If you own your own home, you're going to need to buy a lawn mower at some point. That is, unless you're lucky enough to have a gardener or have dedicated your entire yard to creating the perfect Zen garden. Choosing which lawn mower to buy can be either an exciting challenge or a bewildering chore. No matter how you view this task, there are several important factors to take into consideration before making a purchase.
- Reel or rotary? Reel mowers will make your neighbors happy, because there's usually no motor, so they're very quiet and non-polluting. Reel mowers consist of a stationary blade that runs parallel to the ground and a rotating cylinder with several blades attached. When the cylinder rotates, the cutting blades intersect with the stationary blade and the grass is cut. Reel mowers have many advantages besides being quiet and environmentally-friendly. They're inexpensive, nearly maintenance-free and provide a closer cut than rotary mowers. The disadvantage, of course, is that it's hard work to mow with a reel mower. Power reel mowers are available, but they are very expensive, so unless you're mowing a putting green, they're probably not worth the cost.
- Electric, gasoline or battery-powered? If you are concerned about the environment and have a small lawn, electric or battery-powered mowers are the way to go. Electric mowers are powered by plugging them into a standard household outlet. You will need a very long, heavy-duty extension cord. For this reason, electric mowers are not practical for medium or large lawns. Another downside is the difficulty of mowing with a cord in the way. Safety can also be a concern--running over the power cord is very dangerous. Battery-powered mowers, just as the name suggests, are powered by a large battery which is mounted on top of the mower deck. The major disadvantage to this type of mower is the fact that most batteries will only last for one hour on a full charge. If your lawn takes longer than an hour to mow, you'll need to buy a spare battery. Both electric and battery-powered mowers are less expensive than most gasoline mowers.
Gasoline mowers are the most common choice for homeowners--you'll recognize them by the loud racket echoing through the neighborhood. They are noisy and not so environmentally-friendly, but they are faster and can be easier to use. The easiest models to use are the self-propelled gasoline mowers--all you need to do is guide the mower. Gasoline mower motors come in two varieties--two-cycle and four-cycle. Four-cycle motors do not pollute as much as two-cycle motors and do not require fuel to be mixed before it's put in the gas tank.
- Bagging or mulching? If you have made the choice to go with a rotary mower, you'll need to decide whether you prefer to bag the clippings or mulch them. A mower with a bag attachment catches the grass clippings. You can then add them to your compost pile or throw them out in the trash. A mulching lawn mower cuts each blade of grass several times, which turns the clippings into a very fine mulch that can be left on the lawn without damaging your grass. Mulching mowers are faster because you don't need to stop every few rounds and empty the bag. However, they are more expensive than bagging mowers. Incidentally, leaving grass clippings on your lawn doesn't cause thatch--it just prevents sunlight from reaching the grass that is covered with clippings.
- Horsepower. Ah, yes--the real reason to buy a lawn mower--as much power as you could possibly need, and probably more! Don't be seduced by the mower with the most powerful motor, though. You'll just be paying more for a feature you will never use. In general, if your lawn is fairly level and the grass is not very dense, you can get by with a lawn mower whose horsepower is on the lower end of the spectrum. If you have a very hilly lot and thick grass, you may want a bit more power.
- Deck. The deck is the body of the mower, on top of which the battery or motor sits. Steel is the most durable material, but aluminum and plastic are lighter and less expensive.
- Riding or push? If you have a lawn that is more than an acre in size or you have physical limitations, you may want to buy a riding lawn mower. A riding lawn mower has a rotary blade underneath a deck which is situated under the center of the mower. A riding lawn mower is going to cost considerably more than a push mower, but the time that you will save can be worth the price.
Now that you know everything you ever needed or wanted to know about lawn mowers, think about where you will purchase your new toy. If you are not mechanically-inclined, you'll want to look at mowers at a dealership with a service center. These do tend to be a little more expensive than your local home and garden center, but remember, a lawn mower that is maintained will last years longer than one that is neglected.