Should You Get a Zero-Turn Lawn Mower or a Lawn Tractor?

Summer is the perfect time to make the most of your landscaping project. How you pursue that ambition is a heavily debated point. Should you use a zero-turn lawn mower or a lawn tractor? Both gardening vehicles have their merits, and the choice regarding which one is best for you is a personal decision depending on your budget and the size of the land that needs upkeep.

Here’s what to expect from a zero-turn lawn mower

A man operating a riding lawn mower to cut grass in Tifton, Georgia
A man operating a riding lawn mower | Edwin Remsberg / VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

If you’re trying to cut the grass on a curved lawn, then a zero-turn mower is right for you. 

According to Bob Vila, this ability is thanks to the dual-hydrostatic transmissions inside the machine. Two levers control the transmissions, which play a key role in the mowers’ responsiveness and tight turning radius. This form of control can take some time to get used to, although some newer models have joysticks that lessen the barrier for entry. These machines are best used on yards larger than half an acre or dotted with local fauna such as trees, bushes, or flower beds. 

To move forward in a straight line, you press both levers forward while keeping them as even as possible. To turn, you pull one lever back to either slow or stop power to one side while keeping the other side moving forward so that the mower can execute a zero – or near zero – radius turn. This gives zero-turn mowers the ability to create a mowing pattern that can reach more elusive patches of grass near the end of the swath or around corners.

Zero-turn lawn mowers offer clean cuts at 5 mph and reach top speeds of over 10 mph. Both speeds are faster than a lawn tractor (they mow at 4 mph and have a top speed at 7 mph). Still, that speed doesn’t always help retain traction on sloped terrain (zero-turn mowers use a rear-wheel-drive system), and cut quality often goes down the faster you mow, regardless of which machine you use. 

These are the benefits of a lawn tractor

By contrast, lawn tractors can handle slopes and hills easier thanks to their front-wheel drive capabilities. However, all tractors have their limits. According to Bob Vila, extreme slopes, which are anything over 15 degrees, are best left to push mowers or a trimmer. 

Tractors have a more familiar steering setup of a wheel and gas pedal. Essentially, they work like cars. Push the gas to move and press the brake to slow down. Therefore, they’re much simpler to operate immediately.  If you have a larger stretch of land to take care of, then a tractor will help you greatly. They can mow at an impressive range (from 42 to 54 inches) and, with the addition of a bagging kit, can side-discharge, bag, or mulch the clippings once you’re done. 

Tractors are best used on larger lawns or other grassy areas that exceed half an acre. They may also be used to pull carts, sprayers, spreaders, and other pieces of yard equipment.

Ultimately, the best option depends on your specific needs

Deck size is a feature that demands real thought when it comes to lawn care. A wider deck means you can cover more ground in a shorter amount of time. If you have a flat yard that’s two or three acres and doesn’t have many obstacles, it’s best to buy the machine with the widest deck you can afford. At the same time, a narrower deck is more beneficial when dealing with tighter spaces such as between trees or flower beds. The decks of lawn tractors range from 42 to 54 inches, while zero-turn mowers have decks from 42 to over 60 inches.

Price is obviously a big factor as well. Lawn tractors are the more affordable of the two. A base model starts at around $1,200, but any extra accessories must be purchased separately. By contrast, zero-turn mower costs start around $2,500 and can go as high as $5,000, and that’s before taking any accessories into account.

Choosing the best option between a lawn mower and a lawn tractor is entirely subjective. Your own wants and needs will decide which is right for your land. For tighter spaces, a zero-turn mower is best. For more expansive environments, the tractor reigns supreme. Which is best for you? Only you can decide that. 

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