How to Transition your Lawn from a Rotary Mower to a Reel Mower

scissor-like cut of a reel mower is healthier for the lawn

scissor-like cut of a reel mower is healthier for the lawn

Over this last 13 years, our family run, eco-mission based company has sold over 50,000 push reel mowers and these are answers to the most common customer questions and problems when mowing with a reel mower, especially as you transition from a rotary mower over to a reel mower. The obvious ones such as no longer needing to buy gas and oil or maintain spark plugs. And the garden quiet-time you achieve when you mow with a silent reel mower (read my noise rant here!) (see noise charts for mowers here).

One of the not so obvious differences is you mow differently. First of all, the grass needs to be 4″ or less when you mow or the first time will be tough. It’s best to use a grass catcher when the grass is long. Next you’ll need to overlap by about a 1/4 of the reel cutting blades to have good results. As time goes by you won’t need to overlap so much, but to start you will. Overlapping is one marked difference between the two types of mowing. The second time you mow, mow perpendicular to the direction you mowed the first time. So if you mowed in a north-south direction, mow in an east-west direction the second time. Remember to overlap while you mow by about a 1/4 of the reel blades. The third time you mow, mow north-south. The fourth time you mow, mow east-west. After your fourth mowing, your lawn should be looking great. The following information is from our page on mowing with a reel mower ::

First Time Mowing Tips :

Sticks and Stones….
Like any lawn mower, reel or rotary,  reel mowers are not made to mow over sticks, stones or hard objects. If you have lots of trees and can’t pick up the sticks, then a reel mower is probably not for you. And I personally have found moles to be my nemesis when it comes to reel mowing. Anyone know how to get rid of moles…please post that here! (Castor oil is not working)

Check your mowing height controls :
Yes, people have set merrily off on their way without making sure the knobs are installed right and tightened. The blade can move around if the height adjustments are not tight, so give a quick look there.

Just Common Sense :
Do a quick two minute wipe down of the blades and before you mow, spray the blades with a silicone spray. This will protect your blades. After you finish mowing, wipe the blades clean with a rag. This takes two minutes.

The right grass height for reel a mower to cut :

Common recommendations are for Rotary Mowers :
For over 200 years, before the rotary power mower, hardly a lawn on earth was mowed higher than 1.5 inches! Today’s common mowing height recommendations are generally based on the requirements of the common rotary power mower (90% of the U.S., market) rather than the grass itself. These recommendations do not apply to reel mowers.

Rotary Mowers damage grass at lower settings :
Rotary power-mowed lawns must be mowed higher to compensate for the repeated disturbance to the lawn as well as to avoid browning and scalping injury. The rotary blade cuts the grass blade on impact. It causes a degree of mutilation and injury to the leaf blade at the point of impact. The industry understands that rotary mowers cannot give a quality cut lower than 1.5 inch Mowing heights.

Reel mowers can and should mow lower :
With a reel mower you may always cut to the lowest recommended height and be confident of a naturally healthy lawn. You can usually mow a grass that spreads horizontally shorter than an upright-growing bunch-type grass. Grasses with narrow blades can generally be mowed closer than grasses with wide blades. Mow turf grasses under stress — such as heat, drought or shade — at a higher level of cut. Reel mowers have been proven over 200 years of worldwide use at these lower heights.

Mowing Frequency :

Mow regularly :
(easier said than done!) A good rule-of-thumb is to remove no more than one-third of the grass height at any one mowing. For example, if you are maintaining your lawn at 2 inches, mow the lawn when it is about 3 inches high. Cutting off more than one-third at one time can stop the roots from growing and would require frequent watering during dry summers to keep the plants alive. Also, following the one-third rule will produce smaller clippings that will disappear quickly by filtering down to the soil surface.

So you went on vacation…now what?
OK, we admit, this can be the challenging part of mowing with a reel. If the grass becomes too tall between mowings, raise the mowing height and then gradually reduce it until the recommended height is reached. Push reel lawn mowers are not made to cut very high grass, although they are capable if you have extra time and energy. They cut best when the lawn is 2.5 to 4.0 inches high. If your lawn is overgrown, for best results, overlap your next cut by about a third of the width of the Brill’s blades.

Brill Accu Note ::
The Brill razorcut accu electric reel mower mows thru overgrown grass with ease. It won’t be perfect, and you will go thru the battery quicker, but it is much easier with an electrically driven reel! So if you are an erradic mower and still want a reel…the Accu is a better choice.

Cheat :
I am not above getting out my electric trimmer / weed wacker and going after really overgrown areas. And if things have really gotten out of control (about 1 every 2 years), I will borrow a neighbors mower…and unfortunately for me it is a gas one. Which is probably a good thing because then I remember how awful and smelly, noisy,  and unpleasant mowing with a gas mower is and get my resolve back never to borrow that thing again.

For Overgrown Lawns Use The Grass Catcher :
When the grass is very high, we recommend using a grass catcher. The catcher will prevent the blades from filling up with long grass, and you can use the clippings in your composter. If the blades do fill up, clear the grass with a gloved hand or brush. Also, check the mower for grass clumps when you are done.

Having problems :

When we hear about people who have been less than satisfied with their first experience mowing with a reel mower, inevitably the reasons are :

  • the grass is too high
  • the lawn has not been cleared of sticks and stones
  • lawn is too large or bumpy.
  • It rains a lot in my town and the grass is always wet travel frequently, which causes my grass to grow too long”

If you know your grass is high, we suggest borrowing a neighbor’s electric mower or hiring a lawn service for the first cut of the season. After the initial cut, mowing a lawn of a 6000 sq. feet or less with a reel mower should meet your mowing expectations.

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One response to “How to Transition your Lawn from a Rotary Mower to a Reel Mower

  1. Pingback: 2010 in review | People Powered Machines

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