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Mulching Mowers

Shopping for a mulching lawn mower

The tips below will help you find a grasscycling mower that's right for you. For up-to-date ratings of mulch-mower performance, consult spring issues of Consumer Reports, available at your local library. Or use your library card number to log on to the Consumer Reports website for free from the Seattle Public Library.

Call the Garden Hotline, (206) 633-0224 or email help@gardenhotline.org to learn about stores near you that sell mulching mowers, or ask any lawn and garden question.

Push mowers

Not only are push mowers quiet, non-polluting, inexpensive, and good exercise – they do a good job of grasscycling. One disadvantage is that they can't chop and blow the clippings down into the turf like a power mulching mower. But you can always rake up the areas where clippings might be tracked into the house. Grass clippings make great compost and mulch.

Push mowers are sold in most local hardware stores, as well as big department and discount stores. Quality of construction varies with price, so comparison shop. Test the handle for stiffness, strong attachment to the mower, and comfortable hand grips. Compare the ease of height adjustment, and look for smooth, sharp blade edges. Higher priced mowers often have six blades rather than five, to cut more smoothly.

Yard sales may yield a fine old push mower, which can be reconditioned and sharpened by a mower repair shop. Or check out local hardware stores or mower repair shops. Many of them sell good reconditioned mowers at about half the new price. Repair shops can also sharpen blades for you. Remember, sharp blades cut cleaner, easier, and leave your lawn healthier and better looking.

Electric mulching mowers

Electric mowers are much quieter than gas models, and there's no smelly exhaust and no problem disposing of used oil or old fuel. If you can mow weekly in the spring, you'll probably never need to bag or rake. For small yards, an electric mower with a cord may be the perfect grasscycling machine. For bigger yards, the cordless electric mowers (with rechargeable batteries) may be worth the extra cost. In general, electric mowers are not as powerful as gas mowers, so they usually have slightly shorter blades and will have to be pushed a little slower in overgrown, wet grass. But they're easy to start, easy on your ears, and good for our air quality too!

Gas mulching mowers

Mulching mowers generally have more powerful engines than conventional mowers, because it takes extra power to re-cut clippings into mulch. Mowers that are designed to mulch will grasscycle much better than conventional bagging mowers that are converted to mulching. Most mulching models are convertible for bagging. Self-propelled and riding mulching mowers are also available.

For cleaner air, avoid 2-cycle engines — look for 4-cycle mowers that meet the California EPA pollution standards. And try to run the tank dry when you stop mowing in the fall, to avoid having to dispose of hazardous gasoline. Call 1-800-RECYCLE to learn about recycling used motor oil.

Grasscycling with a conventional mower

You can grasscycle with your old non-mulching lawn mower. If it's a rear-discharge bagging mower, remove the bag and cover the discharge chute. (Most rear-baggers have a cover that drops down when the bag is removed, to protect you from flying rocks.) Clippings will be held under the deck to be re-chopped, and then dropped on the lawn. If you have a side-discharge mower with a deflector that sprays clippings out as you mow, simply mow in a pattern that spreads clippings uniformly on the lawn. While you can buy special "mulching" blades, tests show that you'll get the best mulching performance just by keeping your existing blade sharp. See the Grasscycling Tips for more suggestions on how to grasscycle successfully with any mower.

Learn more

Grasscycling Tips
Grasscycling and Mulching Mower Guide (pdf) gives tips for successful grasscycling, and for buying a mulching lawn mower.
Natural Lawn Care (pdf) gives how-to details for complete healthy lawn care.
Ecologically Sound Lawn Care for the Pacific Northwest (pdf) 90-page manual has more information on planting new lawns, mowing, fertilizing, and maintenance for professionals and homeowners.

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Questions

Contact the experts at the Garden Hotline at (206) 633-0224 (language interpretation available) or email help@gardenhotline.org to learn about stores that sell mulching mowers, or for any lawn and garden question.