Show your lawn’s true stripes with this fresh mowing technique.
By Manasa Reddigari and Bob Vila | Updated Apr 13, 2021 11:24 AM
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Ever wondered how those striking stripes wound up on the turf of your favorite ballpark or golf course? They aren’t the work of lawn paint or an exotic grass species but, rather, a mowing technique called lawn striping. Blades of grass are bent in opposite directions using a lawn roller attached to a mower. As the grass reflects the sunlight, those sections of blades bending toward you look dark green while those bending away look light green. Next to one another, they produce a visual effect of alternating light and dark stripes that can be quite sharp.
But lawn striping isn’t simply for the big leagues. It can improve your property’s curb appeal and even benefit your own lawn’s health—provided you learn the ins and outs of the technique first. Read on for key considerations before striping your lawn.
Lawn striping requires a simple add-on to your mower.
To apply the weight necessary to bend grass and achieve the alternating light-dark effect, you’ll need a lawn roller—a heavy, cylindrical-shaped metal or plastic garden tool. The most convenient lawn rollers attach to the rear of your lawn mower, namely tow-behind rollers (starting at 148 from brands like Agri-Fab on Amazon) and lawn striping kits including a lawn roller and mounting hardware (starting at 93 from brands like Lawn Stryper on Amazon). Be sure to get a roller or a striping kit labeled as compatible with your mower size. In addition, the drum of the roller may need to be filled with water or sand before attachment, depending on the model.
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Lawn striping affords lots of looks.
You can stripe your lawn in a variety of patterns, such as stripes, a checkerboard, or diagonally.
- For a basic stripe pattern going either north-south or east-west, start by mowing a border around the lawn perimeter. Then, working from any side of the lawn, mow the full length of the lawn in a single direction and in a straight line parallel to the lawn edge. When you reach the other end of the lawn, lift the mower deck just to turn the mower around to face the opposite direction, and mow a new stripe adjacent to the previous one. Repeat until you have striped the full lawn.
- For a checkerboard effect, first create a basic stripe pattern as above. Then, mow the same pattern again, this time perpendicular to the stripes (e.g. mow east-west if the existing stripes run north-south).
- For a diagonal pattern, create the stripe pattern, but instead of mowing parallel to the lawn edge, mow diagonally from the edge.
Lawn striping promotes healthy grass growth.
Mowing your lawn in a single direction creates grooves, ruts (track marks), holes, or low-growth spots that lead to a mottled and uneven lawn. On uneven lawns, taller grass blades bend over shorter blades like a canopy, blocking their access to the sun until they eventually die. On the flip side, mowing the lawn in two directions for a striped effect prevents lawn deformities and low spots, affording a pristine and uniform lawn in which all grass blades get equal access to the sun, and all thrive.
Lawn striping loses intensity if you cut the grass too short.
The taller the grass, the more readily it bends under the weight of the roller. This leads to more blade surface reflecting sunlight and, naturally, a more pronounced lawn striping effect. Lawn stripes look the most intense when the grass height is between 2.5 and 4 inches, so avoid cutting grass much shorter than that—short grass doesn’t bend much and, therefore, won’t reflect light well enough to create the effect of crisp stripes.
Lawn striping shouldn’t be repeated in the same pattern every mowing session.
Mow as often as is needed to maintain that 2.5- to 4-inch grass height, which could be anywhere from every one to two weeks during summer to every two to five weeks from fall through winter. However, you don’t want to re-stripe your lawn in the same pattern and direction more than every two weeks—doing so can result in grass that permanently lies flat. For best results, alternate the pattern after every two-week period. For example, if you mowed north-south stripes last mowing session, mow east-west or diagonally this time.
Lawn striping isn’t suitable for all types of grass species.
Cold-season grasses (e.g. Tall and Fine Fescues)—those which flourish in early spring and early fall at temperatures ranging from 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit—are the best candidates for striping. Their longer, more flexible blades bend easily under the pressure of the lawn roller.
Warm-season grasses (e.g. Bermuda, St. Augustine), on the other hand, have shorter, more rigid blades that don’t readily bend. Even if you manage to stripe grasses in regions with midsummer temperatures ranging between 75 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, those blades are more likely to spring back, so don’t expect them hold their stripes as well.
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Striping Kit for Lawn Mower: Is it Worth It?
For lawn aficionados and artists, a well-striped lawn is a sign of skill, and often status. For years people thought only golf courses and baseball fields had the know-how to create beautifully striped grass, but with a striping kit for lawn mower models that range from riding to walk-behind, you can create stunning stripes in your lawn.
