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It goes without saying that the right lawn mower for you is entirely dependant on the type of lawn you have to maintain. If you've got twelve square feet in a perfect, flat square then a lightweight, electric model with no bells and whistles is all you're ever going to need, but if you've got three acres of hilly terrain then you're going to need something with a bit more oomph. So this guide just aims to give a basic run-through of the types of mower available today and hopefully give you some idea of what you and your lawn should be looking out for.

Standard 'walk-behind' mowers are flexible enough for most average gardens, and are generally available with four types of power source: two-stroke petrol, four-stroke petrol, corded electric and rechargeable battery. Petrol-powered push mowers are generally heavier and take some effort to use effectively, so are best for relatively flat lawns up to about 1/4 of an acre. Self-propelled petrol mowers can handle sloping or uneven terrain and are good for lawns of up to about 1/2 an acre, as the engine provides power to the wheels as well as the cutting blades, so the work of pushing the machine around is done for you. Electric mowers are cleaner; as they don't produce exhaust gases like their petrol counterparts, and are generally much quieter in operation. But they are always limited by the length of their cord (which you have to be very careful not to run over, of course) and tend to be less powerful that petrol models, so are not so good at hacking through thick weeds and tall grass. Rechargeable battery-powered machines give you greater freedom, but are again relatively weak and have a limited mowing range between charges.

All types of mover, however they are powered, get rid of grass clippings in one of three ways: mulching, bagging or chucking them out the back or side of the machine. You'll find walk-behind mowers with either side or rear discharge, with or without a grass bag, or set up as a mulching mower. The best models can even convert between all three cutting operations for the greatest flexibility.

Mulching mowers cut the grass into tiny pieces and then recycle it back onto the lawn, where they biodegrade and feed the new growth. If you don't want to spend ages emptying clippings or tidying up, these are by far the best option for the larger lawn, but be aware that some cheaper models that claim to offer mulching don't cut the grass finely enough, leaving your lawn still looking a mess after all the hard work you've put in. Mulching works best on dry grass and lawns that are routinely mowed, as they can't handle long grass as well as models that bag the cuttings or discharge them. Side- and rear-discharge mowers throw cuttings either into a bag (which you then have to empty regularly) or through a chute onto the lawn (which you then have to rake up afterwards) but they can handle longer grass in one sweep. Petrol mowers tend to make a better job of bagging than electric ones.

The most expensive (albeit most fun) option is to go for a ride-on mower, which you sit on and drive around your lawn like a car. These are perfect for the biggest lawns (as long as there's not too many hills involved) as they not only require almost zero effort, but also have wider cutting paths than walk-behind mowers, vastly cutting down on the time it takes to finish the job. While most ride-ons have the disadvantage of being very hard to manoeuvre in tights spaces, if you're prepared to spend even more, get a 'zero turn' model with a smaller turning radius, which can get round most obstacles like flowerbeds and garden decorations.

Author R. Germain
date added Fri 14 08 2009

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