We Review the Best Zero Turn Lawn Mowers for Your Yard
Imagine the ability to mow your lawn in roughly half the time it takes you now.
You effortlessly breeze around islands, trees, bushes and other obstacles. Friends and neighbors stop to stare at your perfectly straight mow lines. With more than a hint of envy they ask themselves "Surely they've hired a professional?"
But right now that feels like a million miles away doesn't it?
You're stuck in the world of the traditional lawn tractors or worse yet (gasp!) a PUSH mower. Getting straight mow lines with a lawn tractor can be tedious and time consuming. Not to mention the gas you waste making wide arcs, or pulling forward and backing up to line up your wheels.
But it doesn't have to be this way.
We're going to show you everything you need to know to find the PERFECT zero turn radius mower for your needs. We'll discuss size, power, options, attachments, and more. We'll talk about which models work on hills and which won't.
By the time you're done reading, you'll know all you want to and more about zero turn radius (ZTR) mowers. Heck, you'll even be able to sell them to your friends and neighbors.
Best Zero Turn Mowers of 2017
Within the page below you'll find our picks for the top residential and commercial zero turn mowers and brands. We cover all the key features and options so you get the best mower for the money. We also have handy tables to help you choose the right model based on the size and configuration of your yard.
What the Are Zero Turn Mowers and Why Are They Special?
Zero turn lawn mowers are some of the most advanced pieces of lawn equipment on the market. They offer a completely different level of efficiency than traditional lawn tractors or push mowers.
Originally developed for commercial landscapers and lawn companies who needed more efficiency and maneuverability, they've become hugely popular with homeowners because of their ability to drastically reduce mowing times.
Mass production of consumer models now make it possible to get a zero turn mower for the same price or less than some traditional lawn tractors.
How Do They Work?
The first thing you'll notice is most zero turn mowers don't have a steering wheel. Instead there are two levers, called lap bars, that go forwards and backwards. But that's just he beginning.
Unlike they're standard brethren, zero turn lawn mowers usually have two transmissions: one for each rear wheel. Each is controlled independently by it’s own lap bar. When used in conjunction, these two levers control the direction and speed of the mower.
This independent rear wheel control is what gives these mowers their tight turning radius and the reason for their name.
For those that aren't too thrilled with the idea of learning to use lap-bars, there are models that utilizes traditional steering wheels as well.
The Different Types of Zero Turn Mowers
As the popularity of zero turn radius mowers has grown, manufacturers have added control options to appeal to a larger number of consumers and professional landscapers. These include methods of control such as lap bars, steering wheels, and joysticks as well as different blade mount configurations such as mid-mount and front-mount.
The right type for you depends on a variety of variables. How do you plan to use it? Are you mowing your yard once a week? Perhaps you're starting a lawn care business? Or maybe you're adding to an existing fleet. Let's take a quick look at each type available on the market.
Lap Bar Control
The majority of commercial and residential ZTR mowers utilize lap bars for control.
The lap bar is the most common method of control. There are two lap bars and each controls one of the rear wheels. Pushing forward on the bars simultaneously causes the mower to move forward. Pulling back reverses the wheels. Pushing one side forward while reversing the other causes the mower to turn sharply in the direction of the forward lap bar. The neutral position is generally the brake.
Steering Wheel Control
For those that aren't comfortable with lap bars, or for yards with slopes
In order to appeal to a broader number of potential customers, manufacturers have also developed ZTR mowers with steering wheels. These function just like the wheel in your car or current lawn tractor.
Also like a car there is a gas pedal for controlling forward and backwards movement, and a brake for stopping.
Some steering wheel models actually offer better control on slopes as their front wheels provide more traction.
Larger Commercial Mowers
Not as common as lap bars or steering wheels, joystick controls offer digital control of all the wheel movements. These are more common on larger commercial grade mowers. The Swisher Response, our pick for best entry level commercial zero turn mower, offers joystick control.
Stand On Mowers
Ideal for commercial applications. Can fit multiple on a trailer, excellent mobility.
Stand on mowers are a completely different breed. As the name implies, rather than sitting on the mower the operator stands on a platform on the back. Control happens via two levers that allow for a very precise level of control.