That idea that only professionals can create epic lawn patterns in grass turned out be a big misconception when, in 2001, David Mellor, the Director of Grounds at Fenway Park, published a book of his professional knowledge in the topic.
The secret turned out to be far simpler and easier to attain than most people knew. With a simple trick and some practice, anyone can create lawn a beautifully manicured lawn, and if you’re a lawn care service, this is a major selling point.
The Basic Science Behind Lawn Striping
There’s some simple science behind lawn striping. Plants, like leaves and grass, have a waxy side called a cuticle that they use to help retain and direct water to their roots.
Every blade of grass in your lawn has this, and it’s the key component to lawn striping. The waxy cuticle reflects light differently than its paler opposite side. The striping effect is caused by bending the grass in opposite directions.
This works best on colder temperature grasses, which retain more liquid and bend better, and it shows up best when grass is tall enough to bend with at least a 2-inch height. At a lower height, the effect would be muted.
Striping Your Lawn: The Basics
Striping your lawn requires mowing around the perimeter of the lawn to make a working zone, which you use to make turns using a Y-turn to make consistent parallel lines.
A simple stripe pattern is done by turning around and cutting a straight line in an opposite direction from the adjacent line.
To make a grid pattern, go over the lawn again from the opposite side, perpendicular to the existing stripes.
It’s also possible to make a diagonal-pattern striping by using the same principle as the grid pattern but angled to the edges of the lawn.
Using a Striping Kit for Your Mower
For best results, attach a striping kit to the back of your mower. A striping kit is a weighted bar that drags behind the mower to further press down the grass, bending it further to reflect light most starkly. You don’t need a striping kit necessarily and will get some effects just from the safety strip at the rear of a standard mower but investing in one will makes your lines crisper and clearer.
Any hardware store will sell a kit, and depending on what you want, they’ll range from 10-15, upwards of 100 and beyond. The simplest kits are typically heavy rubber mats that drag along the ground. Some lawnmowers’ safety strips are pre-equipped with these as a standard feature, making striping simply a perk.
The most expensive kits look like a line of wheels or a cylindrical bar that trails behind the mower. There are many DIY options available. It’s easy to attach your own rubber mat to the back of a mower, or to drag a PVC pipe capped at both ends and filled with either sand or water.
The Best Kit Depends On Your Mower
You’ll have to make some considerations depending on the type of lawn mower you have.
Obviously a zero-turn or tractor mower will have more expensive striping kits by upwards of a factor of 4, just due to their increased size.
The zero-turn equivalent of a 100 striping kit for a walk-behind mower costs almost 400 in its larger equivalent.
budget options are available, and depending on your usage, may be the better choice.
It makes more sense for a lawn care company to buy a premium striping kit. As a professional, you’ll use it constantly as part of your business. For homeowners, I recommend choosing a less expensive model to get started. They work just fine for most smaller yards.
In all cases, you want to make sure the width of the kit is compatible with your mower. Be certain you can line up your striping kit while cutting your grass.
The most important thing to consider when buying a striping kit for lawn mowers is the width of your mower and buying a lawn mower striping kit that’s the same width.
DIY Lawn Striping Kits?
A DIY lawn striping kit is easy to assemble for almost any model lawn mower. You just need to build it to match your mower’s size.
Be as creative as you’d like by crafting one out of PVC, some old rubber mats, or even sandbags.
As long as its heft drags behind the mower as you cut your grass.
Ryan Knorr has a great video about striping kits you can check out:
That simple change will already make a difference in the look of your lawn. That’s because lawn striping increases your overall lawn health. Low spots form in your grass when taller blades block sun access to shorter blades. By alternating the direction of your mowing, you increase the sun absorption for your lawn, leading to more pristine uniformity.
My one word of advice is to change it up with each mow. Don’t always mow or stripe your lawn in the same direction. It’s much healthier for your lawn to take different routes across your lawn each time you mow. It can help prevent soil compaction, and allows your grass to thrive.
If you’ve attempted lawn striping with little success, try altering the height of your mower. Cut your grass at a 2-4-inch height, or treat your grass with a fertilizer.
But you’ll need a healthy lawn before you achieve the results you want. Once you have that down, you’ll find a striping kit will make all the difference.
The best riding mowers: Mow your lawn faster
Up your summer lawn care game with a riding mower that makes for a faster, more eco-friendly mowing experience.
