One Man Went to Mow...
January 19, 2004 2:46 PM   Subscribe

I've decided to bite the bullet and start mowing my own .25 acre lawn. There lies the rub, as I'm a small woman with not much in the way of upper-body strength. Riding mowers are out because they won't pay back the original investment (I'd have to install a storage shed). I've been looking at mowers for some time, but haven't really been able to get much in the way of "um, but will I be able to maneuver this thing?" advice. Any suggestions? If it helps, I can afford to invest about $600 (what I pay to have the lawn mowed in the first place...).
posted by thomas j wise to Home & Garden (24 answers total)
You can get self-propelled push mowers. All you really have to do is steer. Also, your standard $125 mower from Wal-Mart isnt that heavy at all; a lot of the maneuvering is "tip up on back wheels, use leverage".

I had a self-propell push mower when I was ~14 and had to mow our 1-acre yard, and four cemetery lots every week. The "self propell" part broke eventually, and I developed some great upper-body strength from pushing that thing, which was twice as heavy as a normal push mower.
posted by mrbill at 2:50 PM on January 19, 2004

One other option - I have a TINY yard currently (less than 1000 square feet, if even that) and when we first moved in, I "mowed" it every couple of weeks with a good strong weedeater/weedwhacker (NOT one of the dinky 3' long ones, a good gas or BIG electric unit).
posted by mrbill at 2:51 PM on January 19, 2004

Electrics are lighter (and quieter) than gas-powered. If your yard is relatively treeless, you can even use a cheap corded one (they're set up so that you keep the same side of the mower pointed at the house and flip the handle back and forth).

$600 will get you a cordless, easy, or $200 (+ cost of a couple-three big extension cords) for corded.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:56 PM on January 19, 2004

If you have a choice, stay away from 2 stroke gasoline engines. Get a 4 stroke (if you need gas) or go electric. 2 strokes are horribly poluting. You should be able to get a cordless electric mower for much less than $600.

posted by daver at 3:02 PM on January 19, 2004

My mom (a pretty tiny woman) has no problems mowing our lawn (roughly about the same size as you described) with a regular gas-powered mower, so I don't think you'd have a problem with that either.
posted by gyc at 3:15 PM on January 19, 2004

Robomower, baby.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:25 PM on January 19, 2004

When I was fifteen (and not particularly strong), I bought a department-store-special lawnmower for $200. Based on the strength of my old mower's engine (it had been stolen), my only criterion was that it had a Briggs and Stratton engine. I'm 29 now, and the damn thing still runs, despite cutting 20+ lawns for five years, running over hidden pipes, etc.

Your other option, if you'd like to build up some strength, is to get a manual (reel) mower. As long as you don't let the lawn get too long, it's not bad at all, and there's no pollution to worry about.
posted by notsnot at 3:45 PM on January 19, 2004

My thoughts, exactly, mr_crash_davis.

A few weeks back, on an episode of Ask This Old House, they discussed robotic lawnmowers, and one of the models they featured was that one (though I don't recall what they said about it)... what I do remember is that their landscaping expert actually uses one at his home.

I checked their site, and couldn't find details... but you can e-mail them for more information.

And for information on eco-friendly lawn care, check this site out.
posted by silusGROK at 3:48 PM on January 19, 2004

Perhaps a small electric like this one?
posted by vers at 3:51 PM on January 19, 2004

get a manual (reel) mower. As long as you don't let the lawn get too long, it's not bad at all

Given the parameters of the question, I really wouldn't recommend this unless the lawn is perfectly flat and smooth. The key thing to keep in mind about a manual lawnmower is that you need to get a little momentum going before the blades are spinning fast enough to cut anything. You can't really start cutting from a dead stop. So if you're trying to go uphill over bumpy ground, be prepared to... well, to be a tall man with decent upper-body strength.
posted by staggernation at 4:08 PM on January 19, 2004

(Although momentum can be easily achieved by starting from a paved surface... reel mowing is easiest, though on short grass -- all depends on how frequently you'd care to mow.)
posted by silusGROK at 4:42 PM on January 19, 2004

I would caution against a self-propelled gas mower. I'm a property manager for a rental company, and I have about 2.5 acres to mow. The tool they've given me for this is a self-propelled gas mower.

The motor that drives the wheels *loves* to break down, and then your options are to 1)Push the heavy thing or 2)Let the yard overgrow while you get it fixed.

Me, I stopped using the self-propel action about the third time I had to mow. It made maneuvering very difficult.
posted by rocketman at 5:18 PM on January 19, 2004

Big buggy wheels in the back are the ticket - you won't need self-propelled unless your yard is hilly. Briggs and Stratton gets another vote. Protect it from the elements. Consider a mulching mower so you don't have to rake up the clumps.
posted by Alylex at 5:18 PM on January 19, 2004

In my 10 years of mowing my half-acre lawn (growing up), I never once had problems with the drive motor on my self-propelled lawn mower.
posted by silusGROK at 6:09 PM on January 19, 2004

I used an electric (corded) mower for several years. It had a flip-over handle, as ROU describes. It was fine, and electrics are much a.) quieter, and b.) better for the environment than gas mowers.