Stand on mowers are most common among landscapers that need fast and highly maneuverable mowers for residential or commercial jobs.
Because the blades are located on the front of the mower it can be a bit more challenging to perform a true "zero radius" turn. This is because the turning axis is located so far behind the blades.
Best for residential and commercial users that want more speed and more accurate control.
Mid mount decks are located towards the middle of the mower, generally under the seat of the operator. They are generally shorter in length than front-mounts which is important when considering storage or transportation of the mower. Because they're cutting decks are located just forward of the cutting axis, mid-mounts have no trouble with true "zero" turns.
This is important as yards with lots of trees, beds, and other obstacles require a great deal of precise cutting.
The cutting deck on a mid mount is more rigidly attached so they don't float like the front mount. This is a plus in yards that are bumpy as the deck won't bounce up and down as it crosses inconsistencies in your lawn.
Best for commercial landscapers that mow large, flat acreage or yards with few obstacles.
As the name implies the cutting deck on front-mount mowers is towards the front of the machine. Most of the weight is concentrated towards the back wheels allowing for better traction and more precise movements. This configuration allows for tight turns with less chance of tearing up the grass. But because the deck is located so far forward of the turning axis (at the back wheels) it's difficult to execute a true "zero" turn.
Another important point is that they also offer better traction when working on slopes. Since most of the weight is in the back steering, braking, and overall traction is improved when traveling downhill.
Cut quality is also impacted by the mount configuration. Most front-mount decks "float" independently from the tractor itself. This allows the deck to more closely follow the contours of the yard. This is a big plus in yards with lots of swales and knolls.
Since most of the weight is in the back of the mower, the grass isn't compressed as much by the front wheels right before it's cut. Front deck models are ideal for commercial crews that want a clean look to their cuts. Most golf courses employ front deck commercial zero turn mowers.
Entry Level Zero Turn Mower Reviews
For those looking for something more efficient than their current lawn tractor an economy model zero turn mower is a great place to start. These models will have many of the same features as a mid-priced lawn tractor, but with the added mobility and maneuverability to help reduce your mowing time.
Models in this price category generally use lap bars. With two transmissions (one on each rear wheel) you gain a great deal in terms of maneuvering around obstacles and making 180 degree turns at the end of the yard.
Our Pick for Best Entry Level ZTR
There are a few manufacturers that have designed ZTR units with steering wheels, but expect to pay more if for that convenience.
Entry level models are typically mid-mount and designed for relatively smooth lawns. Anything more than a slight slope can make traction and steering difficult or even dangerous.
The speed at which economy ZTR mowers operate is comparable to a traditional lawn tractor. In fact many of them utilize the same engines, cutting decks, etc as their traditional brethren. This means you'll still be cutting at basically the same speed. Don't expect to be zooming around the yard at twice the speed.
Your time savings will come from learning how to properly operate your mower to make more efficient cuts and reduce trimming time. The best mobility comes with the lap bar models. Yes they require a learning curve, but once you're comfortable with the controls you WILL start saving time.
Economy doesn't mean cheap. They're intended for weekly or bi-weekly use in mowing or towing of relatively light loads . If you're lawn tractor has lasted you 10 years you should expect the same from a ZTR model. They use many of the same parts, so with proper care these units should last just as long.
Best Entry Level Zero Turn Mower: Toro Timecutter Review (2+ Acres Residential)
The Toro TimeCutter SS4225 has a 22 hp (17.7 kw) 725cc Kohler engine, a fairly large, fabricated, 42-inch deck. The deck adjusts to cutting heights between 1.5 - 4.5 inches. It's size and power make it ideal for yards at or below 2 acres.
The transmission on the SS4225 has three settings: trim, tow, and mow. The mow gear tops out at 7mph. It's capable of cutting relatively thick grass in this mode, but often times it will require you stay well below the top speed. For more accurate trimming switch to the trim mode and for higher torque demands you can switch to the tow setting. The 24HP engine is powerful enough to haul most lawn tractor attachments. Unfortunately the tow hitch from Toro (sold separately) is only rated to haul 80lbs.
The Toro is capable in driving on slopes no greater 15 degrees. As always use caution when mowing on slopes, making sure to avoid holes, rocks, dips, and rises that can change your driving angle. And try to avoid mowing on damp grass! Toro does include an angle guide in the user manual that can be printed to visually evaluate the slopes in your yard. It's worth taking a few minutes to print it out.
