Buying a lawn mower isn’t something you do everyday. In fact, it might almost be a once in a lifetime purchase, as most lawnmowers are simple machines that will last for years if they are maintained well.

The standard New Zealand grass tamer is the petrol-powered rotary mower and it’s probably what you’ve got in mind if you’re in the market for a new machine. But there are other options out there that may suit you better. Before you buy check out the tips below.

First Things First

A nice big powerful machine, particularly for the guys, is something to be desired for its own sake. But is it really worth spending those extra dollars to flatter your ego? Before you head out to the mower shop take a clear-headed look at your garden and answer a few questions.

  • How big is your lawn?
  • Will you be cutting grass that is often long and unruly?
  • Is there a slope you will have to push your mower up?
  • How much can you afford to spend?
  • Are you able to maintain a petrol mower yourself?
  • Are you buying for life, or are you ok with replacing the mower in a couple of years if you have to?

Armed with the answers to these questions, you’ll be in a much better position to make a choice based on logic rather than emotion when you see all those shiny machines lined up waiting for you to take out your credit card.

Types of Lawn Mower

Although the petrol-powered rotary is ubiquitous throughout New Zealand, there are a number of alternatives, some of which are more expensive, some of which are cheaper, and some of which are more environmentally friendly.

The Petrol-Powered Rotary

The machine you know and love. A flat, horizontally mounted blade, fixed directly to the driveshaft of generally a 4 or 5 horsepower engine, spins at high speed, chopping the grass as you use muscle power to push the mower across your lawn.

Rotary mowers are good for medium to large lawns and are excellent at combating long or tough grass. They are robust and will take plenty of punishment. Like any petrol engine they’ll need a service every now and then, but month to month all you really need to do to keep them in good shape is to have the blade sharpened occasionally – a very simple process which most lawn mower shops will do quite cheaply.

There are two limitations to keep in mind with rotary mowers:

  • There is a limit to how close they can cut a lawn without burning it.
  • Their blades basically chop at the grass so the edge they leave tends to be ragged. This is not an issue, and is not even really visible, in the suburban garden, but it means that if you’re after a bowling green finish you’ll be disappointed.

Reel Mowers

Also known as cylinder mowers, this breed of mower uses a rotating horizontal cylinder of blades which slice against a stationary fixed blade to produce a scissoring effect.

Because reel mowers slice the blades of grass, rather than chopping at them, they can cut closer than rotary mowers and produce a far cleaner, crisper edge to the grass. With one of these, you can get that bowling green finish.

The best known version of the reel mower is the manual, or push, reel mower that you’ve probably seen the English use in movies made around the time of World War II. Guess what? They’re still alive and kicking.

Manual reel mowers are great for small lawns that are generally kept short. They give a beautiful finish, produce no pollution and so are environmentally friendly, provide a decent workout for the user, and require minimal maintenance – some oil here and there is about it. You do need to get the blades sharpened regularly though, otherwise the weekend mowing session will become significantly more work and produce a far less satisfying result.

Powered Reel Mowers

Powered reel mowers use a petrol engine to spin the blade cylinder and are fantastic machines if you have a larger, reasonably flat and tamed lawn. You’ll be the envy of your neighbours, but bear in mind that these mowers are not made for hacking through undergrowth. So, if your section is regularly overgrown, or sprouts a variety of tough vegetation, they may not be for you. Plus, there’s all those blades to keep sharp. Plus they are a lot more expensive than their rotary cousins.

Electric Mowers

Both rotary and reel mowers are available in electric versions. Cleaner, and a lot less noisy, these can be a great choice for the smaller urban garden where neighbour annoyance is an issue. Two things to bear in mind, though:

  • You’re tethered to a cord. This limits your range and is something you have to constantly avoid mowing over.
  • They are less powerful than petrol mowers. If your lawn is challenging, consider carefully whether an electric mower will be able to handle it.

Hover Mowers

A variation of the electric rotary, hover mowers use the downdraft created by their spinning blades to float just above the surface of the lawn. These machines are very easy to use – the lack of wheels even lets you arc them from side to side. A good choice for small lawns and for people who may no longer be at peak fitness.

So, although the common image of a lawn mower in New Zealand is that of the petrol rotary version, there are several other options that might be worth considering. Perhaps in these days of climate consciousness you might prefer to shame your neighbours with a manual reel mower, rather than turn them green with envy at a gleaming 8 horsepower petrol-driven monster?

Want to learn more about buying a lawn mower? Check out this video.

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  1. M. Wiseman says:

    How to Start a Push Lawn Mowe
    This is how to, in general, start a push lawn mower that runs on gasoline. Obviously, how to start your individual lawn mower may vary according to what brand and model of lawn mower you have.
    1. Make sure you have enough motor oil in your mower. Usually there is a cap on top of the mower body, smaller than the gas cap, that says "oil" or something similar. The cap will probably have an oil gauge attached, so check the oil as you would in a car, that is, judge the level of oil on the gauge against the depth of the reservoir (the length of the gauge).
    2. Make sure you have enough gasoline. There should be a clearly labeled cap on the gas tank. If you open it, you should be able to look down into the tank and see the approximate level. Add more (preferably using a funnel) if needed.
    3. Locate the prime button, usually red or black, a squishy button somewhere on the mower’s body. Push it between 3 and 4 times in order to force the gasoline into the lines.
    4. You may need to pull and hold a starting lever (a safety feature), or the lawnmower will not start no matter what you do.
    5. Brace your arm holding the starting lever, and pull upward on the pull cord, which you should find on top of the mower body. You may have to do this several times before the motor starts up.
    6. If you are still unable to get your mower started, try the lawnmower inspection and troubleshooting steps at How to Repair a Lawnmower.

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