A garden is far more than just a patch of grass. The lawn is a British institution, the first mention of which dates back to 1260, notes gardening writer and historian Tim Richardson. We can safely assume that a perfectly manicured lawn has been the halcyon dream of gardeners for more than 750 years. So, how can you achieve it?
A lawn deserves the same careful care as a beloved flowerbed. “Even gardeners and lawn obsessives are prone to forgetting that grass is a plant that needs caring for in the same way as any other,” says David Hedge-Gowers, chairman of the Lawn Association and author of Modern Lawn Care: The Complete Guide to a Happy and Healthy Lawn. “Lawn mowing is pruning under a different name.”
In order to ensure it receives proper care, you need the proper tools. Top of the list? A high-quality lawnmower. But from the vast array of models on the market, how can you tell which lawnmower is right for you? From traditional petrol-powered mowers to battery-operated models and robot mowers (the fastest-growing category in the industry), there are many to choose from.
Ultimately, the best lawnmower for you will depend on the individual needs of your garden, which means there’s no one ‘best’ model for all gardeners. But there are a few important factors to consider. I asked the experts where to begin on your hunt for the perfect mower.
The main types of lawnmower
Before you start your search, it's important to note the two main types of mowers: (1) Rotary lawnmower (2) Cylinder lawnmower.
A rotary lawnmower has a single high-speed rotating blade that cuts grass with a chopping motion. Rotary mowers are better able to cope with uneven terrain and tough grass, but give a slightly less refined finish than cylinder mowers. This won’t be noticeable to most domestic gardeners provided you keep the blade sharpened and in good condition.
“We advise that most people should opt for a rotary mower,” says Robert Garner of lawn care experts Lawnsmith. “It’s like wine – you likely wouldn’t be able to taste the difference between a semi expensive and very expensive bottle of wine unless you were an expert, and we conclude that you won’t be able to tell the difference between the finishes from rotary and cylinder mowers, and rotary mowers are easier to maintain and are height-adjustable.”
A cylinder lawnmower (sometimes also referred to as a ‘reel’) has a cylinder of blades set on a horizontal shaft at the front of the mower which rotate and cut your grass with a scissor-like motion. They mow neatly and efficiently and can give you a superior finish, but are limited to areas of flat lawn as they can’t cope with varied topography or long grass. If you own a cylinder mower you will need to mow very regularly to stop the grass getting too long.
Still have questions? We've added FAQ below for a checklist of what to consider when shopping for a lawnmower, from petrol vs electric to type of lawn finish.
The best lawnmowers to buy now
The best petrol lawnmowers
1. Honda HRG416SK IZY Self-Propelled Petrol Lawnmower
Honda is known for its reliability. The IZY range are the brand's entry-level petrol lawnmowers, but this model still has a premium feel and is hassle-free to use. It has a 41cm steel cutting deck (suitable for medium sized gardens) and six different cutting heights from 20mm-74mm which can be changed via a simple lever on the side of the machine. With a comparably low weight of 30kg and a foldable handlebar, it’s easy to manoeuvre and store, too. It is powered by a Euro-5 compliant, four-stroke GCVx engine which self-propels the mower at a steady speed of 0.92m/s and has an Auto Choke function which makes it easy to start.
The range also includes larger models with 46cm and 53cm cutting decks, and self-propelled models such as the Honda HRG416PKEH Four-Wheeled Push Rotary Lawnmower (£332, Amazon), which offers the same 41cm cutting deck and efficient mowing power at a slightly lower price.
2. Cobra MX534SPH Self-Propelled 4-Speed Petrol Lawn Mower
This reliable self-propelled petrol model has a 52cm cutting deck, a rotary blade and a powerful Honda 167cc GCV170 engine with four speed gearbox to tackle a large garden with ease. It offers a great finish with six cutting heights from 25mm to 75mm. Clippings are stored in a huge 65 litre grass container, but it also has the ability to mulch and discharge clippings from the side. The only downside is the noisy engine and the heavy weight (38kg), but it has large wheels for manoeuvrability.
The best cordless lawnmowers
3. EGO Power LM2135E-SP 52cm Cordless Self-Propelled 7.5Ah 56v Mower
New for this season, the EGO Power LM2135E is the perfect cordless lawnmower for those who want the power of petrol without the hassle. It has a 52cm polypropylene cutting deck suitable for large gardens and a 56V Lithium-Ion 7.5Ah battery that can mow 1000m2 on a single charge (that's the size of four tennis courts) and charges rapidly in just 60 minutes. It also has six different cutting heights between 25-95mm (that can be adjusted via a simple lever) and a generously sized 70 litre collection box to keep trips to the compost heap at a minimum. Comes with a five year warranty.