The Toro’s performance is truly impressive. It offers a powerful engine and simple controls. It operates well on slopes up to 15 degrees.
Even novices to zero turn mowers can master it’s controls with just a bit of time spent practicing. It’s tight turn radius makes navigating obstacles easy and predictable.
One feature we would like to see on the SS4225 would a front headlight for cutting in low light conditions. The three blade deck offers clean cuts and offers excellent mulching capabilities.
The fuel tank is 3 gallons with a translucent gas tank to make fill up easy and to avoid overflowing. The total assembled machine height is 40.3 inches and 71.1 inches in length. The front wheels are sized at 13 in (33 cm) x 5 in (12.7 cm) and the rear wheels are 18 in (45.7 cm) x 9.5 in (24.1 cm).
The SS4225 has Anti-scalp wheels that allow the deck to float over the turf and reduce scalping. The Independent hydrostatic drive systems provide responsive maneuverability and zero turning capabilities. These independent drives are anchored to Toro's unibody frame and reinforced with a cross member for lasting durability and performance.
The Smart Speed Control System has three ground speed ranges (Trim, Tow, and Mow) giving you greater control of speed and maneuverability for cutting grass and pulling attachments.
You also have the option to create your own natural fertilizer by adding a Recycling Kit or make yard clean-up a snap with an optional Twin Bagging system.
The pierced floor pan is perfect for homeowners who like their mower to look as nice as their lawn. Simply hose down the floor pan after each use and keep your Toro TimeCutter looking as good as new. The non-slip pierced extrusions also provide an additional measure of safety.
This mower is equipped with a three year warranty with no hour limitations.
- 3 Speed transmission
- Great mulching capabilities
- 22HP engine at entry level price
- Top speed of 7MPH
- Excellent bagging system
- No head light
- Doesn't include roll over protection
For an entry level residential zero turn mower the TimeCutter offers a great deal of value. It's top speed of 7MPH is faster than most in it's category and will significantly reduce mow times for those coming from a traditional riding mower. It operates competently on slopes up to 15 degrees, offers simple control, and is built to last. If you're looking for your first ZTR mower, the Toro is a great choice.
Prosumer / Mid-Grade ZTR Mowers Reviews
Moving up into the "prosumer" or light commercial models is where you'll see the biggest performance improvement.
These models not only offer a higher level of maneuverability, they also mow at a faster speed because of their larger engines. Many of the models in this range will mow at up to 7mph. That's a 30-40% improvement over most economy models.
A higher mow speed is the easiest way to cut down on overall mowing time.
Our Pick for Best "Prosumer" ZTR
But it's not just the engine that gets an upgrade at this level. To help ensure the durability of the mower, there are a whole host of other parts that get upgraded. Decks, transmissions, suspensions, and even the steel frame itself is thicker and stronger.
Prosumer models offer more power, more durability, and better handling on slight hills and slopes. More power means cleaner cuts, more speed, and less mow time.
The upgraded transmission are better equipped to work on hills, and even allow for hauling heavier equipment behind these units than the entry level models.
Entry level mowers typically use a stamped steel deck. To help improve durability, these light commercial models use a thicker gauge steel that is welded and reinforced. This allows them to handle more work and more punishment.
Best of all, many of these models have upgraded seats and suspensions. Mowing becomes much more enjoyable when you're not being jostled about and slipping out of your seat.
Lap bars are the most common method of control for this category of ZTR mower. When paired with the upgraded tires, suspension, and transmission, you really start to see a difference in your overall efficiency.
Best Prosumer Zero Turn Mower: Husqvarna MZ61 Review (3+ Acres Residential)
The MZ61 from Husqvarna is a highly capable machine. It offers 27HP from a Briggs and Stratton Endurance V-Twin engine. It employs a 61" fabricated cutting deck with a 3-blade system that is both mulch and bagging capable.
The 61" mowing deck makes short work of yards well over 2 acres. The top speed of 8.5MPH allows you to mow up to 4.2 acres per hour (depending on lawn thickness and the number of obstacles).
