Mowers Defined: Self-Propelled walk-behind v. Push walk-behind; zero turn v. Tractor



If you are in the market for a new lawn mower, you have a lot of choices and can take advantage of a variety of features that will make mowing your yard easier and more enjoyable.

Mowers are typically divided between one you walk behind versus those you ride on.

Walk-Behind

• Push: The operator pushes this mower around the yard to mow.

• Self-propelled: Powered by a transmission, self-propelled walk behinds range from single-speed to variable speed models. 

Riding Mowers

• Zero Turn: With drive tires that can be powered in opposite directions, a zero turn mower has a 0” turning radius. Ideal for lawns with a lot of obstacles to mow around. May be steered using twin sticks or a steering wheel.

• Lawn Tractors: Front engine machines using a traditional steering wheel. Easy to use because driving a lawn tractor is similar to driving a car. Lawn tractors can accept front and rear attachments that can be used for yard chores—snow blowers, tillers, plows, etc.—so they can be used for a variety of tasks.

So, what mower is the best choice for you? Factors to consider include the size of your lawn, the terrain—flat or hilly—and the amount obstacles you need to trim around. Additionally, you may have other lawn care needs: to bag or mulch clippings, till a garden or move items around the yard in a dump cart.

Walk-Behind Mower Options

Push Mowers: Basic, Low Cost

The most basic walk-behind rotary mower is a push mower. Just as the name implies, the user pushes it around the lawn while mowing. Typically lighter weight than a self-propelled model with a transmission, push mowers are a low cost option.

A single rotary blade spins around under the mower deck, cutting the grass, while the air flow created “throws” it out a side discharge chute or into a collection bag.

Push mowers are best for smaller, flatter lawns. They are also popular with riding mower owners who need something smaller for trimming in tight areas or around landscaping.

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Self-Propelled Mowers: Low Effort 

Self-propelled rotary mowers take the effort out of mowing thanks to a transmission that drives the mower forward. Single-speed and variable speed options have simple controls and are easy to use. Most self-propelled mowers offer 3-n-1 capability; they can be used for side discharge, bagging and mulching.

Residential walk-behind mowers, whether push or self-propelled, generally feature cutting widths of 19” to 22”. Importantly, walk-mower engines are easier to start than ever before, usually in one or two pulls of the starting rope. Some even have push button start.

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Riding Mower Options 

Zero Turn Mowers: Speed & Maneuverability

The hallmark of a zero turn mower is its ability to make 360-degree turns with a turning radius of zero inches. This makes zero turn mowers excellent for lawns with lots of trimming or other obstacles that need to be mowed around. Combined with forward speeds of up to 10 mph, zero turn mowers are fast and efficient.

Most zero turn mowers offer twin stick control, basically two levers, one controlling the drive for each wheel. To go forward, both levers are pushed forward; to reverse, both are pulled back. Turning means moving the levers in opposite directions. For instance, to turn right the operator pulls the right lever back and pushes the left lever forward. Speed is controlled by the distance the levers are moved from their neutral position.

There is a slight learning curve for operating a zero turn mower, but most homeowners get the hang of it quickly. Again, speed and maneuverability are the biggest benefits of a zero turn, allowing the user to cut the amount of time it takes to mow their property. They generally feature mowing decks with cutting widths from 42” to 72”.

Zero turns are not attachment friendly and should not be used on yards with slopes or small hills. Tractors are preferable under these conditions.

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Lawn Tractors: Versatile, Easy to Use

Front engine lawn tractors are ideal for homeowners with larger properties who want to mow and do other chores. With mowing deck options from 38” to 60”, lawn tractors are great for mowing large properties. Because they can handle attachments, however, they provide the flexibility to do yard chores like hauling, tilling, dethatching or snow blowing as well.

With a steering wheel and foot-pedal controlled automatic transmissions, lawn tractors drive just like a car so they are extremely easy to use. Their balanced weight distribution also allows them to be used on uneven ground and small hills without sacrificing traction.

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Rear engine riding mowers controlled via a steering wheel are the most compact of riding mowers. With small mowing decks, they allow owners of smaller yards the opportunity to have a riding product. Mowing decks of 28” to 33” are common and they may feature gear drive transmissions or hydrostatic transmissions. They are designed without a hood out front (like a lawn tractor) so they offer excellent visibility and are easy to get on and off.

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Selecting the Right Mower

With several options from which to choose, there is bound to be a mower that meets your needs. From walk-behind mowers that are ideal for most yards under ½ acre to zero turn mowers that have a 360-degree turning radius to lawn tractors that can be used for mowing and yard chores, there are a variety products available.

See your different mowing options in action in our lawn mower product demo video section.