Q. What’s green and has wheels?
A. Grass. I was kidding about the wheels.
– Evan Williams, Joke #2
It’s not often I’m moved to write a review of a product, but if I don’t tell the world how great my lawn mower is, I’ll feel like a criminal for hoarding information. That’s how good it is.
I don’t really like lawns — I think spending so much effort, time, money, and water on a non-native ground cover that requires constant cutting is ridiculous. Don’t even get me started on golf courses. Still, grass is what it is, and until the movement to replace lawns with gardens and native plant ground covers gains more momentum, we’re stuck with cutting the grass.
I moved into a house in Portland in November that has some lawn. I wasn’t excited about it; I wanted to dig up the backyard and put in a pond and turn the front yard into a combination of garden and moss, but my ambivalence about keeping the house has slowed me down. Also because my wrists aren’t in great condition and I hate hiring someone to do work I feel like I should be able to do myself. Which brings me to lawn mowers.
If I were being sensible, I’d just hire a lawn service to come and cut the grass every couple of weeks — that’s what a lot of the neighbors do. Instead I researched the current crop of eco-friendly lawn mowers, compared the reviews to my past mowing experiences, and made a choice to buy the GreenWorks 25142 10 Amp Corded 16 Inch Mower.
Here’s what I had it to compare to:
- Gas-powered, Old-school. As a kid, I didn’t have to mow any lawns until I was around 10 or 11, when brothers moved out and on and were no longer available. My grandparents’ lawn wasn’t huge, but the front yard had a hill from house to sidewalk that made it tough on a scrawny sixth grader to push the gas-powered mover around. Up and down or side to side, no matter which way you attacked the hill, your arms would be spaghetti when you were done. My parents’ house had a larger yard, but was blessedly flat, and with a little momentum, I could get through it without wanting to collapse.
- Gas-powered, Self-propelled. At some point in my adolescence, my stepfather bought a new mower, a self-propelled model that required much less strength to use. You mostly just had to aim it and make sure you didn’t run over any big sticks or rocks, and only needed to push hard if you were going over a little hill. When we had this mower I liked to mow the lawn in specific patterns, like diagonal stripes or decreasing boxes, so that the stripes of directional cut marks would show up and look cool (to me).
- Rotary. When I moved into a rambling old house in Bellingham around age 25, it was the first time I’d had a lawn to mow (having mostly lived in the mountains until then, where lawns were just forest). Both I and my then-boyfriend were pretty dedicated environmentalists who would have preferred to replace the grass with ground cover, but as renters we had to mow. We bought a dark green rotary push mower and for the time we were in that house we took turns mowing the lawn. Between that and being a bike commuter, I had really strong arms that year.
- Riding. In my teens, my stepfather had bought a riding mower, but as he was very protective of this feat of machinery — both it and the snowblower occupied a special platform in the garage and were deemed too much for a girl to handle — I wasn’t allowed to use it until I was in my early 30s. I had scoffed at the riding mower for years as the worst combination of laziness, consumption, and pollution, but I have to admit that riding around on a little tractor is kind of fun, especially if you gun it. That said, I still think they’re outrageous overkill.
Enter the modern electric mower. Here were my assumptions before I bought one:
Pros — No gas to refill, low energy profile in terms of electricity usage, quieter, no air pollution, lighter, easier to start.
Cons — Really long and annoying extension cord, not self-propelled, doubt about performance due to the low energy use, doubt about just how much quieter it would be.
The one I chose had a bunch of good reviews around the web, so I ordered it on amazon and waited for it to arrive.
The box was light enough for me to lift, even with my crappy grip. Unboxing was as simple as lifting it out, tightening the handle fasteners, and putting on the collection bag.
At this point, the grass in my backyard had achieved meadow status, with a height ranging from six inches to about a foot, so I thought I might have waited too long and that the mower wouldn’t cut through it based on the manufacturer recommendations.
I figured I might as well try it and see, so I plugged in a 50′ extension cord, set it to the highest setting (5″) and went to town.
Wow. It cut right through the meadow. It cut going forward and backward, which was great.
After seeing that, I was ready to test it on an even tougher patch — the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street.
Before I moved in, they had needed to replace the sewer line, and a segment of sidewalk and lawn had been dug up. The realtor had promised it would be put back to the previous condition, and reseeded with grass. The rest of the strip has a slow-growing grass that even without being cut for 6 months was barely more than a few inches high (though it was starting to get dandelions in the last month). The section that the realtor re-seeded (to the left in the picture below) was apparently planted with some kind of haying grass, because it didn’t start really growing until the warm weather got here, but then it shot up super fast.
When I took the mower down to the strip, the grass in this section came up to my hip. My hip!
I was pretty sure this would be too much for the electric motor. Plus, in addition to being tall, there were clumps and thicker stalks instead of lovely, thin, pliable blades of grass.
Holy cow. It mowed it down. If that’s not a testimonial to the power of this mower, I don’t know what is.
What about my pro/con assumptions? Here are my observations based on mowing the meadows.
- The collection bag filled up ridiculously fast, but I can’t really blame the mower given the amount of grass it was cutting down. Taking the bag off and on is very easy, it just drops right onto a couple of notches and a plastic flap rests down on top of it.
- Dealing with the cord was a little annoying, as expected. It made cutting in patterns less fun, as I kept having to fling the cord out of the way like I was playing double dutch. I expect this is just something I’ll get used to. It says not to use a cord longer than 100′. I used a 50′ 14-gauge cord on the backyard and an 80′ 16-gauge on the front yard/strip (plugged into an outlet inside my house) and had more than enough leeway.
- The lightness of the mower was great in that it didn’t feel like too much work for my bad hands/wrists. At the same time, without the weight of a heavy metal body and motor (the mower has a plastic body), it doesn’t really keep momentum, so in the absence of self-propelled motion or momentum from a big push, it does require a steady pressure to keep it moving forward. Not too much, though. A child could push this around easily.
- The cutting swath is pretty good, and it cuts right up to the edge of the plastic housing, it seems like. About the only way it could cut more with this footprint would be if the wheels were replaced with levitating magnets or something.
- Starting it didn’t require multiple attempts at pulling on a cord with all my strength and speed, I just pushed a button and pressed down on the handle and it started instantly.
- It’s super compact, and the handle folds down so that it stores in very little space. I could even toss it in the backseat of my car if I wanted to loan it to a friend.
- It sounds like a lawn mower. Definitely a lot quieter than gas-powered, but still a lawn mower, and louder than, say, a microwave. I have pretty bad tinnitus, so sustained noise like that (or airplanes, highway noise, etc) will usually mean I can’t hear well for the rest of the day. I was pleasantly surprised that the mower didn’t really trigger the tinnitus, and I could hear just fine. I would say it was maybe about as loud as a coffee grinder.
- There were no fumes.
- When I used to mow the lawn for my parents and grandparents, it was a big deal to be wearing shoes and pants in case something came flying out and cut you. I pushed this around in flip flops comfortably and nothing went flying.
I am seriously amazed at the power of this thing. I still want to replace the lawns someday with a pond and gardens and moss, but in the meantime, thanks to my electric mower I’m less likely to be “that neighbor,” as Mika put it. Even though meadows are way cooler than cut grass. :)
Coming Soon: I bought a weed whacker by the same manufacturer for the tiny areas around trees and planters, so I’ll be interested to see if it performs as well as the mower did when I try it out next week.