Time for a new mower? Lawn mowers come in a few main styles: manual reel, push, self-propelled, and riding. Riding mowers are covered in detail in the guide to lawn tractors. In this guide you can learn about how to choose the right mower style for your needs, which features are key to all mowers and even get recommendations for top products. Things you'll have to consider are the size of the property you plan to mow, the terrain, mowing frequency and what type of grass you'll be cutting. Convenience and ease of use are two other important concerns, since you don't want to injure yourself mowing the lawn.
Before buying a new lawn mower, you might also want to consider the environmental impact of each type of mower. Manual mowers, of course, have the lowest impact, while gas-powered have the highest. If you must buy a gas-powered motor, look for one that complies with California emissions standards, which are higher than those for the rest of the country. Also be sure to pick up good hearing protection; gas powered mowers can be very noisy! Earplugs are good; noise-reducing earmuffs are better.
Mower Types and Recommendations
The recommendations here are based on ConsumerSearch's thorough guide to the different kinds of lawn mowers.
More Mower Picks
Still not satisfied? Below, a few top mower models for any type of lawn.
Gas vs. Electric vs. Human-Power
* '''Gas Mowers'''
** All gas-powered models, whether self-propelled, push, or riding styles, are noisy, create exhaust, and need periodic tuning.
** They also require fueling with gas and/or oil.
** Push gas models often require a pull-start, which may be difficult for some people.
** On the plus side, they are extremely effective at dealing with large areas, tough grass, and debris like leaves and twigs.
* '''Electric Mowers'''
** Electric mowers have limited mobility if they are corded, but are fine for smaller spaces.
** Cords may pose a safety risk.
** Cordless models, which offer more mobility and are less of a safety hazard, lack big power and need periodic recharging.
** Nonetheless, both corded and cordless models require little maintenance and don't give off any emissions or need fueling. Plus, most models have an easy push button start, which is the simplest starting mechanism there is. They are usually lightweight and compact as well.
* '''Manual Reel Mowers'''
** Clean, quiet, non-polluting... could they be better?
** In addition, mowing the lawn is a great workout. Burn some calories while accomplishing more than you would on a treadmill.
** Manual mowers also require less maintenance than any other kind -- sharpen them once every couple of years or so and you'll be all set. Some are guaranteed to not need sharpening for ten years!
What You Need to Know
* '''For All Mowers'''
** '''Minimize trimming''' -- some mowers have features that reduce the edge left on each side of your lawn. Manual mowers leave the largest edge.
** '''Rear-bagging mowers''' are easier to maneuver than side-bagging mowers.
** '''Blade-break override''' allows you to stop the blade from spinning without shutting off the engine completely. A useful feature to have.
** '''Multiple drive speeds''' allow you to vary the speed of the mower. You may want to slow down in high grass or when you are mowing tricky areas with lots of obstacles. It is also handy when returning to the shed or garage. This feature also allows you to speed up on straight aways for quick trimming when you have a large area to mow.
** '''Safety is extremely important.''' Any powered motor can toss around rocks or other debris. They can also be hazards for fires, burns, shocks, and other unpleasantries. Powered motors create a lot of pollution -- they emit fumes if they run on gas, they can kick up a lot of dust and other allergens, and they are extremely loud. Protect yourself appropriately.
** '''Consider your environmental impact.''' Reel mowers have the least impact, while gas-powered mowers have the most. (Check out the "Alternative Considerations" section for another environmentally-friendly method of mowing!)
** '''Acreage and Mower Size'''
*** Any lawn smaller than half an acre is best matched with a 20"-21" mower.
*** A 3/4 acre lawn will require a 22" mower or larger.
** '''Acreage and Mower Type'''
*** For periodic trimming on small yards a push mower (manual or gas-powered) is sufficient for quick cutting.
*** In any yard more than 10,000 square feet, a self-propelled mower will work.
*** If your yard is more than 1/3 of an acre, a gas-powered mower is your best choice.
*** Lawns more than 3/4 acres require a riding mower.
** '''Terrain Type'''
*** Flat lawns don't need a riding mower unless it is more than 3/4 acres.
*** A lawn with slight hills or dips definitely needs a self-propelled mower.
*** High-wheel mowers are good for providing extra stability and maneuverability, especially over rough, hilly terrain with dense grass.
