Reel mowers provide a precise cut for low-growing grasses. Electric-powered reel mowers are available, but most models are manual. Operating a manual reel mower requires more physical exertion if the grass is high or weedy. Mulching mowers are designed to cut grass blades into fine particles. Mulching mowers are modified rotary mowers, which operate by electric or gasoline power, and cut grass faster than a reel mower. Consider the grass species, lawn size and level of lawn maintenance when choosing a reel or mulching mower.
Reel mower blades rotate vertically, from north to south, and use a scissor-type action to cut the blades. Reel mowers have three to seven blades, depending on the model. Mulching mower blades rotate horizontally, from east to west. They tear the grass blades, and then hold the grass blades aloft through vacuum action until they're finely chopped.
Reel mowers cut Bermuda grass, seashore paspalum and zoysia grass well. Some Bermuda and St. Augustine grasses develop a thick turf in southern climates and require a heavier reel mower for the best performance. Mulch mowers work well on all grasses, but may require multiple passes if the grass is too high.
Both reel and mulch mowers promote grasscycling -- the redistribution of grass clippings over a lawn. The cut grass acts as a protective layer of mulch that retains moisture and returns nitrogen to the soil. Grasscycling reduces yard waste and disposal costs and prevents grass clippings from ending up in landfills.
Manual reel mowers weigh 17 to 35 lbs., so they are easier to lift than mulch mowers. Reel mowers are more suited for small lawns and golf coarse turf. The blades need to be aligned, adjusted and sharpened regularly by a professional. Mulch mowers weigh 70 to 90 lbs. Mulch mowers are more costly to purchase and operate than reel mowers. The blades spin at a high rate of speed and can pose an injury risk.
New rotary mowers come with a mulching attachment, which allows you to leave grass clippings on the lawn as mulch. Or, you can remove the bag and cover the discharge chute from a rear-discharge mower so the clippings under the deck are then re-chopped, and scattered onto the lawn. You can also use a side-discharge mower with a deflector that shoots clippings out and away from the mower.
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