If you think a lawn mower is simply a mower, you may be surprised next time you have to shop for one. Manufacturers now offer machines with a dizzying array of options. Start figuring out what's best by sorting out what characteristics are most important to you. In addition to the size of your lawn, factor in your level of physical fitness, your amount of free time, and any features in your lawn -- such as hills or obstacles to mow around.
If you have a small, level lawn and don't mind a workout, a manual reel mower may be for you. It's the ultimate in environmental lawn care because it produces no emissions or noise.
Because you provide all the power, make certain you're in good shape and are willing to spend some time mowing your lawn before purchasing one. This is also a great choice for gardeners on a budget; manual reel mowers are among the least expensive of all mowers.
If you like the idea of a reel mower but don't want to supply all the power, a battery-powered reel mower may be your best answer. It's best suited for gardeners with small lawns (less than a quarter of an acre) who want a green mowing alternative, because it reduces the amount of exertion you need to keep your lawn tidy.
Test Garden Tip: As with a regular push reel mower, make sure you pick up any sticks or debris before cutting your lawn.
If you really don't like to mow, have a robot do it for you! This type of mower combines solar power and a rechargeable battery to keep small- to medium-size lawns manicured automatically -- and in an environmentally friendly way. You'll need to put in a perimeter wire to keep the mower confined, and it's not suited for lawns that contain a lot of obstacles or steep slopes.
Rechargeable battery-powered mowers are good ecological solutions for gardeners with smaller yards with flat lawns. Depending on the model and thickness of the grass, a single charge may last for a half hour to 45 minutes of mowing time.
Test Garden Tip: For greatest green benefit, look for a rechargeable mower that draws electricity only when charging.
The most common choice for medium-size lawns, walk-behind mowers come with a wide range of options and price points. Most give you the choice to collect clippings in a bag, mulch them, or blow them onto the lawn. Some start easily with just the turn of a key.
If you have a small lawn with few obstructions and don't wish to spew pollutants into the air, an electric mower may be for you. Use an extension cord to plug it into an outlet and away you mow.
Do yourself and the environment a favor and mulch your grass clippings. You'll save time by not having to stop to empty the bag. And you'll save money by recycling clippings onto the lawn, because you reduce the need for supplemental fertilizer.
If you do wish to bag your clippings, check how easily the bag attaches, detaches, and empties before making your purchase.
A self-propelled mower does a lot of the work for you -- all you need to do is walk and steer it. It's a great choice if you have a large or very hilly lawn. Some models offer only one speed, while others provide technology with variable speeds you adjust -- or that automatically speed or slow to match your walking speed.
If you find starting a mower with a pull cord difficult or want to avoid stooping to reach the pull cord, look for a walk-behind unit with electric start. This option makes starting the lawn mower much easier in cold weather.
Riding lawn mowers may be overkill for most small and medium-size lawns -- especially if you have trees, garden beds, or other obstacles to mow around. If you have a large lawn (more than a half acre), physical limitations, or have a hilly site, a riding mower may be the best option for you.
Most riding lawn mowers have a steering wheel similar to those found in cars. The mowers' cutting width and horsepower vary, however, so select a size appropriate for your property. Look for models with variable speeds and adjustable seats so you can be more comfortable as you mow.
Zero-turn radius riding mowers are designed to maneuver easily in tight areas or around obstacles. Most models use a two-handle steering mechanism that takes some getting used to, but once you've mastered the skill, you'll be able to mow and trim large areas much more quickly than with a traditional riding mower.
Make your mower work harder for you by selecting a model that can do a myriad of tasks, from sweeping up leaves to rototilling and snow removal. Small lawn tractors like this feature a variety of attachments, depending on which job you need to do. These attachments are much less expensive than purchasing a whole new tool, so you'll save a bundle of money and space.
Test Garden Tip: Check how easily the attachments engage and disengage before purchasing them.
If your yard is measured in acres rather than square feet, a small tractor with a mower attachment may be a worthwhile investment. The wide mowing deck and faster tractor speed reduces the amount of time you'll need to spend maintaining your lawn.