Find the Perfect Lawn Mower for You: Ultimate Buying Guide

Find the Perfect Lawn Mower for You: Ultimate Buying Guide

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There are dozens if not hundreds of high-quality lawn mowers out there. Each with its own pros and cons, and with its own specialized abilities. That variety is a wonderful thing, but it also means that buying the right lawnmower, not just a good lawnmower, or the best lawn mower, but the right lawnmower for you.

This guide will help you find that best lawn mower and help you figure out which features and design choices are most important for you and your lawn. We’ll also discuss some of the best brands, and the price points you can expect for a high-quality lawnmower.

Of course, the best lawn mower for you isn’t just about the mower itself, it’s also about matching your mower to the needs of your lawn. So, we’ll also cover different property sizes and features that can make a big difference in what features you need in a good mower.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a specific kind of mower in mind. We’ll provide a short profile of the different kinds of lawn mowers, so you can decide between a garden tractor and zero turn mower, or between self-propelled mowers and reel mowers.

There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get to it.

Table of Contents

Firstly, lets discuss the size of your yard

The size of your yard can have a huge impact on which lawn mower is going to be the best option for you. Mowers are designed with a particular kind of property in mind, and you should buy with that in mind. Smaller properties won’t benefit from a mower designed for a larger property, just like large acreages require a larger mower and won’t benefit from a mower designed for a small yard.

Yards Up to ¼ Acre

¼ acre is a fairly common size for yards in the United States, especially in suburban areas. This is just big enough that you need a mower, but not big enough that you’re likely to need too many additional features and accessories.

Push mowers are some of the best options for this size, and you can usually use a corded mower instead of gas-powered. Battery-powered mowers and reel mowers are also good options at this size.

This is also a good size for robot lawnmowers, which give you a more hands-off mowing approach when needed.

Yards between ¼ Acre to ½ Acre

In this size range, you’ll probably want to opt for a self-propelling mower. Gas-powered motors tend to offer more power, making your job easier. But electric mowers are getting more efficient and powerful all the time.

You probably don’t want a corded mower over ¼ acre, because the cost of an extension cord big enough with outweigh the costs of gas, and will need more storage space than a battery-powered option. 

Yards between ½ Acre to 1 Acre

Depending on your physical fitness, personal preference, and how flat your yard is, you may want to upgrade to a riding mower for properties over ½ acre in size. Relatively flat properties, or properties with a lot of landscaping and flower beds, work well with self-propelled gas and battery-powered mowers.

On the other hand, an acre with relatively few obstructions and lots of open space might be a lot easier to mow with a riding mower. You should also consider whether you have a lot of steep hills since that will also make an impact on what kind of mower you need.

Yards 1 Acre and Over

Once you’re looking at mowing more than an acre of land, you definitely want to be on a riding lawnmower. We’ll discuss which styles of mower are best for what kind of properties in the section on riding lawn mowers specifically, but for now, know that riding mowers are best for this kind of property.

Consider whether you’re looking for a lawnmower that just mows your property, or if you need more of a heavy-duty machine that works as a tractor, materials hauler, and all-purpose landscaping machine.

Once you’re over 2 acres, and especially over 4, look for riding mowers that are more multi-purpose and more powerful. You’ll probably also want a gas-powered mower for properties this size and larger. That’s because gas-powered mowers will let you mow longer, and you can often carry a gas refill with you, so you don’t need to return to your garage between tanks.

Secondly, lets talk Mower Power

We’ve already touched on power sources a little, but the best mower for you, needs to be the best type of mower and have the right power source. The wrong power source can make the difference between loving your mower and hating it.

Consider these options carefully. Power is a simple detail, but also one of the most important details.

Corded Lawn Mowers

Corded lawn mowers are less popular than other power sources, mostly because they are the most limited power option of the three. Corded mowers are limited by the reach of the cord, and one extension cord.

You don’t want to try and string several different extension cords together for longer range since each connection increases your fire risk.

However, for properties small enough that a corded mower can easily reach the whole property, these are probably the most convenient and consistent option.

