Mowing Slopes Safely – Let’s Get Real About Hills.

Updated March 2018.  I read many reviews complaining about lawn tractors not being able to mow on a hill. “They don’t have enough traction.” “I have to use tire chains.” “I have some fairly steep hills on the property and the tractor stands so tall that it is not safe at all on hills over 15 degrees. So I couldn’t mow half of my lawn.”

It’s time to stop complaining and get real. You will not be able to mow all of your lawn with a lawn tractor or zero-turn if there are slopes.

15 degree slope

Thank You Toro For This Photo

The truth: Residential Lawn Tractors and Zero-Turns are not designed to mow on slopes steeper than 15 degrees.  They all tell you that in the manual. There are mowers designed to mow hills but the cheapest one on the market is over $10,000. The good ones are in the $20,000 to $50,000 range.

Making myself more comfortable on a slope is not my goal. Not rolling the tractor or zero-turn is my goal. Rolling the tractor is not worth cutting an extra bit of grass. It is just grass. 

If it is too steep to mow, turn it into a landscape bed or wildlife area.

Be Safe:

  • On steep slopes, GO SLOW.
  • Sidehill mowing, watch the front uphill tire to verify it’s making a solid depression in the grass. If it isn’t, SLOWLY turn downhill.
  • Always have an escape route when mowing or traveling over rough ground so if the machine kicks out of gear or the brakes fail or both you can steer to safety.
  • Keep the brakes properly adjusted and maintained.
  • Be very, very aware that going up a steep slope how quickly and easily a tractor will flip back on you. If the front end does come up, the rear wheels provide the motive force to flip it back.
  • Generally speaking, brakes are for stopping, NOT slowing down in tractor usage, that’s what the trans is for. If you step on the left pedal you set the parking brake and the rear wheels will lock. In most cases this will not hold you on the hill, instead, you will slide down the hill.
  • The “GO SLOW” mentioned above means regulate your speed with the transmission.  Choose a lower or lowest gear, with a hydro, do the same, keep the RPM’s (engine speed) up.
Can a tractor mow this hill? NO!

Can a tractor mow this hill? NO!

Zero-Turns are not weighted to mow up a hill. Especially older zero-turn mowers. They will tip over backward.

  • If you cannot back up the slope or if you feel uneasy on it, do not mow it with a ride-on machine.
  • Mow up and down slopes with a lawn tractor, not across.
  • Watch for holes, ruts, bumps, rocks or other hidden objects. Uneven terrain could overturn the machine.
  • Choose a low ground speed so you will not have to stop or shift while on a slope.
  • Do not mow on wet or damp grass. Tires may lose traction.
  • Do not mow on drought-dry grass. Tires will lose traction.
  • Always keep the machine in gear when going down slopes. Do not shift to neutral and coast downhill.
  • Avoid starting, stopping or turning on a slope.
  • Keep all movement on slopes slow and gradual.
  • Use extra care while operating the machine with grass catchers or other attachments; they affect the stability of the machine. Do not use them on steep slopes.
  • Do not try to stabilize the machine by putting your foot on the ground.
  • Do not mow near drop-offs, ditches or embankments.

46 inch 2 blade decks on lawn tractors do not have the clearance between the rear of the deck and the rear tires to install tire chains.

If you have a Walk Out Basement the angle is too steep to mow side to side or up the hill. Mow down the hill, drive around to the top of the slope and mow down. Yes, you may have to drive around the house a dozen times to do this, but it is the only way. Never attempt to mow or drive up the hill

Don’t even consider using a rear mounted bagger on hills. On both tractors and zero-turns that makes them too heavy in the rear.

Don’t even consider a leaf/lawn vac on slopes. The transmissions in lawn tractors are not heavy enough and you will destroy the trans. On garden tractor, there may be too much weight on the rear hitch. Blow the leaves to the bottom of the hill with a handheld blower or backpack blower, then pick them up with your vac.

1556081_G

Tip-over from water logged turf

Do not mow near drop-offs, ditches or embankments. Don’t mow near a pond. The first 6 to 10 feet of turf by the water’s edge is water-logged and your mower will sink in and tip over.

Follow the rules in your operator’s manual. But remember, an unseen hole on the down-slope or a bump or stick of wood on the uphill side can increase your slope quickly and cause an accident.