Taylor Clemons is a tech writer and reviewer based near Cleveland, OH. After graduating from Tiffin University in 2011, they spent several years in lawn and garden manufacturing before working on their own (now defunct) game review site, Steam Shovel.
Taylor Clemons is a tech writer and reviewer based near Cleveland, OH. After graduating from Tiffin University in 2011, they spent several years in lawn and garden manufacturing before working on their own (now defunct) game review site, Steam Shovel.
Riding mowers are a popular mower choice for homeowners, especially if you have a big property to maintain every summer. They have cutting decks measuring from 42 to 72 inches, so you can make short work of everything from typical lawns to large properties, like sports complexes and golf courses.
Unlike their push mower counterparts, riding mowers have more features to consider in order to find the right fit for your yard. You can choose either a manual or hydrostatic transmission, so you can set and forget your speed or operate your mower like a car. You can even get riding mowers with cruise control or all-wheel drive for better traction.
While gas engines are far more common among riding mowers, there is a wide selection of battery-powered models if you’re looking for a more eco-friendly solution for lawn care. My pick for the best overall riding mower is the Troy-Bilt Super Bronco XP for its 24HP engine, 54-inch cutting deck, and ability to mow up to four acres with a full gas tank. You can keep reading below to find out more about the Troy-Bilt Super Bronco XP as well as our other top picks.
Troy-Bilt Super Bronco XP
Best riding mower overall
- 24HP engine
- 54-inch cutting deck
- Automatic transmission
- Attachments and accessories available
Troy-Bilt Super Bronco XP tech specs: Engine: 24HP Kohler | Cutting width: 54 inches | Transmission: Hydrostatic/Automatic | Max yard size: 4 acres
The Troy-Bilt Super Bronco XP riding mower is an excellent choice for a variety of lawns. It’s built with a 24HP Kohler engine and a 54-inch cutting deck to let you handle inclines and rough terrain or haul tools, mulch, and potting soil around your property.
The hydrostatic, automatic transmission makes operation similar to a typical car, so you can spend more time actually cutting your grass and less time learning how to drive your mower. With a 3-gallon tank, you’ll be able to mow up to 4 acres at a time.
Ryobi 80V electric riding lawn tractor
Best electric riding mower
- 2.5 acre max range
- Quick-charge batteries
- LCD heads-up display
- USB charging ports
Ryobi 80V electric lawn tractor tech specs: Engine: 80V brushless electric | Cutting width: 46 inches | Transmission: Hydrostatic/Automatic | Max yard size: 2.5 acres
Electric riding mowers have become more popular in recent years as homeowners and landscaping professionals look for ways to make lawn care more eco-friendly. The Ryobi 80V electric lawn tractor features a 46-inch cutting deck and enough power to let you mow up to 2.5 acres on a single charge, and you can recharge your mower batteries in as little as 2.5 hours.
This means you can take care of other tasks, like weeding or landscaping, while you’re waiting for your mower to recharge. An LCD screen gives you a heads-up display of run time, battery levels, and reminders to inspect and sharpen your mower blades. It even has two USB ports for charging your phone while you mow.
Toro Titan Max
Best zero-turn riding mower
- Mows up to 7 acres at once
- Highly maneuverable
- 10-gauge steel construction
- Tool-free air filters
How Does It Stripe the Lawn #shorts
Toro Titan Max tech specs: Engine: 26HP Kohler 7000 | Cutting width: 60 inches | Transmission: Dual hydrostatic/automatic | Max yard size: 7 acres
Zero-turn riding mowers are popular with homeowners who have larger properties or lots of obstacles like trees or specialized landscaping. The Toro Titan Max’s exceptional maneuverability and larger cutting decks make quick work of yards up to 7 acres in size, while the 26HP Kohler 7000 engine uses a dual hydrostatic drive for smooth, intuitive operation.
Toro also made regular maintenance a bit more streamlined with tool-free air filters. The deck and mower body are made from tough, 10-gauge steel to stand up to dings, rocks, run-ins, and anything else your lawn can throw at it.
Cub Cadet CC30E
Best compact riding mower
- Great for yards up to 1 acre
- Compact design great for small storage areas and narrow spaces
- Push-button cruise control
Cub Cadet CC30E tech specs: Engine: 56V electric | Cutting width: 30 inches | Transmission: Hydrostatic/Automatic | Max yard size: 1 acre
Compact riding mowers like the Cub Caded CC30E are great for suburban lawns on the smaller side. The CC30E features a smaller design that is perfect for storing in multi-use sheds and garages or maneuvering through gates and narrow spaces. The 30-inch cutting deck and 56V battery let you mow up to 1 acre (or one hour) at once.
