Are Reel Mowers Better for Your Lawn?


Keeping your lawn healthy and neat calls for regular trimming and watering. There are many mowing tools in the market suitable for different grass heights. One of these is the reel mower. 

Nowadays we mostly see them in old movies, but they can still get the job done if you know how to use them – they just require more effort. Unfortunately, since they are no longer as widely used most people don’t really know the key differences between a reel mower and a newer, gas-powered mower for example. 

Reel mowers are different from rotary mowers in their design and functioning. The blades in a reel mower move vertically whereas those of a rotary mower spin horizontally. If you trim your lawn frequently and rarely have overgrown grass, a reel mower can be a great trimming tool for you. However, it is important to note that reel mowers work best on flat lawns and are operated manually. If your lawn lies on sloppy land, go for rotary mowers.

Whether a reel mower is better for your lawn than a rotary mower depends on a lot of factors – after all, all lawns are different. This article highlights all that you need to know about reel mowers, their features, and how to use them on your lawn. 

What Are the Benefits of a Reel Lawnmower?

Unlike rotary mowers that require gas or electricity to work, a reel mower is powered manually. In expenditure, reel mowers are more economical, and in the process of mowing, you can burn some calories as well. We all love staying healthy, and a reel mower can be a great option to add some extra exercise to your life. 

Other benefits of using reel mowers to trim your lawn include:

  1. A heavy roller at the back of the mower in place of wheels distributes its weight evenly on the soil underneath. This makes the turf have an even texture and minimizes the accumulation of thatch on the surface. 
  2. It only removes a small section on the tip of the grass like a pair of scissors would, which gives your lawn a uniform smooth finish. This not only makes your lawn neat but also helps the grass to heal faster.
  3. A lawn that is trimmed by a reel mower thickens faster and creates a mulch on its turf. This improves the water retention of the soil hence keeping the grass nourished even in dry seasons.
  4. Since the grass blades heal faster, they are safe from attack by insects and diseases which thrive on wounded and damp blades. 
  5. Rotary mowers work best on dry grass, but if you need your grass trimmed when wet, especially in the rainy season, a reel mower will come in handy. 
  6. Reel mowers are easy to maintain and when their parts get worn out, you can easily replace them.
  7. They are environmentally friendly since they produce no emissions. Plus, they produce minimal sound, unlike rotary mowers which produce noise while in use.

Do Reel Mowers Work on Hills?

Reel mowers are designed to trim the grass on flat lawns. Using them on hilly landscapes is time-consuming and requires more energy. Furthermore, the down and up movement can cause scalping where some parts are over-trimmed more than others which may force you to go back and try to level the grass.

This however should not prevent you from cutting your hilly lawn using a reel mower. To make it easier, mow horizontally. This will take a little more time but will give you a more even cut with minimal scalping. 

To achieve a neat finish, cut the grass in small strips horizontally until you finish the grass, and check out any unevenly cut sections.

How Often Should You Mow with A Reel Mower?

How often you should cut your lawn using a reel mower depends on the height and growth rate of the grass. In hot and humid conditions, grass grows faster than during the fall. 

As a rule of thumb, reel mowers are designed for trimming short grass. The ideal height of grass to mow using this type of mower is four inches but it can cut up to six inches. During favorable conditions, grass can attain the four-inch height within 5-7 days, so if you love using a reel mower you can trim your grass after every five days or weekly.

During spring, the growth rate is lower and grass matures in seven days or so. You can mow your lawn weekly up to the onset of the fall.

The growth rate decreases during winter. There is limited energy from the sun to help the grass leaves create food hence the slowed-down growth. During this season, you can cut the grass on your lawn after every 10-14 days. 

Do Reel Mowers Cut Too Short?

Fortunately, newer reel mowers also have a height setting (some of the older models don’t) so you can avoid cutting too short by simply setting it correctly. 

I usually recommend setting your cutting height to the highest value available, so that you don’t cut more than 1/3 of the grass blades’ total height. This will ensure that your lawn can recover easily after each cutting session, keeping it healthy in the long run. 

If the blades are poorly set, they can result in a cut that is too low and scalped. 

Note that cutting your lawn too short affects the health of the grass and may render your lawn untidy as it loses its green color. This topic is a bit too extensive for this article, but you can read more about the effects of mowing your lawn short or long here.

How Long Does It Take to Mow a Lawn with a Reel Mower?

The time it takes for a reel mower to properly cut a lawn depends on the following factors:

  • The number of blades on the mower. A reel with more blades can generally finish the job faster. 
  • The topography of your lawn. It is easier to clear grass from a lawn on a flat piece of land than on sloped land.
  • The desired mowing height. If the desired height of the grass is shorter, it will take more time (and effort) to cut the grass on the lawn.
  • The height of the grass. Long grass is more cumbersome to trim and requires more physical input. It will take you a long time to cut long grass using a reel mower.

In addition to the above factors, reel mowers are known to take more time to cut grass than rotary mowers on lawns of similar sizes.

If you are trimming an average lawn with 4-inch grass using a reel mower, it will take you about 15 more minutes compared to using a rotary mower. However, the bigger the lawn the bigger this difference will get. 

Peter Toth

Hi! I'm Peter, the owner of BackyardGadget. Working around the house has always been a big part of my life. I've created this site to share my experience, and to help people choose the right tools for the job. Thank you for stopping by!

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