The best lawn mower: how to choose the mower that is right for you

summer working garden car
Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

I remember when I first bought a lawn mower.

I had my own garden for the first time but at that time I wasn’t really interested in gardening and I knew nothing about lawn mowers. All I knew was that I now had some grass and that it needed to be cut.

And I can still remember the feeling of being overwhelmed and utterly confused when I started looking at all the different lawn mower options.

How did I know which lawn mower I should buy? Did I need a cylinder mower, a rotary mower, gas/petrol powered, electric, push or self-propelled? What size did I need? What features should it have? What features could I do without?

Of course that was a long time ago, when lawn mowers were less feature-rich than they are now – and before the advent of the internet and the availability of instant information.

But now, if anything, the potential for confusion and overwhelm is probably even greater. So, if you are looking to buy your first mower or upgrading to a new model, it’s more important than ever to go through a systematic thought process to work out what you need.

That’s what I aim to help you do in this and the related pages on gardeneningstepbystep.com.

Did I go through such a systematic process when I bought my first mower?

Of course I didn’t. I was young, impatient and ill-informed.

It took me three attempts to get a lawn mower worth having. Perhaps I can help spare you from a similar waste of time and money.

A word about terminology

About 50% of the readers of this website are from the United States, about 30% are from the UK and the other 20% come from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and South Africa (with honourable mentions to India, the Phillipines and Germany).

This gives me a problem when it comes to terminology because, although the English speaking countries have the English language in common, sometimes you’d be hard pressed to know it given the different names that we apply to the same things. When it comes to powered garden tools, for example, we talk about electrical cords (US, Canada) or leads (UK)and equipment that is powered by gasoline (US, Canada) or petrol (UK, Australia, NZ etc.).

For the sake of simplicity I am mostly going to use one consistent form of terminology and since I am from the UK, I am going to use the British terms. But in some cases the U.S. terms are easier to use and still make sense to everyone. For example, it is easier to use the U.S. term “corded electric lawnmower” for an electric lawn mower with a cable or lead, than the U.K. term “electric lawn mower with a cable or lead”. So, there will be a bit of terminology mixing and matching.


The key questions for lawn mower buyers

I think there are there are certain questions you need to ask yourself before you buy any piece of outdoor power equipment.

Of course they differ for each tool you buy, but these are what I consider to be the key questions to think about when buying a lawn mower.

1. How big is your lawn?

This will help determine a few things.

First, if your lawn is bigger than can comfortably be reached by an extension lead, you can rule out a corded electric lawn mower.

Second, if your lawn is likely to take more than about an hour of mowing time, a cordless electric model might not work (unless you have multiple batteries). The batteries on these things are getting better all the time, and I actually rate them pretty highly, but for now, most won’t last much more than an hour.

Third, the size of your lawn will have a bearing on whether you’ll want to buy a push mower or a self-propelled mower. If you’ve got a lot a lawn to cut, you might lean towards a self-propelled model. That is, unless you particularly want the exercise of pushing.

2. What is your lawn like?

The point here is to the think about the characteristics of your lawn, other than its size.

So – is it uneven? Do you have slopes and inclines? Is the ground boggy? Do you have lots of obstacles like trees, shrubs and flower beds to mow around. As you’ll see, these characteristics will all affect the type of mower you should buy and the features that you’ll need on that mower.

best lawn mower- grass
Lush grass requires a more powerful lawn mower with side discharge capability

3. What is your grass like?

Is your grass lush and thick? Is it often quite long when you cut it? If so, these factors will have an impact on the amount of power you need and also on the discharge capability.

You’ll need more power for lush and long grass and you’ll need a side discharge option for grass that has been left long.

4. Do you have any environmental restrictions?

Petrol driven mowers are obviously noisier that electric models and also produce exhaust emissions. If you have any noise restraints where you are then you may have to go with an electric model.

If you have large lawn that may take longer than an hour to cut, it will be more complex. It that case, you’d need to get a cordless model, of the kind where the battery can be removed, and keep at least one spare battery on charge that you can slot in when needed.

5. Do you have any physical limitations?

Some mowers are simply bigger and heavier than others and therefore harder to manoeuvre around. Even a self propelled mower needs to be got out of the shed or garage. So, if you are not especially physically strong, look carefully at the weight and dimensions of any mower you are considering buying.

Electric models tend to be lighter weight than petrol models, but don’t take that as a given. Weight will be affected by materials used (steel decks are heavier than plastic ones, for example) and the presence of certain components. Some batteries on cordless models can really add to the overall weight of the machine.

6. Do you have any interest in or aversion to lawn mower maintenance?

Modern petrol or gas powered mowers usually start easily enough. But they still have more complex moving and user serviceable parts than electric models. With a petrol/gas model, you will need to top up or change oil, you will need to mix petrol and oil on a two stroke (two cycle) model and you may have some starting issues when your mower is unused for some time.