4. Stihl RMA 339 C Cordless Lawn Mower
This cordless mower will make light work of medium-sized lawns with a cutting width of 37cm and a battery that allows you to mow up to 250m2 per charge (using Stihl’s recommended AK 20 battery, although it is compatible with larger batteries, too). The mower is a fairly reasonable £295 without a battery or charger, but you can also purchase a bundle that includes a battery and charger for £429.
It’s incredibly easy to transport and store thanks to the foldable handlebar, 40 litre grass collection box and inbuilt carrying handles. You get more bang for your buck with the optional mulching feature, too. To save power, activate ‘eco mode’, which automatically adjusts the speed of the lawnmower to the terrain and energy required.
5. Bosch CityMower 18 18V Cordless Lawn Mower
This mower, which is powered by an 18v lithium-ion battery, is powerful and likely popular with your neighbours thanks to its silent operation. It offers great value for money, as the price includes battery and charger. Pitched to the city gardener, this lawnmower has a 34cm cutting width suitable for small and medium gardens, three height settings from 30 – 60 mm and grass combs for a neat finish. Handily, the same battery can be used across many Bosch devices and it has a quick charge function that will give you 80 per cent charge in 120 minutes. Comes with an extended three year warranty.
The best lawnmower for small gardens
6. Bosch Rotak 32R Electric Lawnmower
This compact Bosch mower weighs less than 7kg thanks to its lack of batteries and petrol motor. Its lightweight construction, ergonomic handles and 32cm cutting width with compact turning circle make it an excellent choice for small gardens where manoeuvrability and ease of use are key. Don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s a lightweight machine, though – the durable steel blade and 1200W motor means it can handle tough or long grass with no issues.
It offers three cutting widths between 20mm-60mm, a 31 litre collection box and an integrated rear roller for a striped finish, plus an innovative grass comb that allows you to mow neatly and precisely right up to the edge of lawns and flowerbeds. The only downside is that it needs to be plugged in – but the sturdy 10m cable means you’ll be able to mow within an area of 150m2.
The best robot lawnmower
7. Husqvarna Automower 105
This compact and feature-packed robot lawnmower is the entry-level model from Husqvarna, but for most domestic gardeners there's no need to spend more as it will do the job very well indeed. It can mow areas up to 43m² per hour with a maximum incline of 25 per cent and benefits from automatic charging (so when it runs out of power it will automatically return to its charging dock).
It’s also smart enough to redirect if it comes across an obstacle and auto-stop if it senses it’s been lifted off the ground, meaning it offers a safe, seamless and zero-effort mowing experience. It can be pre-programmed to work around the clock – it’s silent, so it won’t disturb you at night – and it’s weatherproof so it can be out mowing come rain or shine. For security, it’s theft protected with an alarm and PIN code.
The best budget lawnmower
8. GARDENA Comfort reel mower 400 C
With four cutting heights and a generous 40cm cutting deck, this budget-friendly manual lawnmower has a lot to offer. The ergonomic handle is foldable for easy storage and the hardened steel cylinder blades give a neat cut and finish. Despite the fact that it's manually powered, it feels smooth and frictionless when in use. And, for obvious reasons, it's very environmentally friendly and quiet, to boot.
FAQ: Your lawnmower checklist
Traditional petrol-powered machines have come up against rapidly advancing battery technology and consumers' changing priorities. Then there’s battery-powered robot mowers and good old fashioned push-along manual mowers. So when it comes to power, what kind of lawnmower should you choose?
Again, it largely comes down to the individual needs of your garden (and personal preference). Although he maintains there’s a place for petrol-powered mowers for large lawns, “petrol shouldn’t be the first thing you go for for a smaller garden,” says Garner. “An electric lawnmower doesn’t smell, it doesn’t need servicing and it's easier to start. For anything up to a medium (tennis court-sized) lawn, I would go for an electric model.”
Petrol lawnmowers are the most powerful and are able to handle large areas of grass and varied terrain. However, they are increasingly falling out of favour to be replaced by more eco-friendly options. “I believe that fossil fuel-powered mowers will eventually lose their place, although I couldn’t say when,” says Hedges-Gowers. “You’d be surprised at how efficient battery power can be – in the golf industry, we have autonomous battery mowers that can cut the whole golf course, and we’ve got robot mowers that can do 70,000 square metres of lawn.” Petrol lawnmowers can be self-propelling or manually propelled, and this category usually includes ride-on mowers for large gardens (although there are now some battery powered ride-on mowers on the market). Petrol engines require fuel, oil and regular servicing.
