A lawn that is over half an acre large gives you plenty of space to lounge and enjoy a sunny day outside. However, you’re looking at a major commitment when it’s time to mow.
Both lawn tractors and zero-turn mowers provide the speed and the wide decks needed to maintain large yards. But, which type of riding lawn mower is best for slopes? And are there other factors you should consider when buying a lawn mower for your hilly backyard? Read on to find out.
What is a Lawn Tractor?
Compared to standard riding mowers, lawn tractors are faster, more powerful (15 to 25 HP), and cut a bigger swath (up to 48”). While a rear-engine riding mower can do just one thing, cut grass, most lawn tractors allow you to add accessories such as a snow thrower.
Lawn tractors are not as sturdy and heavy as garden tractors, but they offer better maneuverability. Front-engine tractors can inch up slopes with relative ease. Rear-engine lawn tractors, on the other hand, are not weighted for hills.
What is a Zero-Turn Mower?
A zero-turn radius mower can do exactly what its name promises—it can turn on a dime. Thanks to the zero-degree turning radius, a zero-turn mower allows you to quickly maneuver around the lawn. Zero-turn mowers are faster and more agile than lawn tractors.
Zero-Turn Vs Lawn Tractor: Which Type of Riding Mower is Better for Hills?
Most lawn tractors can safely mow slopes of 15 degrees or less. Some models can even handle 20-degree hills.
Most zero-turn mowers, on the other hand, don’t do well on slopes greater than 10 degrees. There are only a few ZTR models that can handle 15-degree hills, and they are quite pricey.
Compared to zero-turn riding mowers, lawn tractors have a better center of gravity and bigger tires. A ZTR mower is more likely to tip over backward on a steep hill.
It’s also important to note that not all zero-turn mowers are made equal. For instance, a zero-turn mower with a steering wheel will perform much better on slopes than a lap-bar zero-turn mower.
If your lawn is pretty steep, a lawn tractor is the safest option you can go for. But if you have a backyard with a 10-degree slope or smaller, a zero-turn radius lawn mower may be just what you need.
Zero-turn radius lawn mowers may not be the best choice for very steep lawns, but they still have some advantages over lawn tractors.
Zero-Turn Vs Lawn Tractor: Other Considerations
A zero-turn riding mower will save you time if your yard is dotted with flower beds, bushes, and trees. Each ZTR mower has a dual-hydrostatic transmission. It allows for a tight turning radius and impressive responsiveness.
The ability to do a zero radius turn allows you to easily mow around obstacles. If you want to mow forward in a straight line, all you need to do is keep the levers even.
A lawn tractor will inevitably leave patches of uncut grass since it has a wider turn radius. If you want to cut every blade of grass with a lawn tractor, you will have to stop and reverse or come back around on a second pass.
If you want to get the job done fast, a zero-turn riding mower is generally one of the best solutions for your yard. Since a zero-turn mower allows you to get closer to obstacles, you won’t have to spend a lot of time on weed eating later on.
Lawn tractors, and some zero-turn mowers, have steering wheels. As most people are familiar with steering wheels, they are easier to control. A lawn tractor’s gas pedal and steering wheel offer intuitive control.
Most ZTR mowers feature two lap bars. Learning how to control the rear wheels by using lap bars takes some time. Rather than using a foot pedal, you control the throttle of a zero-turn machine by pressing the control levers forward.
Until you get a feel for the differential speed control, you can expect some lurching and sudden stops. When making turns, you also need to time the manipulation of the levers. All of this becomes even harder when you’re mowing a slope.
You also need to be careful when you make 180° turns without moving backward or forward. Otherwise, your ZTR will make an ugly gauge in the turf.
If you want to buy a zero-turn machine, but find the lap bars to be a pain in the neck, do know that some models have joystick control. It also requires practice to master but is much easier to use.
If you just want to jump on your new riding mower and go, you will like a lawn tractor more. To go forward, all you need to do is push the gas pedal.
Getting a riding mower with a narrow deck means mowing will take longer, no matter which type you buy. On the other hand, a cutting deck that is too wide will make it difficult to maneuver around or get between obstacles.
So, in order to choose the appropriate deck size, you need to consider the width of spaces you’ll mow as well as the size of your yard.
Zero-turn mowers have decks from 42 to 60 inches while lawn tractor decks range from 42 to 54 inches. Choose a mower with a wide deck if your backyard is over 2 acres and doesn’t have many obstacles. Go for a narrower deck if you need to maintain tight spaces between flower beds or trees.
The average lawn tractor mows at a speed of 4 mph. Mowing tractors can’t go faster than 7 mph. In comparison, a zero-turn radius riding mower offers a clean cut at 5 mph. Many zero-turn mowers can reach a top speed of 10 mph.
If a big portion of your backyard is flat, you probably want to go for a fast machine. But, when it comes to slopes, it doesn’t matter how fast your riding mower can go. What matters is how well it can maintain its traction and speed on uneven terrain.
It’s also important to note that the quality of the cut goes down the faster your go, regardless of the type of riding lawn mower you have.
While lawn tractors are not as fast as zero-radius mowers, you can outfit them with various attachments, such as carts, sweepers, spreaders, heavy-duty sprayers, and ground engaging equipment.
If you like doing a lot of heavy torque work, it’s best to buy a riding tractor. Compared to zero-turn mowers, lawn tractors have a better center of gravity and come with stronger hitch points.
If you want to buy a high-end riding mower, you will have to spend at least a couple of grand. That said, zero-turn radius mowers are the more expensive of the two.
A lawn tractor may be a smarter investment, especially if slopes are your biggest concern. You can buy a base model for $1,200.
Keep in mind, you a lawn tractor is not just a riding mower. Instead of buying a bunch of different machinery, you can use one riding tractor to pull spreaders, sprayers, carts, and other gardening equipment.
Some of the best lawn tractors cost between $2,000 and $3,000. However, accessories are sold separately and they are usually a bit pricey.
Zero-turn riding mowers start at around $2,500. Models that are on the pricier end cost around $5,000. ZTR mowers are all about saving time. So, even though they are expensive, a ZTR mower can still be the right investment for someone with a, particularly large and curvy yard.
How to Mow a Slope
If you want to mow hills safely, making the right choice between a tractor vs zero turn mower is just the start. Even though your machine will be doing most of the work, you should be familiar with the following steps and mowing methods:
- Try to back the mower up the hill. The slope is too steep for a riding mower if you can’t back up.
- Check for drop-offs, ruts, holes, and other hazards before you start mowing.
- Don’t use attachments. They will make your machine less stable.
- Use the lowest possible gear while mowing a slope. Mowing steadily and slowly is key.
- Operate up and down the hill. Steer down immediately if a problem occurs.
- Only mow when the grass is dry.
When it comes to particularly steep lawns, there’s only one safe choice—a lawn tractor. But if your backyard is only gently or moderately sloped, you can choose between a lawn tractor vs zero turn mower.
The two types of riding mowers are great for larger yards. But if you want a machine that will get the job done faster, it’s best to buy a ZTR riding mower. A ZTR mower is also the right investment if you have many trees, flower beds, and other obstacles in your yard.
If you want a mower that is reliable, easy to operate, and versatile, a lawn tractor may be the best solution for your yard. In addition to mowing, lawn tractors allow you to accomplish several other gardening tasks, and they come at a much lower price.