Disadvantages of manual reel mowers

The truth is, there are a few downsides to using a manual reel mower. Doesn’t everything have its pros and cons? Reel mowers are great tools, but they don’t fit every situation. If your yard has the wrong kinds of plants or difficult terrain, a reel mower may not be the best option.

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Anyway, here are some of the negative things to consider:

Vacant lots or overgrown yards

Reel mowers are best for trimming well maintained yards. They can handle tall weeds and tough vines, but the amount of work involved can be pretty intense. Overgrown yards are also likely to have lots of debris that will jam up the blades, including sticks, scrap metal, bottles, and hobos (there are few things worse than running over a hobo).

Large yards

Generally, yards under a half acre are best suitable for reel mowers. That’s about 8,000 square feet. Any larger and it will take too much time to mow. You have to realistic about it. Life isn’t about just mowing your yard. But, if your yard is medium to small sized, reel mowers are a great, sensible fit!

Reel mowers take longer to use

Of course, when using a reel mower it will take a little longer to mow your yard. It will take about 20 to 30 minutes more. But you are not walking behind all the exhaust like with gas powered mowers. It is a pretty good trade off. Let’s see, a few more minutes mowing for a peaceful mowing experience and more exercise? Completely worth it.

Xeriscaped yards

Some native plants have very thick stalks made of tough, fibrous material. They make great landscaping for some of the driest parts of the country, but they’re very difficult to trim with a push mower. These thick plants are best maintained with weed whackers, pruning shears, and very hungry goats.

Sand

Push reel mowers require traction to turn the blades. If the wheels are slipping in the sand, then the blades wont turn. If you live in the desert or have beach front property, a push reel mower is not the best way to take care of your yard. Why are you mowing sand, anyway?

Excessive bumps and ridges

A push reel mower cuts at a certain height above the ground. That’s a function of how it’s designed. So, if your yard has undulating hills or crevices, the reel mower will duplicate these contour patterns on the visible part of your grass. If you want to use the groundcover to disguise the bumps and divots in your ground, then it might be better to use a line trimmer. If the ground is really irregular, it can also cause a problem because the wheels wont be able to get traction and the blades wont turn.

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Areas covered in rocks and twigs

Reel mowers can easily snag on yard debris like brush, rocks, and twigs. If you have a lot of these in your yard, expect a very frustrating mowing experience. Mowing a yard full of caltrops takes 5 or 6 times as long as mowing a clear strip of grass. On the plus side, after you’ve mowed the yard once, you’ll have found most of the twigs. Then, you can throw them into a compost pile, throw them in your neighbors yard, or mulch the wood with a wood chipper.

Certain types of grass

Reel mowers love to gobble up grass and turn it into clippings, but some grass is downright unfriendly to mow. Grass that is ultra thick can form a heavy carpet on the ground that bogs down reel mowers and gums up their works. This is the same type of grass that causes gas mowers to stall and electric mowers to freeze up. The grasses that are the hardest to cut include Zoysia (aka Zoysiagrass, Japanese Lawn Grass, and Korean Lawn Grass), Bermuda, and St Augustine.

It’s still possible to mow these grasses with certain reel mowers. Not all reel mowers can handle thick grass, but push reel mowers with high ground clearance and adjustable blade spacing can do the trick. High ground clearance keeps the blades out of the thickest parts of the grass and prevents bogging down. Adjustable blades can be loosened so that there’s a larger gap between the cutting blade and the back blade. Also, try mowing with only part of the mower over uncut grass. If the going is too tough, cut in narrower rows with more of the cutting area overlapping areas that have already been cut.

And this brings us to edging with a Reel Mower…

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jim Adams 08.12.10 at 8:19 pm

I have Bermuda and try to keep it cut once a week. Problem I have is binding with the reel. It’ll do just fine for quite a while and then just bind up. Found I have to reverse the blades several times with my foot (wear well covered shoes). That tends to get the bind out…sometimes take several attempts.

