Walk-Behind Mower Buying Guide

walk-behind mower buying guideWhether you have a large property with a lot of grass to cut, or just a small green space in your backyard, you still want to maintain a lawn that you can be proud of.

Keeping a beautiful lawn is one of the best parts about having a home with a yard.

A lustrous, healthy lawn that is kept well trimmed and looking good allows you to play catch with your kids, throw garden parties for your friends and neighbors, or just relax quietly with a good book on a beautiful day.

But keeping a lawn looking good can be a lot of work.

Depending on the kind of grass you have growing in your lawn and the climate where you live, keeping your grass looking green and healthy may require you to feed and fertilize it regularly, water it on a strict schedule if you live in arid climates like the Southwest, or avoid over-watering it if you life in wetter climates like the Pacific Northwest. And of course you will have to trim it regularly.

Lawn care experts recommend that you do not cut your grass too often, and that you never cut your grass to a height that is less than one third to one half of its current overall height. Doing so can damage the grass, and cause it to be more susceptible to disease, or more likely to turn brown and die during periods of hot, dry weather.

On the other hand, you do not want to let your grass grow too tall, as it will look messy and unkempt. That means you will have to keep a close eye on how well it is growing, and mow it accordingly.

The mower you choose to help you with this chore will go a long way to determining how much time and labor you spend on keeping your grass trimmed. What kind you want will also determine a number of other things, such as how much money you will need to spend on the mower up front as well as on maintenance and upkeep of the mower, how much storage space you will need for the mower and its accessories, and how much of an environmental impact you will have when you are mowing your lawn.

Generally speaking, if you have a property with less than a half an acre of grass that needs mowing, a walk-behind mower is going to do the job just fine for you. Lawn tractors and zero turn mowers are much better suited to property owners with very large properties to maintain – half an acre or more – and landscaping professionals.

In this introduction to walk-behind mowers, I will cover the three major categories: reel mowers, electric mowers, and gas mowers. Each one has its own advantages and drawbacks. It is important to understand what each kind of mower offers so that you can be sure you are buying the one that is right for you.

1. Walk-Behind Mower is a Good Buyer’s Choice

1a. Mower Size

walk-behind mower sizeWalk-behind mowers have several advantages to the property owner with an average sized lawn. Walk-behind mowers are smaller than riding mowers, and because of that they are a lot easier to store.

In addition to being more compact, walk-behind mowers often allow the handle to fold down for easy storage underneath work benches or in other small spaces in your garage or tool shed.

1b. Deck Size

walk-behind mower deck sizeThe compact size of walk-behind mowers also means that you will be able to find a good compromise between their deck size and maneuverability.

Deck size is a measurement of the width of the mower’s cutting swath, and it determines how many passes you will need to make while you are mowing your lawn. A wider deck size requires fewer passes and allows you to finish the job more quickly. Even the largest walk-behind mowers, though, will have a deck size that allows you to maneuver easily between obstacles such as trees or closely constructed garden beds.

A wider deck size is not always the best option, depending on other factors in the kind of mower you are looking to buy and the kind of grass you have in your lawn.

Mowers with very wide deck sizes, but that do not have a lot of power, will often struggle with thicker varieties of grass like St. Augustine or Bermuda grass. These varieties are most commonly grown in the Southern United States and Atlantic states.

They stand up better to hot conditions, and are more likely to make it through the winter, but they are also much denser than Tall Fescues or Kentucky bluegrass. That makes them more difficult to cut, and you should consider buying a powerful mower if you want to maximize deck size and cut this kind of grass.

1c. Self Propulsion

walk-behind mower self propulsionWalk-behind mowers can be self propelled or push style.

Self propelled walk-behind mowers are exactly what they sound like: there is a motor in the machine that drives it for you, so that all you have to do is steer the mower around turns. These are ideal for property owners who have rough or uneven terrain in their property, or those who have slight frames or do not feel up to the challenge of pushing a heavier lawn mower all over their property.

But they are also more expensive than push mowers. Homeowners with smaller properties with even ground or who feel they are brawny enough to maneuver a push mower around their property with ease might want to save a few dollars by ruling out self propelled walk-behind mowers.

1d. Power Source

walk-behind mower power sourceBeyond whether or not the walk-behind mower you are looking to buy is self propelled or not, you should also consider the overall power it offers. The mower’s power directly impacts a number of other aspects of the mower.

In addition to being able to handle thicker grass and support a wider deck size, a more powerful mower will be able to cut a larger area in one shot, and will not require recharging (in the case of an electric mower) or refueling (in the case of a gas powered mower). This is important to keep in mind if you have a larger property that is anywhere between one third and one half of an acre.

