We Review the Best Zero Turn Riding Lawn Mowers for Your Yard

The best zero turn riding lawn mowers

This post was updated on: August 2, 2019

There's a lot of information out there about how using a zero turn lawn mower can cut your mowing time in half.  For those used to mowing with a traditional lawn tractor or push mower, you might feel like everyone that says this is just trying to sell mowers.  But zero turn mowers offer LOTS of advantages over other traditional riding mowers.

In this article, 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, and attachments.  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 about zero turn radius (ZTR) mowers.  Heck, you will even be able to sell them to your friends and neighbors.

Below, you'll find our picks for the best zero turn riding lawn mowers for both residential and commercial applications.

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 lawn.

Best price on zero turn mowers

Cub Cadet Ultima ZT1 50-inch (2+ Acres) - The Best Residential Zero Turn Mower

Performance Notes

  • Lots of Speed & Power
  • Excellent Mulching Capabilities
  • Nimble in Tight Spaces
  • Competitively Priced to Traditional Lawn Tractors
  • No Bagging Option
  • Limited slope cutting capability
  • 18" seat is a bit low for long-term comfort

The Cub Cadet Ultima ZT1 is our top pick in the "entry level" zero turn mower category.  It's designed to handle yards from 2 to 3 acres comfortably.

It's priced competitively with many traditional lawn tractors but with the obvious benefit of having a zero turning radius.

Basic Overview

The ZT1 uses a 23 HP (724cc) Kawasaki twin-cylinder OHV engine paired with a hydrostatic drive system and has a top speed of 7.5MPH.

Hydro-Gear is pretty much the go-to name in zero turn mower transmissions.  The hydraulic-based system allows for quick acceleration and smooth, controlled turns.

Speed and direction are controlled with a lap-bar system common to many ZTR mowers.

The cutting deck is made of 11 gauge fabricated steel.  Fabricated decks are more durable than the stamped decks found on most residential-grade mowers, and is plenty durable for most residential applications.

Our Pick for Best Entry Level ZTR

Cub Cadet Ultima ZT1 Review

The 50-inch deck offers 6 cutting heights between 1 - 4.5 inches. It utilizes a two-blade cutting system.  The ZT1 DOES NOT come with a bagging attachment, but you can purchase one here.

Key Features & Performance

Cub Cadet's performance is truly impressive. The machine has a powerful engine and simple controls.

One of our favorite features of the ZT1 was its' mulching capabilities.  Even though we have a thicker lawn, there was never a point where bagging became necessary.  This is due in large part to the engine having more horsepower and suction created by the twin-blade cutting system.

Though our lawn has some pretty decent bumps and swales the anti-scalp wheels did a great job ensuring we never scalped the lawn.

While we're on that topic, it's important to set the anti-scalp wheels properly.   The wheels should float 1/4" OFF THE GROUND rather than resting on the ground.  Not doing so can lead to damage to the mowing deck.   

The ground speed of the mower is controlled using the lap bars.   The blade speed is controlled using a lever on the control panel.  All of the controls are conveniently located on the driver's right side just below the lap bar handle.

The Kawasaki 23 horsepower engine was able to handle the majority of our lawn at lower engine speeds, but there were a couple dense spots that required bumping up the RPM to ensure proper mulching.

If you have a thicker lawn, it's possible that it will require a second pass to ensure complete mulching when the grass is too long.

Safety Considerations on Hills

The Cub Cadet ZT1 zero turn mower is designed for mowing on hills with NO GREATER than a 15-degree slope.  It is EXTREMELY important to understand this limitation.  If you are going to be cutting a slope of 15 degrees, or even higher, you must mow up and down rather than across.

Mowing across a slope will cause the mower to lose traction and potentially roll over.  If you need to mow something steeper, check out these lawn tractors.

Entry level models like the ZT1 are mid-mount and designed for relatively smooth lawns.  Anything more than a slight slope (15 degrees) can make traction and steering difficult or even dangerous.

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!

Cub Cadet does include an angle guide in the user manual that can be printed to evaluate the slopes in your yard visually.  It's worth taking a few minutes to print it out.