2 steve 08.13.10 at 6:05 pm

@Jim Adams,

Both St. Augustine and Bermuda can be frustrating grasses to mow with a reel mower but it can be done successfully. Not knowing which mower you have puts me at a disadvantage. Are you sure it’s adjusted correctly? Make sure it is as well as make sure you cut the lawn when it’s dry, this can make a difference.

3 Phil 02.26.11 at 9:28 pm

8,000 square feet is nowhere close to a half acre! It’s only about 0.18 acres.

4 lars 02.28.11 at 3:35 pm

@Phil

Yes, that’s correct. But when someone lives on a half acre lot, they typically have a house, and driveway, and flowerbeds, and sidewalks, back deck, front porch, etc. The amount of actual grass that you have to mow is usually in the 8,000 square foot range.

5 Yoshi 10.27.11 at 5:34 pm

Love my 18″ reel mower. I’ve got Bermuda, in a really small front yard (the lot itself is much bigger, naturalized). In high summer in Atlanta I may get out there and cut it twice a week. Takes only a few very comfortable and relaxing minutes. I can cut my well established lawn barefoot. Very little in the way of noise (as compared to one of my neighbors who can rattle the windows with his leaf blower for an hour at a time). No exhaust, no oil, the mess is organic, and I have a very nice time with my lawn.

Sweet stuff.

6 Nikki Dosenbach 04.25.12 at 4:28 pm

I bought the Scott’s 20″ reel mower at the end of last year’s mowing season for my area. Lots of people thought I had taken leave of my senses (possible but not in this specific case). I am a 68 year old female in good shape (more or less). The first couple of times I mowed I thought I made a big mistake, but then I got the hang of it and loved it. No noise, no fumes, no dirt blowing in my face, and much safer, IMO. I can cut my grass early in the morning w/o upsetting anyone and that I really like. This year after a few mowings my lawn looks so much better than it did after being power mowed. The only drawback for me is in the fall as I have several large trees, but then I realized it gave me a good reason to employ the teen who shovels snow for me. He’s happy, I’m happy and I am a ardent, permanent fan of reel mowers.

7 Gina 06.03.12 at 9:16 pm

We are about to move into a house that is on a large 1/2 acre lot. The lawn is well maintained, and only takes up about 1/2 of the lot size because there is a pool and a lot of landscaping. I’ve always wanted to use a quiet, environmentally friendly reel mower, but am wondering if this would be impractical on this sized lot. I really hate the noise and smell of gas mowers, but don’t want to be unrealistic… Any thoughts/suggestions? The house is in MN, I’m not sure what type of grass that is but it isn’t the tough stuff we had down in Texas!

8 steve 06.04.12 at 3:00 pm

@Gina, I could suggest several mower, but the best for your area might be the Brill Razorcut 38, its light weight and easy to maintain. I imagine cutting with a reel mower compared to a gas mower will only add 10 to 15 minutes at the most to your cutting time, assuming its taking 25 t0 30 minutes with a gas mower.

9 lars 06.04.12 at 3:20 pm

@Gina

If you are worried about the size of your lot and the amount of time it will take to mow, go with the widest possible reel mower, like the Scotts Classic or the Mascot 21 inch. It will take a lot more passes to finish with the Brill, although it is a very good mower.

10 Gina 06.04.12 at 11:53 pm

Thanks Lars and Steve for the advice, most people think I’m crazy for even considering going non-motorized with such a big yard! Do you think that the extra width is worth the additional weight you have to push? I’ve never used a reel mower, so I have no idea what it’s like to push one. Are they designed in such a way that extra weight doesn’t necessarily make it hard to push? I’m small (5’0″) but grew up using a gas mower (not self propelling), but that was many years ago. I was thinking about the mascot 21 inch since it’s so wide, but am worried that it will be difficult to push. I will have a garden shed, so no need to hang it up. My primary concern about weight is ease of mowing.

