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Lawn mowers: green buying guide 5/11
(This article is adapted from the May 2011 Consumer Reports magazine.)

Regular mowing is as vital to maintaining a healthy lawn as watering, fertilizing, and weeding. While an old-fashioned manual reel mower without an engine or motor is the greenest choice for small areas, it might require more effort than you're willing to expend. Several alternatives are described below.

Green recommendations: manual, electric and gas models

Because they have no engine, manual reel mowers are quiet and inexpensive, relatively safe, and require little upkeep beyond blade adjustments and sharpening. Some models use a battery-powered motor to spin the blades while you push the mower. But swaths are only 14 to 18 inches wide, cutting tends to be uneven, and most can't cut taller than 1½ inches or trim closer than 3 inches around obstacles. They don't disburse clippings like a rotary mower, so you'll need a bag (or a rake) if you're fussy.

Both cord and cordless types start with push-button ease, produce no exhaust emissions, and require little upkeep beyond blade sharpening. Most offer a side or rear bag and a mulching mode that cuts clippings finely enough that they settle within the lawn and fertilize it as they decompose. Electrics typically cut an 18- to 20-inch swath.

In Consumer Reports May 2011 report, the Black & Decker SPCM1936 battery-powered mower at $450 was recommended along with several other Black & Decker models. If your lawn is small and fairly open, the Black & Decker MM875, a corded electric mower, at $240, also was recommended. But note that cords can be a potential problem on lawns with trees and other obstacles.

The best electrics perform as well as some gas mowers, but they can't match the best gas machines in tall or thick grass and weeds. Self-propelled gas models are best for most lawns and blend ease and performance.

Gas models

Gas mowers are noisy and produce exhaust emissions—though today's models emit less than those of the past—and the engine requires regular tune-ups and oil changes. At $500 each, the Toro Super Recycler 20092 and Honda HRR216K7VXA cost $200 less than the top performing Honda self-propelled gas model and they mowed comparably in the tests. Other models from both brands did nearly as well for $400, including the Toro Recycler 20333, which has a blade-brake clutch that stops the blade, but not the engine, when you release the handlebar.

The self-propelled Lehr LM139SP, $350, uses propane instead of gasoline for cleaner running. But mediocre mowing and just 1 hour of run time for each propane canister helped put it at the bottom of the Consumer Reports ratings. And at $3 per canister, fueling it costs roughly $60 per year compared with about $10 to $15 for 3 to 5 gallons of gasoline.


• If you already own a gas mower but would consider replacing it with an electric model, there are some mower-exchange programs sprouting up across the country. One way to find out about mower exchanges is to check the sites of manufacturers like Black & Decker, Earthwise, Neuton, Toro, and Worx. Also visit the web site of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, whose clickable map provides contact information for clean-air agencies nationwide.

• Other good sources to check for information on mower exchanges include the local air-quality board/air-quality management district where you live or your state's department of environmental protection. Or simply do a Web search for "mower exchange program in [your state]" see what you get.

• Robotic electric mowers, which buzz along on their own within a perimeter wire that sets the mowing boundaries, produce no emissions at the source, but their performance varies widely. Cut quality is often less than a conventional mower. Robotic mowers are expensive and should be supervised. Indeed, manufacturers often warn you to keep children and pets away while the machine is running.

• When the weather is very hot and dry, raise your mower deck height at least one setting. Taller grass shoots provide better shade for the soil beneath, require less water, and have longer roots that can absorb more water deeper in the ground. Also limit mowing as much as possible to reduce the stress to the grass caused by the cutting. Get more tips on mowing.

• Check out the interactive guide to find the right grass for your home created by Consumer Reports experts.

Related links

Watch video lawn mower buying guide.

Essential lawn-care tips.

Lawn & garden guide.

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