The only hard part was the first time I used it -- I just had to figure out a pattern around the trees to keep the cord from getting inconveniently looped.
posted by Vidiot at 6:26 PM on January 19, 2004

If you are considering a self-propelled walk-behind mower, you will probably be happiest if it has a direct shaft or chain drive. The friction drives (with rollers or belts) tend to slip, particularly in wet grass.
posted by Galvatron at 6:48 PM on January 19, 2004

My favourite mower was a fifteen year old red generic one. It had a simple two stroke engine and was lightweight and easy to maneuver. When that was stolen my dad purchased a self propelled one which I hated. The chain drive would always malfunction meaning I'd have to push it. This wouldn't be so bad except it was heavier and less maneuverable than the cheap old mower.

My mom swears by corded electrics. I'll admit they're a lot lighter. Whenever I use them the cord seems to ATTACK the mower though. It's a bit short sighted on the cords part. The mower always wins.

Anyway, get a small gas mower (briggs and stratton) or an electric. Mulching is useful (my folks bought a nice gas powered lawn boy which the neighbour promptly ruined by borrowing it and not mixing oil with the gasoline)
posted by substrate at 7:15 PM on January 19, 2004

How good for the environment your electric mower is depends on the source of your electricty. If your power comes from your local friendly coal-burning power plant, for instance, you're not doing the environment any good by burning electricity. You also have to look at consumption ... some of the larger electic mowers have pretty big motors in them, and a nice 1500 watt (12 amp) motor could put a dent in your electric bill, depending on how much you pay for juice...
Third, if people here are worried about the self-propel mechanism breaking on gas mowers ... what about an electrical mower? You're introducing all kinds of charging or electrical circuits on top of the other mechanisms. Oh, and if it's a cordless motor, you'd introduce a nice big toxic battery that will have to be reclaimed, recycled, or otherwise properly disposed of someday.

My vote: A Honda four-stroke gas mower, catalytic converter, auto drive. The damned things never break down, barely sip gas, and your size of lawn is no problem with a nice 19" or 20" mower. I used to do a similar sized lawn in under an hour. *don't* get a two-stroke mower. They're easy to ruin and they're really bad for the environment.

Re: Push mower ... great idea, but if she's dreading the idea of mowing that small of a lawn (and by my standards, that's small...) by and of itself, there's now way in hell she's going to want to use a rotary blade push mower. :-P I'd rather get my ass waxed every week than use a rotary push mower. If I see one more person that doesn't own and regularly use one reccomend one...
posted by SpecialK at 7:43 PM on January 19, 2004

(I used rotary mowers growing up. I don't have a lawn any more, however.)
posted by silusGROK at 9:24 PM on January 19, 2004

I'd rather get my ass waxed every week than use a rotary push mower. If I see one more person that doesn't own and regularly use one recommend one...
The guy across the road from me thought he was being smart by saving money and the environment with his nice shiny new push rotary mower - he lasted until spring came and he needed to mow the lawn twice a week to keep it short enough for the mower to get through it and all the edges just grew and grew...

Go around and look at mowers - try and lift them to get an idea of the weight, or find out exactly how heavy they are. Don't forget to factor in a catcher full of grass, which can weigh a lot especially when the grass is wet. 4 stroke engines are cleaner and more reliable, although usually heavier and don't forget to check the oil every time you mow the grass. Briggs and Stratton rules the lawnmower engine world. Stay away from corded electric mowers - high voltage and sharp blades do not play well together. Stay away from cordless electric mowers unless you have a very tiny lawn - you will end up spending a fortune on replacing batteries and you are not really doing anything for the environment (except maybe your immediate neighbourhood).

Have fun - there are few things as satisfying as turning off the mower and looking over at your newly-pristine grass, but maybe that is just a guy thing.
posted by dg at 5:31 AM on January 20, 2004

first, do you really need a lawn? there are many ground covers, even durable ones (look up Steppables) that you can use that don't need to be mowed.

second, if you must have a lawn, I vote for electric. They don't need the maintenance that gas do, which to me is a big plus. We have a cordless and have had no problems with it so far (It is rechargeable, and at least after the first year, no problems with the battery). The one we have isn't self-propelled (not sure if any of them are), so that may be a concern depending on your yard. Otherwise, I look at it as a good woorkout.

