Zero-turn mowers: Mowing faster and easier – homestead and ranching

Using a machine that is perfect for the job is a real pleasure. In the first 35 years I’ve mowed lawns, I’ve never felt that pleasure. Every riding mower I used was clumsy, frustratingly slow, and at times dangerous. Then I drove a zero-turn mower.

Today’s zero-turn mower is based on a sophisticated steering mechanism that controls the direction of travel by actuating the rear wheels with two small hydrostatic gears. The wheels can be driven in the same direction at different speeds for gradual, precise rotation, or they can rotate in opposite directions, literally turning the zero-turn mower in no time.

If you’re used to a lawn tractor, the wonderfully nimble handling of the zero-turn mower can be a bit annoying at first. Some zero-turn mowers have two large handles in front of the operator that control the fore-and-aft movement of the rear tires. Others have a variety of one-handed control options, most of which work on the same principle. Some models of zero-turn mowers use a joystick to control the direction and speed of travel. They all change direction very quickly. And because they work at faster speeds than most lawn tractors or traditional lawn mowers, you should definitely practice on an empty lawn before taking a zero-turn mower along the flowerbed.

However, once you get a feel for it, the zero-turn mower will get you as close to the flower bed as you’ve ever done with a mower. Thanks to the machine’s speed and maneuverability, you will likely save 15 to 45 percent of your mowing time. And if you’re a decent Nik, you might even not need to trim anymore. The zero revolutions we tested were much easier to control in a confined space once we got used to them.

Smart shopping for zero-turn mowers

You can find many different zero turn mowers to choose from no matter where you live. Zero-turn mowers typically cost between $ 3,000 and $ 10,000 for a commercial model. A high price – but a worthwhile investment for those who maintain large, easy-care lawns.

As with many machines, one of the first decisions you need to make is performance. Most zero-turn mowers have typical lawnmower motors in the 18-25 horsepower range. We have always been very skeptical of these reviews. To us, the 18 hp model from one manufacturer seemed to perform similarly to the 25 hp model from another manufacturer. We recommend finding some experienced, trustworthy dealers and seeking their recommendations. Often, models with larger engines also have sophisticated additional functions.

However, sometimes the upgrades are mystifying. Some manufacturers offer larger models with “commercial” features. Before you pay big bucks for these features, think about what you’ll be wearing on your mowers. It is likely that you will wear out several cutting decks before replacing a lot of other things. While a heavier deck could be a good investment, larger wheels could never make a difference to the average owner.

Some manufacturers offer heavier decks on certain models, but be careful with the price. A mower we tested gave buyers the option of a heavier deck, but the upgrade price was three times the cost of a replacement for the lighter deck. We figured we could wear the whole mower thoroughly in the time it would take it to go through three decks.

Features to look out for

Look for a so-called “washout opening” on the cutting deck to remove residue after use. It’s a great feature that lets you plug in a garden hose and spray out the clippings. However, don’t forget to dry the deck every time, otherwise it will rust quickly.

Probably the biggest decision when purchasing a zero-turn mower is where the cutting deck is located. Some prefer center-mounted cutting decks where the blades rotate directly under the operator. It’s similar to a traditional ride-on mower. However, some zero-turn mowers have front-mounted decks that allow the operator to see exactly where the mower blades are going without bending or tilting. Even better, front-mounted decks can mow under bushes, fences, or other obstructions.

Most homeowner zero-turn mowers have belt-driven blades like traditional lawnmowers, and most are pretty reliable if you change the belts regularly. The person who wants a bulletproof unit can always opt for a commercial gear drive machine, but that choice costs more.

Choose the right feeling

Throughout the life of a lawnmower, you will spend a lot of time in physical contact with it. There’s no substitute for a zero-turn mower that just feels right. Of course, opinions on this will differ, so you should try spending some time actually mowing on a variety of zero-turn mowers before making your final decision.

Don’t forget to test them out on the site where they will be used. Zero-turn mowers are especially useful on sloping land, where you will appreciate their low center of gravity. Some models cover the terrain more smoothly than others, and some seats are much more comfortable over the bumps. If your country is rough, consider a heavier landing gear model.

And while testing the models in your area, spend some time with the dealers. We strongly believe that you should choose your manufacturer based on your dealer. Every mower needs to be repaired. Every owner needs spare parts. If your local dealer is warm and trustworthy, you will have a happier life with your new mower.

Zero-turn mower manufacturer

If you want to delve deeper into the world of zero-turn mowers, here is a list of manufacturers to help you get started:

Brillion, Wis.


Johnson Creek, Wis.

Bush Hog

Selma, Ala.

Country Clipper

Corydon, Iowa

Cub Cadet

Cleveland, Ohio


Coffeyville, Kan.


Beatrice, Neb.


Charlotte, NC

Hustler Turf Equipment

Hesston, Kan.

John Deere

Moline, Ill.


Torrance, California.

Country pride

Salina, Kan.

Lawn boy

Bloomington, Minn.


Port Washington, Wis.


Port Washington, Wis.


McDonough, Ga.


Warrensburg, Mon.


Bloomington, Minn.


Cleveland, Ohio

Walker mower

Fort Collins, Colo.

Bryan Welch destroys belts and cutting decks on his farm near Lawrence, Kan. He is also a magazine publisher.

Originally published: April / May 2007

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