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Lawn Mower Buying Guide | How to choose the right walk behind mower to buy

A simple to follow guide for choosing the right lawn mower for you and your lawn

Choosing which lawn mower to buy can seem daunting, but all it's really about is matching your needs against what is available. If you take a little time to understand what your needs are, you can then make an informed decision and buy the perfect lawn mower for you.

The author: Ripon Ground Care are a garden machinery supplier, holding resale agreements with over 60 brands. This guide has been carefully written without bias towards any brand or with any motive other than to help you select the most suitable lawn mower for your needs.

How to choose a mower

Examples of walk behind lawn mowers

Guide Contents

1. Choose a cutting method

There are two main cutting types which you will come across when selecting a lawn mower.

Is rotary better than cylinder

Examples of rotary and cylinder cutting blades

Rotary - a blade which rotates on a horizontal plane

Rotary mowers are the most common and are suited to a wide range of grass cutting. Whether it be caring for a formal lawn, through to tackling fields with longer, rougher grass. Rotary mowers:

  • give a good cut but not as fine as a cylinder mower
  • are cheaper to maintain than a cylinder mower
  • have the grass collector at the rear of the mower allowing easier cutting into corners
  • are better on long grass as there is no front roller
  • have blades that are less susceptible to damage

Cylinder - a cylinder of blades which rotates against one fixed blade

Cylinder mowers are designed to give the cleanest cut and can cut down to the lowest heights. They are at home on fine lawns and sports turf where the ground is mostly level. Cylinder mowers:

  • give a better quality cut on a formal well maintained lawn
  • will cut shorter than a rotary mower without damaging the lawn
  • often have a faster forward speed (if self-propelled) than self-propelled rotary mowers
  • sometimes allow the cylinder to be removed and replaced by attachments from a lawn care system, such as a scarifier (only certain cylinder mowers, such some models in the Allett range)

2. Buy the right size for your lawn

By choosing a lawn mower that is designed for the size and shape of your lawn, you're making sure every cut will be easier, quicker and more enjoyable.

How to select the right size of mower

The larger your lawn, the larger mower you will need in order to cut your grass in a reasonable time. Larger lawn mowers:

  • can cut more grass at any one time
  • have larger grass collectors that can collect more grass before needing to be emptied
  • if cordless, have longer lasting batteries or the batteries can be switched out with ease

The recommended mower size to lawn size varies across manufacturers, but as a guide we would recommend:

  • A 42cm cut is suitable for up to 300 square metres
  • A 49cm cut is suitable for up to 600 square metres
  • A 56cm cut is suitable for up to 1000 square metres

If your lawn has intricate designs and obstacles such as flowerbeds and patios that you need to work around, take note that large mowers are heavier and more difficult to manoeuvre. So in some cases, a smaller mower might be more manageable in a larger but intricate area.


3. Collect, discharge or mulch your cuttings

You have three options when it comes to your grass clippings:

  • Collect them in the mower's grass collector
  • Discharge them onto your grass either at the rear or side
  • Mulch the clippings back into the lawn as a natural fertiliser

Collect clippings in the grass collector

The majority of our customers like to collect their grass clippings and dispose of them, usually in their garden waste recycling or compost bin.

Discharge the clippings onto your grass

The discharging method is typically used when the grass is too long to be mulched, or it would fill your grass bag too quickly. Discharging will leave the cuttings sitting on your grass, so is only recommended when you aren't worried about the appearance of your grass.

Discharging your clippings will speed up your grass cutting as you won't need to stop to empty the grass collector.

Mulch the clippings into fertiliser

Mulching, when done properly, will leave a finish every bit as good as if you'd collected the cuttings, but the grass cuttings will in fact be still on the lawn in tiny pieces. The cuttings quickly decompose and act as a natural fertiliser to boost the health of your lawn. You should be aware that in damp conditions, mulched grass clippings will stick to shoes (and pets) and could get trampled into the house.