1e. Grass Handling

walk-behind mower grass handlingWalk-behind mowers offer different grass handling options, and you should carefully consider your needs when you are shopping for one. The most basic option for handling grass clippings is to simply discharge them out the side of the mower.

Other mowers also offer rear bag attachments, which allow you to collect grass clippings for disposal or to put in your compost pile later. If you are an avid gardener, collecting your clippings for your compost pile can be really useful – grass clippings provide important green matter to the compost pile, and this is important to having a well-balanced compost that breaks down correctly.

Then there are walk-behind mowers that also offer the option to mulch your grass clippings directly back into the lawn. Mulching your clippings is a great way to easily maintain the health of the lawn. Mulched clippings prevent weeds and crabgrass from gaining a foothold in the lawn, and they also keep pests and diseases from getting into the soil. Finally there are walk-behind lawn mowers that offer you all three options. This can be very useful if you find that you want to mulch some of your grass clippings back into the lawn, but bag the rest for composting or disposal.

1f. Maintenance

walk-behind mower maintenanceDifferent walk-behind mowers will also require varying levels of maintenance and upkeep to keep them running smoothly, and that should be kept in mind when you are deciding which kind to buy as well. This is true both within and across the different categories of walk-behind mowers.

Depending on the kind of materials the mowers are made from (are they stamped parts or welded steel?), the horsepower and size of the engine, the number and size of the blades, as well as a few other factors, they will require servicing more or less often.

Maintenance and upkeep is a kind of hidden price that is not immediately apparent at the time of purchase, and so it is important to carefully keep it in mind.

1g. Mower Price

walk-behind mower priceLast but by no means least of all is the price of the walk-behind mower you are considering purchasing. It can be tempting to simply try to find the least expensive product whenever you are shopping for any home improvement tool, but this is often a poor gambit.

The little bit of money you save on the initial purchase price will almost always be eaten up in repairs or maintenance in the end. Or you may find yourself buying a new, cheap lawn mower every few years when you could have spent a bit more money up front to buy a lawn mower that would last you ten years or more.

On the other hand, you should avoid buying the most state of the art, top of the line mower, as often the only difference between the most expensive and mid range mowers is a couple hundred dollars.

In this introduction to walk-behind mowers, I will cover the three major categories: reel mowers, electric mowers, and gas mowers. Each one has its own advantages and drawbacks. It is important to understand what each kind of mower offers so that you can be sure you are buying the one that is right for you.

2. Walk-Behind Lawn Mower Types

2a. Reel Mowers

reel mower buying guideReel mowers have also been referred to as push mowers, manual mowers, hand mowers or cylinder mowers. These mowers are reminiscent of simpler times before the advent of gas mowers or electric mowers. Reel mowers are an excellent choice if you have a relatively small lawn and want the only option that uses zero emissions at all, whether from the mower itself or from power plants. Reel mowers rely solely on people power. These are also the quietest of all the walk-behind mowers, and so they will never disturb your neighbors or contributed to noise pollution levels. Reel mowers operate like a scythe on steroids, and if you make sure you always keep the blades sharpened and cared for, you can be sure that you will always be able to slice through tall, thick grass and dense weeds.

The reel mower is made of several horizontally fixed, sharp blades that are arranged in a helix pattern around the central axis of the mower, forming a kind of open cylinder perpendicular to the lawn. As the mower is pushed forward, the wheels operate a gear mechanism that causes the blades to spin quickly. The spinning blades push the grass against the surface of the cutting bar at the back of the mower as the machine passes over them.

Most reel mowers have a width between ten and sixteen inches. This “deck size” is not going to be useful for larger properties, as it will take far too long to efficiently cut lawns more than a quarter acre with a reel mower, but they are perfect for homes with small backyards. Contemporary reel mowers are made of much lighter materials than older steel ones. They are much easier to use than older versions, and so they can still offer many of the advantages that electric or gas mowers do.

It is important to make sure you properly adjust the height of the reel mower’s blades before using it to make sure you are not cutting your grass too short and damaging its health. But once you have done this, you can be confident that the reel mower is giving your grass an excellent cut. Reel mowers cut the lawn far more cleanly than any other walk-behind or riding mower. This means that the individual blades of grass will heal much more quickly after being cut, and you will find that your lawn is much easier to keep looking green and verdant after cutting it wit a reel mower. That means you will not have to feed or fertilize it as often, which will be a further savings on your wallet.

