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

Lawn Mower Savvy (page 2 of 5)

by Frank A. Viggiano and National Gardening

Rotary Power Mowers

Leonard B. Goodall from Warrensburg, Missouri, invented the push-type rotary mower in 1939. The most popular type of mower available today, it employs a gasoline engine or electric motor that spins a metal blade (or occasionally a heavy filament line) at constant speed. The engine is mounted on a deck supported by four adjustable wheels, all connected to a long handle that has controls for operation.

Push-type Mowers

Push-type machines cost about $100 less than self-propelled mowers you walk behind, and at least $500 less than mowers you ride. Push models come in two basic designs: those with the grass catcher (or bag) mounted at the rear, and those with it mounted on the side. Rear-bagging mowers hold more clippings than side-bagging mowers, and allow close trimming in whatever direction you are mowing. Side-bagging mowers are usually lighter and less expensive than rear-bagging mowers. They allow close trimming only on the opposite the bag. Regardless, a good side- or rear-bagger will literally vacuum the grass clippings and leave little, if any, on the ground. When shopping for a bagger, be sure to remove the bag from mower and replace it in order to evaluate the ease of the operation. Also check the size of the bag opening. A small opening clogs more easily and inhibits quick and easy dumping of the clippings.

Manufactures use steel, aluminum polycarbonate or Xenoy resin for the deck material. Steel costs less but rusts, shortening the life of the mower. Aluminum is a little heavier, but does not rust. Decks of modern plastics are virtually indestructible.

Finally, plastic catcher bags are generally more durable than cloth bags. Appropriate for lawns up to 1/2-acre size, prices for the standard mower range from about $150 to $400 for the side-bagging models, and about $200 to $800 for the rear-bagging mowers.

Self-propelled rotary mowers use a power drive mechanism. These machines require the operator to squeeze a bar or a lever to engage the mower. If the lever is released, the drive system and blade both stop. Some models abruptly start, while others move forward gradually. The latter is much easier to control. The self-propelling feature adds at least $100 to the cost of the mower. These require more horsepower--4 1/2 is ideal.

I prefer rear wheel drive over front wheel drive. The rear-wheel-drive machines move in a straight pattern. Front-wheel-drive units seem to pull the machine forward, creating a somewhat erratic movement that requires guidance.

in mulching mowers. Mulching mowers are the basic mower for most home lawns today. They burst on the scene about a decade ago, once American communities began to exhaust landfill space. Their capacity to mulch clippings so you can leave them in place is useful if you don't want to collect them.

Some manufacturers create mulching mowers by simply blocking all clipping exit channels. Mowers designed to be mulchers have a doughnut-saped deck housing with various baffles, and a specially shaped blade, all to ensure clippings are cut several times. Compared with mowers that bag clippings, these save time because you don't have to stop and empty the bag every few rows, and they can shred leaves into near-invisible pieces along with the grass. Also, they are safer because there is no avenue for discharge of a rock from the side or rear of the machine.

Mulching mowers save resources. Lawns cut with mulchers need less fertilizer. Also, you consume less landfill space by not disposing of clippings. On the downside, mulching mowers work less well on wet or overly tall grass compared with nonmulching rotaries, and the cutting blade must be sharp. Mulching mowers also require somewhat more powerful engines, at least four horsepower.

Some mulching mowers only mulch; others allow the option of bagging clippings. Cost ranges between $250 and $550. Electric mulchers are available ($400), as are riding mowers that mulch clippings ($1,000 to $2,000).

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