The cutting deck is only adjustable between 1.5 and 4.5 inches which is in line with most residential and commercial grade mowers.
Power & Durability
The Briggs & Stratton V-twin engine offers plenty of power for mowing even the densest of lawns and the 5 gallon tank allows for plenty of mileage. It can run a bit rough at idle speeds, though we found it smoothed out quite nicely once at speed. V-twin's tend to run cooler than single-cylinder engines, but they've included an oversized cooling fan to ensure optimal performance in hot/humid conditions.
Like the heavy duty frame, the hydraulic system on the MZ61 is commercial rated. It should see you well past a decade of use in most residential applications.
Safety & Comfort
In terms of creature comforts the Husqvarna MZ61 stacks up pretty well. The high-backed seat allows for a comfortable riding position for long mows and the arm rests are well placed for easy access to the lap bars.
The lap bars are foam coated and utilize a viscous dampening system to reduce vibration. They offer precise and consistent control. All the mower controls are conveniently located just forward and left of the left lap-bar.
The MZ61 is limited to 10 degree slopes. Husqvarna recommends only cutting up or down hills and never across. The 6" wide casters on the front are easy on the grass, but offer very little steering control on side slopes and this only gets worse if the grass is wet. This is something to keep in mind based on the layout of your yard.
The MZ61 is built for durability. The fabricated cutting deck is reinforced and utilizes aluminum deck spindles.
Anti-scalp rollers are built into the deck and are adjustable depending upon terrain.
One very handy feature is the removable foot pan. This allows quick access to the blade pulley systems, deck spindles, and makes for quick cleanups.
The Hydrogear ZT3100 hydrostatic transmission is commercial rated and strong enough for towing heavy attachments such as aerators and spreaders.
Husqvarna has done a superb job in allowing easy access to all service points of the mower. Oil and filter, hydraulic system components, battery, and electrical system are all within easy reach.
The MZ61 does NOT come with roll-over protection system, though you can purchase one separately. It retails for $399.95
- Lots of power
- Heavy duty frame and transmission
- Easy access to service components
- Top speed of 8MPH
- Comfortable ride
- No headlight
- Doesn't perform well on slopes
- Doesn't include roll over protection
The MZ61 from Husqvarna is a VERY competent residential zero turn mower. It's 61" deck will make quick work of yards well over 2 acres and it's 27HP Briggs & Stratton V-twin engine delivers plenty of power for any type of grass. All of this sits atop a heavy-duty frame and is propelled with a commercial grade transmission. If you're ready to step up to the "Prosumer" level of ZTR mowers, this is the best in the class.
Light Commercial / Entry Level Pro ZTR Mower Reviews (5+ Acres)
As you move into the "light commercial" or entry level professional ZTR mowers you are generally looking at equipment that is designed to run 5-7 days a week, all year long.
Though dependent upon deck size, many models in this category are capable of mowing 3-4 acres per hour and will have a top mowing speed of around 8MPH. That's a pretty big jump over the "prosumer" models.
The engines available in this category are not only more powerful, but are built to last longer between service and repair. Some models even have engine upgrades for an additional cost. These professional grade engines are designed to last for thousands of hours under nearly continuous use.
Our Pick for Best Light Commerical ZTR
You'll also find a couple different styles of mower in this class. Mid-mount decks are popular, but so are front deck models. Which is right for you depends on the amount of maneuverability you need.
Light commercial ZTR mowers are ideal for homeowners with lawns of 4 acres or more. In terms of weight they are a good bit heavier so they tend to perform better on bumpy or uneven lawns.
Upgraded tires, suspension, and transmissions mean hills and slopes are not generally a problem though you should ALWAYS be careful when operating a ZTR mower on any kind of slope.
Because they are made of heavier gauge steel light commercial mowers are ideally suited for lawn professionals needing a mower that can handle 20 or so smaller yards per week.
The extra chassis strength comes in handy when loading and unloading the mower from a trailer. The heavy duty suspension and transmission ensure many hours between service or repair.
When choosing a mower at this price point its a good idea to shop locally. You CAN find some good deals online, but this is a piece of equipment that, if well maintained, can last 25 years. Over the course of that time you'll no doubt need parts or small repairs performed and having an established relationship with a local dealer or service provider can make this much smoother.