Mulching also reduces your overall grass cutting time because you don't need to stop to empty the grass collector.

Select a lawn mower which facilitates your preference

Once you've decided what to do with your cuttings you will be able to narrow down your search.

There are some mowers which perform a combination of collecting, discharging and mulching and allow the operator to choose between the three, without the need for tools.


4. Petrol, cordless or mains electric

There are four options when it comes to choosing power source.

Petrol, cordless, mains electric and hand powered lawn mowers

Examples of petrol, cordless, mains electric and hand powered lawn mowers

Petrol

With powerful engines, petrol lawn mowers are suitable for all kinds of lawns, from small right through to the largest. Without a power cable trailing behind, petrol lawn mowers are restriction-free to manoeuvre around obstacles. You also won’t have to worry about battery charge as with a cordless mower. Due to the engine, petrol mowers are typically louder and heavier than electric or cordless models.

Cordless

Battery technology has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years, making cordless mowers a viable alternative for almost every sized garden. Without a power cable you aren't restricted to areas with mains electric sockets. Cordless mowers are quieter and lighter than mowers with petrol engines, and also require less maintenance.

If you decide to go cordless, make sure the battery you buy has sufficient charge for the area to be cut. Once you have a battery and charger, they are normally compatible with other power equipment from the same brand. Be sure to check the compatibility and run times of any future equipment you may wish to buy before going ahead.

If you're thinking of going cordless, take a look at our cordless buying guide for garden machinery.

Mains Electric

Suited to smaller lawns and gardens, electric mowers are clean and quiet, easy to start and require little maintenance.

Electric mowers are a good option where a mains power socket can be reached, and for gardens with no obstacles to catch your power cable. The power cable length can vary across different mowers, so make sure to check the specifications and measure your garden to ensure you can reach all of your lawn.

Electric mowers are usually cheaper than comparable petrol and cordless alternatives.

Hand Powered

Powered entirely by the operator, as the mower is pushed forward the blades turn and cut the grass. With no engine or powered motor, hand mowers are simple machines that will last for years if looked after.


5. Carefully choose a brand

Buy into the whole package of quality and customer support

When you're investing your money in buying a new lawn mower, you need to be confident that, should things go wrong, you are covered by a warranty and can get service and repairs.

Be aware that not all brands offer any form of backup or the long term availability of replacement parts. These brands supply what can be described as "disposable" mowers. When things go wrong, your only option is to replace rather than repair. Buy cheap and buy often, as they say.

Reputable lawn mower dealers should not sell you a mower where there is no backup available. Our advice is to choose a well known, reputable brand where there is support and spares available from your local dealer.

Well established brands, such as Hayter, HondaMountfield, and STIHL may be more expensive to buy than the mowers described above, but remember you are buying into the overall package of quality and customer support. The overall cost of buying, running and maintaining a lawn mower from these brands is often cheaper in the long run.


6. Features you should look out for

Rear Roller for striping

If you're interested in creating stripes on your lawn, you're going to need a rear roller. The roller usually sits at the rear of the mower.

As the roller moves over the lawn, the grass is flattened in the direction of the mower's travel. Grass that's flattened in opposite directions appear a different shade of green, which creates the striping effect.

Another benefit of a rear roller is the ability to cut closer to lawn edges and bordering flower beds. The support from the rear roller allows the mower to hang over the edge of the lawn without tipping, preventing the risk of scalping.

Self-Propelled

Push mowers rely on the user to push the mower around the lawn, whereas self-propelled mowers use the power of the engine or motor to propel the mower forwards.

Self-propelled mowers are generally more expensive, and come in single speed and variable speed options.

Customers with larger lawns often prefer a self-propelled lawn mower as it takes a lot of the strain out of mowing. Read our guide to find out whether you should choose a push, self-propelled or variable speed lawnmower.

Electric Start

On a petrol lawnmower, the traditional and most common method of starting the engine is through the recoil start. This involves pulling a rope to start the engine.