Control & Comfort

The lap bars of the ZT1 are smooth, and concise and the foam handles are very comfortable.  With a bit of time spent practicing, you will be able to reduce the amount of time your lawn currently takes substantially.  I found that I reduced the amount of time I spent trimming by well over half.

Side view of the Cadet Ultima ZT1

If you've never driven a zero turn mower, it's best to practice on a flat piece of ground far away from any objects.  Take time to get familiar with the mower and practice straight line acceleration, going around obstacles, making small turns while driving on uneven terrain, and 180 degree turns.

One big complaint you may see in reviews about a lot of ZTR mowers on the market is that they cause divots when pivoting 180 degrees.

A great trick that works well with this zero turn mower (and most others) is to pull both levers backwards slightly to start slowly moving backwards, then push forward on the appropriate lever to initiate your spin.  This will eliminate the divot problem.

I personally found the seat to be a bit uncomfortable after an hour in the saddle.  The 15 inch back is just a bit short for me (I'm 6'4).  I've ridden a few zero turn mowers that had an 18 inch seat and noticed much less back fatigue.

Final Thoughts

We were extremely impressed overall with the Cub Cadet Ultima ZT1.  With a price at or below many traditional lawn tractors, you get the superior performance of a zero turn mower.  The 23 horsepower engine was powerful enough to do the job with anything we threw at it.

With a bit of practice, I was able to reduce the mowing time for my line just about in half.  This included reducing the amount of time spent trimming.

If you're looking for your first ZTR mower, the Cub Cadet is a great investment.

Husqvarna MZ61 Zero Turn Mower (3+ Acres)

Moving up into the "prosumer" or light commercial models is where there is the biggest improvement in performance.

Models like the Husqvarna MZ61 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.

Our Pick for Best "Prosumer" ZTR

Husqvarna MZ61

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, durability, and better handling on slight hills and slopes.  Power means cleaner cuts, more speed, and less mow time.

The upgraded Husqvarna transmission is 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 models use thicker gauge steel that is welded and reinforced.  This allows them to handle harder work and greater 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 and used exclusively by manufacturers like Ariens.  When paired with the upgraded tires, suspension, and transmission, you really start to see a difference in your overall efficiency.

Overview of the Husqvarna MZ61

The MZ61 from Husqvarna is a highly capable machine, powered by a 27 HP 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.

Husqvarna's 61" mowing deck makes short work of well over 2 acres.  The top speed of 8.5MPH allows you to cut up to 4.2 acres per hour (depending on lawn thickness and the number of obstacles).

Husqvarna MZ61

The cutting deck is adjustable between 1.5 and 4.5 inches, which is in line with most zero turn mowers.

Power & Durability

Husqvarna's V-twin Briggs & Stratton 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 when idling, though we found it smoothed out quite nicely once you got moving.  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 Husqvarna MZ61 is rated for commercial use.  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 armrests 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 Husqvarna MZ61 is limited to 10 degree slopes.  Husqvarna recommends only cutting up or down hills and never across.  The 6" wide front casters 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 lawn.

Key Features

The Husqvarna MZ61 is one of the best zero turn mowers 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.

Husqvarna mz61 blade deck

The Hydrogear ZT3100 hydrostatic transmission Husqvarna uses is 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 Husqvarna MZ61 does NOT come with roll-over protection system, though you can purchase one separately.  It retails for $399.95

Pros

  • Lots of power
  • Heavy-duty frame and transmission
  • Easy access to service components
  • Top speed of 8MPH
  • Comfortable ride

Cons

  • No headlight
  • Doesn't perform well on slopes
  • Doesn't include rollover protection

Final Thoughts

The MZ61 from Husqvarna is a VERY competent residential zero turn mower.  It's 61" deck will handle well over 2 acres quickly, and it's 27 horsepower Briggs & Stratton V-twin engine delivers plenty of power for any type of grass.  All of this sits atop a heavy-duty frame and equally heavy-duty transmission.  If you're ready to step up to the "Prosumer" level of ZTR mowers, the Husqvarna zero turn mower is the best in its class.

