Riding lawn mower mowing. How to Cut Grass on a Steep Hill with a Riding Lawn Mower

How to Cut Grass on a Steep Hill with a Riding Lawn Mower

Most riding mowers are not designed to mow slopes steeper than 15 degrees and will indicate that in the manual. So what do you do if you’re wondering how to cut grass on a steep hill safely?

There are some more expensive riding mowers that can accommodate larger slopes if it is essential to mow steep slopes on your property. You can use an ATV as an alternative (use them with pull-behind mower attachments).

You can mow smaller slopes, but riding mower operators must use extra caution. In these situations, safety is vital; risk of injury or death is not worth the manicured grass.

In this article I’ll provide my top tips to tell you how to cut grass on a steep hill safely. I’ll also help you decide whether you should use a riding mower or try another method.

Go Slow and Know When to Stop

Slow down and take your time while you work on mowing a slope. Use the lowest possible gear on the transmission.

Ensure properly functioning brakes so that you can stop the machine properly on a hillside. If you notice that your front tire is not making grooves while going uphill, then slowly turn to go downhill; if the front end starts to come up, then the weight of the back wheels will certainly roll it backwards down the hill.

Avoid stopping, starting, or turning directly on the slope. Wait until you are on a more level part of the ground to do so.

Go Up and Down the Hill (never side-to-side)

While using a push mower, it is easier and safer to mow from side to side along a hillside. The opposite is true with a riding mower, whether you drive a zero-turn or riding lawn tractor.

It is better to mow up and down the hillside on a riding mower. This can help you avoid sliding or rolling sideways down the hill.

This type of accident could lead to you being crushed by the mower if it rolls sideways. If the hill is too steep, then avoid mowing up the hill and only mow down the hill.

This may mean that you need to find a wide berth around to get back to the top of the hill. Make sure the path you choose isn’t as steep.

Lumps, Bumps, and Edges

Be on the lookout for any uneven sections or obstacles in the lawn. Rocks, lumps, and holes can all increase the risk of the mower tipping over.

The edges of ponds and embankments are also to be avoided as the soil several feet around the edge of the embankment can quickly become waterlogged or filled with loose soil that will tip the mower.

Never Mow Wet

Mowing wet grass is never a good idea because it gets heavy and can clog up the mower.

Using a riding mower on wet grass is especially dangerous when mowing on a slope.

Wet grass creates a slippery surface for a riding mower and makes it more likely that it will slide or end up rolling over.

Consider Alternatives When You Need to Cut Grass on a Steep Hill

If you have a fenced in area, consider livestock that will happily eat the grass on your hillside to keep it at an acceptable length.

Another option is to turn the area into a work of landscape architecture or a hillside garden with terraces … something that doesn’t require mowing at all.

You could even consider sowing wildflowers and turning your hillside into a wildflower garden and sanctuary for pollinators and wildlife.

Most importantly, read your operating manual to see what slopes you can safely mow and then judge what alternatives will work best for the slopes that are too steep for your riding mower.

Use a weed-wacker or string trimmer. This can be a good choice on smaller slopes if you’re determined to keep them grassy.

Lawn Mowing Tips: How to Mow a Lawn the Right Way

Lawn mowing is an important part of keeping your grass healthy and looking good. It can be the difference between a green expanse or a brown, bland disappointment. We’ll share lawn mowing tips to help you cut your grass the right way.

How you mow, when you mow, and what you mow with will all make a difference in keeping your lawn looking and feeling its best.

  • Why Mow?
  • How to Mow a Lawn
  • Sharpen Mower Blades Regularly
  • Know When to Mow the Lawn
  • Best Time of Day to Mow Your Lawn
  • Mowing Pattern
  • Proper Height to Cut Grass
  • Grass Clippings: Mulch Them
  • Lawn Mowing Tips
  • How To Choose The Right Lawn Mower
  • Be Courteous to Your Neighbors When Mowing

Why Mow?

You are doing your lawn a favor when you mow it. Mowing your lawn stimulates its growth. A grass plant’s purpose in life is photosynthesis — that is, pulling in carbon from the air, energy from the sun, and water from the earth to grow roots and blades of grass.

When you cut off the tips of the grass plants, they are stimulated to grow more. The result is a thicker lawn with better roots, which crowds out weeds and makes your turf oh so nice to roll around in and toss the ball on.