Also, I've noticed that if I'm outside when someone with a gas mower is mowing, my allergies bother me. While if I'm outside when my husband is using our electric, my nose is just fine. That's a big plus for me, too.
posted by evening at 6:13 AM on January 20, 2004

Do any of you that are reccomending corded electric mowers and ground covers have any concept of what size lawn 1/4 of an acre is? That's almost 11,000 square feet. It's about 1/3 the size of a football field. Now, without knowing the topography (as in, is that just the back yard? Or is that the whole lot? Whole lot means just buy a mower and get down to it. But I used to mow a 1/2 acre lot for a neighbor... a neighbor who worked for a fertilizer company ... I occasionally needed a *shudders)

Re ground cover: Bark Dust (aka wood mulch in the eastern part of the US) is one of the less expensive but still environmentally sound weed-control ground covers, and costs about $180 per cubic unit... here in the PacNW, where we've got an active tree farming industry and they're trying to get RID of as much of the stuff as possible.

At a 3" depth, which is about what's necessary for weed CONTROL (note that it'll still need to be weeded), you'll get about 800 sq feet per unit. (Note that if you jump up to 3 1/2 inches, which is a nice, luxurious cover, you'll only get 180 sq feet or so.) So to cover half her yard, she's looking at 7 units, at a cost of $1260. And that's without delivery or installation. Oh, and that'll need to be refreshed with about a one to two inch coat every other year.
That's not counting the plants you'd want to put there. Or the weeding that'd need to be done. Or the labor that it'd take to get out there ... or the time spent wheelbarrowing seven frickin' dumptruck loads of bark mulch out in to the yard.

Think about the amount of work a project would take before you answer a question on AxMe. Switching to ground cover doesn't necessarily mean no maintenance ... just a lot more time potentially spent on your hands and knees digging out crabgrass if you don't do something else to control it, not to mention the time and expense of getting it set up in the first place. And I'm not even going to get started on the stupid yuppie hippie wannabes I knew in my old neighborhood who thought they were being environmentally conscious and replaced most of their lawn with ivy as a ground cover.

(The guy that maintained his parents suburban yards for the past ten years)
posted by SpecialK at 11:26 AM on January 20, 2004

Do any of you that are reccomending corded electric mowers and ground covers have any concept of what size lawn 1/4 of an acre is?

I've mowed quarter-acre lots before, and I've used corded electric mowers (though not used the one to mow the other).

My sense is that the limiting factor on a corded electric mower isn't the yard size. Yeah, you'll need a couple more long cords to reach, but that's not really the issue. Except for the last couple of feet, the cord is on the ground and effectively weightless, and the cord isn't hard to extend to where you currently are.

The limiting factor for a corded electric is the number of trees and other obstacles in your yard. If you have a basically treeless yard and can go back and forth unobstructed, a corded electric is nice You just go back and forth and back and forth and the cord follows along nicely. When they suck a dog's butt is when you have to keep changing the direction you're mowing (and working the cord into new orientations for that) or when you have to keep worrying the cord around trees/bushes/gnomes.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:25 PM on January 20, 2004

I'm a landscaper who doesn't own a lawnmower. My business is mostly design and construction and there are plenty of lawn service companies that are happy to do nothing but mow whereas I hate it. Occasionally, however, I end up mowing clients' lawns as a favor and because I don't have one I'll use theirs. So I've used a lot of different lawnmowers in a lot of different conditions.

I'd recommend a non-self-propelled four cycle gas mower. They're simple, cheap, inexpensive to operate, pretty easy to maintain, and last forever if you get a decent one. My experience with self-propelled mowers is that they're very heavy and prone to breakdowns. Electric mowers are ok on smaller lots if you are diligent about mowing. They bog down when you have a lot of overgrown grass. A reel mower is great on a small, level plot but are even more useless on overgrown grass or lawns with a lot of weeds and mowing a quarter acre with one would be a serious chore (probably a half-day a week).

A quarter acre of lawn is a lot. I personally wouldn't want that much lawn. A little bit of lush, level lawn is a great thing to have but I can't imagine you get great usage out of the entire quarter acre or that the grass is healthy throughout. You should consider alternatives on areas that either you're not walking or sitting on or where the grass doesn't grow well anyway such as in shade, under trees, on slopes. In the NE, pachysandra, vinca, english ivy, euonymous are all readily available and inexpensive (in flats from a wholesale nursery, for example), easy to install, and nearly maintenance-free (an annual weeding)once established.

If you're in the country and away from anal suburban lawn nazi neighbors then consider keeping part of the lawn as meadow - a once or twice yearly mowing schedule will keep it under control - although you'll need a string trimmer or high wheel mower to cut it. I have a client that I convinced to let an area of boggy lawn "go wild" and they love it - it has wildflowers and butterflies and dragonflies and toads and such all summer and it only needs to get mowed once at the end of the season (late October here in Mass.).
posted by TimeFactor at 12:50 PM on January 20, 2004

« Older How to get shards of glass out of my underwear?   |   Origin of "Go Piss Up a Rope" and the H. in "Jesus... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.