*** Long or dense grass is best tackled with a self-propelled mower.
*** If you have a combination of a large acreage lawn, rolling terrain, or thick grass, it would make sense to opt for a riding mower which would be more comfortable and less straining.
* '''Gas-Powered Mowers'''
** '''Electric starters''' are preferable since they're easier to use. A recoil start is also sometimes included as a backpack.
** '''Horsepower isn't that important.''' While some of the more expensive models out there offer 7 hp models, a 5 hp model will work just as well for the average user on a push mower.
** '''Engine design matters.''' Overhead valve design extends valve life and makes for a cleaner engine, while dual-clean filters extend overall engine life. Another option for extending engine life is a full pressure lube with spin-on filter. Lastly, cast-iron cylinder sleeves improve oil control and help protect your mower.
* '''Electric Mowers'''
** For cordless models, the '''best type of battery is lithium ion''' (Li+). NiMH is second-best. Unfortunately, most mowers have lead-acid batteries that cause a lot of pollution.
** Corded mowers should be used with a '''ground-fault interruptor''' (GFI) to protect against shocks, fires, and sparks.
* '''Manual Mowers'''
** Get the '''right mower for your grass'''. Upright grasses (e.g. fescue) require a 5-blade mower; tough, low-growing grasses (e.g. Bermuda) need a 7-blade mower.
** Make sure that you can '''adjust the height of the mower''' to the right height for your climate. Your climate affects how short or long your grass needs to be for optimum health, so make sure to find out before you accidentally kill your lawn with your new mower.
** Keep in mind that reel mowers are not great at edges; you might want to look into a string trimmer to keep your edges neat.
Mowers can do more than just cut grass. They can also bag, mulch, or side-charge the clippings. Not all mowers are great at doing all three things, (even the convertible models) so be sure to choose the mode that you will make the most use out of. Often, changing between modes requires switching to one tool for another.
* '''Bagging Mowers'''
** Bags give your lawn a pristeen look by removing the clippings.
** Look for self-propelled mowers, if you want to bag your clippings.
** Rear bags are easier to move with and faster to empty.
** For properties that are not completely flat, a push mower with a bag can make for a very laborous job. You may want to look into riding mowers in this case.
* '''Mulching Mowers'''
** Mulchers cut the grass so finely that it acts as a fertilizer for your lawn, thus eliminating the need to bag the clippings.
** Mulch contributes to a more healthy lawn while saving you time.
** Don't forget that this "mulch" is not like the kind you spread by hand for protecting a bed in a garden. It's really more similar to a type of compost.
* '''Side Discharge Mowers'''
** Side-discharge models are best when you have to cut through high grass.
** If you are using a side-discharge model you may have to go back and rake up the clippings afterwards, if you don't want that "striped" effect.
* '''Robot Mowers'''
** Robot mowers are one of the most popular home robots available. They work pretty well as a group, after you've gone through the setup process.
** You can read a complete article about them at ConsumerSearch.
** Popular in Europe for steep, hilly lawns and pond edges, hovermowers are starting to gain popularity stateside.
** Not a substitute for a regular mower, as they are not that safe and don't cut all that evenly.
** May be a good choice for certain types of terrain.
* '''Sheep or Goats'''
** Another green way to keep your lawn trimmed without a lot of pollution (and while adding fertilizer!) is to have a few sheep graze it periodically.
** You can buy your own sheep or rent a flock for a period of time.
** Goats are popular (some people say they have better personalities than sheep) but since goats are browsers, they will only nibble your lawn and will move on to just about anything growing nearby. This may include your lilac bushes, your pumpkin patch, and your daylilies.
** A flock of ewes or nanny goats will convert plants to milk; the sheep will also supply you with wool.
** Read about ovine and caprine lawn mowers in the following articles:
*** Utne -- short article on goat herds for rent (Nip It in the Bud, Inc.).
*** HGTV -- another article on Nip It in the Bud, Inc.
*** Greenspun -- message board debating the merits of sheep vs. goats as lawn mowers. (Also relative tastiness.)
*** Sunnyvale Sun -- Sunnyvale, CA uses goats to keep down the grass at their landfill.
*** International Real Estate Digest -- towards the bottom, mentions using goats to keep down your lawn.