Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Yard & Garden Planning

Lawn Mower Savvy

by Frank A. Viggiano and National Gardening

Lawn tractors employ multiple rotary blades to cut a 3- to 4-foot swath in one pass.

They may not be the most glamorous garden tool, but many millions of Americans will buy a lawn mower this year. If you are buying your first or replacing an old one, you confront a potentially daunting number of choices: reduced emissions, polymer decks, zero radius, overhead valves, 24 volts and deadman switches, not to mention prices ranging between $200 and several thousands of dollars. Clearly, lawn mowers are significant investments, not disposable toys. Making an informed choice is not easy.

How can you control the process? Call manufacturers for brochures and warranty information and interview all local dealers. Ask about accessories and availability of replacement parts. Read on to gain a working knowledge of the tremendous range of mowers available today.

Six Types of Lawn Mowers

Most lawn mowers are either reel or rotary types. Walk-behind rotary mowers are most popular. These cut the grass with a blade spinning one to four inches above the soil. They may be self-propelled or manual, side or rear bagging and with or without the latest trend on mowers--the mulching" option. But the whole idea of clipping grass started in England some 160 years ago when an inventor adapted some carpet-making machinery to the out-of-doors.

Reel Mowers

Invented in 1830 by Englishman Edwin Budding, the reel mower has a series of twisted metal blades arranged as a reel between the wheel assembly. Reel mowers cut like scissors. They are more effective on grasses 1 1/2 inches tall or less. When no motor or engine is used, the mower is economical, easy to use and maintain and very safe. These "push-type" reel mowers produce no emissions or noise, so are easy on the environment and neighborhood. Using one also provides healthful exercise, burning as many calories per hour as tennis or low-impact aerobics.

Lightweight alloys and plastics have reduced the former 40- to 60-pound weight range of the units to the current 16- to 32-pound range If your lawn is 1,000 square feet or less, a reel mower is an excellent choice. All reel mowers follow the surface contours of your lawn more than a rotary. They reveal humps and hollows that a rotary mower disguises. Reel mowers tend to flatten tall grasses and weeds without cutting them, however. Prices are generally under $100.

Self-propelled reel mowers with gasoline engines (and, rarely, electric motors) are also available. There are two basic types. Turf professionals use the kind that discharges clippings to the front. Although these produce the finest cut, you probably don't need one unless you're mowing a golf-course green, or a lawn that looks like one. Short-growing, dense grasses such as bentgrass, hybrid Bermuda, St. Augustine and zoysia look best if cut with a power reel mower.

Reel mowers that throw clippings to the rear are more general purpose. The cost of powered reel mowers begins at about $400 for front-throw types and $250 for rear-throw types.

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