P1000024 Seatbelts and ROPs won’t save you if there is water

What is available today For the Homeowner:

FCA12

Notice the dual wheels on the ATV?

roughfloatkit3

The ATV is out of the water logged turf

There are very few residential mowers specifically designed to mow slopes. Here are a few that work:

Acrease Wing and Rough-Cut Mowers: Acrease Mowers are able to mow slopes. They use full pressure engines on the commercial models that won’t blow up on slopes greater than 15 degrees. Be aware these mowers are heavy and you will need a heavy tractor to pull them. I actually used 2 in tandem to mow a 10-foot road ditch FCA14(Swisher T-60 Trailmower 14.5hp. is only designed for 15-degree slopes. The engines are splash lubricated and will blow up on slopes greater than 15 degrees.)

Craftsman 4WD walk-behind.

Husqvarna:

Walk-Behind Husqvarna HU800AWD All Wheel Drive

There are a few tractors with a rear differential lock from Craftsman Pro, Cub Cadet and Husqvarna that give you better traction going up and down slopes, but they are still only rated for 15 degrees.

There are other mowers that will handle slopes but all of them are commercially rated.  Standon Mowers, 60 inches and larger like the Wright Stander are capable of mowing greater than 15 degrees. Toro Walk-Behind commercial mowers with the T-Bar steering also work well. Of course, there are the dedicated slope mowers like the KutKwick and the new robotic mowers.

Final Thoughts

Many people don’t read the operator’s manual or feel these warning statements are “just guidelines.” Even staying under 15 degrees there are still ways to tip your lawn tractor or zero-turn mower over. Mowing commercially for many years I have had too many close calls and I still use my “Pucker-meter” all the time.  The seat of your pants is the best gauge – really. It is a long, slow, careful learning experience. You have to get to know your machine and how to best approach various terrain. Going slow and low is always good.

If is feels wrong, if the hill feels too steep, if the tractor doesn’t feel right, I don’t mow it.

(This Last From Consumer Reports)

What we tested, what we found. We compared several zero-turn-radius riding mowers marketed to consumers with a lawn tractor on slopes ranging from roughly 5 to 20 degrees. We used a typical 4.5 mph mowing speed over both dry and wet grass, going up and down as you should with most ride-on machines. So far, so good.

The trouble began when we made a hard turn down 10- to 15-degree slopes. The zero-turn riders lost most of their steering control, skidding straight into our simulated hazards. All could stop in time when the brake was applied, though stopping entails manipulating two levers that also do the steering. That’s less intuitive than a tractor’s foot brake. And while the zero-turn models steered controllably at slower speeds, time savings is a major selling point for zero-turn machines.

The rollover risk

51de9b758a64a.preview-620  Rollovers are another concern with all ride-on mowers, contributing to the more than 15,000 injuries and 61 deaths associated with those machines for 2007, according to estimates based on CPSC data. Commercial tractors and riding mowers often include a roll bar, called a rollover protective structure (ROPS), and a safety belt. Both are supposed to work together to protect and confine the operator if there’s a rollover. But even that approach leaves lots of room for error.

  • Choose a front-steering tractor over a zero-turn-radius rider if you’re mowing slopes 10 to 15 degrees or greater. (A 10-degree slope rises roughly 20 inches over every 10 feet.) If you already own a zero-turn-radius riding mower, be sure to mow slowly on hills. And mow only on dry grass to maximize traction.
  • Give yourself time to learn the controls on any ride-on mower, especially a zero-turn mower’s levers for steering and speed.
  • Mow straight up and down slopes with a tractor or rider unless the manual says otherwise. And mow side-to-side with walk-behind mowers, start at the bottom and work up-hill. Always turn uphill.

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George
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George

Hi Paul. Here is another question on mowing on slopes. I am mowing a steep hill (probably 30 degrees) in my 0.25 acre backyard with a Husqvarna YT48XLS going up and down. Although the YT48XLS will climb the hill easily I am wondering if going up and down the slope can hurt the engine. Is it possible that the oil will not be able to reach all engine parts when the mower goes up or down? Also, there seems to be some black deposit that smells like gas under the air filter. I don’t know if that’s because of the… Read more »

Robert White
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Robert White

Hi Paul
I have a corner 1 acre lot with the front and side having a10-15 degree slope. I have 3 large oak, maple trees and flower beds. I have been using 2003 white outdoor lt-1650 x 42deck lawn tractor with bagger. I am looking to replace the machine and I am considering cub cadet lx 46 or Husqvarna YT46LS. I would appreciate all recommendations what is the best lawn tractor for my needs . I am 70 would like to make the right choice best buy.
Thank you! BOB