Best Entry Level Commercial Mower: Swisher Response ZTR2760BS
The Response 60" mower from Swisher represents a big step up in terms of performance and durability. It utilizes a Briggs & Stratton 23HP V-Twin engine and has a top speed of 8MPH.
Tipping the scales at 690lbs this mower is no lightweight. Constructed using a heavy duty steel frame, the Response is designed for heavy usage, day in and day out. The hydraulic transmission is a commercial grade Hydro Gear 2800 with an Ogura clutch. The engine is wrapped to protect it in the event of a collision.
The Swisher utilizes a 3 blade, fabricated deck design that is excellent for either bagging or mulching. The unit comes with Gator mulching blades. They are designed for better mulching, better discharge, and offer a longer lasting edge.
It has 2 4-gallon gas tanks minimizing the number of refuels required throughout the day.
Rather than using lap bars, the Swisher uses two joysticks for controlling and steering the mower. They are perfectly positioned, allowing your elbows to remain on the armrests while you manipulate the joysticks to control the mowers speed and direction. They take a bit of getting used to after using lap bars, but they offer superior control and minimize operator movement. Not a big deal for small lawns, but when you're in the seat all day you appreciate the minimal effort required to accurately control this ZTR.
Like the Toro, the Swisher is designed to operate on hills no steeper than 15 degrees. An uphill/downhill path should be used and avoid going across hills whenever possible.
Safety & Comfort
The Response does come with an integrated ROPS (roll over protection structure). This includes a roll bar and seat belt. It's important to remember they are designed to be used in conjunction with each other.
In addition to the joysticks the Response has other features designed to enhance operator comfort. The seat is large, comfortable, and offers great support. All the controls are within easy reach of the operator on either side of the joysticks.
On the right hand side of the operator you'll find the throttle, choke, and key switch and on the left you'll find the an integrated hour timer, blade control and ignition.
Operation & Performance
The deck height adjustment is located between the operators feet and is pedal assisted. This makes for easy changes without having to turn off the mower.
The joystick control is intuitive and highly responsive. In fact it's tough to go back to lap bars after adjusting to the joystick control of the Swisher. True 180 degree turns are smooth and easy to execute with little inclination to skid or divot the lawn.
The top speed of 8MPH means that it will cover around 4 acres per hour.
While the specs don't look all that different than the Husqvarna (including the same engine) the Swisher is designed for commercial operators. There are tow points on both the front and back of the unit. For pushing or pulling the mower a simple hydraulic system override is located next to the operators right leg.
The frame, deck, spindles, and wheels are all designed with commercial use in mind. And the superior control significantly reduces trimming time.
- Great Price for Commercial Mower
- 23HP Briggs & Stratton V-Twin
- Top speed of 8MPH
- Joystick controls are accurate and reduce operator fatigue
- Includes rollover protection system
- Heavy weight = thirsty mower
- No headlight
For the money it's hard to find a better value in this category than the Swisher. It offers lots of power, plenty of speed, and is comfortable enough to spend 40 hours a week in the saddle. The joystick controls allow for nimble movement with minimal operator fatigue. The included ROPS and seatbelt ensures driver safety in the event of a rollover. All of this at a price that's well below others in it's category. If you're looking for a mower to start a lawn business or just add to your existing fleet, the Swisher is a great investment.
Best Commercial Zero Turn Mowers
The machines in this category are best suited for landscaping businesses or commercial mowers. They are big, powerful, and fast. Many models can mower at speeds of up to 15 MPH.
In addition to their larger engines and faster speeds you'll find a wide variety of options designed to make them more efficient, comfortable, and durable.
Options to improve ride comfort include high-back seats, better suspensions, and even air-ride seats. These ride-enhancing features mean a lot when you spend upwards of 30 hours in the seat each week.
Our Pick for Best Professional Grade ZTR
More Fuel Efficient
Since overall efficiency is crucial to a professional lawn service many models in this category incorporate fuel injection systems instead of standard carburetors in their engines.
The transmissions and suspensions are upgraded to handle all the additional power of commercial zero turn mowers. It's also common to see roll over protection systems (commonly referred to as ROPS) on models in the commercial category.