It uses a hydrostatic drive for smooth, intuitive driving while the 18-inch turning radius lets you easily mow around trees and other obstacles. It even features a push-button cruise control, so you can set-and-forget your forward speed and concentrate on mowing around obstacles, as well as staying aware of your surroundings.
DeWALT Z160 Commercial
Best riding mower for large properties
- Mow up to 10 acres
- 5.5 gallon gas tank
- Dual hydrostatic drive
- Great for hills and inclines
DeWALT Z160 Commercial tech specs: Engine: 24HP Kawasaki V-Twin | Cutting width: 60 inches | Transmission: Dual hydrostatic/automatic | Max yard size: 10 acres
The DeWALT Z160 Commercial zero-turn riding mower is designed from the ground up to handle large properties. The 60-inch cutting deck and 24HP Kawasaki V-Twin engine let you mow up to 10 acres at once, making it an almost perfect choice for rural properties or landscaping professionals. The dual hydrostatic drive makes operation smoother, though the twin-stick steering does take some getting used to.
With 22-inch rear wheels, you can easily take on inclines and rolling hills that may be on your property. A 5.5-gallon fuel tank means you’ll spend more time actually mowing and less time refueling. And if you opt for the bagger attachment, you’ll be able to gather up to 11 bushels of clippings before you need to empty.
What is the best riding mower?
I chose the Troy-Bilt Super Bronco XP as the best riding mower you can buy. It features a 54-inch cutting deck and 3-gallon fuel tank, letting you mow up to 4 acres in a single go. The 24 horsepower engine also lets you take on steeper inclines and rough terrain or haul tools and gardening supplies around your property. The hydrostatic drive makes operation similar to a typical car, while an LED display gives you accurate usage hours for streamlined maintenance.
Best riding mower
Ryobi 80V electric riding lawn tractor
Which is the right riding mower for you?
Other than your budget, there are a lot of features and scenarios you have to consider while shopping for a new riding mower. The size of your yard will determine how wide the cutting deck should be, though either a 42 or 46-inch version will be more than enough for most yards.
You can choose either a manual or hydrostatic transmission. A manual model lets you set and forget your speed so you can FOCUS, while hydrostatic models operate more like cars, going faster the harder you press the pedal. This makes them more intuitive to operate but also more expensive.
Zero-turn mowers are designed for mowing in oddly-shaped areas or around lots of obstacles like trees, lamp posts, and lawn ornaments. They’re called zero-turn because they have a zero-inch turn radius; you pivot around either rear wheel for ultra-tight turning.
Buy this best riding mower.
If you need.
A well-rounded riding mower. The 54-inch cutting deck and 24HP engine let you mow up to 4 acres at a time.
Ryobi 80V electric riding lawn tractor
An all-electric riding mower. The electric engine requires less maintenance than gas models, making your lawn-care routine more eco-friendly.
An excellent zero-turn riding mower. Precision maneuvering lets you mow around trees, landscaping, and other obstacles with ease.
A compact riding mower. The 30-inch deck and smaller build make this riding mower perfect for smaller suburban lawns.
A riding mower that can handle larger properties. This commercial-grade, zero-turn riding mower lets you cut up to 10 acres at once.
How did we choose these riding mowers?
I used to work for MTD Products (now owned by BlackDecker), which assembles a variety of lawn mowers, snow blowers, and other powered lawn equipment. Using the expertise and knowledge I gained during my time there, I looked for riding mowers with these qualities:
- Motor size: You’ll want a riding mower with at least a 10HP engine to give you enough power to handle minor inclines and lawns up to half an acre. Larger riding mowers like the John Deere Z530M have more powerful engines, often topping out over 20HP to let you tackle rough terrain and even haul equipment.
- Cutting width: Many riding mowers have either a 42 or 46-inch cutting deck, which is great for lawns between.5 and 1.5 acres. However, if you have a large, multi-acre property, you’ll want to choose a larger cutting deck. Many brands have options between 50 and 72-inch cutting decks.
- Transmission type: The less expensive riding mowers will have either a 6 or 7-speed manual transmission. This means you will use a dedicated lever to set your engine’s forward and reverse speeds, with a single brake pedal for stop control. The more expensive models feature a hydrostatic drive, which operates in a similar way to an automatic transmission in a typical car or truck.
