Gardening Blog

Gardening Blog: Lawn Mowers

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Through out the history of lawn care, or at least since there were machines designed to mechanize the process, there have been three types of mowers to cut small, medium and large lawns. These machines can themselves be divided into two groups, those original designs which made the process easier but were still quite primitive, and the vastly improved modern day lawn mowers.

Old School

Not so many years ago, buying a lawn mower was a no-brainer. If you had a small amount of grass to cut (and children, willing or other wise to do the cutting), the mower of choice was a hand-pushed reel mower. The mower had a moving cylinder of blades (four), between the wheels and parallel to the ground. The wheels propelled the blades as the mower was pushed along. The blades trapped the grass as they passed over a stationary plate and the grass was cut cleanly off.

If you had a medium sized lawn you used a rotary lawn mower, either gas or electric. The blades, (two in number), rotated under the housing like a fan, parallel to the ground), driven by a motor directly above them. This allowed the blades to be attached directly to the drive shaft of the motor, making the resultant tool relatively inexpensive and extremely durable.

Finally, if you had vast tracts of grass, you used a self-propelled lawnmower or riding mower. There were almost always propelled by a gasoline, two stroke engine and used the motor to move the mower over the ground as well as turning the blades. These mowers were almost all rotary bladed, the reel type lawnmower in this size being an expensive appliance mostly used by golf course and parks.

New School

Nowadays vast improvements have been made in the construction and operation of traditional lawn mowers.

For small lawns, the hand pushed reel lawn mower has been updated smartly. Ball bearings are used for rotation points for the wheels and blades, wheels are bigger and the tires more pneumatic to pass over rough terrain more easily. Blades are coated with Teflon, so cutting is accomplished cleanly, and lightweight frames and grass collector bags have been devised that also contribute to ease of operation.

The only nemesis for this kind of mower is vines and weeds with long trailing stems. In a very short distance they can wrap around the axle between the wheel and the blade and lodge there so tightly that the mower becomes hard to push. Keep a sharp eye out, and donít push on through vinous ground cover. Paying attention will make untangling considerably easier and faster. For lawns up to 1,000 square feet, a push mower is still the champ.

For medium size lawns, I would recommend an electric reel mower. Because of the blade passing the striker plate, grass leaves are cut cleanly and the plants take less time to recover. Rotary mowers with their fan like blades twist the grass off, especially if cutting when the grass is longer than normal. You can see the pattern of the blade in the lawn. Thereís no question that electric mowers of either reel or rotary type are better for the environment than gasoline mowers, but most people picked gas because of the aggravation caused by the cord. Catching in plants, snagging in trees, making the person cutting the grass devise elaborate patterns, going around and back around obstacles to avoid cutting the cord.

This too is now a thing of the past. Lithium-Ion batteries have made a success of cordless electric mowers. For lawns up to 2,500 square feet, several makers have battery powered reel lawn mowers that will reliably cover that distance. Both types are available, reel and rotary, the choice is up to you, but I believe your lawn will healthier with the reel bladed option.

Finally, for large areas of lawn, there really is no alternative to the self propelled, or riding lawn mower, powered by gas. But even in this area, improvements have been made. Several outboard motor builders have switched to four stroke motors, rather than the two stroke option used before. This technology has been adapted to lawn mowers. For our purpose the difference between the two is easy to explain. Two stroke engines have their lubricating oil mixed with the gasoline and therefore their exhaust contains more toxins from burning the oil with the gas. Four stroke engines have a separate reservoir for the lubricating oil, which travels in a closed system and doesnít get consumed in the combustion process. Besides being cleaner four stroke engines are also much quieter. A cleaner, quieter engine is a great leap forward, but only when someone discovers the mother lode; a high capacity, slow discharge battery, will useable electric cars, mowers and trimming appliances become a reality.


Thereís a price to pay for all this technology, and as Iíve said before the recommendations in these articles must be tempered with what you can personally afford. The fact is, if you look after your mower, follow the recommended maintenance schedule to keep it running as cleanly and efficiently as possible; you still are making a contribution towards clean air in your neighborhood.