Landscaping Equipment: We Test the Best

Learn about the best home landscaping equipment, with recommendations for different types of lawn mowers, tillers, and more.

| April/May 1998

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    Putting our trimmer-mower through its paces.

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Every few years, MOTHER likes to spot the latest earth-friendly trends in home gardening and grounds-keeping, then survey relevant new tools, products, and services, to see which might be commended to readers.

As for trends this spring of 1998 — less than two years from a new century — we are gratified to note the recent growth in popularity of both purchased and home-grown organic foods. These wholesome edibles are raised the natural way, without toxic pest controls, by using compost and mulches rather than chemical fertilizers that degrade earth and that are mostly derived from our planet's finite petroleum reserves.

We are even more pleased to note that these new, more natural home-planting schemes often replace wasteful expanses of lawn that are a holdover from hardworking, egalitarian America's uncharacteristic penchant for mimicking the estate grounds of Europe's idle, rich, landed gentry.

Landscaping Equipment: Rotary Mowers

As an added benefit, householders who replace their lawns with native-life meadow or garden can recycle MOTHER'S least-favorite homeowner machine: the noisy, smoke-belching rotary-blade lawn mower. These savage devices persist because, even though pricey and more-safety-conscious models are available, the average backyard specimen is sold for about $100 — a fraction of the cost of the more effective and much safer powered reel-mower. The inefficient throw-away engines of these cheap mowers pollute our air and make a racket. Their 2,500 rpm revolving blades can eject rocks at virtually bullet velocity. Their tiny wheels and a low pancake shape make them tend to flip or slide on uneven terrain and hills. It is too easy to slip a foot under one on slick, wet grass. Operated in the typical, macho, American way — without heeding, or so much as reading, safety directions, and bypassing inconvenient safe-operating controls — rotaries are indirectly responsible every year for thousands of limb-maiming injuries. When operated around small children, they're even more dangerous.

To give these mowers a fair shake, we purchased an example of the industry's best effort at producing a safe rotary. On sale at a major chain department store, it was made by an anonymous member of the ever-shrinking number of North American lawn-equipment makers, and its safety and convenience features brought the cost to better than four times the price of the basic El Cheapo rotary. For the added bucks, we got a cast-metal housing, a clean-burning, quiet, and powerful Tecumseh engine, self-propelled front wheels, high rear wheels, the option of mulching or bagging the clippings, and an electric key-start. The machine rolled out of the box ready to raise the handle, add oil, gas up, and go. Before going out to mow, we gave it the preventive-maintenance treatment described in more detail below.

On flat and level ground, the mower proved to cut short grass well in both the mulch and bag modes, and the powered wheels and electric start reduced the effort needed to a minimum, though turning the wide, heavy deck was difficult in close quarters. Fresh grass cuttings mat down into an impenetrable sheet-mulch that deters weeds and attracts fishing worms to the surface all summer. It then biodegrades into soil nutrients over winter.

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