- Accessories: Lawn care goes beyond regular mowing. I chose riding mowers that have the ability to hitch small trailers or wagons for hauling tools, mulch, or potting soil. I also chose mowers from brands that make after-market add-ons, like rear bagging units for collecting grass clippings, mulching kits for re-feeding lawns, and snow plows for year-round use.
How do you decide which riding mower to buy?
Assuming you have a budget in mind, the first thing you need to do is find out how big your lawn is. You can either find your lot size on your memorandum deeds if you’ve bought your house, or you can check your city’s website to see if you can request lot measurements if you’re renting. If your lot measures about an acre, you’ll be able to use a 30 or 42-inch cutting deck without any issues. For lawns up to two acres, a 42 or 46-inch deck is ideal. And if your lot is over two acres, you can get a mower with up to a 72-inch cutting deck to handle larger areas.
The transmission type is also important. Many newer models have what is known as a hydrostatic drive. This means that they operate similarly to how a car drives: You push the pedal and it moves forward or backward. And the harder you push, the faster you go. This makes it easier to learn how to drive, but that also makes the mower more expensive. stripped-back models have variable speed manual transmissions, which allow you to set and forget your speed so you can FOCUS on paying attention to obstacles and people who may be nearby.
And finally, you’ll want to consider the power source for your new riding mower. Gasoline engines are far more common, but there is now a wider variety of battery-powered models to choose from. The perks of a gas engine are that you’ll get near-infinite run times (as long as you have enough fuel to keep the engine going) and a bit more power for handling steep inclines and rough terrain. The downsides are dealing with exhaust emissions and maintenance that can be a time and money sink. Electric models don’t need engine maintenance, so you save a bit of money in the long run. But they usually have a maximum run time of about an hour, which means that you may have to plan your mowing over several days if you have a larger yard.
How big of a yard do I need for a riding mower?
Riding mowers are best suited for yards measuring one acre or larger. A model with a 42-inch cutting deck is great for mowing up to two acres, so if you have more land than that, you’ll want to spring for a 46, 54, 60, or 72-inch cutting deck.
If you’re right on the threshold, you can get what’s known as a mini rider. They usually have compact bodies for easier storage and 30-inch cutting decks to make short work of lawns that are just a touch too large for a push mower.
How long should a riding mower last?
No matter if you choose a gas or battery-powered riding mower, proper maintenance is key to extending the life of your mower. For gas engines, you should change the oil and filters, clean the spark plugs, and sharpen the blades before you mow for the first time in the spring. And you should use fuel treatments like STA-BIL to prevent gas in the tank or extra jerry cans from going bad from moisture contamination. This prevents buildup of gunk that can ruin your engine, improves engine performance, and gives you a cleaner cut for a healthier lawn.
Electric mowers don’t need engine maintenance, but you should perform thorough inspections at the start of mowing season to check for battery damage, corrosion on battery contacts, damage to the battery housing, and also to sharpen the blades. If you do regular maintenance, not only will you save money by avoiding big repairs from worn-out parts, but you can also expect your riding mower to last 10 years or more.- which is great news, since they can be an expensive investment.
What is the cheapest riding mower?
Unfortunately, riding mowers aren’t ever really what we consider budget-friendly. However, there are models like the Murray MT100 that retail for less than 2000 without sacrificing power or cutting width.
Are there alternative riding mowers worth considering?
Whether you’re shopping at a big-name DIY store like Lowe’s, a local hardware store, or an authorized brand dealer, there are tons of options for a new riding mower. You can choose either gas or battery-powered models, cutting deck widths from as small as 30 inches to as wide as six feet.
Here’s a short list of other riding mowers I thought were great choices:
John Deere Z530M
The John Deere Z530M features a 60-inch cutting deck for making quick work of large properties. Exceptional maneuverability lets you mow around trees, lawn decor, and other obstacles with ease.
The Husqvarna YTH1942 features an updated, 19 horsepower engine and 42-inch cutting deck to take on inclines and haul dirt, mulch, and gardening equipment.
For under 2000, you’ll get a 13.5 horsepower engine, a 42-inch cutting deck, and a 6-speed manual transmission with the Murray MT100.
The Best Self-Propelled Lawn Mowers in 2023 for Making Your Yard Work Easier
These lawn mowers drive themselves, taking the load off you in the process.
