A mulching mower is designed to chop grass clippings into small pieces and distribute them evenly over the lawn, where they’ll fall among the blades and work their way back to the soil. A conventional mower blows clippings out of a discharge chute, but on a mulching mower the chute is blocked off and a cutting blade shreds the clippings. For the best results, cut only about 1 inch of grass at once. Many models can do a good job of shredding tall grass, however.
Although mulching mowers were developed in the 1970s, they didn’t come into their own until recently, when states began passing legislation restricting yard waste in landfills. Almost every major manufacturer of lawn mowers now offers one or more mulching models.
Some are dedicated mulching mowers, and others convert from standard mowing to mulching. The single most important criterion to consider when shopping for a mulching mower is the horsepower (hp) rating. Since the blade must operate at high speed to cut and mulch efficiently, this type of mower needs at least a 4- to 5-hp engine. You’ll find models ranging from 3 to 6 hp.
If you’re shopping for a dedicated mulching mower, try looking for a model with a round, doughnut-shaped housing. That’s usually an indication that you’ll get a satisfactory mulching cut. Many dealers have lawn areas where you can test a mower before buying it. You want a model that doesn’t clog, leave clumps of clippings on top of the lawn, or cut unevenly.
For the gardener who wants to mulch the lawn and, on occasion, collect clippings and shredded leaves for the compost pile, a convertible mulching mower is required. To convert a mulching mower to a conventional bagging mower, you change the mower blades, remove the discharge chute block, and add a bag. Find out if changing blades is convenient and how easy it is to attach and release the bag.
For either a dedicated mulching mower or a convertible model, a number of other considerations apply.
- How easy is starting the mower?
- How noisy is it?
- Is the handle adjustable and well placed for comfort and easy use?
- For safety and to reduce vibration, is the handle covered with a thick foam or rubber cover?
- Is there convenient access for changing the oil?
- Can the cutting blade be easily removed for sharpening?
- Are the wheels metal, and do they have ball bearings?
- Does the emergency blade brake stop the blade without killing the engine?