With Corded Electric Lawn Mowers don’t need to worry about keeping gas, mixing gas and oil, or recharging a battery for use.

Popular choice on Amazon: Greenworks 20in Corded Electric Mower

It’s also worth noting that corded lawn mowers are getting a little rarer, so you may want to consider one of the other power options even if a corded lawn mower would work for your property. That way, you know you’ll be able to get a good workable lawnmower since you’ll have a little more flexibility in the power department.

Battery Powered Lawn Mowers

Popular Battery Powered Mower: Snapper XD 19″ Push Lawn Mower

Popular Battery Powered Riding Mower: Ryobi 38 in. 100 Ah Electric Rear Engine Mower

Battery-powered lawn mowers have a little bit of a bad rap since the first rechargeable power tool batteries weren’t nearly as powerful as the newer designs.

Fortunately, newer lawn mower batteries are significantly more powerful, offer longer operating times, and are more durable.

You don’t need to worry about the battery losing charge too quickly, and mowers made for battery power are usually nearly as powerful as gas-powered. Some are equally powerful.

Gar Powered Lawn Mowers

Honda 21in Gas Lawn Mower

Husqvarna Best Gas Riding Mower

Husqvarna Z254 54 in. Gas Zero Turn Mower

Gas-powered lawn mowers are still likely the most powerful option across the board, though the best battery-powered mowers are beginning to compete.

Gas lawn mowers also usually give you the longest mowing time and the most distance per tank of gas compared to a single battery charge.

Gas-powered lawn mowers also often have more features and functions than electric mowers.

However, they are the least environmentally friendly and develop a distinct gas-fume smell after a couple uses.

Depending on the mower, you’ll also need to keep an oil-gas mix to power them. At the very least you’ll need to keep gasoline in storage for them.

That said, we’d still recommend gas-powered lawn mowers for most large properties, and for the most heavy-duty tasks.

Where do you want the grass clippings to go?

This is a smaller detail, but still something you should consider when purchasing a new lawnmower. Where the clippings go as you mow can affect performance, how even your lawn appears, and how much lawn care and disposal you need to do.

Side Discharge Mowers

This is the most basic option, where the lawn mower just sends grass clippings and everything else out the side. You’ll generally want to rake up these clippings, at least occasionally, and either bag or compost them.

Side discharge lawn mowers works well for smaller properties that are easy to mow and maintain regularly but can create more mess than they’re worth if you have a large property or prefer to let your grass grow long before you mow it.

Bagging Lawn Mowers

Bagging mowers operate like a side discharge mower, except that they direct the clippings into a bag instead of out the side. The clippings themselves are the same. Some bags are disposable, so you need to replace them every time you mow. Other, more permanent bags need to be emptied regularly to function properly.

The main problem with these mowers is that an over-full clipping bag can impact cutting performance and lead to an uneven mowing job.

Mulching Lawn Mowers

Mulching mowers are a bit different. Instead of clipping the grass and then collecting or releasing the clippings, mulching blades are designed to continue chopping the grass into much smaller pieces.

Once your grass clippings are the right size, they fall back onto your lawn. Don’t worry, grass mulch doesn’t look like the grass clippings from a side-discharge mower. Since the clippings are chopped smaller, they fall through the grass to the soil underneath. There, the mulch can be quickly processed by your lawn’s natural microbiome, returning a significant portion of the nutrients in your grass to your lawn.

These mowers are a little more expensive, but they have a greener overall profile. A mulching mower can help keep your lawn greener, but they aren’t always worth it.

You should also know that mulching grass that was treated with chemical sprays, even fertilizers, can cause problems. Just be aware of the products you use on your lawn and you should be able to avoid that particular danger.

Watering at least twice between applying a product and mowing your lawn can also help avoid problems.

Lawn Mower Cutting Height & Cutting Decks

This is all about how high you cut your grass, whether you can change the height, and how much grass your mower cuts at once.

If you live somewhere with an HOA, you should always double-check HOA requirements before buying a lawnmower. There are few things more frustrating than having to return a perfectly good lawn mower because it doesn’t trim your grass to the exact height required by your neighborhood.

