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April 01, 2015

Lawn in order

Lawn mowers bring the buzz for spring

Kathy McCormick

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It’s a conundrum. People spend a fortune priming their new yards with just the right amount of topsoil to ensure it is a healthy underpinning for anything to grow. They spend hours de-weeding it, leveling it, planting seeds in it, and faithfully watering it.

Then, when the yard has a beautiful crop of healthy, green grass growing on it, they buy a tool to cut it down.

That’s the joy of being a homeowner. No matter the size of greenery is, whether it’s in an acreage or on a small plot in front of a townhome, a well-kept lawn does tons for the curb appeal of the home. There’s nothing quite as stunning as a freshly-mowed lawn framing a home.

But keeping it fresh, green and healthy takes work, starting with the right lawn mower to do the job.

Surprisingly, the first lawn mowers your grandparents used — simple push mowers with blades that gave the grass the look of a blanket of green — are still around and still a top choice, but for different reasons. In Grandpa’s day, they were the only choice.

“Push reels are still very popular and are great for anyone who is environmentally-conscious or who owns a smaller lawn,” says Ed Longstaff, divisional product merchant, outdoor power, for Home Depot Canada.

“There are even new technologies that eliminate the swishing noise heard on most push reel mowers. This style of mower ranges in price from $129 to $249.”

At RONA, the push mower is their best seller, says Charles Gregoire-Beliveau, category manager. “Push mowers outpace self-propelled mowers by a long shot — mainly due to price point.”

There have been a lot of new manual lawnmowers in the last five years, but the market has saturated, he says, so there has not been any new growth in that segment of the market.

The eco-friendly nature of the push mowers has been the reason for its growth at Alberta Forest and Garden, says Bonnie Bock, the customer service rep. “But most homeowners do not have the time, so still prefer to ‘gas up and go,’” she says.

“Gas is still the most wanted type of mower; electric is still popular, too; but battery-operated mowers are continuing to grow in popularity.”

One brand, STIHL, has a battery-operated mower coming into the market — and it will be “in people’s backyards quickly,” says Bock. “It cuts an average 40-by-90-square-foot area in one charge — and it cuts beautifully.”

The cordless mowers “have come a long way from the heavy lead acid batteries of only a few years ago,” says Longstaff. “Today’s mowers are lightweight with powerful lithium ion batteries capable of producing consistent power when under load. As well, their batteries can last up to an hour of run time, depending on the condition of the lawn being cut.”

Additionally, “the new lithium-ion technology with no-memory batteries will allow you to recharge the unit as needed,” says RONA’s Gregoire-Beliveau.

“Cordless have been evolving quickly in the last five years.  The battery technology evolved. We are expecting 64V batteries in 2016 which should provide plenty of power for bigger lots.

“Most people wanting to switch from gas to cordless were hesitant when they were checking because often they were plastic products which didn’t look too sturdy. This is not the case with the WORX brand now which has steel decks.”

The powerful lithium ion batteries are also “capable of producing consistent power when under load,” says Longstaff.

Gas mowers are still big sellers — in fact, the most popular category at Home Depot, Longstaff says.

“Our best seller in the gas lawn mower category is the Mow ‘n’ Stow from Toro. It takes up 75 per cent less space than a traditional lawnmower through its ability to stand on its end without gas leaking out. The great thing is it still has all the great features of a traditional Toro self-propelled mower.”

Additionally “gas mowers today are more efficient and do not produce the same carbon footprint as the mowers from 15 to 25 years ago.”

At RONA, the best seller is a Yard Machines $219 gas mower. “This product is well positioned with a great price tag, great features, including a bag, and it has been around for almost 20 years,” Gregoire-Beliveau says. “This is a strong product designed to last for long.”

The gas projects haven’t changed a lot in the last few years, he says. “Manufacturers worked hard on improving quality while keeping the same retail prices. We haven’t seen major retail price increases in the last 10 years with gas lawnmowers.”

And there are electric lawnmowers as well. “Electric products are easy to maintain,” says Gregoire-Beliveau. “We recommend making sure to use the correct extension cord (the right gauge).”

No matter whether you choose push, gas, or electric, there are many different models available from many manufacturers.

At Home Depot, “we are seeing a rise in popularity in our Toro, Lawn-Boy, Ego, Ryobi, and Yard Machines product line-ups. While Toro and Ryobi are generally our most popular brands, Ego made a big splash last year with such products as the 56V Ego cordless units.” And as mentioned the Toro Mow ‘n’ Stow is the top seller.

At RONA, the gas mowers include Yard Machines and MTD Gold products; for cordless and electric, Black & Decker and WORX are the brands.

At Alberta Forest and Garden, top sellers are Husqvarna, Toro, Cub Cadet, and Snapper. Best seller is Husqvarna, says Bock. “More features are offered than big-box brands such as Craftsman, with comparative pricing.”

Prices range from the affordable push mowers at $149 to the top brands $578, depending on the manufacturer, the type of mower and the features.
“The most expensive products are the high-end gas products and the 56V cordless lawnmowers,” says Gregoire-Beliveau.

And, says Longstaff, “generally gas mowers average $449 and for this price, home owners can purchase a fully-featured unit. In cordless lawnmowers, the average price ranges from $399 to $499 for our best sellers.”

As for maintenance, it is easy whatever you choose, say the experts.

“Maintenance is just a matter of looking after your engine and the parts, not unlike a car,” says Bock. “Replace your spark plugs and filters every season or two (i.e. every 25 hours of use), keep you blades sharp, change your engine oil and drain gas for winter storage, and keep your parts well lubed, where applicable.”

“For gas mowers, keeping the deck clean, which includes a regime of washing it after heavy use, is a must,” says Longstaff. “Another tip is to always ensure you are using a fuel with no ethanol, or a treatment to prevent separation in your gas can.”

Gas products are easier to maintain than what most people think, says Gregoire-Beliveau. “If you treat your gas correctly and change your oil each year, this will give you at least 15 years of good service.”

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