But as anyone with parched brown spots, patches of weeds, or scalped grass can attest, a lot can go wrong in the process.

How to Mow a Lawn

“Without regular mowing, even a fine turf quickly becomes just another weed patch,” wrote Richard L. Duble, retired professor and renowned turfgrass specialist for the University of Texas AM.

But where do you begin? Whether this is your first time behind a mower or you’re a seasoned pro, follow these lawn mowing tips to increase the health and vigor of your lawn and get that gorgeous green look you’ve always wanted.

Sharpen Mower Blades Regularly

If you can’t remember the last time you sharpened your lawn mower blade, it’s time to do so.

“A dull blade is about the worst thing you can do to a lawn,” says Campbell Vaughn, agriculture and natural resources agent for the University of Georgia-Augusta Richmond County Extension. “When you tear the leaf, it opens it up for diseases to attack it. A clean cut helps it regenerate a lot faster and be a healthier plant in the long run.”

How often you need to get your blade sharpened will depend largely on how many hours of mowing it does. Mowing a large lawn frequently will cause more wear and tear than occasional use on a small patch of turf.

How to know if your blade is dull:

  • Check evenness of the cut:
  • If the individual blades of grass have been neatly sheared, you’re good.
  • If they have an uneven, tatty appearance and torn leaves, it’s time to sharpen the blade.

Cutting Grass with Riding Mower on a VERY Steep Hill

You can take the mower into a shop or home improvement store to have the blade professionally sharpened, or you can do it yourself. Lawn mower blade sharpening kits cost as little as 10.

  • Inspect your blade:
  • If there are chips or gaps, it may be time for a new one.

How to replace a lawn mower blade

If you’ve been hesitant to replace your lawn mower blade, relax. This is a beginner-level DIY project that you can accomplish with tools most of us have around the house.

Instructions vary slightly depending on the type of mower you have, so it’s best to follow your user’s manual.

  • Disconnect the spark plug boot and remove gas from the tank into a safe storage container.
  • Tip the mower on its side with the air filter facing up.
  • Wearing gloves, secure the blade with a block of wood or a universal blade removal tool.
  • Loosen the bladeretaining bolt to remove the blade.
  • Install new blade, making sure the center hole aligns with the blade adapter.
  • Using a torque wrench tighten the retaining bolt to the proper torque suggested in your user manual.
  • Tip back onto its wheels, reattach the spark plug boot, and refill the gas tank.

You’re ready for a clean-cut lawn!

Know When to Mow the Lawn

Ideally, you mow when your lawn needs it. Whether you do it yourself or hire a service, the idea is to schedule your lawn mowing so that it occurs when the grass benefits most from it.

Regularly scheduled weekly mowing may vary depending on a few things:

  • Recent fertilization: Your grass will undergo a growth spurt, and you can increase the frequency to prevent excess accumulation of clippings.
  • Drought: Set the mowing height higher and reduce your mowing frequency so the grass plants retain more moisture.
  • Grass type: Different types of grass have different peak growing seasons.

There are differences in the growth patterns of warm-season and cool-season grass types.

  • Warm-season (Southern) grasses such as St. Augustinegrass and Bermudagrass ramp up their growth in the summer, so expect to mow them more frequently then.
  • Cool-season (Northern) grasses: Kentucky bluegrass, turf-type tall fescues, and fine leaf fescues have twin peaks of growth in spring and fall, so that’s when your heaviest mowing workload will be. You can back off on mowing frequency in the summer.

You can cease mowing when grasses go dormant, either due to extended drought or cold. How soon that is will depend on your climate.

  • Cool-season grasses can take the cold and usually go dormant in the fall when the soil temperatures fall to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Warm-season grasses generally go dormant around mid to late October.

“During your grass’s growing season, mowing once a week should be plenty,” said Brad Leahy, owner of Blades of Green, a lawn care company that has been cutting Maryland and Northern Virginia lawns for more than 25 years.

Best Time of Day to Mow Your Lawn

When you mow can have an impact on your lawn’s health.

Best times to mow: The pros say mid-morning, between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., or after 4 p.m. are the best times to mow your lawn.

