By Ben Sims from Lawn Tips
Cylinder mowers have become surprisingly popular among homeowners over the past couple of years. Originally these mowers were primarily designed for golf courses and sports fields. Now your average Joe invests their money in a cylinder mower to mow and show off their pride and joy.
What Cylinder Mower Will Work for You?
Choosing a reel mower can be quite daunting when you first think about purchasing one. There are a lot of options to choose from and different mowers will suit different situations. Let’s break down the most important things to look for when choosing your first cylinder mower.
Identify what grass type you have so you know what height to cut it at and what mower will suit this height.
Cylinder mowers generally can cut anywhere from 35mm down to 2mm. It’s important to know what height you want to cut your grass at so you can select a mower that cuts in this range.
• Buffalo and tall fescue like to be a little taller, so you’ll need to find a mower that cuts in the 30 to 50mm bracket. A secondhand Scott Bonnar 45 is a great option for these grass types because you can get custom rollers that allow you to cut up to 50mm. It’s hard to find a reel mower that will cut at this height without modification. You can get these grass types below 30mm, but it just takes a lot of time and commitment.
• Kikuyu and zoysia like to be cut in the middle; about 15 to 30mm is the sweet spot for these lawns with a cylinder mower. This opens a lot of options when it comes to selecting what mower you would like.
Mowers available include:
- Scott Bonnar 45 / Rover 45 (secondhand)
- Masport Olympic Series
- Bushranger cylinder mowers
- Supaswift 17inch cylinder mower
- Push reel mower, e.g. Victa 16? Razor Cut
These are the most popular mowers on the market for homeowners.
• Couch grass prefers to be cut a little lower – anywhere from 5 to 20mm. If you have a hybrid couch like TifTuf, it will take the lower cut even better than common couch because of the thinner leaf blade. You can use any of the mowers above, or you can take it to the next level and select something like a greens mower, such as a Toro Greensmaster 1000 (preferably secondhand).
• Perennial ryegrass and Kentucky blue grass like to be cut in the middle as well; 15 to 25mm is the sweet spot with a cylinder mower, but you can take these grasses lower if you desire. All the mowers listed above will suit these grass types.
Why does a cylinder mower cut better than your average mower?
Cylinder mowers are known for giving a cleaner cut and not tearing grass blades.
These mowers have a rotating cylinder equipped with blades and a stationary bedknife. The reel blades guide the blades towards the bedknife, where they are cut by a shearing action.
The lawn needs to be cut at least weekly when using a cylinder mower. Cylinder mowers aren’t designed to mow overgrown grass. If the lawn is too long the mower will get bogged down and won’t cut the lawn properly.
The key is to regularly mow the lawn and change the direction you mow each time you cut. This will stop the lawn laying over from the rear and front rollers and allow it to stand up for a cleaner, more precise cut.
This is especially true if you buy yourself a manual reel mower. If you try to take off any more than 10mm of grass with these mowers, they won’t cut the grass.
Quick Tip: The lower you mow, the more often you must mow your grass. If you are mowing at 25mm for example, you should only need to mow once a week.
If you are mowing at 5mm, you will need to mow your lawn nearly daily, like they do on golf courses.
How to maintain a cylinder mower
There are a few steps to maintaining a reel mower and it’s important that you do this regular maintenance to keep the machine cutting cleanly.
- Make sure the reel can cut paper against the bedknife (bottom blade).
Before every mow, you need to check if your mower is cutting properly. This involves checking your reel against the bedknife. The best thing to do is to get some strips of paper and see if the reel will cut paper. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to adjust the reel so that it cuts properly and doesn’t cause damage to your lawn. It’s important to note that the reel should never be tight against the bedknife. If should be quite loose and only just making contact.
- Make sure to clean your mower down after every few mows. This will help to keep the reel and bedknife clean, so your mower continues to cut properly.
- On some mowers you need to engage the cylinder (Scott Bonnar 45’s). When you engage them with the lever, make sure you do it slowly or you can cause damage to the mower.
- Get your reel professionally ground every two seasons at least.
Reels in cylinder mowers wear down after a season or two of regular mowing. You’ll know it’s time to send away your reel when you can’t make it cut paper unless it’s tight against the bedknife.
You’ll need to send your reel and sole plate (this is what the bedknife sits on) away to be ground together.
Height of Cut and Bringing it down
Cylinder mowers are great at getting a nice low cut on lawns and can help you achieve that golf course look.
You will need to train your grass to be mown low though.
Here is the process I take when taking my lawn from something like 30mm, to 10mm:
1. Make sure you never break the 1/3 rule unless you have no choice
You never want to cut more than 1/3 of the grass blade off. So if you are cutting at 30mm, only take off 10mm, which obviously will make your height of cut 20mm.
Following the 1/3 rule, to bring my lawn lower, I would cut from 30mm to 20mm. From there, I would cut at this height every couple of days for at least two weeks to train the lawn to get used to this height. Once it’s trained to this height, you can then do the same process to get to the next level down, making sure you stick with this 1/3 rule. Repeat this process till you get to your desired height.
Quick note: You will sometimes get some scalped spots and yellowing. This is normal and the lawn will adjust over time. If you have high or low spots though I’d recommend that you level your lawn with some topdressing, but only do this in your lawn’s growing season.
2. Scalping straight down to your desired height.
Another way to take your height down is to scalp it back below your desired cutting height, then raise the mower to where you want it to be. This process is a lot quicker, but your lawn will look sick for quite a few weeks, depending on the season. I recommend you only do this when your lawn is actively growing, and you can keep water up to it to baby it back to full health.