Look for mowers with an adjustable deck that lets you pick the height you need instead of mowers with a single height setting.

The materials your cutting deck is made from can also have a big impact. Heavy gauge steel works best for most mowers, especially riding mowers. Welded decks also tend to be more durable and long-lasting than stamped decks. Though, a heavier gauge steel stamped deck might still perform better than a welded deck made of inferior steel.

All About Lawn Mower Wheels

The wheels can have a bigger impact on your mower’s performance than you’d expect. Look for durable designs that offer a thick tread for better grip and maneuverability.

Rear Wheel Height

In push behind mowers, the height of your wheels is less important, and it’s common for front and rear wheels to be the same height or nearly the same.

Riding mowers are a little different. A bigger, grippier back wheel provides a lot of power and traction, while smaller front wheels help with maneuverability and fine adjustments.

Of course, the wheels aren’t the only place that maneuverability is determined, and zero-turn mowers are a great example of maneuverability through the drive system and other hardware.

Swivel Wheels

Most push mowers are designed without swivel wheels, so your turning radius tends to be fairly wide, and turning can take a good bit of muscle depending on your lawn conditions and the size of your mower.

Fortunately, some models are adopting swivel wheels in front, and there are conversion kits for lawn mowers without them.

Swivel wheels are usually only installed on the front of your lawnmower, and work to reduce the turn radius of your push mower while also making it significantly easier to turn.

Storing your Lawn Mower

Ryobi 20 in. 40-Volt Brushless Lawn Mower

Toro Recycler 22 in. Smart Stow Mower

Push mowers usually have the most storage options, since many designs include folding handles or the option of storing the mower in vertical space with a hanging storage system.

Riding mowers don’t have as many options, and rarely can compress, so you may need to pick a more compact deck size (for a riding mower) if you have storage concerns.

Regardless of your storage solution, you should always plan for a covered sheltered place for your lawnmower, ideally in your garage or a garden shed.

Lawn Mower Maintenance

All lawn mowers will need some level of maintenance. Gas-powered machines need gasoline, often mixed with oil. Battery-powered mowers will need their batteries charged, and will eventually need them replaced.

You’ll also want to invest in blade sharpening after about 25 hours of grass cutting. Some mowers can go longer, and other blades will need sharpening sooner, but that’s a good rule of thumb.

Riding lawn mowers can usually go longer, but you should try to get the blades sharpened (along with other tune-up maintenance) at least once a year.

All About Lawn Mowers

Alright, now that you know a good bit about the features you might be looking for and can match your yard size to a mowing style, let’s talk mowers.

Top Mower Brands

Just like all machines, some brands just stand out and consistently produce high-performing mowers with greater durability than the competition.

These brands all have different strengths and weaknesses, but you can count on receiving a high-quality and long-lasting mower when you buy from these companies.

  • Craftsman
  • John Deere
  • Honda
  • Cub Cadet
  • Husqvarna
  • Troy-Bilt
  • Ryobi

This isn’t to say that there aren’t fantastic lawn mowers in other brands, there absolutely are. But, if you’re looking for a shortlist of the best lawn mowers, sticking to these brands can make your life easier.

Types of Walk-Behind Mowers

Reel Mowers

Reel lawn mowers are manual cutters than don’t require any power source other than you and its own wheels. They are a fantastic green option, and popular among homeowners with smaller lawns.

However, they have limited cutting power, less customizability, and can be a little uneven in performance.

You may find yourself going over your lawn a second time with one of these, but they also have incredibly low maintenance costs and require very little storage space.

Fiskar’s reel mower with swivel front wheels is a good option in this category. Reel mowers vary between $100-$250, depending on their size, quality, and features.

fiskar best reel mower

Matt’s Top Pick for Best Reel Mower: Fiskar’s Reel Mower

best push mower

Matt’s Top Choice for Best Push Mower: Troy-Bilt 21in, Honda Engine

Push Mowers

Push lawn mowers are the most basic powered lawnmowers, but that doesn’t mean that they have to be simple. These mowers can offer catch bags or mulching blades, and often have mobile decks for customizing your cutting height.

