So you need a mower, but which one do you choose for your particular application? There are many types of mower, from rotary to scythe, with each one having its own benefits in certain environments. But how do you know which one you need, and what works best where?
There are many factors to take into consideration. What are you cutting? How big is the area you want to cut? Are there any sloping banks? Is access a problem? Are there obstacles in the area you will be cutting? And so on.
We have produced this guide with the aim of helping to differentiate between the different types of mower, and determine which mower will do what job.
So let’s look at the different types of mower first.
This is ideal for trimming lawns and cutting “normal grass”. The mower will generally have a rotating disc with two (or more) blades attached. The disc rotates at a high speed so spinning the blades enabling them to chop the grass. A rotary mower will usually have a collection box or bag to collect the grass clippings. This type of mower will often have an adjustable cutting height so can cut slightly longer grass as well as short. Rotary mowers are well suited to many types of area from formal lawns to more rough-cut areas.
Another popular mower for cutting lawned areas, is the cylinder (or reel) mower. This traditional type of mower has a cylinder out front with anywhere between 5 and 12 curved blades attached to it. As the cylinder revolves the curved blades trap the grass against a fixed plate at the base of the machine. It uses a scissor action to cut the grass and the blades need to be kept sharp to ensure a good cut. A cylinder mower will usually have a grass box to collect clippings and a roller to create stripes on the lawn. This type of mower can generally only cut short grass and is best suited to formal lawned areas.
These mowers work in a similar way to the rotary mower in that they have a fast spinning blade that chops the grass. Unlike a rotary though, a mulching mower will chop the grass finely, circulating it under the deck to produce a fine mulch which is then pushed back into the turf. They do not collect as their function is to recycle the clippings back into the lawn to decompose and ultimately fertilise the lawn and soil. This type of mower is best used in drier conditions. A good airflow under the deck is vital to ensure proper mulching so it is important to clean the underside of the deck after every use.
For heavily overgrown vegetation and scrub a flail mower is perfect. This mower has free-swinging Y-shaped blades (flails) hanging from horizontal axle. They will cut most types of vegetation with ease, and are ideal in areas where the ground may be uneven or rutted as the blades are designed to bounce off obstacles. They effectively smash and mulch the vegetation as they go as the flails are propelled at a high speed on the axle. Some smaller models will have a collection facility, but larger machines tend to leave the cut material on the ground. The height can usually be adjusted in multiple positions to allow for different ground conditions.
This type of mower is typically used for haymaking or for cutting wildflowers and very long grass. Depending on the size it will have one or more large discs with free-swinging cutters at the edge. As the mower cuts, it “rows up” the grass making for easy collection. It’s ideal for haymaking as it will cut very tall grass with ease and leave it neatly for removal or baling afterwards. This type of mower is usually pto driven and therefore available as an attachment for a 2 or 4 wheeled tractor. Usually the height is preset and cannot be adjusted.
Also commonly referred to as a sickle bar or allen scythe, a powered scythe is the perfect tool for cutting tall grass and wildflower areas. The machine works with a scissor action – it has a horizontal bar out front with triangular teeth which move from side to side against a fixed bottom blade. These mowers can cut vegetation of any height because they cut at the base of the growth, rather than going over the top of it like other mowers. For wildflower management in particular, these mowers are ideal as they don’t smash the seed heads – they simply slice at the base of the stem and it then falls to the side allowing the seeds to fall and germinate. These mowers are also perfect for haymaking and cutting reedbeds. The cutting height is usually easily adjustable to allow for different types of vegetation and terrain and they come in a variety of working widths.
Now the next thing to consider is what type of area and/or vegetation you wish to cut, so here we'll take a look at a few different applications and offer some advice as to which mower we would recommend.
We would recommend either a rotary, cylinder, or mulching mower. It really depends on the type of finish you wish to achieve. If you want to collect then you can ignore the mulching mower and narrow your choice to the cylinder or rotary mower. A powered cylinder mower will generally be more expensive than a rotary, so if budget is important then you should probably go for the rotary mower, either with or without a rear roller (depending whether you want stripes or not). However, if the finish is the most important factor then the cylinder mower is probably the best choice as it produces a much neater, more uniform finish. If you’re not concerned about collection then the mulching mower is a great choice as it helps to feed your lawn as well as cutting it. The finish won’t be as neat as with a machine that collects, but it’s a good, environmentally friendly option.
A flail mower or scythe would be best for this application. Flails can cut pretty much anything, chopping and mulching, and leaving the cut material as they go. They’re ideal for cutting brambles, tall weeds, overgrown grass, bracken, and more. A powered scythe will cut any height or density of growth up to about 1” thick. Because it cuts at the bottom of the stem leaving a single piece of cut material it usually needs to be cleared away afterwards. Brambles, bracken, first year saplings, in fact pretty much anything!
The best mowers for very tall grass are the disc mower, scythe, and the flail as all of these can cut pretty much any height. The main consideration when making a choice is the type of finish you require. The disc mower and the scythe will leave a single piece of cut grass but the flail will chop and mulch it. You will usually need to rake the cut grass if you’ve used the disc mower or the scythe, so if you’re hay making then these are the best choice. The disc mower will leave the cut material in rows making collection much quicker but the cutting height can’t be adjusted so if you want to raise the cutting height then the scythe is the best option. The cutting width of the scythe is also wider than that of the disc mower so would require fewer passes. If you don’t need to reuse or remove the cut material then the flail mower is the best choice.
For wildflower management the only real choices are the disc mower and the scythe. These both cut at the base of the stem leaving the seed head intact and allowing the seeds to drop back into the ground to hopefully re-flower. In addition, this method of cutting makes it easy to clear away afterwards as the cut material can easily be raked off or baled. Other mowers will travel over the top of the vegetation damaging the seed heads, so are not suitable for cutting wildflowers. The cut material should be left to dry for 2-3 days, it should then be turned over and left for other 2-3 days, after which time it must be removed. This also ensures that the seeds fall into the ground. It is very important for wildflower propagation that you remove the cut material as if it’s left the nutrients will penetrate the ground increasing soil fertility and preventing the wildflowers from propagating.
There are mowers available that are designed specifically for use on steep slopes. Often these will have a special engine which allows the machine to work by pumping the oil and fuel, as opposed to a standard engine which typically relies on a pressure or splash lubrication system. In addition to the engine, the machine should have other features enabling it to be used safely on a slope such as wider wheels for extra stability, and an easy to control brake and steering system for safety. On some units the cutting heads will be interchangeable allowing the machine to cut many different types of vegetation from short grass to brush. Another alternative to a walk-behind bank mower is a robotic machine, but these are generally limited to a rotary-type cut so can’t tackle anything other than short-ish grass.
Hopefully this brief guide has helped you make a decision with regards choosing a pedestrian mower. However, if you need any more assistance, or if you have any questions, please contact us.