Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Lawns, Ground Cover, & Wildflowers
by Maggie Oster
Walking behind, even pushing (gasp!) a lawn mower is perfectly good exercise. But if you're responsible for a lot of lawn, it may be time to consider a riding mower. Then you may actually look forward to mowing the lawn; witness the pleasure my 84-year-old mother takes in zipping around her 2-acre yard on her riding lawn mower. She says that not only is it a peaceful time for her, but it's also an opportunity to see the fruits of her labors immediately.
If you mow anywhere from 1/2 to 2 acres of lawn, you most likely have or would like some type of mower you can ride on. Consider the time you'll save: figuring that most riding mowers will cut a swath that's 50 percent wider and will cut about twice as fast as a walk-behind mower, you'll finish mowing your 1/2 acre of turf in less than half the time.
Though there are several types of lawn mowers you can ride, this article is about only one of them, the rear-engine type. These mowers have evolved significantly over the last two decades. Today's models are more comfortable to use and more reliable mechanically. They also provide a better cut and have more efficient, quieter engines.
Rear-engine models also offer some key advantages compared to zero-turn (ZTR) mowers, small lawn tractors, and larger garden tractors. Rear-engine mowers are typically smaller and lighter than these, so they take up less garage or shed space; they are also easier to transport if necessary. Their lower center of gravity makes them safer than tractors on slopes.
Most importantly when compared to the lawn and garden tractors, they offer superior visibility (you ride at the front of the mower) and maneuverability (it's very easy to get around irregularly shaped lawns). Compared to ZTRs, which are operated by levers, they are easier to use.
Generally, rear-engine riders are powered by 8- to 14-horsepower gasoline engines mounted to the rear of the seat. Mowing decks are generally in the 25- to 38-inch range. Most have optional rear-bag collection systems or mulching decks, which return clippings to the lawn. Some models also have dethatching and raking capacity, and a hitch on the back--a handy feature for hauling carts with tools or soil. Most riding lawn mowers also now come with an electric start instead of a pull cord.