The biggest difference between these and self-propelled mowers is that they don’t spend any energy on moving the wheels, so all the horsepower comes from you.

Troy-Bilt has a solid line of push mowers, but we particularly like this one with a rear-catch grass bag.

Prices range from about $150-$400, depending on quality, size, and additional features.

Self-Propelled Mowers

Self-propelled lawn mowers have a lot of the same feature options as a push mower, but they shoulder some of the work of pushing the mower so you don’t have to.

These are great for hilly properties and are one of the most popular mower types for suburban homes.

For a good example of a self-propelled mower, take a look at this 3 in 1 lawn mower by Honda.

Self-propelled mowers start around $250 and can cost as much as $600.

honda gas lawn mower

Matt’s Top Pick for Best Self Propelled Mower: 3 in 1 Honda Mower

swisher rough cut lawn mower

Swisher Pull Behind Rough Cut Mower

Rough Cut Mowers

Rough cut lawn mowers are a little different in that they are designed to cut through brush and undergrowth, not just grass. These heavy-duty machines can take a pounding, but even their conversion kits start around $1k, so they aren’t really designed for casual lawn mowers or even most residential properties.

These are great for trimming back overgrown areas and reclaiming your property and are occasionally necessary for lawn maintenance contractors.

This pull-behind model by swisher offers a good balance of price and performance for when you really need the power of a rough cut mower.

Wide Area Mowers

Wide area lawn mowers bridge the gap between riding mowers and push behind mowers, with a wider profile than most push mowers, but easier storage than riding mowers. These are great for moderately large properties that are easily walkable, or that are too hilly in places for a riding mower.

Wide area mowers have a wide range of price, but usually start at about $750 and go up from there.

This model from Toro is a good example with plenty of cutting power and a wide cutting deck, but still at a more moderate price.

Toro Timemaster 30″
Wide Cut Mower

Walk Behind Mower Features to Consider:

Starting Options for Walk Behind Mowers
Pull Chord Mowers

Pull chords are usually the cheapest option, but they make starting your lawnmower a little more laborious and unpredictable. Several strong pulls will usually get the mower going, though it can be hard to diagnose what isn’t working if your lawnmower doesn’t start right away.

Push Button Mowers

Push buttons are the easier and more popular option, along with switches and other easy ways of turning your lawnmower on. However, these options are usually computerized, and that means that they cost more to buy, and a lot more to replace if they break.

Cutting Deck Sizes

Cutting decks come in a wide range of sizes, from the smallest being less than two feet across, to beefier 30-35 inch models. The size of your cutting deck should increase with the size of your lawn. However, always remember that a larger cutting deck means a heavier machine, and you’re doing the pushing.

Walk Behind Mowers Bagging Options:

Most push behind mowers these days use a rear-bag to catch clippings, though there are some models with a smaller bag on the side. Of course, not all push behind mowers catch clippings, so you may not need a bag at all if you have a side-dispersing mower or a mulching mower.

Types of Riding Lawn Mowers

These beefier lawn mowers are designed for bigger lawns, and some are even designed to handle other yard maintenance tasks. Whether you’re just looking for a more comfortable moving experience or a mower than can also plow your driveway, there are plenty of options here.

Rear Engine Mowers

Rear engine mowers are your entry-level riding mower, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t a powerful and flexible option.

Rear engine mowers are good for moderately sized lawns and properties and tend to have a slightly smaller cutting deck that some of the bigger options on this list.

Keep an eye out for mowers with a variety of cutting options, and for the overall comfort of the seat and drive mechanism, since those are the features that tend to make or break rear engine mowers.

Troy-Bilt has a good 30in entry-level model that offers surprising cutting power for its price. These lawnmowers start at $1k, and go up, though you’re you’re probably better off with a more powerful design if you’re looking at models $3.5k and beyond.

troy bilt rear engine riding mower

Troy Bilt 
Rear Engine Riding Mower

cub cadet zero turn mower

Cut Cadet Ultima Zero Turn Mower

Zero Turn Mowers

Zero Turn mowers are some of the most maneuverable designs out there and are great for large properties that have landscaping and other obstacles you need to maneuver around. They are good for fenced properties and properties with mature trees.