Types of Professional Mowers
You'll find all three styles of mowing deck at this level. Some prefer the maneuverability of the mid-deck mowers.
For the most professional looking cuts front deck mowers tend to give the best results. Their floating decks more closely follow the contours of small hills, swales, and depressions.
Stand On Mowers
You'll also find a great many professionals operating stand-on mowers. They are smaller in size so two can be loaded onto the same trailer. They are extremely agile and work well in yards with lots of landscaping features like beds, trees, and other obstacles. One of our favorites in this style is Bradley. They make a phenomenal product that is widely supported.
While you can find commercial mowers online, it's often best to purchase directly from a dealer in your area. Over the life of the mower you'll occasionally need parts, repairs, and service that only a dealer can provide. The last thing you need is to be waiting on parts while your mower sits idle.
You might pay a bit more buying local, but it will be worth it should something happen down the road and you need to get your mower running stat.
Top Professional Grade Commercial ZTR: Swisher's Big Mow
Another Swisher claims the top spot in the professional grade ZTR mower category. The Big Mow from utilizes a 28HP Briggs & Stratton v-twin engine that offers a top mowing speed of 10MPH. This is a 20% improvement over their light-commercial grade mower.
The Hydrogear 3400 transmission is matched to a Warner clutch and is ideally suited for delivering all of this power to the 23" drive tires. The tires incorporate a chevron tread design providing solid traction in a wide variety of circumstances.
The commercial-grade Big Mow is no lightweight and tips the scales at almost 1400 pounds. Despite this, the Big Mow is both fast and nimble. The joystick controls offer some of the most precise movements of any mower we've tested.
It's also built to be highly durable. All the components are rated to operate much larger and heavier equipment. The engine is fully wrapped to protect it from any unseen obstacles. The frame is constructed of heavy duty, welded steel (as is the deck), and the the blade spindles are cast iron for superior durability.
It offers an electric deck height adjustment for quick changes on the fly. The front deck even swings all the way up to make cleaning extremely easy.
Safety and Comfort
The Big Mow comes with an integrated ROPS (roll over protection structure). This includes a roll bar and seat belt. These should be used at all times and in conjunction with each other to ensure the safety of the operator.
The seat is one of the more comfortable we've used and is infinitely adjustable so no matter how much time you spend in the saddle you won't be lacking for support.
All of the controls are within easy reach. The joystick locations allow for your arms to rest comfortably while operating the mower. The joysticks are sensitive enough to allow fingertip control and have ergonomic handles that ensure an easy, comfortable grip. Once mastered, the Swisher offers some of the most nimble movements of any mower we've tested to date.
Operation & Performance
With a top mowing speed of 10MPH the Big Mow is the fastest of all the ZTR's we've covered. The 66" deck utilizes 3 gator blades and makes quick work of any type of grass regardless of thickness.
Once you've mastered the controls you should expect to be able to mow around 5 acres per hour with this beast. It has two 4-gallon fuel tanks allowing for maximum mow time.
The electric deck adjustment is pedal-activated and is actually pretty slick. You literally won't have to move from your seat to quickly change the deck height.
The 28HP Briggs & Stratton provides plenty of power and the commercial grade Hydrogrear transmission smoothly supplies power based on your input. Power comes on in a smooth and predictable manner allowing you to make quick 180 degree turns with no torn turf or divots.
If you live in areas where you'll need to be operating in lower light levels (we're in the Pacific Northwest) the Big Mow has you covered.
There are two VERY powerful forward facing LED lights built into the chassis. These are powerful enough to light a path in just about any low light conditions you'll encounter and even work well in full on darkness.
- Great Price for Commercial Mower
- 28HP Briggs & Stratton V-Twin
- Top speed of 10MPH
- Joystick controls are accurate and reduce operator fatigue
- Includes rollover protection system
- Heavy weight = thirsty mower
- High price tag
The Big Mow from Swisher is a workhorse. It's designed to be run 8+ hours a day by a commercial crew. Everything about it is built for durability from the heavy duty transmission to the heavy gauge, welded-steel frame.
It offers one of the fastest mowing speeds in the industry coupled with extremely accurate and easy-to-learn controls. It comes with an incorporated roll over protection system and seat belt and a driver's seat that is as comfortable as anything we've tested.