By Roy Berendsohn Published: Mar 21, 2023
One of the perks of the warm-weather season is getting to spend time outside. If you own your own home and have a yard, it’s very likely that in order to enjoy your outdoor space, you need to mow the lawn. The larger the yard, the more work it will be to maintain. If you have a lot of grass to cut, you’d be wise to consider a self-propelled lawn mower especially now that there are a ton of sales just in time for Memorial Day.
The primary difference between a standard push mower and a self-propelled mower is that the former moves when you push it, and the latter essentially moves itself with only your guidance. Once the engine is running, all you have to do is squeeze a handle or push a lever and the mower will start moving forward with you as you walk.
Turning the mower around is your job, but once you have your heading, just keep the drive handle squeezed and escort the mower down the path, no pushing necessary.
Self-propelled law mowers take power off the engine and route it via a belt to a pulley on the transmission and axle. When you move the drive control lever on the mower handle, you tension the belt, causing the pulley to turn, and this drives the transmission, moving the mower forward.
Move the drive control lever back and the tension is released, the pulley stops turning, and the mower stops moving forward. The belt-driven transmission is a time-tested design to power the mower and take the load off you in the process.
What to Consider
A mower is like many consumer products in that the more features a manufacturer adds, the more expensive it becomes. But a longer or more eye-catching list of features isn’t necessarily better. Sometimes less is more. Here are the most important to keep in mind.
Front-wheel drive mowers tend to be less expensive than rear-wheel drive units. They can be easier to turn because you don’t have to disengage the drive wheels to do so. Simply push down on the handlebar to raise the front wheels off the ground. However, their traction isn’t as strong on hills or when the bag is full, as there isn’t as much weight over the drive wheels.
Rear-wheel drive mowers do cost more and aren’t as easy to turn, as you do need to disengage the drive—but this isn’t too much of a hassle. Rear-wheel drive mowers shine on hills and inclines, and when the grass bag is full. In either scenario, weight is shifted rearward and over the drive wheels, which enables superior traction, thus making the self-propel more effective.
An engine as small as 125 cc can power a mower, but most are somewhere in the 140 cc to 190 cc range. A large engine helps when powering through tall, lush grass or in extreme conditions, such as with a side discharge chute in place and mowing tall weeds in a border area. Also, the extra torque provided by a larger engine can improve bagging when the going gets tough (tall, leaf-covered grass in the fall). But if you mow sensibly and pay attention to deck height—and especially if you don’t let your lawn get out of control—an engine between 140 and 160 cc has more than enough power to get the job done.
A mower can have all four wheels the same diameter (7 to 8 inches), or it may have rear wheels that range from 9.5 inches to 12 inches in diameter. Larger rear wheels help the mower roll more easily over bumpy ground.
With some mowers you can start the engine with the twist of a key or the press of a button. It’s a great option, but a luxury. Keep the mower engine tuned and use fresh fuel with stabilizer added to it, and you’ll never have trouble starting.
Any number of mechanisms can control a mower’s ground speed—a squeeze handle, a drive bar that you press forward, even a dial. There’s no single right answer here. Look at the design and think about how you like to work. For example, if more than one person will be using the mower (and not all of them are right-handed), a drive control like that on a Toro Personal Pace mower might be the answer. Just push down on the bar to make it go faster. Let up on the bar to slow down.
A mower that can bag, mulch, and side discharge is known as a three-function mower, the most versatile kind. Two-function mowers bag and mulch or mulch and side discharge.
Mowers will typically have one, two, or four levers to control the deck height. Single-lever adjustment is the easiest to use, but it requires more linkage, which adds weight and complexity. If, for some reason, you find yourself varying deck height frequently, it’s a good option. Otherwise, two or four levers work just fine.
Only Honda makes a gas-engine mower with a high-impact plastic deck (there are battery mowers that have plastic decks). Otherwise, mowers generally have a steel deck, and a few manufacturers—Toro, for one—offer a corrosion-resistant aluminum deck. An aluminum deck won’t rot the way a steel deck will, but you still need to keep it clean.
This is a hose fitting mounted on top of the mower’s deck. When you’re done mowing, hook up a hose and run the mower to power wash the underside of the deck. We’ve had mixed results with these, but they’re better than just letting a mass of dried grass clippings accumulate.
expensive mowers come with a more durable bag with more dust-blocking capability. If you bag a lot, especially leaves or other lawn debris in the fall, then you need a mower with a higher quality dust-blocking bag. Having said that, if you rarely bag, the standard one that comes with a mower will last you the life of the mower.
