Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

Lawn Rangers

by Hannah Stephenson

Looking for a new mower this spring? Hannah Stephenson swot up on the many types available and which is best for you

There are so many lawnmowers on the market these days - rotary and cylinder, corded electric, cordless petrol, battery-powered and state-of-the-art robotic types. But which one is right for your budget, and right for your lawn?

Lawnmower prices range from under £100 to thousands for elaborate sit-on types, but expect to pay at least a few hundred if you have a fair-sized lawn and want something that will last.

Petrol, corded electric or battery are the main options and each has its own pros and cons.

In our environmentally-conscious world, battery-powered options - once dismissed by lawn lovers because of the batteries' dubious staying power and need to replace them after a winter in storage - have become more sophisticated as lithium-ion batteries don't lose power like the old ones.

In the last 12 months, sales of cordless electric lawn mowers at Homebase have increased by more than 700% compared with the previous year.

Bosch stopped manufacturing petrol mowers in 2010 to go eco-friendly and has long been extolling the virtues of lithium-ion batteries which, it claims, perform as petrol equivalents but with low noise, low vibrations and savings on running costs.

Battery-operated mowers are generally lighter machines, don't pump out carbon monoxide and are much quieter than their petrol counterparts. You don't have to worry about a cable or expend energy pulling a cord to start them either, as they start at the touch of a button.

Other than following battery care instructions and annually sharpening the blades, cordless mowers need no other kind of maintenance.

Battery Power

The Bosch Rotak 43 LI Ergoflex cordless lawnmower (£469.99, pictured right, shop.bosch-do-it.com) can give an excellent cut for a good 40 minutes on one charge, although reviewers have found that the rear roller doesn't noticeably stripe the lawn. It has a charge time of 140 minutes.

The new EGO Power+ lawnmower (£499, egopowerplus.co.uk) whispers in at 83 decibels, quieter than a food blender. On an average lawn on flat ground, the battery would last around 45 minutes and can recharge in 30.

The disadvantages of battery mowers are that you have to remember to recharge the batteries and they won't stripe your lawn as effectively as a heavier machine.

Petrol Power

Petrol-driven motors may be better for bigger lawns and where you need plenty of power on slopes or uneven surfaces. There are push and self-propelled varieties, having throttle control which eases the pushing ability of the user.

Petrol mowers give a good striped effect as they are heavier and, although they need servicing, it could be argued that a well-maintained, good quality petrol mower will outlast most electric ones. The Mountfield SP454 self-propelled petrol lawnmower (£304, B&Q, diy.com) is a great option for lawns up to 1500m squared.

Users also won't encounter the cumbersome cables of electric models and the need for safety cut-out plugs.

Electric Power

A corded electric mower is fine for a smaller suburban garden, if you're not bothered about keeping the cable out of the way of the blades.

Electric 'hover' mowers are the cheapest, but can produce a disappointing finish, often require a spanner to adjust the mowing height and don't always collect grass efficiently.

Ultimately, your choice should depend on your lawn type and size. If you have a small or medium-sized lawn, a battery-operated mower or light electric type should be fine for your needs. For example, the Bosch 32R Corded Lawnmower (£78.92, Homebase, homebase.co.uk) is lightweight and perfect for smaller lawns.

Cylinder or Rotary?

So, cylinder or rotary? Cylinder mowers are for the lawn perfectionist who wants a finer cut and bowling green finish. They are ideal for flat lawns and short grass, but struggle with long or wet grass. If you want the exercise, opt for a push variety. If you don't, self-propelled is the way to go.

Rotary mowers are better all-rounders, cut better in wet or long grass and cope well with uneven, bumpy surfaces. Their blades can be easily changed to boot. Try the Mac Allister 1300W Rotary Lawnmower (£84, pictured left, B&Q, diy.com) - a great all-rounder for gardens of a good size.

New Alternatives

Lazy gardeners might prefer to sink a gin and tonic on the patio while watching the lawn being mown by a robotic device such as Robomow, which starts at an eye-popping £1,199 for the RC304, increasing to £2,799 for the upgraded RS635 model, available from selected dealers nationwide (robomow.com).

But real gardeners may relish the exercise that goes with a mower they can push, and the pleasure of seeing the well-groomed green carpet they've created at the end of their workout.

Best of the Bunch

Euphorbia (spurge)

The zingy acid-yellow bracts of euphorbias contrast brilliantly with other plants to ensure an eye-catching display from spring onwards. The bracts also come in warm shades of red, purple, orange and brown. Most herbaceous euphorbias like well-drained, light soils in full sun, or moist, micro-organism-rich soils in light, dappled shade. It's an incredibly varied group which includes annuals, biennials and semi-evergreen perennials, so there's plenty of choice. Good varieties include the perennial E. polychrome, a sun-loving yellow type which flowers from mid-spring, and E. griffithii 'Fireglow', which is ideal for moist, light shade. Wear gloves when handling the plants because all euphorbias exude a milky sap that irritates the skin.

Good Enough to Eat

Growing Chillies

Chillies can be trained easily into neat bushy plants that will give you enough fruits to keep you going for some time and deserve a place on the patio. Start them off indoors by sowing two seeds into a 9cm pot and placing it on a heated propagator or warm windowsill, where you can maintain a constant temperature of 20°C. If both seeds germinate, remove the weaker one and gradually reduce the temperature to a minimum of 14°C at night. When the plant fills its space, pot it on into a two-litre pot of multipurpose compost and in June, place it in its final resting place in a five-litre pot in a sheltered spot on the patio. When the plant is 20cm high, pinch out the growing tip to encourage bushiness. Water frequently on hot days during the summer and feed with a tomato fertiliser when the fruits start to form. They're ready for picking when they are ripe but the skin is still smooth. Chillies will store well for a couple of weeks in the fridge or longer in the freezer.

What to do this week:

  • Plant container-grown outdoor grape vines
  • Divide hostas before they come into leaf
  • When space becomes available in the greenhouse, pot up cuttings of tender perennials taken last summer and at the beginning of this year
  • Plant roses in heavy soils or in cold areas
  • Protect new growth on lilies, delphiniums and any other plants affected by slugs and snails
  • Remove dead leaves from around the basal rosettes of alpine plants to prevent rotting
  • Plant herbaceous perennials, including geranium, astrantia and Oriental poppies
  • Sow sweet peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines, celery, salads and globe artichokes in a frost-free greenhouse
  • Remove any reverted green shoots on hardy variegated evergreens to prevent reversion taking over
  • Cut out the top rosette of leaves from leggy stems of Mahonia x media cultivars to encourage branching

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