Ahh spring in Chicago, temperatures in the teens, snow in the forecast and generally so cold and blustery the last thing I want to do is be outside. If you are in other areas of the country spring is here. The temperatures are warming and there has never been a better time to invest in a new mower. Choosing a mower depends on a lot of factors, but the main one is yard size. If you have 5 acres you certainly are not going to use a push mower, you will be in the market for a rider. I generally use a push mower for anything under .5 acres.
Push Mowers – Push mowers come in all different shapes and sizes. Some freewheel and some are powered. The Husqvarna HU800AWD even has an all wheel drive system that allows you have even more control on hilly and uneven terrain. Mowers generally start at around $150 for a bare bones basic pusher to $500+ for a loaded mower with a Honda power plant. Look for Husqvarna, Honda and Briggs and Stratton which are all great engines to power these units and will give the user a long life of service. Go to the big Box stores and don't be afraid to touch and push the mowers around, see which one fits you best. Check the wheels to make sure they are mounted well with not a lot of a play. Make sure there is no play in the handlebar assembly. It should be ridged and easily lift the front wheels off the ground for a turn. Go with a small deck for areas with lots of obstacles and a bigger deck for more wide open areas. High wheel mowers will also aid on uneven terrain. I tend to avoid store display units mostly because they keep them them outside. When was the last time you bought a new mower and left it outside?
There are 3 options mulch, bagger or side discharge. Your cheap entry level mowers usually only come with a side discharge option, but most other mowers these days come with all 3 options. I tend to prefer the mulch option, but I never take off more than 1/3 of my grass blade height. Mulch basically re-cuts the grass a few times before dropping it back into your lawn for fertilizer. Side discharge is Okay, but will leave lines of grass piles and is generally not aesthetically pleasing. Bagging is usually for the ADD type that has to have a perfectly clean yard.
Cordless Mowers – Everyone wants cordless. The advantages are no fuel and they are quieter than a traditional mower. The disadvantage is runtime. With fuel you can run as long as you have gas. With electric you have to recharge when your battery is depleted. This is usually an overnight process or you can purchase a second battery to extend the run time. If you are mowing anything over the size of 3 tennis courts I would get a gas mower. We had some good luck with the WORX electric mower that we reviewed here. Ryobi also has a cordless mower option that looks appealing. There is also an electric rider called the G2 which you can check out here.
Compact Rider – Compact riders give you push mower like maneuverability but with the comfort of a riding platform. It is basically a push mower that you sit on and drive. Something like the the Troy-Bilt Neighborhood Rider that we reviewed here is great especially when you have small tight areas to get into. compact riders have a small footprint and are not meant for uneven terrain.
Lawn tractor vs garden tractor – Yes, there is a difference between the two. A lawn tractor is basically designed for mowing and a garden tractor on top of mowing has a beefier frame and more horsepower for pulling trailers and ground engaging equipment like de-thatchers. Lawn tractors start at around $999 for an entry level unit and go up from there. For a mostly wide open big areas, I always go with the biggest deck I can afford. It means less passes which saves fuel and time. There are generally 2 types of transmissions, a manual transmission in which you just select a gear, release the brake and go. The second type is a hydrostatic transmission that basically gives you a full range of speed, both forwards and backwards by using a single pedal. The hydrostatic is smoother and generally more sought after. You cannot go wrong with engines from Briggs and Stratton, Kawasaki and Kohler. Husqvarna, Troy-Bilt, John Deere are all brands that I would recommend for a tractor.
Zero Turn – For areas where tight turns and obstacles are everywhere the zero turn can't be beat. They turn on a dime and give you precise control that no other ordinary mower can touch. The downsides are that you always need 2 hands to operate it and if you are not a skilled operator you can leave marks on your lawn. Big V twin engines power these machines and they are a huge timesaver.
Hybrid – The Lowes Raven hit the scene and has been quit the buzz lately. It is a cross between a generator, an ATV, and a lawn mower. It is a great concept, but has a long road ahead to prove itself as a viable machine. I am sure this technology will populate the mower scene in the next few years.
Where to Buy – The most obvious places are the big box stores like Lowes and Home Depot. Both stores have a great selection, are usually good about returns and taking care of any issues that arise. They both have a good selection of replacement parts and maintenance items in stock. For a little more personal feel you can always visit a local dealer in your area who has a vast selection of machines and the ability to fix your machine right in his shop. The best time to buy a mower is at the end of the season but deals are still out there.