Lawn tractor vs garden tractor vs yard tractor

garden tractor


As the title of this post suggests, it is easy to be confused about the merits of a lawn tractor vs garden tractor vs yard tractor.  And then there are riding lawn mowers, zero turn mowers and ride-on mowers.

How do you tell the difference between all these options?

And how do you know which is going to be the best one for you?

The fact is it can be a costly mistake when choosing lawn tractors if you buy a machine that isn’t really suitable for you and the conditions on your property.

Since these are big ticket lawn equipment items, you need to get this right and this post aims to help you do that by helping you understand the differences between all the different riding mower options.

At the end of this post, you’ll find a link to another post that will help you find your way through the riding mower maze and lead you towards a machine that’s right for you.

Lawn tractor terminology: lawn tractor vs garden tractor vs yard tractor etc.

As in all industries, there is a fair bit of jargon in the world of lawn tractors. There is also a degree of confusion over how things are referred to and, although the aim of this post is to be as non-technical as possible, there are some technical terms that we need to get our heads around so that certain other things can make sense.

Although the American Society of Agricultural Engineers has set out a standard form of categorisation of ‘ride-on lawn mowers’, there certainly isn’t universal agreement about what these machines are called in practice.

There especially seems to be some overlap between what gets called a Lawn Tractor and what gets called a Riding Lawn Mower, even among the manufacturers and retailers. So, in this section I will run through the differences between the different types of machine, so you can have as clear an idea as possible about what is being referred to when the various different descriptions are mentioned.

There are genuine differences between lawn tractors, riding mowers and zero turn mowers which I deal with below. Nevertheless, despite those differences and for the sake of brevity and unless I’m specifically referring to one of those individual categories of machine, I will use the term ‘lawn tractor’ in this guide to cover all the different ride-on mowing machines.

I’ll also use the word ‘lawn’ to cover any area of your land where you need or want to keep the grass mown.

Riding lawnmowers

You need to be aware that this description (along with ‘riding mower’ or ‘ride on lawnmower’, which is generally used in the UK) is very often applied to any kind of mower that you ride on as you mow – which makes sense if you think about it.

However, that means that the term riding lawn mower is sometimes used to describe a machine that should properly be called a lawn tractor.

The basic distinguishing feature of true riding lawn mowers is that they are designed for mowing grass only and not for use with other implements.  The cutting deck may not be detachable and will sometimes (but not always) be mounted at the front, while its engine will be located in the middle or at the rear. Something like the Husqvarna R112C below is a good example of this class of riding lawn mower with a rear engine.

The cutting deck of a riding lawnmower will usually be 38 inches wide or less.

Husqvarna ride on mower
Husqvarna R112C riding lawn mower

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Lawn tractors

The most obvious thing about a lawn tractor, as you can see from the example below, is that it actually looks a bit like a mini tractor – a genuine tractor mower. The rear wheels are bigger than the front wheels and the engine is at the front.

A lawn tractor’s cutting equipment (or deck) is mounted in the middle of the machine and will often be detachable. A lawn tractor will generally be more powerful but, in some cases less manoeuvrable, than a riding lawnmower.

Some lawn tractors will accept attachments, such as an aerator or garden tiller. The cutting width is usually between 36 and 48 inches.

Lawn tractor: JOhn Deere
Lawn Tractor

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Garden  tractors

Garden tractors are like lawn tractors but more powerful.

They are raised higher off the ground and, as well as cutting the grass, can accept lots of attachments and carry out a lot of different tasks, especially ground-engaging tasks. 

You could, for example, use a plow, a snow plow, a digger, a snow blower or backhoe with one of these machines.

A garden tractor will be equipped with an effective power take off (PTO) which is the means by which the power of the tractor engine is used to drive other implements, such as the digger on the Simplicity machine below.

Mowing widths may go up to 60 inches or more and the cutting deck will be detachable.

Above garden tractor in size and specification comes the compact tractor. This is pretty much a piece os small farm machinery, so we won’t cover it here since we are focused on garden/yard machines.

Simplicity garden tractor

Yard tractors

This term isn’t used that often, but if there is a distinction, it is that yard tractors fall somewhere between a lawn tractor and a garden tractor.

The yard tractor has more power and more accessories than the lawn tractor, but is not quite as big and versatile as a garden tractor.

Riding lawn tractors

‘Riding lawn tractors’ is just a combination of terms used by some manufacturers (especially Cub Cadet) rather than a different type of machine, but it’s generally used to mean a lawn tractor rather than a riding mower.

Zero turn Mowers

A zero turn lawn mower (or zero turn radius mower) is quite different from the others. It is more like a riding mowers than a lawn tractor but is usually steered with levers (or lap bars) that allow each rear wheel to be controlled independently, thus allowing the machine to turn without leaving any uncut grass.

The best zero turn mowers will give a faster cut than a lawn tractor or riding mower on flatter areas and, especially on areas with lots of trees, garden beds or other obstacles that have to be mown around.

Just to further add to the confusion, there are variations on the zero turn theme.

John Deere, for example has a range of 4 wheel steer lawn tractors which are essentially lawn tractors, with something approaching zero turn capability.

Cub also, in the UK at least, has a zero turn mower which is steered with a traditional steering wheel rather than lap bars.

The relatively new Husqvarna 967324101 V-Twin 724 cc, 54″ deck zero turn mower, (below) is a good example of the more traditional zero turn model.

Zero turn mower

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Other important lawn tractor terms

You’ll also find the following terms referred to a lot as you trawl through this guide and research your lawn tractor purchase, so it will help to have a good understanding of what they mean.

Mowing Deck or Cutting Deck 

This is the structure which houses the mower’s cutting
blades.  Its width determines how much grass you can cut with one pass of the mower.

Discharge Method

This is the means of disposing of the cut grass. Cut grass may be:

  • discharged from the deck straight to the side or to the rear of the machine, 
  • retained within the deck and chopped finely and deposited back onto the lawn as mulch, or 
  • discharged to a side or rear collection bag.

Four-Wheel Steer

A steering mechanism whereby all 4 wheels are turned at the same time by means of the steering wheel.

Four-Wheel Drive

Where power is delivered to drive all four wheels at once.

Power Take Off (PTO)

A driveshaft that allows attachments and accessories to be powered from the tractor’s engine.

Power Train

Generally used to refer to the components that generate power and deliver it to the wheels, i.e. the engine, transmission, driveshafts or belts and differentials.


The means by which the power from the engine is transmitted through the drive components to turn the tractor’s wheels and attachments, such as the cutting blades.

Different types of transmissions include belt drive transmissions, geared drive transmissions and hydrostatic transmissions.

More guidance on buying lawn tractor or riding mower

Once you understand the different types of riding mower available, you need to work out which is the best kind of mower for your needs.

This means thinking about:

your size, design, shape and terrain in your garden,

  • what you need the mower to do
  • cost
  • power
  • and much more.

Click on this link for a massive and complete guide to how to choose the lawn tractor or riding mower that is right for you.

More guidance on lawn mowers

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