Worst times to mow: Early morning, between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. There will still be dew on the grass at this time. The wet dew makes your lawn mower work harder and causes clumps of wet grass to clog the mower and accumulate in your yard. Wait until that dew has dried and then have at it.

In addition, avoid mowing at mid-day — it’s just too hot — and in the evening after 6 p.m. when the grass won’t have time to recover before nightfall.

Mowing Pattern

“Once you finish mowing around any features and move on to mowing the open lawn, I suggest homeowners establish a mowing pattern, whether that’s straight rows or circles; again, whatever works best for you and your lawn,” says Leahy.

For the best lawn, it’s better to vary your mowing pattern, especially if your mower is heavy. That way you don’t wear grooves in your yard and you catch the blades of grass that may have bent out of the way the last time.

Proper Height to Cut Grass

The proper height for your grass will depend on its species. See the chart below for details. But over the years, turfgrass specialists have created one important rule:

  • The One-Third Rule: Never remove more than one-third of your grass on any cutting.

No matter how tempting it is to whack it all down when your lawn is growing wild, don’t do it. Adhere to the one-third rule, and cut your grass down in increments. This will reduce the amount of stress you put on the grass.

Recommended Mowing Height by Grass Type Sources: University of California-Davis Integrated Pest Management program, University of Georgia-Augusta Richmond County Extension

“The one-third rule is critical,” said Vaughn. Virtually all mowers have a height adjustment, so use yours.

How to adjust your lawn mower

Don’t just eyeball it. Here’s how to get an accurate cutting height every time.

  • Get out a tape measure and park your mower on a hard, even surface.
  • Measure from that surface up to the blade.
  • Most lawn mowers adjust the height of the deck with levers on the wheels.

As you adjust the height of the mower, you may find that the highest mower setting is the preferred cutting height.

Grass Clippings: Mulch Them

The standard wisdom has changed in the past few decades about grass clippings. A few decades ago, lawn clippings were thought to contribute to thatching, so the common practice when mowing your lawn was to bag lawn clippings and discard them.

It has since been discovered that mulching — leaving clippings on the lawn — is the better choice. Letting your mower chop the grass blades returns nitrogen to the soil and does not contribute to thatching. It does contribute to weed control and is an organic way to fertilize and maintain a healthy lawn.

Regular lawn mowers do an adequate job of mulching, but mulching mowers have a special blade that chops the grass blades into fine pieces, hastening their decomposition.

Pro Tip: It’s fine to run your mulching blade over leaves to add them to the mulch mix. If the leaves are thick, though, rake them up for leaf removal into a compost pile.

Lawn Mowing Tips

Pablo Solomon says he started mowing lawns for 50 cents a yard with a human-powered push mower when he was a 10-year-old growing up in Houston, where, he said, “the grass grows faster than the national debt.”

Now 71, he is a renowned “green designer” who chooses his grasses carefully. “Each type of grass has its own characteristics that determine when it grows, where it grows, and when it may go dormant according to the climate,” he said.

Over the years, he has developed his own mowing technique, which he still practices on the large lawn surrounding his historic house north of Austin, Texas.

  • Check the yard: That’s the first task for Solomon, “Be certain to scout out your lawn before you mow.”

“Remove any rocks, debris, toys, etc., that might damage your mower or that might be thrown by your mower and hurt someone or damage something. A lot of Windows are broken by lawn mowers slinging stuff, and a lot of people have gone to the hospital with shrapnel wounds,” Solomon said.

He and other experts advise:

Power mower: You ride up and down the slopes horizontally so that the mower is never tilted to one side.

Push mower: You do the opposite and mow parallel to the contour of the slope.

  • Not too close: Don’t get your mower too close to trees, the curb, flower beds, rocks, playground equipment, your shed, or anything else, he said.

That’s what the line trimmers and edgers are for. “By trying to get too close to stuff, you run the risk of damaging the stuff, the mower, and/or yourself,” he said.

If you are using a lawn care professional, make sure you convey your wishes to your service provider.

Solomon advises. “I know that people that care about having their lawns perfect can be somewhat neurotic at times. But allow yourself to be a bit less compulsive when you run the risk of a heat stroke or heart attack.”

Leahy agrees. “We always recommend starting at the places that will take the most time: around rocks, shrubs, buildings or other features in your lawn,” he said.

