adventures with battery lawn mowers

stihl litium ion mower charger 2I HAVEN’T PULLED a starter cord all season, for which my tricky right shoulder thanks me. I haven’t needed oil or gasoline. But I’ve been keeping the half-acre mix of beds and lawn right around my house nicely mowed, and the first battery-powered machine I invested in turns out to be the best edge trimmer I ever bought, too—perfect for running around the many, many hundreds of linear feet where turf meets mulched beds, all without crushing adjacent plants.

I have Lee Reich to thank for making the “green” mower investment; I first saw one in his garage, in 2013, and purchased mine in April 2014. And though my Stihl RMA 370, my first battery mower adventure, wasn’t perfect–no battery mower would be, as the technology is evolving–it quickly became a trusted mowing-season companion, for a couple of years in a row. In 2016, I added a slight bigger battery model; more on that below.

margaret-roach-on-tractorFirst, to be clear: My yard is 2.3 hilly acres, not something that could be tackled by one person behind a push mower of any kind alone. I do have a diesel Kubota tractor (above) for the bigger areas, which I use every other week or so.

I mow closer to the house by hand, though, for about an hour or an hour and a half each session, often twice weekly when temperature and moisture combine to warrant it.

stihl rma370 mowerUntil 2014, that was always with a conventional gas-powered mulching push mower of about 75 pounds. Its deck was 22 inches wide; on the Stihl battery mower, the cut is only 14.5, meaning more passes, but while pushing just 30 pounds. In 2016 I did also purchase a wider-deck battery mower, by Greenworks (20-inch cut and 42.5 pounds), which made my mowing a little quicker. I much prefer the extra walking (think: aerobic exercise) to the joint-straining task of humping my old gas mower in and out of all the garden’s spaces.

mowing-in-aprilMy plants prefer it, too; the conventional beast (above) left tire tracks in the mulch and worse on flowers, stems and leaves where it straddled the edge (more on edging and trimming in the box at the bottom of the page). The little wheels of the original Stihl? Extremely low impact. The Greenworks (below) is somewhere in between.

It took awhile to get used to how light the Stihl was, in fact, and neither over-effort it, nor go too fast. I had to learn a new rhythm for uneven or inclined surfaces, in particular, where its lightness means the RMA 370 doesn’t hug the ground like the heavy gas one, and can bounce or even want to tip. I almost wish it weighed 5 pounds more, a bad idea that would sacrifice efficiency. By slowing down and concentrating, I have learned to maneuver the slightly trickier spots.

The Stihl mower’s nimble, but getting the 3.8-pound battery out of the machine, which weighs 26.8, and out of the charger can feel like a struggle. That’s for good reason, the Stihl product manager explained when I called to ask. Engineers designed the battery to insure tight (and they mean tight) connection between its contacts and the charger’s or mower’s—both of which are so lightweight you’ll need to hold them down while pulling out the battery. Awkward, but probably unavoidable. The Greenworks is easier to install and remove but still tight, and likewise requires dexterity.

The Stihl RMA 370 is a rear-discharge style machine with a very well-made clippings catcher. If you leave the catcher in the garage like I do, you’ll deposit occasional mound-like globs of clippings in your wake (not the usual lines a side-discharge model can create). A mulching-blade kit is now sold, and that’s my next purchase, for finer clippings dispersed downward as I go. For a smaller lawn, the catcher would be adequate.

I prefer to let clippings lie, plus I’m too lazy to empty the basket so often. With the Greenworks, the mulching happens as you mow without an add-on, and you can also put the bagger on to catch the clippings–again, if your lawn is not so big as mine.

The battery mowers make me less lazy in one way. Since on-off is just a matter of pressing a button then gripping the handle, I’m more inclined than with a pull-cord gas mower to stop and start as needed to do a better job—to move a chair, or an overhanging plant in my route, than to just steer around it.

THE MOST OBVIOUS PLUS to changing to a fuel-free machine: no emissions. EPA has estimated that conventional lawn mowers produce something like 11 times the amount of exhaust of a car, and estimate that all those splashes and spills made while filling our lawn tools adds up to 17,000,000 gallons of gas on the ground annually. Not this one.

The battery mowers are also quiet, really quiet. There is no cord. There is no annual fluid change and maintenance, as with a conventional engine.