11 Barbara Stehman 04.15.13 at 6:14 am

I need a mower that can handle tall grass and weeds. Is there a mower that builds up power as you push along, kind of like stored power that pulls the push mower along? I was told it has gears. Does that make sense?
The one I am referring to is made by Friskers.
Thank you, Barbara

12 steve 04.17.13 at 3:35 pm

@Barbara Stehman, Yes, the Fiskars Momentum mower is geared to help but you are still the motor so it will not be like pushing a self propelled mower.

13 Kathy 05.25.13 at 9:21 pm

From the street, my front lawn slopes steeply (probably at about 60 degrees) and then levels off to more like 30 degrees. I used to traverse the steep part with a gas-powered lawn mower, but I no longer have the strength to control something that heavy. I thought maybe a reel mower would solve my problem because it’s lighter, but would it work on a hill that steep?

14 lars 05.28.13 at 5:02 pm

@Kathy

Maybe, but maybe not. For a reel mower to mow, you have to be walking at a steady pace so that the blades are turning fast enough to cut. So if you think you could walk that slope at a steady pace in some manner with a reel mower, you could probably mow with it. But if it is awkward or impossible to push the mower at a stead pace, then you won’t be able to get it to cut.

15 Jose Luis 10.29.13 at 10:49 pm

What if i have a beach yard and have to remove more than grass? What do you recommend?

16 tom sherman 11.11.13 at 11:21 pm

tomsherman 06.28.13 at 5:32 pm
if you bolt the handle of a reel mower to it body it functions like a wheelbarrow in its up & down movment. i have modified 3 reels in this way and use them to top the grass. i can cut grass as high as a foot and i can cut grass faster than any standard reel or gas powered mower.
(you do not need the rollers they can be removed)

you can avoid bolting by using 2 two foot cords and a turnbuckle or knotbone to modify almost all reels for $2. see my facebook site

.

17 lea 05.08.14 at 7:10 pm

I live in Tennessee, we have super thick grass, all well established sod. We have about 1/3 acre of mowing area. What non motorized reel mower would you recommend? Thanks.

18 tom sherman 05.29.14 at 6:05 pm

to determine which reel you’ll buy goggle “reel mowers” & “best” or etc. reel mowers are designed to cut different kinds of based on the number of blades 5-7 I believe. I guess you have to determine what kind of grass you have . then you can apply my kit to it.

19 tom sherman 05.29.14 at 6:23 pm

try the site reelmowers.org they are discussing different mowers for different grasses

20 tom sherman 05.29.14 at 6:25 pm

try the site reelmowers.org they are discussing different mowers for different grasses especially see right side column I guess that’s this site

21 tom sherman 05.31.14 at 6:41 pm

dear sir: here are some more detailed directions on how to modify a reel mower which requires only 4′ of cord and a connector. if you are to purchase a reel mower buy one with the widest cut possible and the ability to lower the handle parallel or lower to the ground (you may need to be able to or want to file or cut parts on the mower you buy to accomplish this).

i’ve invented a way to modify a reel mower that allows me to top the grass enabling me to cut grass as high as 1 foot high. Also I can push it faster than a standard reel or even a gas powered mower. ///what i’ve done is bolted the handle to the reel body to make the mower function like a wheelbarrow in its up& down motion. then I’ve removed the roller.

Instead of bolting one can take a cord (cords run form 1/8″-3/16″ depending on the connecting devices used) and tie (tie means use an overhand knot and a washer) one end to one of the now vacated roller holes then wind its other end 1-2 times around the handle above it. then do the same with a cord on the on the other side of the lawnmower. then connect the open ends of these cords with a nietze “knotbone” ($1) or a nietze cam ($3). these devices will adjust the height of the cut as the cord can be set at different lengths by them. (buy the knot bone if you won’t be adjusting your cutting heights often). The weight of the mower body will prevent motion of same relative to handle so the mower body moves as one with the handle like a wheelbarrow.

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