Community Education on Environment and Development

Guide to Mulching Lawn Mowers

Why choose a mulching lawn mower

Mulching lawn mowers are one way to grasscycle, or mulch-mow, leaving clippings on the lawn to feed the soil. Grasscycling saves time (no more bagging clippings and dragging them to the curb!), reduces waste, and makes lawns greener and healthier. You can also grasscycle with a conventional power lawn mower, but when it's time to shop for a new mower, try a "mulching" lawn mower.

Good mulch-mowers:

About this guide

Explore the types of grasscycling mowers-gas, electric, push and conventional-below to find one that's right for you. For up-to-date ratings of mulch-mower performance, consult the most recent June issue of Consumer Reports, available at your local library.

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. Mulching models are convertible for bagging, at extra cost. Self-propelled models usually cost $90-$120 more than push models.

Whatever gas mower you choose, try to run the tank dry when you stop mowing in the Fall to avoid having to dispose of hazardous gasoline.

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 new cordless electric mowers 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 city's air quality too!

Push mowers

Push mowers are are quiet, non-polluting and inexpensive, and do a good job of grasscycling. A disadvantage is that it can't 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 ($80 to $190), 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 for about $30. Or check out your local hardware or the lawn mower repair shops: many of them sell reconditioned mowers for $40 to $100, 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!

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.

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