Anyone with any kind of garden should be familiar with the humble lawn mower; a time and labor-saving device which makes short work of what can otherwise be a gruelling chore. With the right mower, you can even get the kind of finish on your lawn normally reserved for golf courses and bowling greens.
If you’re in the market for a lawn mower, be prepared for an impressive amount of choice: gas or electric? Corded or cordless? Rotary or hover? One thing’s for sure: if you’re looking at lawn mowers, many of them will have mulching capability. At a time when environmental concerns and organic lifestyles are commonplace, more and more manufacturers are emphasising the mulching ability of their mowers.
Some do a better job of mulching than others, but whatever your budget, there are mulching lawn mowers out there to suit you and your lawn. Below are some of the best models available on the market.
Joyoushousehold.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com
Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates.
What are mulching lawn mowers?
A lawn mower is any machine which uses rotating blades to cut grass to a uniform height. From the earliest hand-powered cylinder mowers to the ride-on gas behemoths available today, the lawn mower has had one function – to keep lawns tidy. It might not be the most glamorous job in the world, but it’s one which the mower has carried out faithfully since its conception.
Mulching lawn mowers are a relatively recent development of the mower: they work by recycling lawn clippings, chopping them into fine pieces which are blown back onto the lawn to fertilize the grass. The mulch quickly decomposes, resulting (in theory) in a robustly healthy and uniform lawn. Not only does this remove one of the top bugbears with lawn mowers – emptying and replacing the grass collector – but it’s good for both your garden and the environment.
Today, the prevalence of environmental concerns in the public eye has led to the majority of powered lawn mowers being marketed as having mulching capability. Be warned that in some cases this amounts to little more than a marketing gimmick: some lawn mowers are much better mulchers than others, so if you know a mulching lawn mower is what you want then pay close attention to demonstration videos and consumer reviews to see how different models compared.
The upside of mulching lawn mowers’ explosion in popularity is that there is now an excellent range of choice for consumers looking to buy one: from heavy-duty gas mowers to simple electric hover mowers, there’s a mulching mower for every lawn size and wallet.
If you’ve made the decision to shop for a mulching lawn mower, the next important decision to make will be how you’d like your mower to be powered. Battery mowers are lightweight and maintenance free, avoiding the hassle and danger caused by power cables, but they’re expensive and can cause frustration and half-mowed lawns due to batteries running out of charge. Corded mowers are the cheapest powered option, and are up to the task of mowing most medium lawns, but the cable poses a safety risk and can be an annoyance when mowing around obstacles. Gas mowers provide the most power and performance, but are often too large and heavy for smaller lawns, and can be difficult to maneuver and store between uses.
Besides the power source, the main point of variation for mulching lawn mowers concerns the mechanisms used to propel the mower and cut the grass. Rotary mowers are the most common design on the market today, and are your typical walk-behind lawn mower. Cylinder mowers employ a rotating cylinder of blades like those used in traditional hand-powered mowers: they provide a beautiful crisp finish, but require that you cut your lawn regularly and often, to keep it looking fresh. Hover mowers, meanwhile, propel the mower on a cushion of air, and are inexpensive but low-powered and relatively low performance. Mulching lawn mowers are available in rotary, cylinder and hover varieties, and can be powered by battery, mains electricity or gas. Whichever variety of lawn mower is most suitable for your garden, there’s a mulching mower to fit.
Why buy a mulching lawn mower?
All of the reasons for buying a lawn mower – any lawn mower – apply to buying a mulching lawn mower. The biggest single reason for buying a lawn mower is efficiency: the time and physical effort saved by using a lawn mower compared to cutting the grass by hand is considerable, and if you have a medium lawn or larger, a mower is the only practical and sensible option. The time saved cutting your lawn can be put to good use elsewhere, whether that’s getting more work done in the garden or just sitting back and enjoying your freshly-cut lawn.
The ability to cut the grass to a uniform length, and to make your garden look just the way you like it, is the lawn mower’s other big selling point. Some of us might care more about how our lawn looks than others, but we all need to cut the grass: there’s a reason most Western homes have a lawn mower.
If you’re looking for a new mower, there are a number of good reasons to make it a mulching one:
- They’re good for your lawn. By double-chopping and redistributing your grass clippings across the lawn, mulching lawn mowers provide fertilizer that’ll quickly decompose and keep your lawn looking vibrant and healthy. If you’ve been paying out of pocket for fertilizer, save your money by turning your garden into its own fertilizer with a mulching lawn mower.
- They’re good for the environment. If you want to lower your environmental footprint then a mulching lawn mower is one way you can do it. Organic gardening is increasingly popular, both for environmental and health reasons, and natural fertilizer is the simplest way to go organic.
- No need for disposal. With a mulching lawn mower disposing of your lawn clippings for you, you’ll save disposal fees and trips to your local landfill. The landfill will thank you, too – it’ll have more space for non-compostable rubbish.
