Lawn Mowing Tips: Reel Mowers vs. Rotary Mowers


Mowing your lawn not only makes the grass look tidy—it also keeps it healthy. It’s a means of protecting your investment, after the time, effort, and money you put into growing your lawn, whether from sod or grass plugs. But let’s face it. No matter the season, the grass type, or the landscape you’re working with, lawn mowing is hard work.

Using lawn mowers is intended to keep things easy and intuitive for you. In the quest for a healthy lawn, you may find yourself shopping for a new lawn mower and probably conflicted between two familiar options among homeowners: reel mowers and rotary mowers. 

At SodPods, we are here to help you cultivate a robust and enduring lawn, and keep it that way for the long term. In this lawn maintenance guide, we’ll help you find the right type of mower for your turf.

Reel Mowers vs Rotary Mowers: What’s the Difference?


The choice between a reel mower and a rotary mower is application-dependent and user-dependent. There are quite a few factors to consider—the shape and size of the terrain, the type of grass being cut, and how often you plan on cutting grass.

What is a Reel Mower? 

The main difference between a reel and a rotary lawn mower is their cutting mechanism. Also called a cylinder mower or push mower, a reel mower consists of a cylindrical reel with 4-7 blades arranged in a spiral pattern. It rotates in a vertical pattern to make a scissor-like action against a stationary bed knife that traps and cuts the grass.

A reel mower cuts at lower heights and makes clean, precise cuts suitable for golf courses and other terrains that require lower mowing heights.

What is a Rotary Mower?

Meanwhile, a lawn mower is likely what you imagine a lawn mower to be. It consists of two or more flat blades attached to a spindle that rotates horizontally to cut the grass. Unlike reel mowers, rotary mowers effectively cut medium to longer grass lengths.

8 Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Reel Mowers vs. Rotary Mowers

Let’s do a further side-by-side comparison between a reel mower and a rotary mower.

Mowing Heights

Although both types of mowers have height adjustment features, reel mowers perform better at lower mowing heights, giving a clean, consistent finish with the grass blades usually just under an inch. They are used frequently in golf courses or other sports fields mowed at least five times a week to keep the grass short.

A rotary mower, on the other hand, is better at handling taller grass and obstacles such as twigs, rocks, and other debris that may otherwise damage reel lawn mowers. These features make rotary mowers better suited for general lawn care.

Type of Grass

You can owe the many benefits of a reel mower to its scissor-like cutting mechanism—it works better on warm-season grasses like St. Augustine, Bermuda, and Zoysia grass due to their coarser nature that makes them easier to cut.

In contrast, rotary mowers generally have no problem cutting different grass varieties, textures, and heights. This versatility makes them convenient for lawns with mixed grass plants or varying heights.


The mower blade in a reel mower cuts through the grass with precision, resulting in a well-trimmed lawn. This level of accuracy makes it an obvious choice for homeowners who prioritize a clean finish for their lawns. 

Meanwhile, rotary mowers act more aggressively by tearing off the ends of the grass. The result is a grass cut that looks less uniform and rugged and heights that seem less precise. Even so, that doesn’t make rotary mowers any less versatile lawn equipment that makes a good enough cut with which most people would be happy.

Ease of Use

Many lawn mowers today are built for comfort, with ergonomic features that allow you to mow for hours without dealing with pain, particularly in the wrists and the arms. They have grips designed to cushion the intensity of the vibrations on your wrists so you can keep going until you finish the job.

But user-friendly-wise, mowing your lawn with a rotary mower is reasonably easy, and adjusting the cutting height is relatively straightforward. It’s in contrast to the precision cutting mechanism of a reel mower that requires a more involved approach and a better understanding of how it operates to ensure optimal performance.



The uncomplicated design of rotary mowers also allows for easier maintenance. The mower blades are accessible and sharpened relatively easily to ensure optimal performance. Meanwhile, the superior quality cut that reel mowers can deliver often entails frequent maintenance and careful configurations to adjust the cutting height.


Reel mowers are available as either manual or gas-powered reel mowers. Meanwhile, rotary mowers use gas, electricity, or rechargeable batteries to drive the rotary blades that cut grass, thus reducing the manual effort to push the lawn mower across the lawn. Whether you opt for a manually operated lawn mower or a gas-powered mower depends on many factors, like the size of your lawn, your physical abilities, and personal preferences.


Mulching, also called grasscycling, is layering organic matter over the lawn to help retain moisture and add nutrients to the soil. A reel or rotary mower can leave grass clippings into your lawn, serving as a mulch. Over time, this mulch decomposes and recycles nitrogen into the lawn—an essential nutrient for grass growth.


Both mowers are safe and effective in maintaining your lawn when used correctly and with proper precautions. Make sure to exercise caution while mowing your lawn.

  • Wear protective gear like close-toe shoes, long pants, safety glasses, and hearing protection. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for safe operation.
  • Keep your hands and feet away. Avoid reaching under the mower or trying to unclog it while operational.
  • Clear your lawn of any debris or objects the mower blades could throw.
  • Avoid mowing the lawn after a rain. Cutting wet grass can put your lawn at risk for diseases, soil damage, equipment issues, and safety concerns. Wait until the grass and soil are dry.

READ: How to Level Uneven Lawn Without Killing Grass

The Best Type of Lawn Mower

Rotary mowers present a straightforward and versatile option to maintain various lawn sizes. On the other hand, reel mowers, though requiring more expertise, can deliver a superior level of precision and cut, ideal for those who prioritize the aesthetic appeal of their terrain. 

Ultimately, deciding between reel mowers and rotary mowers boils down to your preferences and finding the perfect balance that aligns with your lawn care requirements.

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Jamie Tedder

Jamie surrently serve as Vice President on the board for Turfgrass Producers of Florida. He currently oversees the production of all grasses throughout all farms in Florida at Bethel Farms. He is actively working with top grass breeders, researchers, producers and end users from public and private institutions around the country to stay up to date on current industry developments. Being a University of Florida graduate, he has applied that knowledge to over 22 years of experience growing spectacular grass!

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