Electric start is a feature which starts the engine at the push of a button or turn of a key instead (similar to starting a car), and takes all the effort out of the starting procedure.

Blade Brake Clutch

It's a legal requirement for the blades on a lawn mower to stop when the user releases the handles. If you are using a petrol mower that needs to be started by pulling a recoil starter cord, having to start the mower multiple times during each use is something you might want to avoid.

For this reason, some petrol lawn mowers are fitted with a feature called Blade Brake Clutch (BBC)*. When a user releases the handles, the BBC disengages the blades from the engine, which stops the blades from turning whilst allowing the engine to keep running.

When the user is ready to continue mowing, the BBC re-engages the blade with the engine and the blade begins to spin again.

*Honda call their Blade Brake Clutch Roto-Stop­®.


7. The cost of buying the right mower

Generally speaking, when you buy a lawn mower you get what you pay for. There are three factors that make up the cost:

  • Features – such as self-propelled drive, electric start, blade brake clutch, striping rear roller will add to the cost
  • Size – larger mowers with larger cutting widths are more expensive than equivalent smaller mowers
  • Quality – the materials used, warranty and the availability of after sales service, repairs and spare parts all contribute to the initial purchase price

Why the features and size of a mower impact the price is self-explanatory, but it’s a little more difficult to determine quality. When speaking to customers in our showrooms, we find it helpful to divide the market into two broad sectors:

Premium Sector

The premium sector of the mower market is dominated by top of the range class mowers. These mowers are built to the highest specification, have the most features and the longest warranties. Lawn mowers in this sector are more durable and are designed to last longer than a budget mower.

Budget Sector

We define the budget sector as anything from inexpensive "supermarket" type mowers, through to very good entry level mowers from industry giants such as Hayter, Honda and STIHL.

There are some budget sector mowers that are best described as cheap and cheerful. They are of poor quality and come with little or no aftersales support. These mowers are best avoided.

Alternatively, there are plenty of budget mowers from reputable brands. Although they may have less overall quality, fewer features and a shorter warranty than a premium option, this kind of mower represents good value for money.

These sectors are by no means definitive and the classification can be subjective, so please use these definitions as a guide to help you understand your options. We always recommend that you read the specifications or speak to us if you’re unsure.


Final Advice

Buy from a reputable supplier

Most manufacturers carefully appoint their dealers and have measures in place to ensure they are upholding their brand values, service and aftersales support.

That said, it's always sensible to research a supplier before you place an order. A quick online search for reviews will give you a good indication if you can trust and rely on this company.

We would always recommend buying from your local supplier, who are nearby to assist you in person if you have any questions or problems with your mower.

Other options

Rider on mowers, robot mowers and hover mowers

Examples of other lawn mowing options. Ride on mowers, robotic mowers and hover mowers

For larger lawns of a quarter of an acre upwards, you may be more suited to buying a ride on lawn mower. Ride on lawn mowers can provide all the functionality of a walk behind mower, including collection, discharging, mulching, and lawn striping.

If you enjoy having a neatly maintained lawn but dislike having to regularly cut your grass in the summer, a robotic lawn mower could be the answer. A robot mower installed in your garden means you'll never have to cut the grass again. The mower can cut to a schedule you set, will 'mulch' all your grass clippings so you never need to empty a grass bag, and will recharge itself when it needs to.

If you have slopes and banks where a traditional mower is awkward to use, you may find a hover mower is right for you. When running, a hover mower sits on a cushion of air making it super manoeuvrable and can cut in any direction. The nature of a hover mower means they're easy to use for long periods of time.


Who are Ripon Ground Care

We are a long established supplier of garden machinery and groundscare equipment with physical branches throughout the north of England, and an online store for garden machinery, genuine spare parts and accessories.

We hold dealership agreements with many of the industry's leading brands, including John Deere, Honda, STIHL, Husqvarna, Mountfield, Hayter, ECHO and many more.

Posted: 02 September 2022

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