If your property is of a certain size (an acre or more), a riding lawn mower is probably sitting in your garage—or topping your wish list. Today’s models come in three styles: lawn tractor, garden tractor, and zero-turn radius mower. Each type serves certain yards best. With their improved safety and comfortable handling, there’s a model to suit every groundskeeper.
The type of yard you have and the work you plan to do with your rider should dictate what you ultimately end up buying. Lawn tractors are souped-up riding lawn mowers that offer convenience to homeowners with larger lots. Garden tractors are scaled-down farm equipment, perfect for properties that measure a couple of acres. They can do all the heavy lifting involved in major projects. A zero-turn radius mower turns on a dime, making it the best choice for a yard that features garden beds, fences, trees, shrubs, and other obstacles.
No longer considered “guy stuff,” lawn tractors, garden tractors, and zero-turn radius mowers are being purchased and used by women—but not without some trepidation, and not without some comparison shopping. Because of this trend, manufacturers have improved nearly every aspect of mower operation. And this benefits anyone, male or female, who is buying lawn equipment for the first time.
In general, mower operation has become more intuitive. Electronic key-start ignitions mimic the ease of starting a car. Electric blade engagement is replacing manual levers, and it doesn’t take a farming background to figure out how to use the power take-off (PTO) for landscaping attachments. Many mowers now feature “washout ports” for easy cleanup—just hook on a hose and spray out the clippings. The deck of the Walker MB zero-turn mower tilts up for cleaning. The cutting blades lock when the deck is up. The mower can also be stored with the deck tilted to save space.
Automatic safety enhancements add more appeal. Look for riders that include a sensor that stops the engine if you leave the seat while mowing. Optimally, the mower blades stop turning in five seconds. Higher seat backs also make for safer rides. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that seat backs measure at least four-and-a-half inches tall. Machine stability has also been improved to reduce rollover incidents. Low, wide stances, such as that of the Hustler Mini Z52, a zero-turn mower, are especially comforting on hilly terrain.
Today’s mowers combine safety with luxury. For example, the Troy-Bilt Horse Lawn Tractor features cruise control, an electric PTO, and a cup holder. The Toro Titan Z, a zero-turn radius mower, boasts an adjustable back rest, armrests, a storage space for a toolbox, and a cup holder. John Deere’s LA150 lawn tractor includes a padded seat with three positions, an optional sun canopy, and, of course, a cup holder. You can check the fuel level on a Deere garden tractor from the driver’s seat, just like in your car—so much easier than unscrewing the gas cap and squinting into the tank. Snapper’s zero-turn 450Z series offers dual seven-gallon fuel tanks. Many riders have headlights, so you can mow into the sunset.
But safety and luxury haven’t come at the expense of practicality. If you have a big yard with lots to mow, a large mowing deck is essential. The bigger the deck, the faster you finish the job, especially if you have few things to mow around. Lawn and garden tractors sport mowing decks that measure up to 54 inches. For yards with lots of obstacles, a zero-turn radius mower works quickly. Able to rotate 180 degrees, it is more nimble than a lawn or garden tractor. Back-saving attachments make garden tractors versatile machines, useful even when there’s no grass to mow. Depending on the brand, optional attachments include spreaders, tillers, sprayers, aerators, dethatchers, lawn rollers, snow blowers, and snow blades. Before you shop, determine any other tasks in which you may use power equipment. Depending on where you’ll be parking your tractor, consolidating machinery may be a must.