Phil
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Phil

Hello, I might be in the market for a new mower (not zero turn) and my yard is flat. But I have a 270 foot very steep concrete driveway I have to go down to get to my yard and back up when I am finished. Will the stress of my driveway damage the new lawn tractors? I’ve had the same rear end Snapper for 37 year (been at this house for 10 years) and the Snapper can’t make it back up the hill anymore. I am looking to spend $1500, could go as high as $2000 but don’t really… Read more »

Todd
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Todd

I have been skim reading your articles and they have been very helpful, but I am still very confused, I have pushed a 21″ Toro for 30+ years and am getting to the point that physically I need a rider, I have 18,700 sq ft of grass with about 10 trees and some curbing landscaping, and I have all varieties of terrain most is 10 to 15 deg slope but a small amount 25% is pretty steep. I would like to get a 46″ so I am not running over uncut grass, I don’t need any attachments to pull or… Read more »

DJ
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DJ

The manufactures slope recommendations are NO JOKE! I went to the edge of a big drainage and the brakes failed and I had one hell of a ride down into a flowing drainage culvert. Luckily in seconds I raised the deck and shot off PTO in the nick of time. Thank god for 30 years of maintain biking, skiing, 4-wheeling, etc., I couldn’t drive it for an after hour rolling it.

Dave
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Dave

Hi and thx for the many helpful comments to other questioners. I have a property that has about 3/4 acre of 25 degree slope. I take your safety warnings seriously about using garden tractors on such a steep slope. I noted in one of your previous postings you recommended the Toro T-bar mower. As a commercial product it is quite pricy ($3,000+). After some research I was considering the Troy-Bilt Wide-Cut Self-Propelled Mower — 420cc Troy-Bilt Engine, 33in. Cutting Deck, Model# 12AE76JU011. Its price is much more modest (about $1300). I am sure it is not as rugged as a… Read more »

Keith
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Keith

Hey Paul I recently moved into a new house and it is 2.5 acres of hilly uneven ground some 25 degree angles. I’m thinking a four wheeler with pull behind mower wondering what your thoughts are. And if you like the 4 wheeler idea what brand pull behind mower. Budget wise I’m thinking $2000 max on mower. Thankyou

Chris M
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Chris M

Hi Paul. I just purchased a house with .68 acres and 2 very steep slopes (about 12 to 16×30) and multiple minor slopes, and trees. I kind of wanted to go alittle bigger than 22inch but I definitely feel limited in productivity. ZT is obviously out and im assuming tractor is too much mower for too much obstacle. Self propelled? RWD or AWD? Whatcha think??

Christine
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Christine

I need to get a new push mower for our yard. We have 1/3 of an acre with the yard at a 20 degree to 30 degree slope. I know I need a self propelled push mower, but which ones are ideal for this situation? Also, I am not very strong so I need the mower to do the work.

Patrick
Guest
Patrick

Paul, thanks for the suggestion. Unfortunately the web page states delivery or store pickup not available in my area for the Craftsman Pro 50″. How does the Craftsman Pro Series 50″ 26 HP V-Twin Kohler Garden Tractor with Turn Tight® Extreme compare to the Craftsman Pro Series 46″ 24 HP V-Twin Kohler Riding Mower with Turn Tight® Extreme? What am I losing with the 46″ Yard Tractor compared to the 50″ Garden Tractor?

Patrick
Guest
Patrick

Hi Paul! Thank you for such a great site. I would like your recommendation on a garden tractor or LGT and my budget is around $3K. I live in Woodbridge Virginia and last year we moved into a house with just over a 1/2 acre that is sloped in the back yard…mostly about 15 degrees but maybe a bit more in two areas. The yard is pretty smooth overall. The slope on one side of the back yard extends about 30+ feet but the opposite side is a bit more gradual and extends the entire length from front of house… Read more »

Alan
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Alan

That measurement is 4″…looks like I may need to adjust the wheels on the deck…this is my first riding mower…Thanks

Justin
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Justin

Hi I live in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada, we have a 40 acre campground with all sorts of terrain. We have a big Kubota tractor for most of the grounds, however it cannot fit in some areas like the mini golf course and most sites. I am left with too much push mowing. I was looking for a smaller mower with a smaller deck (28″ -36″ maybe) that could go on slopes and fit in tight spaces with zero turn. One of the bigger areas i have to push mow is about a 45 degree hill.