“By doing this at the start, you’re still fresh and willing to take the time to mow these areas carefully and correctly. If you wait till the end, you may rush these parts, potentially damaging your lawn mower.”

Be careful with a mower on newly sodded grass or new lawns grown from seed. The root system of the grass is not very deep, so be gentle by minimizing turns with your mower. Make the turns off the lawn or over pavement or bare soil, where possible.

Caveat: Mowing height recommendations will vary by grass type.

How To Choose The Right Lawn Mower

There are several different types of mowers that you can use in your lawn maintenance. Purchasing the correct mower for your needs really comes down to the size of your yard, your budget, and your personal preference.

Riding mowers are recommended for larger yards, while push mowers can handle small to medium jobs.

  • Lot size: A homeowner of a large property with multiple acres requires a different type of lawn mower than a person with a small yard. For this person, a riding lawn mower would be the weapon of choice.

Riding lawn mowers range in price from 600 to 14,000, depending on the power, size, and quality of the machine that a person needs. A large property will also restrict homeowners from using corded electric lawn mowers that require the machine to remain plugged into an outlet.

The standard rule for choosing a lawn mower based on yard size is:

  • Yards no larger than one-half acre, stick with a push mower.
  • Lawns larger than one-half acre, the homeowner should begin to consider a riding mower, which will save time and energy for the user.
  • Greater than three acres, look at upgrading to a zero-turn or garden mower, which will provide better mobility and ease each time the grass needs mowing.

Determine how much you have to mow to choose the best option for you.

  • Topography: You must determine if your yard is flat or if there are variations in elevation, including varying hills and valleys.

A riding lawn mower, for example, wouldn’t be a great fit for a yard with steep hills and tight spaces due to the lack of mobility that they provide compared to push mowers. If your lawn is bumpier than you like, you may need to level your lawn.

  • Physical fitness: Lawn care is a physical activity that requires a certain level of strength and stamina. This can be offset to an extent with a riding lawn mower, but the individual would then incur a greater cost.

Motorized push lawn mowers are generally a perfect balance between the price (compared to that of riding lawn mowers) and the physical effort needed to propel a nonelectric reel lawn mower that uses only the physical exertion of its user to cut the grass.

A study by Harvard Medical School measured the calories burned by people in different activities, including lawn mowing. A 155-pound person pushing a manual push (reel) mower would burn 198 calories in a half hour — the same caloric output as someone doing a half hour of low-impact aerobics.

Pushing a motorized mower was less strenuous, the study found, burning 162 calories in a half hour — the same as a good half-hour game of badminton.

Average cost of a reel mower: 104

Average cost of a walk-behind mower: 363

Average cost of a riding mower: 2,450

Average cost of a robot mower: 1,470

  • Personal preference: Personal preferences mean you may choose an electric versus a gas push mower or choose to go completely low-tech with a standard reel mower.

Mowers can also be personalized with features that include a mulching blade that chops up the grass into tiny bits and distributes it across the yard or a grass bag that collects the grass clippings as you go to make for easier disposal.

Be Courteous to Your Neighbors When Mowing

It’s just common courtesy to avoid mowing too late or too early. The Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, a nonprofit organization that fights noise pollution, has enacted a “Good Neighbor Policy.”

Regarding the use of lawn equipment, the policy suggests that people:

  • Use a reel mower and rake whenever possible
  • Use power lawn and garden equipment between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.
  • Do not use a leaf blower for health and noise reasons.
  • Whenever possible, avoid the outdoor use of power tools on Sunday.
  • Avoid the use of power lawn equipment if your neighbors are in their yards.
  • Establish a schedule for motorized outdoor lawn and garden work with your neighbors (e.g., even number days only).

If courtesy isn’t enough of an incentive for you, be aware that more than 500 local governments have passed noise pollution legislation, violations of which could force you to pay a hefty fine.

To mow with as little noise as possible, electric mowers and reel mowers are a quieter choice than gas mowers.

FAQ: How To Mow Your Lawn The Right Way

Yes. Mowing incorrectly can leave brown patches and scalped grass that can ruin your healthy lawn. Here’s the right way to mow your lawn:

Follow the One-Third Rule Keep mower blades sharp Mow mid-morning or late afternoon Vary your mowing pattern Cut at the proper height Leave your clippings on the lawn

Simply bend the grass blades in opposite directions to create that baseball field look in your lawn. With a simple striping kit, you can create checkerboard, diagonal stripes, waves, or any other shape you desire.