You’ll also need to keep the spark plugs clean and make sure plug leads aren’t worn. There may also be some maintenance required on the fuel pipes and carburettor.

With an electric lawn mower, for the most part, you just need to plug it in. If it’s cordless, you’ll need to make sure the battery is charged.

7. What is your budget?

There are lawn mowers within the different categories to suit most budgets nowadays. But there are a couple of points to consider.

The best petrol lawn mowers are generally more expensive than the best electric models and the best cordless models are generally more expensive than the best corded electric lawn mowers.

Lawn mower key features

When you are looking to decide on the best lawn mower for your needs, there are certain key features you’ll need to have regard to get the mower you can.

Some of these features are common to all types of lawn mowers and some are particular to the individual lawn mower types (for example, engines are only relevant to gas or petrol lawn mowers).

In this section, I’ll take a close look at the key features that are common to most types of lawn mower.

Push or self-propelled

One choice you need to make is whether you want a mower that drives itself or one that needs you to provide the driving force.

If your mower is you-propelled (or is a push mower, as it they are more commonly called), then you provide the power for moving the mower around your lawn by pushing it.

With self-propelled mowers, the power source (the engine or electric motor) not only provides the power to turn the cutting blade(s) but also drives the front or rear wheels, relieving you of the effort.

Push mowers are cheaper and if you have a small flat lawn, then they’ll probably be fine for you. But, if you have a lawn of any size, a self-propelled mower is likely to be a good investment in saving you time and energy.

Front or rear wheel drive

On self propelled lawn mowers, the drive power may be applied to the front or the rear wheels.

If you have a lawn with slopes or bumps, you’d be well advised to buy a lawn mower with rear wheel drive. Front wheel drive mowers have little traction on slopes and also lose grip over bumpy ground and even when you turn (if you lift the wheels as you do so).

In most cases, therefore, rear wheel drive models are preferable.

Wheel sizes

While we’re on wheels, you’ll also find that mowers with equal sized wheels at front and rear (see, for example, the Honda pictured) are easier to maneuver and turn and have greater all round stability as you mow.

If the wheels are not equally sized, try to avoid a large differential in sizes.

Cutting height

Look for a decent range of cutting heights because you’ll probably want to vary the height of cut at different times of the year or to suit any personal preference you may have as to how high you want to keep your grass.

Also try to find a mower with a simple and easily accessible height adjustment mechanism.

On some models height can be adjusted in a single action, others require adjustments to be made to front and rear wheel heights separately.

Grass discharge

There are 3 basic types of grass discharge – side discharge, mulching and bagging.

best lawn mowers: grass clippings discharged
Grass clippings from a side discharge mower, spread evenly

Side discharge 

Believe or not :), side discharge means that the clippings are discharged to the side of the mower as you mow. What you want from a side discharge action is an even spread of clippings with no clumps.

If clippings are left in clumps, your lawn is likely to suffer damage because light is obscured from the grass beneath the clumps and the leaves are unable to photosynthesize.

If your mower does leave clumps of clippings then you will be put to the added effort of raking out the grass clippings.

Side discharge is the best means of dealing with your clippings when cutting long grass.

Instead of side discharge some mowers discharge clippings at the rear, but the same considerations apply to mowers with that option as to those with a side discharge capability.

Mulching 

Mulching is where the grass clipping are cut up very finely within the mower deck and deposited back onto the lawn. The benefit of this is that the clippings provide nutrient value to the lawn as they decay. You are also spared the trouble of having to dispose of clippings if bagging is your only other option.

With a good mulching action the clippings are cut fine, dispersed evenly and driven down amongst the stems of the lawn.

If you are left with clumps or excess clippings on the surface, you will again face the risk of damage to your lawn and having to rake out the clippings.

Bagging

The bagging option pretty much speaks for itself – clippings are deposited in a collection bag as you mow.

Even so, some models are more efficient at this than others. Watch out for models where the bag intake chute begins to clog before the bag is full or where quantities of clippings are left on the ground as you disconnect the bag for emptying

It also make sense to get a model with a decent size bag so that you minimize the amount of times you have to empty it.

Some lawn mowers give you the option of all 3 discharge methods (3 in 1), some give you 1 or 2 options.

Some Honda mowers even have a system, called the ‘Versimow’ system, that allows you mix bagging and mulching at the same time- i.e. you mulch some of your clippings and bag the rest.

You should note that most mowers are not good at every method. Therefore try to identify which option you are likely to want to use most and find a mower that is most proficient in that mode.

Cutting widths

Most consumer lawn mowers have cutting widths falling between 14 and 22 inches.

Clearly, the wider the cutting deck, the more grass you cut in one go and the more quickly you’ll get the mowing job done.