Also called wide-area mowers, machines in this subgroup help homeowners better reconcile their need for more power and speed with the fact that they may not have enough storage for a tractor or zero-turn mower. A typical residential walk mower has a single-blade deck that cuts a swath from 20 to 22 inches wide. Wide-cut mowers (built for homeowner use) have either a single blade or, more typically, a pair of blades, cutting from 26 to 30 inches with each pass. Some of these are rated for light commercial use and have larger decks, in the 32-inch range, and engines that start at 223 cc and go up to about 337 cc.
Wide-cut mowers typically employ gear or hydrostatic drive transmissions, and they have top speeds of about 4 to 6 miles per hour. At their fastest, they move so quickly you have to trot to keep up with them. Needless to say, they’re overkill for small yards; only opt for one of these if you’ve got a significant plot of land that you need to keep tidy, but not one so large that you’d be better off going with a full-on riding mower.
How We Tested and Selected
We compiled this list based on Popular Mechanics mower testing and our knowledge of the lawn mower market at large. For our testing, we put mowers through the paces using our standard Popular Mechanics methodology: We cut turf grasses such as fescues and blue grass and rougher non-turf grasses like Timothy, clover, orchard grass, and wild oats, all in both normal and shin-deep heights. We mow uphill, downhill, and across the faces of hills. The maximum slope we cut is about 30 degrees.
That may not sound like much, but it’s about all you can do to stand on it, let alone push a mower up it or across it. We mow damp and wet grass to test general cutting performance and whether clippings accumulate on the tires. And we cut dry and dusty surfaces to see how well the bag filters under less-than-optimal conditions.
Honda HRN 216VKA
Honda mowers enjoy a sterling reputation. Having tested their walk and self-propelled mowers for the last 30 years, we feel confident that Honda’s entry level mower is a great choice for homeowners looking for power and durability. The HRN features a GCV 170 gas engine that’s built to withstand long hours of operation.
If you do your own maintenance (and most owners who buy this class of product do), you’ll appreciate the easily accessible spark plug and the fuel shutoff valve that enables better winter storage. Close the fuel shutoff and run the mower until it sputters to a halt. This will clear the carburetor of any gasoline, which will prevent the ethanol in it from disintegrating and causing running issues later on. Open the shutoff valve in the spring, add some fresh gasoline, and the mower should start easily.
All this maintenance stuff is great, but we can also tell you that our past test findings on other Hondas prove that their cut quality is outstanding for cleanliness. Sharp blades deliver a velvet-like finish. And their bagging ability is also quite good, in the same league with other well-bagging mowers from Toro.
In all, if you take mowing seriously, you should enjoy this Honda. If you have a little wiggle room in your budget, consider the Honda HRX, which features a mower powerful engine and a composite deck that won’t rust and is renowned for its durability.
One note is that Honda has announced that it will cease selling lawn mowers in the United States after this year—so if you’re considering buying one, best do it sooner rather than later.
Toro Recycler 60-Volt Max Lithium-Ion
Toro mowers have garnered more recommendations from us than any other brand for two reasons: build quality and cut quality. These were amply demonstrated in our testing as the Recycler turned in the best ratio of cut area per amp-hour of battery in the self-propelled category, while at the same time not skimping on cutting, mulching, or bagging quality.
We attribute this outstanding mower performance to three features, all upgrades to the previous version of this machine. First, the air vent at the front of the mower deck seems to improve mulching and bagging performance. Toro calls it Vortex technology, a design that increases air flow under the deck. This helps to stand the grass for a cleaner cut, which improves mulching performance, and also allows better airflow into the bag when collecting the clippings.
Next, the company’s redesigned “Atomic” blade configuration appears to assist the air flow and clipping movement. Finally, the three-phase, 60-volt motor is exceptionally efficient, resulting in a large cut area for a single battery.
Toro has maintained features that make this mower work: rear wheel drive, a one-piece deck that’s all steel (no plastic nose), 11-inch wheels to help it roll over roots and crevices, and the same fold-forward handle that was an industry breakthrough when it was introduced some years ago.
Quick Connect Kit For Big League Lawns Striping Rollers
Ryobi 40-Volt Brushless Self-Propelled Mower
This is one of Ryobi’s top-of-the-line mowers, and it’s American-made construction is something we wish we saw more of. It delivers a tremendous cut area with its two 6-Ah batteries providing a total of 12-Ah of capacity, and its X-shaped blade leaves a pristine surface in its wake.