- No need for grass collectors. Emptying and reattaching the grass collector or lawn mower bag is often cited as the most irritating part of using a lawn mower, so mulching mowers score major points by cutting this chore out entirely. With all your clippings being chopped and returned to the lawn, there’s nothing to collect and no need to empty and replace.
Things to consider
If you’ve decided that a mulching lawn mower is the way to go for your garden, there are a few things worth considering before you get down to comparing individual models.
- Your needs. In particular, what’s your garden like? How big is your lawn? Are there any slopes or uneven terrain? Are there any awkward features or obstacles to navigate? How smart do you want the lawn looking? These are just a few of the questions worth asking, but what’s important is that you know what you need before you start shopping for it.
- Cutting height and cutting range. Most lawn mowers can be adjusted across a range of cutting heights, and will have a minimum and maximum cutting height. If your garden is varied or you know you’ll be cutting a few different lawns, look for a mower with a good cutting range – 1.5”-3.5” is a good benchmark to aim for in terms of versatility. If you want a crisp, ornamental lawn, the lower the cutting height the better: look for 1” as a minimum, with lower being better still.
- Power. How much power is the mower capable of generating? Corded mower power tends to be measured in Amps, with cordless models advertising their voltage and gas mowers their horsepower. If your lawn is medium-sized or smaller, this won’t make a huge difference to the performance you experience: if you’ve got a large lawn, look for higher-powered options.
- Duration of use. For electric mowers, this refers to the battery life: how long do you get before it’s time to recharge or replace the battery? For gas mowers, this is primarily about the tank size. Again, those with smaller lawns won’t need to pay particularly close attention to duration of use; but the more you know you’ll be using your mower, the more important this becomes. Be aware that for battery mowers, Lithium-ion batteries provide the best results in terms of power and battery life, but they tend to be the most expensive as a result.
- Performance. This refers not only to how well and how uniformly the mower cuts the grass, but also to how well it mulches. Not all lawn mowers advertised as mulching do a particularly good job of it, so pay particular attention to any negative consumer reviews about this feature. In general, the finer the lawn clippings are chopped, the better the results.
- Ease of use. How easy is the mulching lawn mower to use? Size and weight will make a difference here, as will the implementation of any features designed to increase usability and user experience. Adjustable handles are one feature which can make a real difference here, as is the presence of a key ignition (as opposed to the recoil, or pull-cord ignition).
- Footprint. If you’re buying a mulching lawn mower, you’re already doing something about your carbon footprint. If you live somewhere with little in the way of storage space, it might be the footprint of the mower itself you’re concerned about. Make sure whichever mulching lawn mower you end up purchasing will fit wherever you plan on storing it: foldable handles can be a big help here, allowing the mower to be stowed away in a tighter space than would be otherwise possible.
- Convertibility. Can the mulching mower be temporarily converted to not mulch? This is particularly important if you won’t always be able to regularly cut your grass, or live somewhere with particularly thick or fast-growing grass: switching the mower to use a bag or to simply discharge clippings from the side can help stop the mower clogging from mulching too much grass too quickly.
- Build quality. High power and fancy features don’t mean a whole lot if the shell they’re attached to isn’t fit for purpose. Appliances like lawn mowers tend to only last as long as their weakest link, which can leave a bitter taste when an expensive bit of kit is let down by a cost-cutting design decision. Look at the overall build quality when considering mulching lawn mowers, and be wary of any components which look cheap or flimsy.
- Price. Everyone will have a different price range in mind when they go shopping, but what’s important is to make sure you do have a range in mind. Knowing how much you’d like to spend will help you consider your options more clearly, making it much more likely you’ll be happy with whichever model you settle on buying. Expect to pay upwards of $100 for a decent corded mulching lawn mower, with battery-powered mulching mowers costing more in the range of $300 and gas mowers starting from around $350.
Risks and warnings
- It should hopefully go without saying that using a powered lawn mower comes with all the risks you’d normally associate with electricity, gas and sharp blades. If you have children or pets, take care and be aware of where they are at all times while you’re mowing; and make sure children who are old enough are educated about the dangers of mowers and similar appliances.
- If you opt for a corded mulching lawn mower, don’t forget about the cord! Stay alert and aware of where the cord is, and keep it out of your way when circling back or working your way around tricky obstacles. Cutting through the power cable is frustrating at best and dangerous at worst, so take care.
- Mulching works best on regularly-cut grass, as thick grass can be hard to mulch properly when cut at once. Grass which is thick or long enough can even clog or damage the mower if you’re not careful; so if you purchase a mulching lawn mower, be prepared to mow regularly to keep both your lawn and your mower in tip-top condition.
- Be aware that the mulched lawn clippings won’t only fertilize your grass. If you have an existing weed problem in or near your lawn, be prepared for it to get worse: this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and can even help when it comes to identifying the root cause of the problem, but it’s worth noting that the healthy and luscious appearance of a well-mulched lawn will likely require some extra effort on your part.