The little Stihl (there is now a model with a wider cut, too) isn’t the mower for every purpose, nor does it pretend to be. And it’s not cheap. It is just one tool in a 15ish-tool Stihl suite that uses the same battery, which may explain why battery and charger are sold separately. They could be used to power a chainsaw, a blower, a long-reach pruning saw and more.

There are less-pricey battery mowers, like the Greenworks, some with side discharge, slightly wider cuts or other features to consider.

Final tips:

Get two batteries, and a rapid charger. (The Greenworks comes with two, despite the lower price.) A single battery goes for maybe 25 or 30 minutes, and that’s about the time it takes to recharge the spare. A Stihl battery is said to mow just over 3,000 square feet per charge, and last for hundreds of charges.

What’s coming next in battery mowers, I asked Stihl when I first got mine? A wider cut was on top on their list, and has since been introduced. I registered my hope for a more comfortable handle–I’m not sure why mower grips are often not ergonomic, to say the least.

Last, a safety reminder: Though you may not need major ear protection with a battery lawn mower, never mow without safety glasses, no matter what kind of engine you’re walking behind. And proper closed shoes; no flip-flops!

keeping bed edges neat

veg-edgeWHETHER YOU’RE AN EDGING FREAK like I am, or just need to mow around things you can’t get next to with your rider mower or tractor like I do the many beds here that meet turf, a small battery mower might prove a big help.

I do not use, or own, a string trimmer; my curving beds stuffed with plants make for dicey, even violent, going with such a tool. Instead I mow the edges, then hand clip any fuzzy spots that remain with large scissors (called shop shears) or grass shears. I also recut like this with my step-on, long-handled half-moon edger a couple of times a season as needed, usually May and September. Above, an edged bed near the vegetable garden, ready for the pile of mulch in the foreground to be spread.

Another task the little battery mower has taken on: It’s great for mowing around trees I can’t get under on the tractor, speaking of things most people use a weed whip for.

  1. Peter and Maureen says:

    Margaret, Which Stihl dealer did you buy your mower from? Would you recommend? Is your old gas mower for sale?

  2. Mischelle says:

    I’m on my second cordless mower and I’m quite pleased with the increased battery life and super light-weight of the new one. As more and more people opt for them, either for the convenience of not using gas (me) or ecological mandates I think the technology will continue to improve and hopefully the price will drop.

  3. Laura ~ Raise Your Garden says:

    WE need a mower so badly! Right now, we share with our neighbor, it belongs to him but we pay for gas and half the repair bills. Actually, that’s working out well. BEST neighbor ever. We love them, but should get our own.

  4. Sue says:

    Thanks for this. I’ve been toying with getting a small mower to reduce the amount of string trimming I currently do. Quieter with fewer fumes sounds wonderful. My yard is roughly 2 acres with plantings all over the place and a thorough string trimming is ergonomically awkward and takes more time than mowing the whole yard with my ancient riding mower. I do love my current trimmer; it a Shindaiwa and I purchased it based on a friend’s recommendation. It’s lighter than others I tried and also it seems to be designed for someone who’s shorter. Some of those things seem to assume that anyone doing yard work is at least 6 ft tall!

  5. Stephanie says:

    I’ve been using a Neuton battery operated mower for about 6 years now. The battery lasts for about 1/2 hour, which is as long as I like to mow anyway, especially in very hot weather. It was pricey (about $400) when I bought it and it’s not as quiet as I hoped it would be, but otherwise it’s an efficient, lightweight tool. The company is based in Vermont.

  6. Ursula Swierczynski says:

    I have been using a battery mower for many years and am a complete convert.
    My mower is by Neuton and it comes with an string edger which attaches directly to the
    mower. I also use 2 batteries, but each one lasts for close to 1 hour of mowing time. The Neuton mower is NOT self propelled, so I get a good upper body workout at the same time.
    It too comes with a mulching blade, which is all I ever use, never collect the clippings, they just drop straight down, and yes, sometimes they clump up a bit, but I just give them a quick kick to disburse them.

  7. john connery says:

    I have been using a Greenworks mower for 4 years now. I love it. I learned early on that I needed to buy an additional battery (it came with 2) and still I find that I can’t cover the total job (over 2 hours of walking behind), but that’s okay because I get bored. Generally I let it the clippings fall where they may (does a good job at chopping) but if the grass in long or I need to boost the compost pile, I collect the clippings in the added basket behind.
    The collection behind is also a great way to chop leaves for mulching naturalizing beds, though it takes a lot of passes and emptying of the bag. but the chopped leaves look so good as a result. I nay never buy a lawn bag again

    I do love how silent it is. All my neighbors, with their lawn services, mowers and tractors still bug me, but at least when I am mowing I can still hear the birds.

