What is the Right Mower Type for Your Situation?

Finding the right mower type for your situation can be fairly difficult. Every mower has its advantages and disadvantages, and finding the right mower for your application can be a difficult process. Let’s take a look at the different types of mowers available to handle your land that’s gotten a bit overgrown.

Reel Mowersreel-mower-458249_640

The reel mower is the original type of mower, the first successful design for mass production. Some people will refer to them as “sickle mower,” which in fact are completely different types of mowers that we will cover elsewhere in this article. While the reel mower is practically ancient technology, it is still one of the best mowers for making fine cuts, due to the scissor-like operation of the reel and the cutting bar when it meets a blade of grass. This creates a sharp, straight cut instead of a rip or tear caused b a spinning blade.

A basic reel mower operates through simple gear power – the tires that roll across the ground transfer motion to the reels through gears, so that the reel can turn a number of fast revolutions with one single revolution of the tires. There are also reel mower tractors, like the one pictured below from John Deere – these versions use hydraulic power to rotate the reels at high speed.

Reel mowers will sometimes have difficulties on uneven ground. Because both wheels need to be touching the ground, on uneven ground there can be issues with the cutting action. If the ground is concave, the grass in the middle of the concave area will be left long. If the ground is convex, it can cause scalping.

John Deere 5-Gang Reel Mower
John Deere 5-Gang Reel Mower

A single reel mower is fairly useless against a large piece of property. You can find some reels that have up to a 32-inch cutting width, and you can even find ones powered by gasoline engines. You still need to push it around. What most golf courses will do is pull “gangs” of reel mowers behind a tractor or ATV, or use the purpose-built tractors as seen here. This allows for the clearing of wide swaths of grass at once. These aren’t necessarily useful for landowners – the purpose-built tractor are as expensive as many garden and lawn tractors, but don’t provide the same level of versatility.

Flail Mowers

Phoenix SLE Flail Mower
Phoenix SLE Flail Mower

Sometimes referred to as a rough-cut rotary mower, the truth is that not all flail mowers are rotary mowers, and not all rough-cut rotary mowers are flail mowers. A flail mower has blades on the ends of chains or, in some cases, just the chains themselves. These flails spin around, either on a vertical or horizontal shaft, and use their momentum to break and knock down weeds. They do not leave a very nice, even cut, but they can handle everything up to small trees.

The advantage of a flail mower over a blade mower comes when you are working on rough ground, where you may encounter rocks and other debris. While the blade will hit rocks, or can be fouled by heavy vegetation, the flails will simply bounce off of the rocks and can handle tougher vegetation due to the high inertia of the blade. Additionally, when used on a boom mower, the flail can be useful for trimming the sides of hedges.

Rotary Mowers

"Electric mower underside" by Stan Shebs. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
“Electric mower underside” by Stan Shebs. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

There is really no such thing as a “rotary mower.” The title is more of a category than a specific model – it encompasses a number of mower types, including:

Rough-Cut Rotary Mowers: Rough-cut mowers are generally used for knocking back brush or taking down weeds. In most cases, they wield heavy blades that simply shove through vegetation. Many of these mowers will have a raised deck and larger wheels to handle rough terrain and high vegetation.

Finish-Cut Rotary Mowers: “Finish-cut” mowers do just that – they finish the cut so that it is presentable and pleasant to the eye. It is often a case of the finish being fine from a distance, but not as good when looked at close up. The finish will not be as good as those done with a reel mower, as the action and velocity of the spinning blade tends to tear the grass more than cut it. The advantage is that, particularly for folks with vast lawns, the rotary mower is a faster mower than the reel.

Hybrid Mowers: Some mowers with rough-cut capabilities can provide a finish-cut look. This comes from the mowers using the larger and heavier blades with a finer edge, creating a more-refined cut.

Different Mountings: Rotary mowers can be pushed by a tractor, placed underneath the tractor, or pulled behind a tractor. They can be powered by the PTO shaft of the tractor, or they may have an independent power unit. Sometimes, what you have available already will determine the type of mounting method you look for – for instance, if you already have a utility tractor, you may be better off looking for a unit you can push or pull with it, instead of a full-blown new mower specifically for the mower deck.

Befco Sickle Bar Mower
Befco Sickle Bar Mower

Sickle Mowers

A sickle mower has teeth that run back and forth across another set of stationary teeth, similar to a hedge trimmer or a set of hair clippers.

Sickle mowers produce very little in the way of flying debris, which makes them useful in close-quarters mowing or when flying debris needs to be kept at a minimum. This makes them particularly useful for use near roadways. Some sickle mowers can run in the vertical position as well as the horizontal position, making them useful for trimming hedges, much like the flail mower. However, the sickle mower will create a more even cut, and will reduce the amount of cuttings thrown back towards an open cab.

Choosing the right mower will also depend on your existing tractor or other option for propulsion. Some tractors will only accept certain types of machinery in certain spot on the tractor. Some may not be able to mount a mower underneath the tractor, or in front of the tractor. Other may not have the appropriate PTO or three-point hitch necessary. In some cases, you may not even want to use a tractor for propulsion, and instead opt for one that you can pull behind an ATV or UTV.

While choosing the right mower type may seem daunting, it really isn’t. Much of it is common sense, and knowing what you need to mow on a regular basis. If you can’t make the decision on your own, consult with some of our forum members on TractorByNet, or talk to a local equipment dealer. They can steer you in the right direction, and help you find the most efficient mower for your situation.


  • Your Coi
    mments. I have 3 acres will need a zero turn mower. Confused after research. So much to try to retain. Want reliability what size and brand

  • While brand is certainly up to you, and we recommend doing thorough research on each one before deciding for yourself, we would recommend a deck of at least 50 inches in width and engine power of at least 25 horsepower for a lot of that size.

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