Here’s how to mow stripes in your lawn:

Attach a striping kit to your mower. Striping kits are mini lawn rollers that help the grass blades to bend in the desired direction. Start by mowing the entire perimeter of the lawn. Look for a straight path or driveway to follow. First stripe should be mowed parallel to this. At the end of that stripe, either elevate the mower deck or make a tight turn with your mower to mow the following row. If your turn marks are visible, finish by cutting a final strip of grass along the yard’s perimeter to hide them.

Making the fewest number of turns is the fastest approach to mowing your lawn. According to David’s Lawn Mowing Efficiency Hierarchy, the list of fastest to most-time consuming mowing methods are:

Spiral: Start from the outside and spiral into the middle. (No 180-degree turns!) Long stripes: Mow the long edge — the length of the rectangle — then u-turn, and go back the other way. Short stripes: Same as long stripes, but mow across the short side. Diagonal stripes: Start at one corner, and go back and forth across the diagonal.

In most places, no, the lawn does not need to be mowed in winter. In fact, mowing the lawn in winter when your grass is dormant can hurt it a lot more than help it. In areas with particularly mild winters, such as South Florida, the grass may never go dormant and may need occasional mowing (think once a month or less) during winter.

Yes, you can mow and fertilize on the same day. Mow first, then wait a few hours before applying fertilizer. Ideally, you should mow a few days before fertilizing, but doing both on the same day is OK in a pinch.

Mow it Yourself? Or Hire a Pro

Your other choice is to forgo the lawn mower purchase and instead hire a professional lawn service. So, if you don’t want to learn the fine art of lawn care, see if we provide service to your area. Finally, make sure to check references and Better Business Bureau ratings for your pro before they mow.

Main Image Credit: Daniel Watson / Unsplash / License

Daniel Ray

Daniel Ray is LawnStarter.com’s former editor in chief. He is an award-winning writer and editor who previously was editor in chief of the personal finance websites Bankrate.com and CreditCards.com, but with 30 years of gardening experience, he’s well qualified to help consumers grow a different kind of green.

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Riding Mower Maintenance and Repair Guide

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Tired of feeling helpless when your riding lawn mower breaks down? Learn how to do your own riding lawn mower repair and maintenance.

When I was 12, I accidentally drove my dad’s riding lawn mower over a garden hose. There was a sickening change in the engine noise, and black smoke billowed from under the mower deck. I immediately shut down the machine as my dad came running.

Needless to say, he wasn’t happy. We jacked up the mower and discovered not only the ruined hose tangled around the blades, but a broken belt, too.

Luckily for me, my dad turned this into a life lesson. Within 15 minutes we freed the broken hose from the blades, and began installing a new belt Dad kept in reserve. Just like that, the mower was fixed. I finished mowing the lawn and learned something valuable: With a little knowledge and a few spare parts, I could repair the mower.

From that day forward I became interested in DIY repairs of all sorts, thrilled I no longer had to feel helpless when things broke. And neither do you. Keep reading for my best insights on riding lawn mower repair and maintenance.

How To Tune Up a Riding Lawn Mower

Follow these steps for a basic tuneup:

Clean or change air filter

Air filters allow air to flow into combustion chamber, ensuring the correct gas/air mixture while keeping out dust and debris. Over time, air filters become clogged, causing your mower to run rich and burn too much gas. If ignored, your mower won’t run at all.

So it’s important to inspect your riding mower air filter once or twice a year. If it seems clogged, replace it. Air filters are cheap and easy to find. You can also get more life from your old filter by removing and blowing it out with an air compressor and spray nozzle attachment.

Change oil or replace batteries

Like all internal combustion machines, your gas-powered riding mower needs oil to run properly. Regular oil changes are vital for keeping the engine cool and lubricated. You should change the oil after every 50 hours of use, or once every mowing season.

For electric riding mowers, battery life can degrade over time. If your electric mower features standard 12-volt lead-acid car batteries, leave it charging at all times when not in use. Use a volt-meter to check your state of charge before each mowing. If any batteries show less than 12 volts, replace them.

