For small lawns of a quarter-acre or less on a flat surface, a rotary push lawn mower will get the job done. For hilly lawns of up to one-half acre, a self-propelled walk-behind mower will do. But for lawns a half-acre or larger in size, a riding lawn mower can make the task much easier.
Riding mowers come in different sizes and types, with different horsepower engines and blade sizes. One the small end, a riding mower with an engine of about 14 horsepower that can cut up to an acre starts at around $1,000.
For larger lawns, a garden tractor is a heavy-duty version of a riding mower that can pull attachments behind it to plow or disc a garden, as well as cut grass. Equipped with an 18 to 24 horsepower engine, a garden tractor can cost $9,000, but popular varieties cost $2,500 to $4,500. Lawns of 5 acres or more can require a full-size farm tractor to tow a mowing apparatus behind it.
Another type of riding lawn mower is the zero radius mower. Popular for commercial landscaping and professional lawn care, these riding mowers use four-wheel steering to move precisely around trees and other obstacles.
Driving a riding mower can be similar to driving any other motor vehicle. The rider guides the mower while sitting on top of its deck. Some have pedals to control acceleration and braking, and a steering wheel to turn. Others use levers to control throttle and steering.
The engine powers both the wheels and the blade, just like a walk-behind self-propelled mower. But instead of being directly connected to it by an axle, the blade on most riding mowers is powered by a belt connected to the engine. In addition to other controls, the rider can also lower or raise the blade, speed it up or slow it down.
Before investing in a riding lawn mower, think hard about what purpose it'll serve. Most walk-behind rotary mowers cost less than $500, and the most basic riding mower starts at around $1,000 and goes up quickly from there.
There are other costs associated with operating a lawn mower. In the next part, we'll look at some of the safety and maintenance issues that come with keeping a neat lawn.