However, if you have limited storage space, narrow access ways or lots of narrow twists and turns to mow around, you may need to settle for a mower with a smaller deck.

Types of lawn mower

Leaving aside lawn tractors or riding lawn mowers, there are 5 basic types of lawn mower.

You’ll find a full run down on buying each of the main types of mower, including the key features that you should look out for, if you click on the appropriate link below. But here is a summary.

Reel or cylinder mower

The reel or cylinder mower is the traditional push along hand mower with spinning blades, although powered reel mowers are available. Reel mowers produce a fine finish but can be easily jammed by sticks and debris.

Hover mower

Hover mowers are now less common than they were, but are still used for cutting steep slopes, waterfronts or heavily weeded areas. They can be electric (corded or cordless) or petrol driven. The electric hover mowers are usually quite light weight, so they suit those who can’t easily handle a heavier mower.

Petrol powered lawn mower.

Petrol or gas powered lawn mowers are the work horses of the garden. They give you freedom of movement, power and speed of operation. Here are a couple of quick recommendations in this category:

Corded electric lawn mower

Corded electric lawn mower models are suitable for relatively small gardens and require the use of an extension cord. They are quiet, efficient and easy to use, but keep you firmly tied to your electricity supply. There is a full run down on how to buy the best corded electric lawn mower here.

Cordless electric mower

As the quality of batteries improve, I’m becoming increasingly impressed with cordless outdoor power equipment. In the right conditions, these are a great tool. They are easy to use and afford you lots of flexibility in the areas you can cut.

We have a separate article where you can read more about the features to look out for in the best cordless electric lawn mowers, which also list some of the best sellers in this category.

UK Buyer – lawn mowers selection

Here is a solid selection of different types of mowers from leading UK sellers:

AL-KO 2.8HM Soft Touch Cylinder Mower

£89.99  in stock
Dobies.co.uk
as of May 15, 2022 7:30 pm

Cobra 16 Petrol Powered Rear Roller Lawn Mower

£311.99  in stock
Dobies.co.uk
as of May 15, 2022 7:30 pm

Cobra 18 Petrol Powered Rear Roller Lawn Mower

£349.99  in stock
Dobies.co.uk
as of May 15, 2022 7:30 pm

Cobra 18 Petrol Powered Rear Roller Lawn Mower B&S

£409.99  in stock
Dobies.co.uk
as of May 15, 2022 7:30 pm

Manual Push Roller Lawn Mower

£54.99  in stock
Dobies.co.uk
as of May 15, 2022 7:30 pm

Hayter Harrier 41 VS 60v Cordless GreenSeries™ Roller Mower (No Battery / Charger)

£771.00  in stock
Lawnmowers-uk.co.uk
as of May 15, 2022 7:30 pm

Hayter Harrier 41 VS 60v Cordless GreenSeries™ Roller Mower 6Ah Kit

£1,026.00  in stock
Lawnmowers-uk.co.uk
as of May 15, 2022 7:30 pm

Hayter Harrier 41 VS 60v Cordless GreenSeries™ Roller Mower 7.5Ah Kit

£1,065.00  in stock
Lawnmowers-uk.co.uk
as of May 15, 2022 7:30 pm

Hayter Harrier 48 VS 60v Cordless GreenSeries™ Roller Mower (No Battery / Charger)

£960.00  in stock
Lawnmowers-uk.co.uk
as of May 15, 2022 7:30 pm

Hayter Harrier 48 VS 60v Cordless GreenSeries™ Roller Mower 7.5Ah Kit

£1,254.00  in stock
Lawnmowers-uk.co.uk
as of May 15, 2022 7:30 pm

Summing Up

I expect, that if you’ve read this far, you’ll be getting an idea of which kind of mower might suit you best.

Next, to help you firm up your views, I suggest you take a look at the following pages in which I detail the pros cons and key features of each of the different kinds of mowers and compare some of the leading models:

And don’t forget, that you’ll probably need a string trimmer or lawn edger to really finish your lawn beautifully when you’ve mown it.

But, back to matter in hand, if you are looking for a couple of rules of thumb when it comes to buying lawn mowers, try these:

  1. It is generally better to over-buy, than under-buy. What I mean is that a more powerful mower can usually still do the jobs that a less powerful one can do, but the opposite is not true;
  2. Always buy the very best model you can afford. If you have to spend a bit more than you were originally prepared to spend, it may well pay off. The biggest mistake people make (I know, I’ve made it) is to put price before quality. If you get that wrong, you may find it’s not long before you are coming back for the better or more powerful model anyway.

4 thoughts on “The best lawn mower: how to choose the mower that is right for you”

  1. I just moved into a new home, and I didn’t even think about how I now have my own lawn. It makes sense that I would want to get a lawn mower that will be good for the size of lawn that I have. That way, I won’t have to worry about it taking me too long to mow my lawn.

    Reply

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