At some point in our lives, many of us will mow a lawn. Some do it as a full-time job, some as a chore, some to make a bit of extra cash and some to make the garden look nice. With the bewildering array of lawn and mower types, the task can be somewhat daunting to the novice. Thus, here is an entry that attempts to make sense of the chaos.
Buying a Lawnmower
When buying a lawnmower, you should consider several attributes. These range from the cutting mechanism to the power source. Your choice will depend upon the size of your lawn and the way that you want it to look.
Push or Ride-on?
A common division of mowers is by whether they are push or ride-on. However, this attribute makes very little difference to the actual mowing. Ride-ons are faster and can hold more grass, but are much more expensive and need more fuel. They are most suited to very large lawns. Push mowers, on the other hand, are cheaper and more fuel-efficient, but are slower and cannot hold as much grass. Therefore, they are suitable for small and medium-sized lawns.
Cylinder or Rotary?
The most important decision you will make when choosing a mower is which cutting mechanism to use. A cylinder mower will give more distinct and lasting stripes, while a rotary will get the job done faster. The difference lies in the cutting mechanism. A rotary mower uses a circular, scythe-like blade, perpendicular to the grass, and cuts it in many directions. A cylinder mower uses a cylindrical arrangement of blades that lie parallel to the lawn. Both of these types are suitable for nearly any lawn.
Bag or Expulsion?
Another difference is between bag and expulsion mowers. Although this factor is more important than whether the mower is a push or ride-on, the difference is still very small. With a bag mower, you must empty the grass out every so often. With an expulsion mower, you have to rake it all up when you're finished.
Fuel or Electric?
Yet another difference is between fuel and electric mowers. Electric mowers are a bit more dangerous than fuel mowers, as you run the risk of running over the cable1. Electric mowers are cheaper and more efficient than fuel-driven ones, but are only suitable for smaller gardens.
Hover mowers are a rather unique alternative to normal mowers. They are held up by the rotation of a fan above the blade, or the rotation of the blade itself, instead of by wheels. They are good for small lawns or if the grass is very long, but the finish won't be quite as good as it would be with one of the other types. Hover mowers are useful for gardens with steep slopes or many levels. They are also relatively cheap, light and manoeuvrable.
Always make sure that your mower has enough fuel and oil. A lack of oil can damage your lawnmower.
Do not, under any circumstances, stick your hand under the mower while it is still running. This will take your hand off in a second and mash it horribly. Note that the blade keeps turning for a few minutes after the lawnmower is turned off.
Read the instruction manual or ask someone else2 to show you how to use your mower before attempting to use it yourself.
Do not attempt to mow the lawn if it is wet or damp.
If you are using an electric mower, be extremely careful that you don't accidentally run over the cable. It is a good idea to have it plugged into a circuit breaker, so that if you run over the cord, the electric flow will be broken and you won't be electrocuted. This risk can be further reduced by starting at the side of the lawn nearest to the power cable and working your way around.
Wear long, thick, durable trousers and boots when mowing, in case stones or other objects are thrown out.
Water the grass a little bit after mowing it, unless you live somewhere with a very wet climate3. This will stop it from going brown.
Use the right height adjustment on the blade, or the mower may catch on the grass, especially if the grass is very long.
Finally, start the mower on concrete, tarmac or another flat surface, as it is more likely to start.
To make stripes on a small to medium-sized lawn, mow around the edge in one long run to form a border in which to manoeuvre. Empty the bag or box, then begin somewhere in the middle with a single run in one direction in as straight a line as you can manage. Turn the mower 180° and, overlapping as little as possible, go back and do another line. Voilà, two stripes (if your mower is even vaguely useful). If the grass is very tall, or your lawn is big, you might need to empty the box/bag again. Make sure you empty it often - you don't want cut grass left on the lawn. Now continue in that direction until you reach the edge. Return to your first stripe (the one in the middle) and work outwards again in the opposite direction.
For the first cut of spring, a hover mower is useful, and an expulsion mower may be nicer to use than a bag mower, as it will save you from having to empty it every few minutes. Those who have only one mower, however, will be happy to know that any mower will work. However, a ride-on is not practical here, as there is too little grass to cut.
Large or Irregularly Shaped Lawns
On a large or irregularly shaped lawn, or if you don't care about stripes, start at the corner of the lawn and push/drive the mower around with the outer wheels overlapping the edge6. Continue around the lawn in a concentric shape.
Nominate a corner of the garden (or several if you have a particularly large garden) as the 'dumping site7'. If you use a bag mower, detach the bag when you get to this point and empty the grass in here. It is not necessary to empty the bag on every lap, particularly if the grass is short or you are getting near the end. If the grass is long, you may need to stop mid-lap and empty the bag because it might be full. An expulsion mower will simply fire the cut grass out through a hole in the side; rake this up and put it in the dumping site.
Stripes will be difficult to make if the lawn is irregularly shaped, but the pattern should be interesting if you manage to pull it off. If you desperately want stripes, try using a roller, but be warned: they may be heavy. If your lawn is huge (ie that of a country estate), a ride-on is suited, as it is faster and a more efficient use of time.
Flower Beds, Vegetable Gardens and Sandboxes
These can be a bit tricky. If you have put stones, a small fence, etc around the bed/veggie garden, then there is no problem; simply cut in a circle around the stones, incorporating this into your route (though you may have to cut the grass closest to the stones with a manual cutter or strimmer). If they are unbordered, however, be careful. Perhaps you should give the flowers a wide berth and come back at the end with a set of manual cutters.
Trees, Hedges and Swingsets
Trees aren't too difficult - just push the mower in underneath the branches and cut around the tree, then move the mower out and continue with the mowing. Use the same idea with swingsets. Though hedges grow somewhat lower to the ground, the procedure is pretty much the same, unless they have branches actually touching the ground. In this case, get someone else to lift the branches high off the ground and stand well out of the way, and then you push the mower in, cut the grass and withdraw. Now allow your assistant to let go.