Be sure to buy batteries that match the ones your mower came with. With lithium-ion batteries, you may eventually notice you get less run time out of a charge. When this gets bad enough to affect your productivity, buy a new battery. Here’s how to tune up your lawn mower to keep it running smoothly.

riding, lawn, mower, mowing, grass

Winterize your mower

Don’t put your gas-powered mower away for winter without running the engine dry to remove all the gas, or adding some fuel stabilizer to the tank.

riding, lawn, mower, mowing, grass

For electric mowers powered by lead-acid car batteries, hook them up to a charger for the winter. For lithium-powered electric mowers, remove the batteries and store them indoors.

How To Maintain a Riding Lawn Mower

Proper maintenance steps include:

Keep belts in good shape

Raise your mower deck at the beginning of the season and every month or so afterward to inspect the various belts. Are any cracked, frayed or sagging? It may be time for a new belt. Check your owner’s manual for the specific size and type of belts your mower needs, then stock up on replacements, installing them as needed.

Check battery and terminals

For gas-powered mowers, chances are your battery terminals will eventually accumulate dirt and corrosion buildup. This could eventually prevent your machine from starting. Avoid this by inspecting the terminals before each mow and cleaning them with a wire brush if needed.

It’s also wise to check the battery charge with a volt meter several times each season. It it’s lower than 12 volts, your battery needs a good overnight charge or replacement.

Clean the mower deck

This simple job is easy to forget, but neglecting it for too long will catch up with you. Caked-on grass clippings can slow down your blades and lead to poor quality cuts.

If you notice your lawn looking more ragged than it used to after a mow, raise and inspect the mower deck with the machine turned off. Clean all clippings off the blades and the underside of the mower deck. I find a pry bar and pressure washer make a great grass-removing duo.

Store under cover

Don’t keep your mower outside all year and expect it to work well. Rain, snow and sun will lead to corrosion and other damage. Keep your mower dry in a shed or fabric storage shelter.

Common Riding Lawn Mower Problems

Like all machines, riding lawn mowers have lots of intricate parts, and lots of things that can go wrong. I’ve been using and maintaining riding mowers for more than 20 years. Here are the most common riding mower issues I’ve run up against.

Drive belt failure

All riding lawn mowers rely on a rubber or polyester cord belt that turns power from the engine into motion in the wheels. Not surprisingly, these belts occasionally wear out and break.

How to Safely Mow a Hill

You’ll know when this happens because your mower suddenly won’t move, or moves with a noticeable decline in power. That’s a sign of a stretched belt.

Stretched and broken drive belts need to be replaced with a new belt of equal length and thickness. Look up the dimensions of your old belt in your owner’s manual or online.

riding, lawn, mower, mowing, grass

When you’re ready to replace the belt, raise the mower deck to the maximum height and back the machine onto ramps if you have them. Remove the old belt and pop the new one into place on the pulleys.

Note: If you own a zero-turn mower, your machine probably has two smaller drive belts instead of one big one.

Engine won’t start

Most people who ask my advice have the same problem — an engine that turns over but won’t start. Nine times out of 10, their mower has sat unused for months with gas in the tank. This leads to stale gas and possibly a gunked-up carburetor.

The solution: Siphon all the stale gas out of the tank and add fresh gas. After that, the mower will probably start and run fine. Moving forward, drain all gas from the tank or add fuel stabilizer before putting your mower into long-term storage. If it still doesn’t work, then it’s time to replace your mower.

Low-quality grass cutting

Is your riding mower cutting less crisply than it used to? Bad blades could be why. Steel mower blades can easily get dull or corroded to the point where they won’t do their job well anymore. Luckily, this is an easy fix.

Shut off your mower, then raise the deck and inspect the blades. If they seem dull, bent or corroded, buy a new set that matches, based on the description in the owner’s manual. Expect to pay around 20 per blade. To install, raise the mower deck, then use a socket wrench to remove the old blades and add the new. It’s wise to buy an extra set so you have spares on hand for next time.

If your old blades are only dull and otherwise undamaged, you can sharpen them. You’ll need a grinder, along with eye and hearing protection.

Do your best to sharpen the blades evenly so they remain balanced. Test the balance by hanging each blade by its central hole on a nail driven into a vertical surface. If it tips one way or the other, it needs more sharpening on one side or the other until it hangs level.

