For new homeowners who have previously only lived in rentals, having a lawn — and needing to take care of it — might seem like a completely foreign task. While it’s good to let your lawn get a little wild if you want a healthy local ecosystem, even the wildest lawnscapes could use a trim every once in a while. For that, you will need a lawn mower — but how do you choose one among the seemingly endless options at your local hardware store?
Matthew Wallhead, assistant professor and ornamental horticulture specialist at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said that the lawnmowers available to homeowners fall into three basic categories: push lawn mowers, which can be walk-behind or self-propelled; tractor-type riding mowers, which require a little less physical labor; and zero turn mowers, which are also riding mowers, but require more active engagement.
“They require you to have two hands on the controls,” Wallhead said. “Rather than a steering wheel, there are two steering sticks. You have to be actively engaged all the time in order to steer it but they have the most maneuverability so it’s really easy to move around small objects like trees or shrubs. They really give lawns a manicured look.”
Wallhead said that the main factor when choosing a lawnmower is the size of the lawn and terrain. Riding mowers are better suited for larger areas with rough terrain, but the choice is ultimately going to depend on the user. For example, some homeowners like to use their weekly mowing as exercise and prefer to use a push mower even if they have a fair amount of land to cover.
“Once you’re looking at more than an acre of area to manage [though], you would probably want some sort of ride-on mower, both for efficiency and just comfort of the user,” Wallhead said.
Ben Goodall, founder and president of Goodall Landscaping, said that choosing a lawnmower that you feel comfortable operating with your physical abilities is as important as its functionality. You also may need two types of mowers, depending on your yard’s topography.
“A tight, fenced-in area in the backyard can’t get a larger mower in, so some people have to get a smaller mower and a larger mower,” Goodall said.
Choosing lawn mower features
Once you have chosen your basic type of mower, then comes the features. Goodall highly recommended choosing a mower with a side discharge, which will add the clippings back to the lawn to use as a mulch.
“If it’s at all possible it is by far one of the best cultural practices to have a healthy lawn is to recycle the clippings because you’re recycling nutrients back into the soil,” he said.
Chaz Longmuir, owner of Maine Lawn Pros in Brewer, said that depending on your lawn, though, you might want a 3-in-1 mower that will also bag clippings.
“A lot of time if your lawn is growing quite a bit, you’ll get clumping on your lawn [from the clippings] and you’ll either have to break it up or use a blower on your lawn to break up,” he said.
For safety’s sake, he said to also consider a push mower that is self-propelled.
“If you have a hilly lawn, they have all wheel drive self propelled mowers and those work pretty well so you’re not pushing,” Longmuir said. “If you have a lawn with pretty big hills on it you’re going to be pushing it could be dangerous, too. If the lawn is wet you could slip and fall.”
Longmuir also said to pay attention to the material that the deck is made of. Cheaper lawn mowers have mowing decks made with materials like thin stamped gauge steel, which will rot out over time.
“If you spend a little bit more money, cast aluminum decks are a little bit more but they’re lighter and last longer,” he said.
If you want to make your lawn routine a little more eco-friendly, you can opt for a battery-powered lawn mower as opposed to one that is fueled by gasoline. Wallhead said that electric mowers usually only come in push varieties, so they are better suited for small lawns. Wallhead also said that there are electric automated mowers available, too, that are “essentially a Roomba for your lawn.”
If you choose an electric mower, know that generally, the higher the voltage, the longer the motor will run and the more grass you can cut.
“If you have a maintained lawn where the grass isn’t really getting over four inches, a lower wattage electric mower would be sufficient,” Wallhead said. “You may need higher wattage for more tough vegetation. The battery life is [also] going to be influenced by what you’re cutting [and] how much vegetation you’re removing. For most homeowner purposes, they don’t have to go buy the highest voltage or wattage mower out there.”
How much to spend on a lawn mower
As you start considering the type of lawn mower and features you want, the reality of your budget might come into play. Wallhead said that you can purchase a used push mower from a trusted mechanic for about $100, or you can spend up to $2,500 or $3,000 for a new ride-on lawn mower.
Longmuir said that for a quality push mower, you should plan to spend about $500. He recommended the Toro Recycler with the aluminum deck.
“Those are really nice mowers [that] would last a homeowner pretty much a lifetime [if you] do proper maintenance [like changing the oil, keeping it clean and sharpening the blades],” he said.
Some types of mowers are going to be more expensive than others. Wallhead said the price of the push mowers are going to be generally least expensive, while tractor type and zero turn for noncommercial scale would be similar in cost.
Make sure you do your research before purchasing.
“Read reviews from people who have actually owned the equipment and see what they think about it,” Longmuir said. “Do your research and when you’re buying one buy the most expensive one you can afford at that point. For the most part, that will save you money in the long run.”