Electric lawnmowers can be corded (ie. plugged into the mains) or battery powered. The improved performance of lithium-ion batteries means that many cordless battery mowers can beat the performance of similar corded electric and even petrol mowers. Robot mowers also fall in this category – most are smart enough to monitor battery levels and return to a charging dock when they need a top-up. Dobbies Garden Centre is seeing an increasing concern for sustainability reflected in its sales figures, with a large increase in sales of cordless battery-powered lawnmowers. Formerly, they weren’t a patch on petrol’s running power, but technology has rapidly advanced, and some models provide multiple batteries so you can charge up both and double your mowing time.
Corded electric mowers are cheaper and lighter, but the cable can be inconvenient and poses a health and safety risk if it were to get snagged or caught.
Finally, there are manual mowers, which can be a great choice if you have a small garden (or want your mowing to double up as a workout). They are light, easy to store and budget-friendly, not to mention the fact that they emit zero fumes and pollution.
Blades and cutting deck
When choosing a lawn mower the quality of blades and durability of the cutting deck come above all else for Hedge-Gowers. “I’ve been in the industry for 41 years and dealt with brands from across the price spectrum, from mowers that cost £60,000 to £60 and if you don’t care for your blade, they’ll all be as useful as each other.”
Spending more money on a lawnmower will mean you get more “durability and power”, he says, but taking care of the blade is of paramount importance no matter the value of your mower. “We tend to look at the engine when talking about lawnmowers, but the cutting mechanism is the most important factor – it doesn’t get the attention it deserves.” Mowing with a blunt blade will likely wreck your lawn, he says, as it will damage the grass and “stop the plants from photosynthesising well.”
You should swap the blade for a spare and sharpen the other with a balancing and sharpening kit (available at most hardware shops) twice per mowing season for rotary mowers. If you have a cylinder mower, Garner advises you have the blades sharpened by a professional.
The lawnmower blades are housed in a cutting deck or “chassis” which can be metal (usually aluminium and steel) or plastic. Which you go for will largely depend on your budget and how much work your mower is doing, as well as personal preference: while Hedges-Gower says he opts for metal for durability, Garner says that plastic is light, long-lasting and easy to clean.
The range of height adjustments on a mower should be another important consideration, says Garner. “Height adjustment is very useful, as it allows you to mow according to grass type. On a decent mower there should be at least 5 mowing heights.” This is another reason why Garner recommends rotary mowers over cylinder models as a rule of thumb – while cylinder mowers offer a very short, neat finish down to ¼ of an inch, rotary mowers are more adjustable.
Robotic lawnmowers are a boon for time-poor or less mobile gardeners as they’re fully automatic. While some lawnmowing purists aren’t so keen, Garner says the technology in robot mowers has come on leaps and bounds.
Robot lawnmowers achieve a “neat look” with zero effort, Garner says, and can be programmed to mow (or rather, trim) your lawn little and often to the exact right height. Additionally, they’re powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and very quiet. The downside is that they are a significant outlay, with prices starting from £500 and running much higher, and the little-and-often approach means they can’t cut long, thick grass or on uneven terrain.
Other factors to consider
Size: Choosing the right size of lawn mower is “a balancing act between manoeuvrability and having enough width to mow efficiently,” says Garner, as “mowing round contours and turning corners is much easier with a small machine.” The cutting width of lawnmowers can range from around 12 inches (approximately 30cm) to 40 inches (1m).
Finish: To stripe or not to stripe? If you want a back garden that looks like Wimbledon or an Oxford University quad, you’ll need a cylinder mower or a rotary mower with a rear roller to maintain those perfectly manicured strips. A rear roller will also allow you to mow neatly around the borders of flowerbeds and the edges of your lawn.
Noise: For obvious reasons, petrol lawnmowers are far noisier than their electric or manually-powered counterparts.
Handlebars and manoeuvrability: Folded handlebars will make your lawnmower much easier to store. Some lawnmower handlebars are ergonomic and/or height adjustable, which can make them more comfortable to use.
Weight: A lighter lawnmower will make life easier, especially in small gardens where a lot of manoeuvring is required. However, petrol and battery-powered lawnmowers and those with a metal rather than plastic cutting deck are (naturally) heavier – so with more power comes more weight.