Swisher ZTR2454CL Zero Turn Mower

As you move into 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 machines in this category are capable of mowing 3-4 acres per hour and reaching 8MPH.  That's a pretty big jump over the "prosumer" products.

The engines available in this category are not only powerful but are built to last longer between service and repair.  Some machines even have engine upgrades for an additional cost.

Our Pick for Best Light Commercial Zero Turn Mower

Swisher ZTR2454CL

These professional grade engines are designed to last for thousands of hours under nearly continuous use.

There are also find a couple different styles of mower in this class, including mid-mount and front decks.  Which is right for you depends on the amount of maneuverability you need.

For Homeowners

A medium-size zero turn mower is best for homeowners with lawns greater than 4 acres.  In terms of weight, they are a good bit heavier, so they tend to perform better with 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 zero turn mower on any kind of slope.

A Zero Turn Mower For Professionals

Because they are made of heavier gauge steel, larger mowers are best suited for lawn professionals needing a mower that can handle 20 or so smaller lawns 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, it's 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, parts or small repairs will be needed, and having an established relationship with a local dealer or service provider can make this much smoother.

Overview of the Swisher ZTR2454CL with Briggs V-Twin

The Response 60" mower from Swisher represents a big step up in terms of performance and durability.  It utilizes a Briggs & Stratton 24 horsepower 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 powerful 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 features 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 mower.  They take a bit of getting used to after using lap bars, but they offer superior accuracy 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 maneuver this zero turn mower accurately.

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.

The throttle, choke, and key switch are on the right side of the operator and, on the left, there is an integrated hour timer, blade RPM and ignition.

Operation & Performance

The deck height adjustment is located between the operator's feet and is pedal assisted.  This makes for easy changes without having to turn off the mower.

The joystick is intuitive and highly responsive.  In fact, it's tough to go back to lap bars after adjusting to the joystick 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 owners that need reliability.  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 operator's right leg.

The frame, mower deck, spindles, and wheels are all designed with rough terrain in mind.  And the superior features significantly reduce trimming time.

Pros

  • Great Price for a Quality Mower
  • 23 Horsepower Briggs & Stratton V-Twin
  • Top speed of 8 MPH
  • Joystick is accurate and reduces operator fatigue
  • Includes rollover protection system

Cons

  • Heavy weight = thirsty mower
  • No headlight

Final Thoughts

For the money, it's hard to find a better value in this category than the Swisher.  It offers lots of power and is comfortable enough to spend 40 hours a week in the saddle.  The joystick allows 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 its category.  If you're looking for a mower to start a lawn business or just add to your existing fleet, the Swisher may be your best investment.

Swisher's Big Mow: Best Zero Turn for Professionals

The machines in this category are best suited for landscaping businesses and can mow at up to 15 MPH.  These riding mowers are big, powerful, and fast.

In addition to their larger engines and faster speeds, there is a wide variety of options designed to make them efficient, comfortable, and durable.

Improved Ride

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 Zero Turn Mower

Fuel efficiency

Since overall efficiency is crucial to a professional lawn service, many products 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 a zero turn mower.  It's also common to see rollover protection systems (commonly referred to as ROPS) in this 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 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 areas 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 a zero turn mower online, it's often best to purchase directly from a dealer in your area.  Over the life of the mower, you will occasionally need parts, repairs, and service that only a dealer can provide.  The last thing you need is to be waiting for 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.

Overview of Swisher's Big Mow

Swisher ZTR2866BM Professional

Another Swisher claims the top spot in our professional grade zero turn mower reviews.  The Big Mow from utilizes a 28 HP Briggs & Stratton v-twin engine that offers a top speed of 10MPH.  This is a 20% improvement over their smaller zero turn mower.

The Hydrogear 3400 transmission is matched to a Warner clutch and is best 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 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 offers 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 blade spindles are cast iron for the best 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 most 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.

Everything is within easy reach.  The joystick locations allow for your arms to rest comfortably while operating the mower.  The joysticks 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 10 MPH, the Big Mow is the fastest of all the zero turn mower'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 a zero turn mower, you should expect to be able to mow around 5 acres per hour with this beast.  It features two 4-gallon fuel tanks allowing for maximum cutting 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 28 HP Briggs & Stratton provides plenty of horsepower, and the Hydrogrear transmission smoothly supplies power based on your input.  Engine 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 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 may encounter and even work well in full darkness.

