Despite the forward march of automated technology, sometimes there are benefits to returning to human-powered machines. When it comes to cutting your grass, a traditional reel mower can provide a solution that is not only better for you and the planet but gives you a healthier lawn as well. You will want a wide model that is properly suited to the type of grass you have. Our shopping guide has all you need to know before you invest in a reel mower and includes our top product picks. Our favorite reel mower, Fiskars StaySharp Max Reel Mower, is a flexible, rugged option that works in a wide variety of situations.
Considerations when choosing reel mowers
The main thing to consider before purchasing a reel mower is if it is a smart choice for you. If you have less than a half-acre and your property is fairly flat with few twigs and rocks scattered about, you may benefit from a reel mower.
Another concern is the type of terrain you have. In order for a reel mower to operate, the wheels need to rotate, which in turn spin the blades. If you have sand or mud or any type of terrain that offers less than ideal traction, cutting your grass may become an exercise in frustration with a reel mower.
Lastly, you need to be physically able to perform the task with a push reel mower. Remember, you will be the power source.
The wider your reel mower, the less passes you will need to cut your entire yard. The difference between 20 inches and 14 inches might not seem like a big deal, but it will reduce your mowing time by a third.
The more blades your reel mower has, the better equipped it is to cut heavier grass. Four or five blades will work on fine grass, but for the tougher stuff you'll want seven blades. If it fits your budget, get a reel mower with more blades than you think you'll need.
Additional features may or may not be worth the additional cost, so decide what you'll truly use before making a decision based on a bell or whistle. Adjustable height is a great feature, for instance, as are blades that stay sharp. But depending on your situation and your approach to grass-cutting, you might not need a grass catcher.
In general, a narrower reel mower costs less: 14-inch mowers cost around $50, while 20-inch models are around $100. Once you move beyond $100 in price, you'll have to decide if the additional features are something you will actually use or not.
Q. How often do I need to cut my grass?
A. To keep your grass thriving, you never want to do more than a trim, removing the top third of the blade. During growing season, this might mean you need to mow the lawn as often as every five to seven days. Different types of grass have varying optimum heights, and there are times during the year when you'll want your grass to be taller. But as a general rule of thumb, somewhere around 2 to 2.5 inches high is where you'll want to keep your yard.
Q. What kind of maintenance does my reel mower need?
A. Compared to a gas-powered lawn mower, reel mowers need very little maintenance. You will want to wipe down your reel mower after every use to keep it from rusting, but there is no oil to change and no spark plugs, filters, or gasoline. The biggest concern is keeping the blades razor-sharp. Remember, you will be the one powering the rolling blades, so as soon as they get dull it will make your job much harder. Also, if the blades aren't sharp, they will tear the grass instead of cutting it, which will give your yard a brown, uneven look and invite disease and parasites.
Reel mowers we recommend
Best of the best: Fiskars StaySharp Max Reel Mower
Our take: This is a high-end reel mower that is packed with a bevy of desirable features.
What we like: A height adjustment that is easy to operate, a system to keep your blades sharp longer, and a chain-drive design that offers increased cutting power.
What we dislike: Can have a tough time with high or thick grass like all reel mowers.
Best bang for your buck: Great States 5-Blade Push Reel Lawn Mower
Our take: A reasonably priced, durable reel mower that offers five sharp blades.
What we like: Simple, lightweight design that is not difficult to assemble. Features height adjustment and padded handles for added comfort while working.
What we dislike: To achieve the best results, you may need to make multiple passes, which can become tiresome if you have even a moderate-size yard.
Our take: A handy reel mower that includes a number of premium features.
What we like: Large set of front wheels helps with maneuverability. Features both mulching and bagging capabilities so you can do either, depending on your preference.
What we dislike: Bulkier than many other models, which can make it difficult to store if space is an issue.
Allen Foster is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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