  8. Beverly, zone 6, eastern PA says:

    Right now my husband is recuperating from major surgery and is unable to mow the grass. I hate the smell, noise and “violence” of traditional lawn mowers and have avoided cutting grass for my entire life, meaning I do not even know how to do it. Now our grass is TOO LONG and we have to recruit help.

    If I had one of these, I know I could do our 1/3 acre easily.

    Thanks for the suggestion!

  9. Lorie says:

    Oh, Margaret, how I envy your battery powered wonder. You deserve it with all that acreage. I have a beloved Stihl leaf blower…in fact just got a replacement to satisfy the needs of a full knee replacement (if that makes sense). But my forever Stihl dealer will NOT NOT NOT carry or sell the battery powered leaf blower. He’s 100% anti that particular product. At 78 it is not that much fun to “pull the cord”…but Stihl still makes the best for a terrific price.

  10. Larry Bohs says:

    I have a farm and have been using a Black and Decker electric mower for years — mostly for cutting cover crops in my no-till beds.,

    I recently got an Ego electric string trimmer. Amazing. Does a fabulous job with edges around beds.

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Larry, for adding to the conversation. It’s amazing to think about in time moving past all the gas-and-oil using tools, isn’t it?

  11. Tim says:

    We/I bought an electric, plug in/wall socket mower from Ace Hardware for the ~2000 sq. feet around the house. Cost was $240. Works like a charm, and no gas mixing, exhaust, etc. Love it.

  12. Tom Rozier says:

    Hey, Margaret, your Stihl battery-powered mower is a fine looking machine. Virginia started using the Neuton in 2005: good-bye gasoline, spark plugs, carburetor filters, oil changes, fumes and racket. Ten years and second battery later, we gave our 14-inch Neuton to a neighbor and bought the 19-inch CE6. About gardening edges, I’m a fanatic about a sharp edge. Once a good edge is cut with a flat blade shovel, I fine tune with a 36-volt Black and Decker weed eater–slow and easy does it.

    Tom Rozier
    Winchester, TN

  13. Bonita Sitter says:

    We’ve been using the Stihl battery powered chain saw (amazing for its size) and string trimmer for the last 2 years and are very impressed. Maybe it’s time to save the egg money for the mower as well. Certainly is impressive technology to have such strength in a battery of that size. I’ve resisted the second battery due to cost, though it would sometimes be convenient. Thanks for the good review of your experience with battery tools.

  14. Lisa - Ontario says:

    I bought a battery lawn mower 4 years ago. One neighbour went out and bought the same one, my other neighbours marvel at how quiet they are. We take ours to the cottage and cut the ditch with it because it is so lightweight. It does jobs that it certainly wasn’t intended to do, and it is still going strong.

  15. Bobbie Genty says:

    WOW!! I love the idea of not having to fight the mower to get it started, and to not have to move everything (benches, pots. etc) if I’m inclined to do a really good job. Not to mention the noise and pollution my self propelled beast creates. I see one of these in my future…..and I too am an edge fanatic.

    I love learning something new everytime I read a new post. Thanks!

  16. Roy Ward says:

    We bought the Stihl battery mower 2 months ago and find it does a great job mowing our two small lawns. I like the long handle that lets me mow under overhanging foliage. The catcher is well designed too, nothing much is left behind.
    The only problem I have with it is I find it difficult to pull out the battery. I have some arthritis
    in my thumbs, which doesn’t help but my partner also struggles. There is very little to get a grip on. Stihl need to re-design the battery compartment to accommodate a handle, or a lever to loosen the batteery.

  17. Elizabeth Urie says:

    We purchased the GreenWorks mower last summer, having already committed to their string trimmer, blower, pole saw, and chain saw, hence multiple batteries, all 40V, and chargers.
    Lightness, quick and quiet starts and stops (to pull weeds usually), ease of doing the forward & back dance under shrub edges and low branches, and the aerobic credit that goes with pushing without power assist – we love our electric mower and tools!

    1. margaret says:

      Glad to hear, Elizabeth. I love how each it is to start and stop, as you say. I cannot imagine ever using a gas mower again (though I do still have one sitting idle here…).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.