It's not as fuel efficient as we would like, but it does OK given it's big engine and heavy weight. All in all this is a machine around which you can build an efficient lawn mowing business.
Important Features to Consider Before Purchase
ZTR mowers come with a wide array of options and features. Here are a few of the most important to consider when making your purchase.
Deck Size Matters
One of the most important specs on a mower is it's deck size. The wider the deck, the more grass you cut with each pass. This translates to less time and gas money spent per mow.
But size isn't everything. If you've got an expansive yard with lots of space, by all means get the biggest deck you can afford. But for those that will have to navigate within tight spaces, a mower with a smaller deck will be more nimble and easy to control.
It's also important to understand wider decks don't tend to cut as cleanly, especially in denser grasses in the Southeast U.S. Engine power plays a role in this formula as well.
Larger deck mowers are more expensive, but they also require a bigger engine to cut cleanly. This can quickly push your dream mower out of your price range. Avoid going for a larger deck unless you can afford enough power for it to easily cut whatever you throw at it.
The table below can help you decide what's right for your yard.
Yard and Deck Sizes
Engine Size and Horsepower
Engine size and horsepower are very important when choosing your zero turn mower. Quality, high-power engines aren't cheap. So it's important to take a few things into consideration when deciding what size engine you need.
There are a couple different types of mower engines that are commonly used in ZTR mowers: single cylinder and V-Twin.
Single cylinder engines are less expensive and well suited to smaller yards. They don't offer a great deal of torque so they shouldn't be used to haul heavy attachments. They are most commonly found on entry level ZTRs and on some "prosumer" models.
V-Twins have several advantages over single cylinders, but are more expensive. They offer more power, less vibration, better gas mileage and lower emissions. Less vibration helps to reduce noise. It also extends the life of the engine, the mower itself, and can even improve operator enjoyment.
The additional power offered by a V-Twin engine makes them ideal for both mowing AND towing. Transmissions on V-Twin models are upgraded for the additional torque and towing capabilities.
V-Twins also tend to run quieter than a single cylinder.
There are a few important pieces of information that can help you determine the type of engine you'll need.
What type of grass will you be cutting?
The type of grass you'll be mowing and the regularity with which you mow both have an impact on how your engine will perform.
If you live in the South you might consider a bigger engine as grasses can be very thick and grow very quickly. A yard that needs to be mowed every 7 days, but gets put off until 10 or more is going to stress a less powerful engine and take considerably longer to mow.
How much time are you looking to save?
Are you trying to substantially cut down on your mowing time? If so, the easiest way to do this (in most cases) is to increase the speed of your mower. Keep in mind that plenty of ZTR mowers will zip around your yard at 7-8MPH, but that doesn't mean they mow well at that speed.
More horsepower is required to go fast AND cut well. It's important to remember both sides of this equation.
Does Your Yard Have Hills or Slopes?
While hills and slopes offer unique challenges to ZTR mowers, having the right amount of horsepower is crucial if you'll be mowing uphill on any mower. If your yard requires consistently mowing on hills, opt for a bit more power so you don't get bogged down.
Fabricated vs Stamped Deck
There are two different options for mower decks: fabricated and stamped. A fabricated mower deck is typically built from heavier plate steel and is welded. Stamped mower decks are usually made of lighter gauge steel which is formed by large molds and presses.
Both styles have their advantages. Fabricated decks are more commonly used in commercial mowers and will have excellent rigidity and superior durability. Stamped decks generally have better air flow and as a result are better suited for mulching and bagging
Most professionals tend to go with fabricated decks due to their ability to stand up to more wear and tear. They expect to be using their mowers on several jobs each day and place a priority on durability.
Entry level mowers use stamped parts and steel spindle materials. This translates to a lower cost, but also a shorter life and less durability. Which type you choose should be a function of your expected use of the mower.
Roll Over Protection Structure (ROPS)
Roll over protective structure protects the operators in event of a roll-over.
Every year hundreds of injuries are reported involving lawn tractors and zero turn mowers. The most common scenario involves overturned mowers. In some cases this leads to the operator crushed or pinned beneath the mower.
