Gardening Articles :: Landscaping :: Lawns, Ground Cover, & Wildflowers :: National Gardening Association

Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Lawns, Ground Cover, & Wildflowers

Lawn Mower Savvy (page 4 of 5)

by Frank A. Viggiano and National Gardening

Lawn Tractor

This category includes the widest range of sizes and prices. The general advice is to use some sort of riding mower for lawns larger than 1/2 acre. But if your 3/4-acre lawn is dotted with trees, flowerbeds, edged walkways and other obstructions, a walk-behind might be still be a better choice. Typical horsepower ratings are provided here, but more isn't always better. In some cases, the less refined machine has more horsepower to compensate for its reduced efficiency.

The simplest kinds are riding mowers that are smaller than lawn tractors. They are usually easier to maneuver, but less capable on slopes.

Lawn tractors are larger and look more like a car. You sit and look out over a hood covering the engine, and the mowing deck is underneath you. Commonly 10 to 15 horsepower, lawn tractors cut with a 38- to 42-inch deck. Mulcher conversions and tow carts are usually available. Cost is $700 to $4,000.

Garden tractors are scaled-down versions of farm tractors, with 12 to 20 horsepower engines and 38- to 60-inch mowing decks. Compare frames, axles, transmissions, efficiency from power take off to attachments and interchangeability of attachments. Typical attachments include chipper, rototiller and snowblower. Tow carts and reel mower gangs are also available. Prices start around $1,000 and reach upwards of $6,000.

In some cases, you sit in a sort of chair with the mowing deck underneath you and the engine in the rear. Called rear-engine riders, these are practical if you maintain at least 1/2-acre of lawn.

The turning radius is much tighter than on a lawn or garden tractor. When there is no turning raius at all, the mower is called a "zero turn." You steer by controlling the drive on the rear wheels; the front wheels are like those on shopping carts. This creates limitations, such as the inability to maneuver across a slope. The mowing deck is 30 to 42 inches wide, and the engines deliver eight to 13 horsepower. (John Deere's spin-steer tractor is a hybrid that looks like a typical lawn tractor but behaves like a zero-turn.) Typical rear engine mowers cost $700 to $1,000; zero-turns cost $1,500 and up.

Comfort is a major concern when purchasing these larger machines. Your body should fit the machine so that the steering wheel, seat, pedals, controls, key starter and movement controls are easily accessible. Ride the unit. I've tested some that are noisy, full of unwanted vibration and simply uncomfortable. You test drive a new car, why not a riding mower?

Safe and Sensible Lawn Care

No matter which type of lawn mower you choose, there are concerns and features that must be considered.


Many states have passed laws banning the disposal of yard waste, including grass clippings in landfills. According to the Composting Council, yard trimmings are the second largest component of municipal solid waste (18 percent or 35 million tons). The Professional Lawn Care Association of America is promoting Grasscycling. This term means either composting or mulching the clippings where they are produced. Your choice of a mower will determine how you deal with your lawn clippings.

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