You should keep several things in mind when you are in the market for a reel mower. These include the number of blades on the mower, which will affect how often you need to sharpen them and how easily it will deal with thicker grass. The width of the mower’s cutting area and the total size and weight of the reel mower are important as well. These affect how quickly you can finish cutting your lawn as well as how maneuverable the mower will be. Finally you should consider whether to purchase a silent cut reel mower or one in which the blades make contact with the cutting surface, and how much you want to spend.

2b. Electric Lawn Mowers

electric lawn mower buying guideIn the past twenty or thirty years, as homeowners became more and more conscious of the impact their actions were having on the environment, a number of environmentally friendly options have become available in every aspect of keeping a home and maintaining a property. High on this list is the rising popularity of electric mowers over gas powered mowers. Not unlike the similar popularity of hybrid cars, the turn toward electric mowers has been driven largely by a desire to use fewer fossil fuels in all aspects of American life.

Electric mowers produce no emissions at the source of use, and help to reduce the overall carbon footprint of one’s household by a not insignificant factor. They can re run entirely on clean energy if your household has access to solar or wind power. And they are among the quietest motorized walk-behind mowers available today.

Electric mowers are significantly quieter than gas mowers, a fact that offers several benefits to their owners. Like reel mowers, using an electric mower allows the user to cut down on the amount of noise pollution they are producing. But in addition to this, you do not have to worry about annoying your neighbors when you are cutting the lawn with a quiet electric mower. This means that you can be up and out cutting your grass early in the morning before your neighbors are even out of bed and before the day has gotten too hot. Then, while they are slaving away cutting their lawn in the hot afternoon sun, you will be able to play with your kids or relax in your backyard.

Electric mowers also eliminate the need for smelly gasoline cans or messy oil cans to be stored in your garage. Your clothes and yard will not smell like gas fumes after you have cut your lawn. And they will offer significant savings in terms of fuel costs. As gas prices have been skyrocketing in the past ten years, this is a real concern. Using an electric mower can literally save you hundreds of dollars every year in fuel costs.

There are several different things to consider when you are deciding which electric mower to buy. The biggest one is how it is powered. Electric mowers can run on batteries or on plug in power. There are advantages and drawbacks to each. A plug in mower usually requires you to string together several extension cords, depending on the size of your yard. These can be a pain to deal with, as you could trip over them or run over them with the electric mower, and they are cumbersome to store. Batteries eliminate this problem, but battery powered electric mowers are often not as powerful as plug in mowers, and the battery may run out before you are done or be unable to deal with thicker varieties of grass.

2c. Gas Lawn Mowers

gas lawn mower buying guideThe sound of gas mowers starting up all over the suburbs of America is a hallmark of weekends in the summer. There are quite a few reasons that so many homeowners continually opt for gas powered mowers in spite of the benefits reel mowers or electric mowers offer. These reasons all have to do with the advantages gas powered mowers continue to offer over other kinds of walk-behind mowers.

These advantages can be easily summed up in one word: power. Gas mowers offer significantly mower horsepower and cutting ability across the board than electric mowers or reel mowers do. Increased power means that a gas mower can support a much larger deck size than electric or reel mowers can, and as I have mentioned, larger deck size translates to faster cutting times.

More powerful gas mowers also will not have any problem navigating over rough or uneven terrain or slicing through dense patches of even the thickest Bermuda grasses. Their powerful engines drive a cutting blade that makes child’s play of even the toughest grass. You will never have to worry about your gas mower’s blade slowing down or stopping in thick or wet grass, which means you will be able to cut your lawn regardless of the weather.

If you are interested in a self propelled mower, you should keep in mind that self propelled gas mowers are generally less expensive than self propelled electric mowers. In addition to this, you will not have to worry about whether a battery will die when you are halfway up a hill in your yard. In fact, you will never have to worry about power with your gas mower: as long as you have gas available, the mower is going to do its job.

When you are shopping for a gas mower, there are several considerations to keep in mind. These include the engine size, horsepower and torque of the machine, all of which are indicators of how powerful it is and affect a cascade of other characteristics of the machine. The deck size is going to affect how quickly you can cut your lawn, but it will also affect the maneuverability of the machine.

Different mowers offer different grass management options, and you should make sure you are choosing one that offers what you need, whether mulching, bagging, or side discharge options. Safety features are especially important on gas mowers because they are so powerful. If you have children, you should take a careful look at the safety features different gas mowers offer, especially for self propelled or larger models. Finally, as always, you should carefully look at prices to make sure you are getting a mower that meets your needs and is dependable but does not tax your wallet too much.