Gardening tools Lawn

Why Reel Mowers Just Aren’t for Me

Many years back, I did a very stupid thing. I got rid of my electric lawn mower and switched to reel mower: one of those push-type mowers that haven’t changed since grandpa’s time and that are still readily available in hardware stores. 

Admittedly, I was only dealing with a small lawn, not a large one that would require a riding mower like those seen at Even so, it turned out I had bitten off more than I could handle by changing.

Although reel mowers are said to give the best cut of all, slicing neatly and thus promoting a healthier, thicker lawn, that wasn’t the reason I switched. I had decided that power mowers, even of the electric type, weren’t as environmentally friendly as push mowers. And I wanted to do the right thing for my planet.

So, I gave my old lawn mower to a neighbor, bought a reel mower (actually, also much less expensive) and started mowing. 

I soon ran into trouble.

Mowing with a reel mower takes a lot of energy. Photo:

It did a fine job on short grass, but as soon as the grass blades got just a bit long, it began to flatten them rather than cutting them, so I’d have to run over the spot a second or third time at different angles. I also soon realized I had to mow twice a week rather than just once if I wanted to have a decent lawn. And, traveling a lot as I do, I wasn’t always around twice a week. So, I soon had a permanently choppy-looking lawn.

Well, that was all right, wasn’t it? I’ve never been a fanatic about a perfect lawn.

But it was also hard to push on slopes. Really hard. Discouragingly hard. My house is essentially built on a mountainside, so I know a thing about slopes. And mowing that lawn with a reel mower was exhausting. Enough so that I was even less inclined to mow regularly, thus making things all that much more difficult. 

The worst shock came in the fall when I realized the push mower didn’t chop leaves! Now, I’d always prided myself on reusing my fall leaves as mulch, in the compost bin and various other ways. But for that, you really need to shred them and I’d just given away my major leaf-chopping tool: the electric rotary mower. I did learn to chop leaves in other ways, but all were more laborious than just mowing them. 

But the coup de grâce came when I needed to sharpen the (numerous) blades on the reel. Bye the end of the second year, the blades were crushing the lawn grass blades rather than clipping them. It turns out reel mowers are very delicate instruments and need sharpening frequently. 

Setting up to sharpen a reel mower: it’s quite an undertaking! Photo: expertvillage,

Sharpening the blade from a rotary mower is a snap and if you don’t want to do it yourself, there are plenty of companies offering a sharpening service. Sharpening the curving blades of a reel mower, however, is not easy … and I could find no local companies willing to sharpen the reel for me. In fact, one guy burst out laughing when I told him what I wanted. “Good luck with that!” he guffawed! I finally found a neighbor—sort of the local Mr. Fix-It—willing to sharpen it by hand … at a cost not much less than I’d paid for the mower. Well, what could I do? I paid!

It turns out an electric push mower was I really needed after all! Photo:

Well, that was the last straw. After two years of struggling with the reel mower, the next spring, I gave it away (to someone who also struggled with it) and bought an electric mower again. Electric mowers, I now reasoned, really weren’t environmentally unfriendly after all. Especially where I live, as all the electricity comes from renewable sources. 

Push reel mowers are probably fine for small lawns with a flat surface and enthusiastic, energetic owners with lots of time on their hands who are used to bagging and disposing of fall leaves. But I’m much happier with my simple little electric mower.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

3 comments on “Why Reel Mowers Just Aren’t for Me

  1. Margaret

    IMHO the most laidback solution is ground cover.

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