Dear Umbra,

OK, I hate lawns. But for a number of reasons, I have to move into a town where lawns are the law, and mowing a necessity. Can you give me the scoop on the most eco-friendly lawnmower that will still cut decently? (No, I can’t have goats.)

My old reel lawnmower never did a decent job, and I doubt I could talk the rest of the family into it. That leaves, as far as I know: electric (corded and cordless), solar, and (gasp) gas. My husband has ancient knowledge of electric mowers and what a terrible job they did, so he may be a hard sell. There must be something out there …

Mariah Blackhorse
Bend, Ore.

Dearest Mariah,

Don’t hate your lawn. Lounging on it might be nice. Cutting it, of course, is not so nice. You have done an excellent job of outlining your grass-grooming options. Because you mentioned the reel mower, I’ll assume you have a lawn small enough that it’s an option. (Most sources recommend 5,000 square feet as a cap.) I draw you back to the reel mower right here at the outset because it is the best choice.

This summer, be a reel player.

Not unlike our recent subject the straight razor, reel mowers offer a durable, effective, trash- and emissions-free (after manufacturing) choice, if they are kept in good condition. I hear that you’ve been disappointed in the past. Try again, with a new, sharp-sharp-sharp, and lightweight modern reel mower. I will lay down money that you’ll find it an improvement.

The advantages can barely be listed in this space: silent, fairly cheap ($80-$200), excellent source of exercise, free to operate, emits nothing, leaves grass clippings to fertilize the lawn or has a handy catch-bag. I shared one with neighbors for a while, which gave me the added benefit of good friendship. If you don’t like it, you can return it — but give it a go.

Let’s look at the other mowers. The gasoline-powered version spews a lot. One EPA estimate says using a gas mower for an hour pollutes as much as driving your car 20 miles, and others venture much higher guesses. Say you mow your lawn one hour per week, April through November; even using EPA’s low-end number, you would need to cut at least 700 miles off your yearly driving to keep your family emissions level down to that of your pre-lawn life. And then there are your precious lungs to consider, as you inhale a stew of particulates. I cannot support gas mowing.

Your other choice, electric, costs $190 to $500. Plug-in models are limited by the useful length of extension cord (100 yards) and will only work if your entire lawn is within reach of a power source. The cordless, battery-operated type — which runs about 60 to 90 minutes per charge — can go farther, but is pricier than its tethered brethren. Scope the scoop on specific model reviews and see what you think.

I have to say, the solar mower was new to me. Click through to Husqvarna to giggle at the bug-like robotic self-propelled mower, which beetles around your lawn looking for tall grass. Or check out Real Goods, which sells a walk-behind solar-powered model for $750.

These sound interesting, but I’m not paid to equivocate. Keep it simple and get yourself an excellent reel mower — for a healthy family and a healthy lawn.

Pushily,
Umbra