Marianne Ophardt

Garden Tips: Hate to mow? Leave it to a robot

Robotic lawn mowers like Husqvarna’s Automower have been available for years.
Robotic lawn mowers like Husqvarna’s Automower have been available for years. Courtesy Husqvarna

While I was at a family gathering, I overheard one of our group wishing that someone would invent a robotic lawn mower that would work like one of the floor cleaning robots.

I let them know that robotic lawn mowers have been available for years. I wonder why they aren’t more popular?

Robotic lawn mowers had limitations when they were first introduced. They were difficult to program and very expensive, especially considering their inferior performance compared to regular mowers.

Time has passed and improvements were made. So, are lawn mowing robots a viable option now?

If you check online you will find several companies making programmable robotic mowers, including Robomow, Husqvarna, WORX, and McCulloch.

First, the “cons.”

The units are still pretty pricey, costing $600 to $3,500.

Negative reviews from users of various units indicate that their robotic mowers did not do a good job of covering the entire lawn evenly and some “touch-up” mowing or trimming was needed.

Also, units often got hung up on uneven terrain and could not handle slopes steeper than 10 to 15 percent, despite promises of being able to handle slopes up to 30 percent.

One frequent negative comment was that the mower setup — including edging lawn boundaries with wire — is time and labor intensive.

Manufacturers indicate that the wire can be staked, but many owners sensibly opt to bury it. This wire edge means that units must be carried across driveways and paved surfaces to separate areas of turf.

Setup also involves establishing an accessible spot for the permanent base station needed for parking and recharging the mower’s battery.

I suppose the biggest and best “pro” for robotic mowers is that it mows your lawn for you.

Robot mowers perform best when asked to “nibble” at the grass, taking a little off the top several times a week, instead of significantly slashing the grass height in one cut.

Another positive is that they run very quietly and release no emissions because they are electric. Another nice feature of most units is a built-in rain sensor that tells them to go back to their base and wait until bad weather passes.

Most also had an easily adjustable blade height. One mower also comes with a phone “app” that lets you direct the mow-bot to the spots it missed with its random path.

Another feature in favor of robot mowers is they perform best when asked to “nibble” at the grass, taking a little off the top several times a week, instead of significantly slashing the grass height in one cut.

A common bad lawn care practice is removing more than one-third of the grass height at one time.

Commonly called “scalping,” lowering the height of a lawn too much at one time weakens the turf, making it more vulnerable to heat and drought damage and to weed invasion.

I am not sure I am ready to buy a robotic mower yet.

When I look at them, they remind me of benign versions of the battling robots competing on television and I am just a teensy worried a mow-bot might go rogue.

I think I will wait until they fine-tune them a bit more.

However, if you really detest mowing, have a smallish, relatively flat lawn and are willing to spend the money, let me know how it works for you.

Marianne C. Ophardt is a retired horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.

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