These mowers are meant to turn on a dime, literally. You can control each side separately for better hairpin turns. They also come with a variety of different cutting tools and accessories depending on the model, though they aren’t as powerful as garden tractors.

If you’re looking for a great zero turn mower, you can look at our guide, or skip to the mower than won our top slot, the Cub Cadet Ultima.

Zero Turn Mowers generally start around $2.5k and go up to around $5k.

Lawn Tractors

Lawn tractors are a slightly more powerful version of a lawnmower than a rear-engine mower and are a good option if you have a larger lawn and need quite a bit of cutting power and a wide cutting deck, but don’t necessarily need the added maneuverability of a zero-turn mower. 

They are a step down from garden tractors in terms of sheer power but are great if you’re looking for a machine that handles grass mowing like a pro.

These are some of the best lawn mowers out there, but if you’re looking for a good model, John Deere’s 42in model is a solid option that’s pretty affordable considering what you’re getting.

For lawn tractors, plan on $1.5k and up, with a fairly wide range in prices as you start getting into the larger models. 

Matt has complied a buying guide and his top picks for the Best Riding Mowers in 2020, click here to read more. 

 

john deere best lawn tractor

John Deere Lawn Tractor

john deere garden tractor

John Deere Garden Tractor

Garden Tractors

Garden tractors are a good option if you’re looking for a more powerful all-purpose garden, lawn, and landscaping tool. Garden tractors don’t usually come with additional accessories, but they are designed to work with accessories for hauling, digging, lifting, and even plowing.

These are slightly more all-purpose, sometimes need a little more maintenance than a regular lawnmower, and also generally need a little more storage space for the garden tractor itself and the additional accessories.

John Deere’s 54-inch model is a good example and works well for people who need the greater cutting power in addition to a wider deck.

Garden tractors are usually a bit more expensive than lawn tractors. They do start around the same price, about $1.5k and up, but you should expect them to get more expensive faster.

Riding Mower Features to Consider:

Power Options for Riding Mowers
Battery

Battery-powered riding mowers have gotten a lot better in recent years. But they generally only give you about an hour of cutting at a time, so you may need multiple batteries, or to section your property into different mowing areas to make the most of a battery-powered machine.

Gas

Gas-powered riding lawn mowers are still a little more common and can have longer running times than their battery-powered competitors. But they are more expensive to operate (depending on the price of gas) and aren’t quite as environmentally friendly as battery-powered riding lawn mowers.

Cutting Deck Sizes

Cutting deck sized vary from about 40-60 inches wide, depending on the type of mower. Lawn Tractors and Garden Tractors tend to be larger than rear engine motors.

Speed

Speed varies from around 3mph cutting speed up to 7-8 mph cutting speed, depending on the mower. Faster cutting lets you cover a wider area in the same time, but can also be less consistent.

Bagging

Bagging systems are a little less common on riding mowers, but there are both rear bagging, side bagging, and top bagging systems. However, you may need to stop and empty those bags slightly more often.

Robotic Lawn Mowers

Robotic lawnmowers are a relatively new creation and are something like a Roombas of your lawn.  They are great for smaller lawns, or for managing a small section of your property in a more hands-off fashion.

However, they aren’t great for large yards, and much like Roombas, can be a little unpredictable in how they track across your lawn.

This model from Worx is very small and storable at only 7in wide but is only a good option for about ¼ acre lawns.

Despite their small size, robotic lawn mowers start around $1k, though few models go over $2k.

worx robotic lawn mower

20-Volt 7 in. 4.0 Ah Robotic Landroid M Mower

Final Thoughts on buying the Best Lawn Mower for your yard.

That’s it! We’ve gone over what type of mower is best suited to what size lawns, the different mower types, and  some of the advantages  and disadvantages of each. If you’re interested in a particular type of mower, but still not sure which will be the best mower for you, you can look at some of our specialized guides for a detailed review of the best models in each type.

But keeping these features and recommendations in mind will help you narrow your list and find the perfect lawn mower that much sooner.

Happy mowing!

 

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