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).
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.
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.
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…