Robert Maxwell is a writer, videographer, photographer and online strength coach based in Northern Ontario, Canada. He grew up on a rural self-sufficient homestead property where he learned the skills to build his own home from the ground up, do all his own vehicle repairs, and work with wood, stone and metal to find practical DIY solutions to many everyday problems.

The Difference Between Riding Mowers and Lawn Tractors

David Beaulieu is a landscaping expert and plant photographer, with 20 years of experience.

Whether you’re the type of person who looks at mowing the grass as a giant chore or it’s your time to take a mental break, the tool you use makes a big difference in how you approach the task. For first-time homeowners, the prospect of having a lawn seems exciting, but once you get to buying a mower—that task alone seems daunting. How do you choose from push and riding lawn mowers and lawn and garden tractors?

In general, tractors are more heavy-duty and do much more than mowers. Before deciding, think about several factors. How big is the area that needs mowing? Is it large enough that you fear push mowing would be too much strain on your back? Other considerations include the attachments, mulching capabilities, double duty as a snow removal device, and so much more.

Read on to navigate the world of push and riding lawn mowers and lawn and garden tractors and learn about the differences, pros, cons, and buying tips.

Lawn Tractors vs. Garden Tractors

The creme de la creme of grass maintenance machinery is a garden tractor. It has the most functionality and is the most expensive piece of equipment you can get. Still, it does it all from hauling heavy materials, cultivating soil, plowing snow, and more with its stronger engine and sturdier construction. Most have tillers, seeders, snow throwers, front loaders, backhoes, and it has a cutting width of up to 54 inches wide, covering wider swaths than all the other machines. You can expect to pay about 2,200 to 8,000 for one. Also, it’s the largest to store.

One step down from a garden tractor is a lawn tractor. Lawn tractors usually have more power than a riding lawn mower, offering cutting widths of up to 48 inches, much more than a riding lawn mower but less than a garden tractor. You can also see a difference in power levels between them. A garden tractor operates at about 24 to 29 horsepower (HP), a lawn tractor averages between 15 and 29 HP, and a riding mower has about the same power as a lawn tractor. A lawn tractor costs about 1,200 to 2,200 and can usually tow a cart. It may have some attachments, like a snow thrower. It’s also a large piece of equipment.

Lawn Mowers vs. Riding Lawn Mowers

Before we get into the differences between riding lawn mowers and push mowers, let’s review the difference between riding lawn mowers and lawn tractors. Lawn tractors have a mid-mounted cutting deck, while a riding lawn mower’s cutting deck is under the front of the vehicle. Riding lawn mowers are more maneuverable with the cutting deck at the front. Maneuverability is essential when a lawn is dotted with shrubs and trees. Riding lawn mowers are usually a little more affordable than tractors, priced between 800 and 1,400. Riding lawn mowers may also have some snow removal and spring cleaning attachments, and they are a little smaller than tractors.


Riding and push mowers are cutting tools with sharp blades and are potentially hazardous around children. Providing a child a “vehicle” may seem like a great way to the lawned mowed, but only mature, responsible adolescents should be tasked to handle heavy equipment.

However, if storage space is an issue, and if your yard isn’t very large, then a riding lawn mower may be a little much for what you need. Next to consider are walk-behind mowers, including electric push mowers and self-propelled push mowers. If your yard is on the smaller side, an electric push mower may be a good fit for you. But, if you want some help getting the task done, then a self-propelled mower might be the better option.

Generally, a battery-powered electric push mower is adequate for yards up to a quarter of an acre. It is not as loud as a gasoline-powered model and can handle mowing up to a quarter of an acre on a single charge. Electic mowers come in battery-powered and corded models and are more eco-friendly than gas models. A cordless mower is best if you have about 1/4 an acre, but if you have a much smaller yard that’s only about 100 feet from the house, a corded mower might work best for you. A corded model costs about 100 to 300. A cordless starts about 120 and up. Gas-powered models are 300 and up.

A self-propelling lawn mower is suitable for a yard that’s between a quarter to a half-acre (or you detest the thought of mowing the yard). If a self-propelling mower with powered wheels is more your speed, they come in electric or gas-powered models. start at about 350 for an electric self-propelled mower and 400 for a gas-powered one.

Tips for Shopping for a Mower