Pros

  • Great Price for Commercial Mower
  • 28 HP Briggs & Stratton V-Twin
  • Top speed of 10MPH
  • Joysticks are accurate and reduce operator fatigue
  • Includes rollover protection system

Cons

  • Heavy weight = thirsty mower
  • High price tag

Final Thoughts

The Big Mow from Swisher is a workhorse, designed to be run 8+ hours a day.  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 being extremely accurate and easy-to-learn.  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 its big engine and heavy weight.  All in all, this one of the best machines to have when building an efficient lawn mowing business.

What Makes Zero Turn Mowers Different?

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 landscapers and lawn companies who needed 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 makes it possible to get a zero turn mower for the same price or less than the best 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 the beginning.

Unlike they're standard brethren, zero turn lawn mowers usually have two transmissions: one for each rear wheel. Each is controlled independently by its 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, traditional steering wheels are available as well.

The Different Types of Zero Turn Mowers

As the popularity of zero turn radius mowers has grown, manufacturers have added control features to appeal to a larger number of consumers and professional landscapers.  These include features 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 once a week?  Perhaps you're starting a lawn care company?  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 zero turn mowers utilize lap bars for control.

The lap bar is the most common steering method. In my opinion, it is the best method and is also used exclusively by Ariens.  There are two lap bars, and each controls one of the rear wheels.  Pushing the bars forward simultaneously causes the mower to move forward.  Pulling back will stop the machine, and then 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 that have to deal with slopes

In order to appeal to a broader number of potential customers, manufacturers have also developed zero turn riding mower products 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. For this reason, these zero turn mowers can be best for an owner that doesn't want to have a learning period.

Cub Cadet RZT S 42 with steering wheel

Some steering wheel models actually offer better control on slopes as their front wheels provide greater traction.

Joystick Control

Not as common as lap bars or steering wheels, joysticks offer digital control of all the wheel movements.  These are seen with larger mowers, like the Swisher Response.

Stand On Mowers

Best for landscaping businesses.  Can fit multiple on a trailer, excellent mobility.

Stand on zero turn 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.  Two levers allow for a very precise level of control.

Stand on mowers are most common among landscapers that need fast and highly maneuverable zero turn mowers.

Bradley stand on zero turn mower

Because the blades are located on the front of the mower, it can be a bit challenging to perform a true "zero radius" turn.  This is because the turning axis is located so far behind the blades.

Mid-Mount Mowers

Best for owners that want accuracy.

Mid mount decks are located towards the middle of the zero turn 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 zero turn mower.  Because they're cutting decks are located just forward of the cutting axis, mid-mounts have no trouble with true "zero" turns.

Cub Cadet ZTR mower review

This is important if you have lots of trees, beds, and other obstacles that require a great deal of precise cutting.

The cutting deck on a mid mount is rigidly attached, so it doesn't float like the front mount.  This is a plus in a lawn that is bumpy as the deck won't bounce up and down as it crosses inconsistencies in your lawn.

Front-Mount Mowers

Best for landscapers that mow large, flat acreage with few obstacles.

As the name implies the cutting deck on front-mount zero turn mowers is towards the front of the machine.  Most of the weight is concentrated towards the back wheels, allowing for better traction and 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 follow the contours of the lawn closely.  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 versions are best for commercial crews that want a clean look to their cuts.  Most golf courses employ front deck zero turn mowers.

Entry Level ZTR Mowers

The speed at which an economy zero turn mower operates is comparable to a traditional lawn tractor.  Many of them utilize the same engines, cutting decks, etc. as their traditional brethren.  This means that it will take you roughly the same amount of time to cut your lawn, so don't expect to be zooming around your home.

Your time savings will come from learning how to properly operate your mower to make efficient cuts and reduce trimming time.  The best mobility comes with using a lap bar.  Yes, they require a learning curve, but once you're comfortable with the zero turn mower, the controls you WILL start saving time.

