in, which necessitates dragging a long extension cord around the lawn behind you (and not running it over with the mower in the process). These days, though, you can get all kinds of battery-powered lawn equipment, from battery-powered electric lawn mowers to string trimmers, chain saws, tillers, cultivators, and pruners.

Electric mowers may be more sustainable than gas mowers, but they still have some drawbacks that their gas-powered counterparts don't. They're not as powerful, so they can't handle tall grass or grass with fallen leaves on it. They work best on soft types of grass and on lawns that are never allowed to become too unkempt, and, of course, if your property is much bigger than 1,000 square feet, you'll probably need too many batteries to make using an electric mower feasible. Even in a smaller yard, it's advisable to keep extra batteries on hand if you choose an electric mower. Nor will you find many electric options if you need a self-propelled mower.

On the other hand, gas mowers are powerful enough to handle most lawns, longer grass, and dead leaves. However, they account for five percent of the air pollution created in the U.S. They're loud, smell bad, dirty, larger than electric mowers, and require a lot more maintenance. Electric mowers are cleaner, quieter, and smaller, so easier to store. Then, of course, there are reel mowers, which require only manpower to cut the grass but can be a real pain to use on anything more than a postage stamp lawn.

Choose Your Features

Examining your lawn's size and terrain will help you narrow down some of the features you need from a lawn mower. For small yards, choose a walk-behind or a robotic mower. A riding mower is a ticket for more extensive lawns, but here you have even more choices: zero-turn riding mower, lawn tractors, and rear-engine. These come with more options for transmission type, engine size, and deck size, among others. Most homeowners will be OK with an 18-25 hp lawn tractor, but there are rear-engine riding mowers for those lawns that are too big for a walk-behind but not big enough for a lawn tractor (so, one-quarter to half an acre), and zero-turn mowers for those lawns too big for lawn tractors (two acres or more).

Some useful lawn mower features include mulching, which can help you manage grass clippings by cutting them into smaller pieces that don't need raking or collecting. Most mowers offer two or three functions or options for managing grass clippings, such as mulching, bagging, or side discharging. Deck levers allow you to adjust the height of the deck to tackle taller or shorter grass. For rougher terrain, large rear wheels and ball-bearing wheels are a must. If you mow a lot of tall grass, go for a more powerful engine. And of course, never buy a mower that doesn't have a blade-brake system or clutch for safety.

Choosing a lawn mower can seem daunting, especially if you have a large lawn or a lot of rough terrains. When it comes to features and functions, try to keep it as simple as possible -- but don't sell yourself short on the capabilities you need. The last thing you want is to spend the next ten years struggling with the wrong mower.

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