I don’t want to mow my meadow every week with a riding mower, but I do need to mow it once or twice per year to keep weedy trees from moving in. What kind of heavy-duty mower do you recommend?
Many people mow large areas too often. If you spend less time mowing, you’ll not only save time and gas money, but you’ll also preserve a vastly better habitat for birds, bees and other wildlife. To mow tall grass a couple of times per year, a brush mower or a flail mower is the most effective tool.
Brush mowers rotate on a vertical axis — either a heavy-duty, two-ended blade or, in the case of higher-quality mowers, a disk rotating on a vertical axis, usually with two hinged blades. The hinged blades better protect the drivetrain if you hit rocks or stumps. This style of mower is effective for cutting down material, but the way it chews up the matter isn’t consistent. The mower will chop some of the material into small pieces while lopping some off at the base. The lopped-off grass will fall to the ground and the mower will pass over it, so you could have some pieces of mowed material that are 3 or 4 feet long, depending on the height of what you’re cutting.
If you want a mower that will convert your meadow grass, weeds, brush or cover crops into smaller pieces that will break down more quickly into the soil or make good mulch, opt for a flail mower. These mowers have many blades hinged to a horizontal drum that rotates about 3,000 times per minute on a horizontal axis. The mower’s multiple cutting surfaces at various heights allow it to hack any substance into a small, uniform size. (It’s essentially a chipper-shredder on wheels.) The horizontal drum axis will also evenly distribute the chewed-up matter across the width of the mower — unlike a brush mower, whose vertical-axis blade rotation tends to windrow the material to one side.
Both of these mower types are available as walk-behind units, or as power take-off (PTO) attachments for riding or walk-behind tractors. You can also buy towable, self-powered models (for riding tractors that do not have a PTO for driving implements). Even some riding brush mowers are starting to appear on the market.
Photo courtesy Land Pride: Flail mowers, such as this Land Pride FM4188, can help keep your meadow free of invading foliage.