Ryobi estimates the design should provide 70 minutes of run time; we didn’t time our cut, but it strikes as plausible. Its rear-wheel drive and reasonably aggressive tire tread pattern provide good hill climbing and sidehill cutting performance, and its bagging on all surfaces (level, sidehill, and uphill) is also commendable.
Other ease-of-use features include an easily installed or removed bag that mounts and dismounts straight up and down through the handle; deck adjustment is quick and easy thanks to a single-level deck height adjustment. The straight edge deck is polypropylene; it will never rust and needs very little care other than basic cleaning.
Toro TimeMaster 30 in. Briggs Stratton Personal Pace
The Toro Timemaster 30-in. mower has been around for several years and has earned a reputation as a sturdy workhorse for homeowners who want to cut down on their mowing time. It’s also used by some professionals as well. A few years ago the Timemaster got a slightly more powerful Briggs and Stratton gas engine, so it should have no issues powering through most demanding mowing jobs.
The Timemaster is rear-wheel drive and features Toro’s Personal Pace drive system that’s used on many of its self-propelled mowers. This allows the mower to move at your speed by simply pushing down or releasing the handle, which is spring-tensioned.
With a 30-in. deck, Toro claims the Timemaster will help you reduce your mowing time by about 40% compared to using a standard-sized mower. You can mulch, back, or side discharge with the Timemaster, and the handlebar can be locked in a fully vertical position to reduce space consumption in storage.
If you have half an acre to a full acre of lawn to mow and prefer the experience of a walk-behind mower versus a tractor or zero-turn, the Timemaster is worth a look.
Craftsman mowers have been doing very well in our tests, so we can recommend this one because it’s so much like the many other of the brand’s models that we’ve tested. If you’re looking for a good blend of maneuverability and power, you’ll get it with this mower. Its front drive helps move it along and makes it easy to turn.
It’s important to note that front-drive mowers do lose some traction when running uphill, particularly with a full grass bag. But if your slope is less than 20 degrees, and you’re not bagging uphill, you’ll be fine. The side discharge will also help you handle tall grass. Adjust the two deck levers to bring the mower up to full height and have at the rough stuff.
The fact that this mower bags, mulches, and side discharges is a plus, enabling you to handle a wide range of mowing conditions, from early spring and late into the fall. Three-function mowers like this are our preference for that versatility.
Toro Super Recycler Self-Propelled Lawn Mower
This is a beauty of a mower, with a cast-aluminum deck and a smooth-running Briggs Stratton 163-cc engine. We tested the Honda engine-equipped version, and it was effective at both bagging and mulching, even in moist grass.
Equipped with rear-wheel drive and the Personal Pace system (the farther you push the drive bar, the faster the mower goes), it’s an effective hill climber and moderately effective on sidehill cutting. It has relatively small 7.5-inch tires on all four corners, which causes this Toro to bump up and down a bit on washboard surfaces. But the good news is that it’s equipped with a far higher quality tire than we’re used to seeing these days. We didn’t notice them pick up any grass on moist surfaces.
Other features we like include its forward-fold handle that has a built-in shock absorber that Toro calls a Flex Handle Suspension, and a high-quality grass bag that loads through the handle, from the top.
Are there special maintenance considerations with self-propelled mowers?
Yes. Both front- and rear-wheel drive mowers typically feature a drive belt, which can crack or wear out over time. Fortunately these belts are not difficult or particularly expensive to replace.
Secondly, you may have to replace the drive wheels occasionally. These wheels are driven with gears. there are typically teeth on the inside diameter of the drive wheel that line up with a gear on the axle. These teeth can wear out, especially if they are made of plastic. Higher-end mowers may feature drive wheels with a metal gear that meets the metal axle gear, which improves longevity of these components.
My lawnmower says I don’t ever have to change the oil, but just add oil when needed. Is this OK?
It’s not a good idea to never change the oil in your lawn mower. In a lawn mower, same as a car, oil degrades over time and is less effective at reducing heat and friction in metal components. Changing the oil in your lawn mower is easy to do and will significantly increase its service life. For most homeowners, changing the oil at the beginning or end of each mowing season should be sufficient, though there is certainly no harm in doing it more often.
Roy Berendsohn has worked for more than 25 years at Popular Mechanics, where he has written on carpentry, masonry, painting, plumbing, electrical, woodworking, blacksmithing, welding, lawn care, chainsaw use, and outdoor power equipment. When he’s not working on his own house, he volunteers with Sovereign Grace Church doing home repair for families in rural, suburban and urban locations throughout central and southern New Jersey.