Dan
Guest
Dan

My slope is around 30 degrees, but the area is small. It is four feet high and 100 feet long. A push mower solution is fine. I prefer a self propelled and know that typical small tires on a push mower just will not work. The surface is not terrible, but uneven enough to stop a standard small tire push mower. What about push weed trimmer mowers? We appreciate your insights. Thanks in advance.

Ray
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Ray

Hi Paul, I recently bought a new house. Great view comes with a back yard that has slopes ranging from 15 to up to 25 degrees. All though I know that no mower is recommended foe anything above 15. I am considering three mowers. I was wondering which mower you would recommend. These were the ones I was looking at, I liked the Husqvarna because it had anti rollback. But the Craftsman gets better reviews. XT1 Enduro Series LT 50 in. 24 HP V-Twin Kohler Hydrostatic Gas Front-Engine Riding Mower Husqvarna YTA24V48 24-HP V-Twin Automatic 48-in Riding Lawn Mower with… Read more »

William
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William

We live in Knox Pennsylvania. Have 4 acres to mow. Some rough areas. About two acres on a fairly steep slope. What kind of a riding mower do you recommend?

Ed
Guest
Ed

Hi there, Moved into a new home out in the country. I have about 3/4 of an acre that is lawn and about 3 acres that is a mix of wild grass, some knapweed, other weeds, and God knows what else. Some hilly sections as well. Should I have 2 separate mowers, one for the lawn and one for the junk? I don’t want to buy a $2K mower and have it ruined by mowing the junk with it. I’ve never owned anything other than a push mower for my little 1/4 acre lawn. I am looking at the Cub… Read more »

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

I live in southern missouri and have 1 acre not very rough but with a 15 slope. The bottom of the hill is just an opposite slope to my road so not too crazy of a hazard. I want a riding mower and was going to go with a zero turn but am rethinking it after everything I’m reading. I can’t spend anymore than 2500. Please help my wife is getting angry with my indecision and the yard is getting pretty tall.

Mike
Guest
Mike

Hi Paul

We have a 6.3 acre farm, mostly divided into pastures for 2 horses. What mower would you suggest?

thank you,
Mike

Kevin
Guest
Kevin

Hi,
Just purchased a house in Kalamazoo, MI. Have 5 acres, will be mowing about 2. Yard is very rough, and I am trying to reclaim some of it from brambles, brush, and dense woods. Have some slope (walk out), lots of trees, and sandy soil. I am looking for something that can haul a yard cart, roller, etc- and not be overly rattled by the lumps, bumps, and tiny stumps that litter this lawn. Any suggestions?
Thanks!

Brad Green
Guest
Brad Green

John,
Thanks for taking the questions. I am purchasing a place with approximately an acre of grass with slopes up to 15 degrees. Up to this point I’ve been aiming for the John Deere S240. What are your thoughts? There are sections of slope even steeper, there I intend to put in terraces. Also, much off this country (Washington state west of the mountains) stays soggy. Any additional ideas as to which type mower sounds best?
Thanks,
Brad Green

Wayne Christianson
Guest
Wayne Christianson

Hi Paul, I live in South Central Wisconsin on a hobby farm. I have 5 acres. About 1.2 lawn with varying slopes from level to 15 degrees for the most part. The only problem areas are the ditches next to the road. They butt up to horse pasture so the only way to mow really is parallel to the slope and they are at least 30 degrees in places. About once a month I will also mow the horse pasture which is much rougher than the lawn. Right now I am using a residential John Deere with a 42 ”… Read more »

JP
Guest
JP

Hi- I live in Warwick, NY on just under an acre of property. The front and back yard both are sloping. Our septic tank is in the front and we have a well in the back yard. We have a good number of mature trees and a lot of twigs after every storm. Do you have any suggestions for a riding lawnmower that will last? Thx

Alan
Guest
Alan

Thanks again…99% sure that’s the one I’ll get.

Alan
Guest
Alan

About the Poulan Pro 960420184…Amazon says speed shifter on fender, your site says foot control which sounds better…the only lever I see is for blade height…can you clarify please?

Alan
Guest
Alan

Thanks…those are some of the models I was considering after reading many of your articles…You da man!!

Alan
Guest
Alan

I live in Spring Hill Tennessee. Use a Honda push mower…about to buy a house on one acre with a sloping backyard with many trees, somewhat flat front yard…what kind of riding mower do you recommend? Thanks..

John
Guest
John

Thank you! Having left a flat land farm when I went to college, I am now retired and have purchase a new home in the country. Five acres to mow. On a slope. You may have just save my life as we received a ZTR along with the property. I am heeding what you say.

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