Use a Reel (Real) Mower

Reel Mower

I am in the process of establishing a native grass (buffalo and blue grama) lawn in part of my backyard. Beyond the weeding of undesired plants and occasional watering I have been reintroduced to mowing after several years. Because I'm working to reduce my ecological impact I decided to go with a Reel (not "real") Push Mower. As I am the power for this mower it needs no fuel (other than a good breakfast for me) or electricity to run. Well, after a few weeks of mowing I can tell you about the pros and cons of using a reel push mower.

Having heard horror stories about old and heavy mowers, I chose a top of the line, "Scotts Classic", mower from the American Lawn Mower Co. American Lawn Mowers are carried by most hardware store chains and many department stores. I price shopped and found one at an end of summer sale for a good price. The mower was quite easy to assemble and includes a good owners manual. The mower is compact, light and cuts a 20 inch (50 cm) wide swath through the grass and weeds. So far the only maintenance I've done is a light oiling of the blades after each mowing.

The Pros:

  • Quiet - When I mow the yard I only hear a low whirring as the mower blades slide past the cutter bar, not the roar of a 2 stroke gas engine or the whine of an electric motor.
  • Cost - My reel mower cost about $120 to buy new and has nearly zero operating costs beyond a squirt of WD-40 after each mowing. Compare that to the purchase price and operating costs of any other "Top of the Line" mower.
  • Storage and Use - Not only is the reel mower smaller and lighter than a rotary cutting mower, it is no harder to push than a gas mower. I also don't have to buy oil and gas to fuel a polluting 2-stroke motor.
  • Quality of Cut - Reel mowers use a scissoring motion of the blades against a cutting bar which produces a clean, straight cut. Rotary cutting mower blades tend to beat and tear grass, especially when the blade dulls.

The Cons:

  • Tall Grass - A reel mower doesn't deal well with tall grass. I have the cutter set at 3 inches high, which is not as tall as you might think. With the summer monsoon rains that we usually get in New Mexico native grasses and weeds can grow fast. If I let the grass get much over about 4 inches I have to get the electric weed whacker to cut the tall stuff first before I can mow.

That's all I have so far on the list of cons. If I come across something else, I'll add it to the list. Fortunately reel mowing is easy, the weeding is real work!