A ROPS is designed to work in conjunction with a seat belt to protect the operator in the event of a roll-over. On many models the structure can be lowered to allow better access to areas with low hanging vegetation or other obstructions. Once these areas have been mowed the structure should be returned to it's upright position.
Some commercial landscapers require their crews to mow these areas with push mowers or trimmers to reduce the liability of an employee forgetting to raise the ROPS.
Why Are Zero Turn Mowers So Efficient?
There are actually quite a few reasons why ZTM mowers outpace older or more traditional models in terms of speed and efficiency. Let’s take a look at a few.
As a lawn tractor reaches the end of the lane of grass they have to make a wide turn and then head back the other direction. This leaves un-mowed patches of lawn and makes it extremely difficult to leave straight mow lines in the grass. The other option is to reverse, line up, and start driving again.
It's painful just reading about it.
Compare this with a zero turn mowers high maneuverability. The independent engines on the rear wheels allows for precise control over the movement of the mower. The operator can easily maneuver left, right, backwards and forwards by simply pushing and pulling on the control levers.
The ability to turn 180 degrees on dime allows for quick turns without leaving grass un-mowed. Eliminating this extra movement allows for a faster and more efficient mowing experience.
These capabilities come in especially handy when mowing in tight spaces with lots of obstacles.
Once the controls are mastered, a zero turn mower can significantly lower your overall mowing time. You will be able to deftly maneuver around trees, homes, bushes, toys, pets, whatever.
More Fuel Efficient
Because you spend less time retracing your steps to mow grass that was missed, zero turns are more fuel efficient. This translates to a lower cost of operation in addition to the time you’ll save. But wait, there’s more.
There are even electric lawn mowers in this category, though they are considerably more expensive.
Like it or not, most consumer grade mowers are designed to last only so long. Things like hydraulic systems, shocks, engines, and other parts will eventually wear out.
With this in mind, the fewer operating hours required to complete the same amount of work the better. These small differences add up and can literally mean the difference between a mower lasting 10 years instead of 6 or 7.
As with any piece of equipment mowers are available in a wide range of quality and durability. There are some that will last 5 years, and others that can be used every day for 20 years.
More power means cleaner cuts. Nearly all zero turn models have higher blade speeds than conventional models. This translates into cleaner cuts and superior mulching of both leaves and grass clippings.
Shorter Mowing Time
Perhaps you missed it when we mentioned it earlier. In some cases, especially yards with lots of obstacles, a zero turn lawn mower can literally cut mowing time in half.
Of course this is somewhat dependent on the yard and the operators skill. But once you've mastered the controls, you'll be able to quickly navigate around any obstacle in their path and make 180 degree turns so quick you'll be lucky if you don't spill your drink.
On average it takes a couple of mows before newbies will start making a dent in their mowing time. But once you've mastered the turns, the ability to mow in a single pass without missing anything will have you back inside watching football in no time.
We don't encourage racing lawn tractors. But it's still nice to know you'd win if you did, right?
Zero turn mowers are designed to be able to cut grass nearly twice as fast as the traditional lawn mower/tractor. A typical lawn tractor will max out at 3-4 mph while a typical zero turn mower cuts at speeds of 5-8 mph! (Professional models are even faster)
Superior Mulching Capability
The major benefit in mulching the yard is that it returns nutrients into the yard, so that the grass is able to grow healthy and thick. Mulching also keeps the soil moist and covered to keep the temperature down.
Zero turn mowers have a higher blade speed and are therefore more effective at mulching leaves and grass clippings.
More importantly, if you're mower mulches effectively you don’t have to dispose the grass clippings. This saves time on emptying bags and it's a Godsend if you have to bag all your yard debris for pickup.
Less Trimming and Weed Eating
It goes without saying that if your mower is more maneuverable you'll be able to reach more of the grass in your yard. This means less time weed eating after mowing. The tight turn radius and precise control allows you to get into all the tough spots that used to get missed.
Landscapers and lawn care experts often say that changing over to zero turn mowers enable them to cut their weed eating time in half.
Although commercial models can get very expensive, there are zero turn models from manufacturers like Husqvarna, Poulan, and John Deer that are priced very competitively to traditional lawn tractors. They won't have the same speed and power as commercial models, but still offer most of the important benefits we discussed above.