Budget doesn't mean cheap.  They're intended for weekly or bi-weekly use in mowing or towing of relatively light loads . If your lawn tractor has lasted you 10 years, you should expect the same from a zero turn mower.  They use many of the same parts, so with proper care, these units should last just as long.

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 its 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 lots of space around your home, 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.

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 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 cut whatever you throw at it easily.

The table below can help you decide what's right for your home.

Yard and Deck Sizes

Yard Size
Deck Size
Maneuverability
Intended Use
Up to 1 Acre
42"
High
Residential
1-3 Acres
42-46"
High
Residential
2+ Acres
48-54"
Medium
Residential/Commercial
2+ Acres
60"
Medium
Commercial
5+ Acres
72"
Low
Commercial or Large Flat Lawn

Engine Size and Horsepower

Briggs and Stratton v-twin lawn mower engine

V-Twin Engine

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.

Single-Cylinder Engines

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 best 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 ZTR's.

V-Twin Engines

V-Twins have several advantages over single cylinders but are expensive.  They offer 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 best for both mowing AND towing.  Transmissions on V-Twin Ariens Zoom 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 need.

What type of grass will you be cutting?

The type of grass you have 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 is going to stress an engine with less horsepower and take considerably longer to mow.

How much time are you looking to save?

Are you trying to cut down on your mowing time substantially?  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 going that quickly.

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 for 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 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 best suited for mulching and bagging.

Most professionals tend to go with fabricated decks due to their ability to stand up to wear and tear. They expect to be using their mowers on several jobs each day and place a priority on durability that brands like Ariens offer.

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 the event of a roll-over.

Every year hundreds of injuries are reported involving 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. Many times, this 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 its upright position.

Some commercial 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 Better?

There are actually quite a few reasons why a zero turn mower can outpace an older or traditional product in terms of features and efficiency. Let's take a look at a few.

Maneuverability

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 mower's high maneuverability. The independent rear wheels allow 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 levers.

The ability to turn 180 degrees on a dime allows for quick turns without leaving grass un-mowed. Eliminating this extra movement allows for a fast and 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.

Fuel Efficiency

Because you spend less time retracing your steps and cutting grass that was missed, zero turns are more fuel efficient. This translates to a lower cost of operation in addition to the time saved.

A good way to supplement a zero turn mower is with an electric model, though they are considerably more expensive.  You can read about our favorite battery-powered mower in our EGO LM2101 electric mower review.

Longer Life

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, zero turn mowers are available in a wide range of quality and durability.  There are some machines that will last 5 years, while the zero turn lawn mower can be used every day for 20 years.

Cleaner Cuts

More power means cleaner cuts. Nearly every zero turn mower has higher blade speeds than a conventional product. 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.

Cleaner-Cuts-Image

Of course, this is somewhat dependent on the yard, and the operators skill. But once you've mastered a zero turn mower, you can quickly navigate around any obstacle in their path and make 180 degree turns so quickly 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.

Speed

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.  A typical mower will max out at 3-4 mph while a typical zero turn mower cuts at 5-8 mph!

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.

Importantly, if you're mower mulches effectively, you don't have to dispose of 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 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 precision 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.

Competitively Priced

Although a commercial model can get very expensive, there a zero turn model from manufacturers like Husqvarna, Poulan, and John Deer can be priced very competitively to traditional lawn tractors. They won't have the same power, but will still offer most of the important benefits we discussed above.

Resources:

https://www.toro.com/en/homeowner/riding-mowers/timecutter-ss5000-74731

http://www.lawnandlandscape.com/article/point-counterpoint---front-mount-vs--mid-mount-mowers/

More from The Tool Report

Benefits of Zero Turn Mowers

Pricing Your Lawn Care Services

https://www.thetoolreport.com/seo-tips-local-landscaping-business/

About the Author Jason

Jason is a work from home dad who has a passion for DIY projects, yard work, and SEC Football. His background is IT, but he's always fancied himself as a part-time ship welder, landscaper, and short order cook. During the week he can be found on his laptop 10 hours-a-day, but on the weekends he escapes to the local DIY Cave to play with REAL toys.

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