Reel mowers, also known as cylinder mowers, are making a comeback among homeowners seeking an eco-friendly way to get a clean, precision cut without noisy gas engines. These manual push mowers use a cylinder blade to slice each blade individually for a manicured look.
But many dismiss reel mowers believing the lightweight design and wheels are only suited for perfectly flat, smooth lawns. Can they really handle uneven terrain?
Reel mowers work best on flat or mildly sloping lawns. On uneven terrain, they can miss grass or cut unevenly due to their design. If your yard has significant unevenness, a reel mower might not be ideal. For slight irregularities, keeping blades sharp can help. Prioritize safety on slopes.
With the proper mower selection and techniques, reel mowers can tackle slight to moderate hills and bumps. Here’s what to know about using them on non-level ground:
Challenges of Cutting Uneven Lawns
Reel mowers do have some inherent challenges vs. heavier rotary models when dealing with dips, hills and uneven turf:
The lighter weight of reel mowers makes them more prone to sliding or tipping on slopes compared to heavier gas-powered mowers. Careful operation is required.
Smaller wheels can get caught in dips, ruts or holes more easily. This causes difficulty pushing.
Inconsistent Cut Quality
Since reel blades cut very close to the ground, any variation in terrain height will alter the cutting quality. Uneven lawns make getting a uniform cut tricky.
Limitations on Steepness
There are limits to the slope steepness a manual reel mower can handle based on design and weight distribution. Pushing up extremely steep inclines is challenging.
But there are also techniques and choices that help a reel mower traverse less-than-perfect turf effectively.
Tips for Managing Sloped Areas
Careful mowing strategies allow reel mowers to handle slight to moderate slopes and hilly terrain:
Choose a Heavier/Wider Model
Opt for a bulkier and wider reel mower which offers increased stability on slopes without sliding. Single blade width models tend to be lighter.
Raise Cutting Height
Adjust the blade height slightly higher when mowing sloped areas. This prevents scalping and improves wheel traction.
Go Across Rather Than Up/Down
Mow perpendicular to any inclines rather than straight up and down for better control and to avoid slipping.
Avoid Overly Steep Areas
Know your mower’s limits and avoid inclines beyond its designed capacity. Generally under 20 degree slopes should be manageable.
Add Rear Weights
Buy and attach optional rear weights to some reel mowers for better traction and tip resistance when sloping.
Use Cordless Drills
A cordless drill with clutch can power the reel on steep slopes so you only have to focus on guiding the mower.
Lift Front on Extreme Slopes
In short bursts, lift the front of the mower to essentially do a wheelie. Just don’t flip backwards!
With smart direction, ideal mower choice, and cutting height adjustments, gently rolling or moderately sloped yards can be effectively managed.
Dealing with Bumps, Holes and Uneven Areas
When traversing lawns with dips, holes, and uneven spots, having the proper reel mower and technique prevents difficulties:
Take It Slow
Slower speeds allow you to maintain control and resist sudden stops when wheels hit bumps. Don’t rush across rough areas.
Keep Blades Sharp
A freshly sharpened reel blade cuts uneven grass more smoothly without snags compared to a dull blade. Sharpen before mowing bumpy turf.
Fill Low Areas
Use topsoil or turf plugs to fill in holes and dips for a smoother pass. Eliminate uneven spots that catch mower wheels.
Larger diameter wheels with enhanced treads have an easier time gliding over bumps without catching.
Add Spacer Blocks
Use thin wood blocks under the back of the reel mower to raise cutting height slightly as you encounter dips.
Follow behind a Rotary Mower
Do an initial pass with a rotary mower set high before the reel for a clean cut.
Again, mindful operation and suitable equipment selection minimizes issues with modest surface unevenness.
When Reel Mowers Perform Best
Under what lawn conditions will reel mowers achieve top performance with minimal terrain challenges?
Mostly Flat Yards
Reel mowers handle flat, level properties beautifully. Minimal bumps and little to no sloping is ideal.
Gentle Slopes Only
Slight inclines of up to 10-15 degrees are generally manageable with care when mowing across rather than up/down.
Well Leveled Lawns
Combining lawn leveling/smoothing along with reel mowing keeps things running smoothly.
No Severe Hills
Avoid lawns with steep drop-offs, abrupt elevation changes or inclines exceeding 20 degrees.
Stick within these parameters and a reel mower will deliver a flawless cut with minimal terrain headaches. Now let’s recap tips.
Top Tips for Reel Mowing Uneven Yards
To maximize cut quality across imperfectly flat yards with a reel mower:
- Choose a heavier and wider reel mower model for stability.
- Go perpendicular rather than straight up and down moderate slopes.
- Raise blade height slightly when mowing uneven areas.
- Fill any holes and dips smooth to prevent scalping.
- Upgrade to quality wheels with deep treads to resist catching.
- Maintain a slow, steady pace over rough or lumpy yards.
- Keep blades sharp to optimize cutting ability even in tall or uneven grass.
- Avoid hills beyond the mower’s safe capacity limit.
- Attach rear weights for enhanced traction on slopes.
- Use cordless drill power assist when needed.
- Make an initial pass with a rotary mower set high.
While perfectly pool-table flat, seamless lawns may be ideal, with the right precautions reel mowers can still deliver fantastic results across many real-world scenarios that fall short of lawn perfection.
Reel Mowers Can Handle Real-World Terrain
If you love the precision cutting performance of reel mowers but thought they couldn’t manage anything beyond flawless flats, think again. These tips equip you tackle slight imperfections.
A quality reel mower, intelligently operated, brings you closer to a refined, manicured lawn appearance even without cart-path quality turf.
Just be realistic about severity of slope and terrain variations. And take preventative steps through equipment choices and mowing strategy to minimize issues.
With a little adaption, reel mowers can handle subtle hills and bumps that are part of most residential properties. The trade-off of gorgeous cut quality is worth extra care on uneven ground.
Have you used a reel mower on non-flat yards successfully? Share your tips and experiences in the comments!