What’s The Best Deck Size For Me and My Yard?
I know my grammer is a little off but I wanted you to understand that finding the right deck size for your lawn is both a practical choice and a personal choice. There are many factors that go into deciding what is the best deck size and I’ll go through those factors before we discuss the decks sizes themselves.
by: Paul Sikkema
How big is your lawn? I like to keep my mowing and trimming under 2 hours a week.
- A typical lawn tractor will mow well about 3 mph.
- Yard Tractor/Garden Tractor about 4-5 mph.
- Residential Zero-Turn 4-5 mph.
- Landowner Zero-Turn 6-7 mph.
- Commercial Zero-Turn 6-10 mph.
Is your lawn flat and level? If you lawn is flat and level you can use larger decks. If your lawn has slopes, ruts, swales, ditches and mounds a smaller deck will give you a more even cut. Lawn tractors (except Simplicity) with decks 48 inches and larger use floating decks and they tend to give you an uneven cut going across slopes and over mounds.
Do you have slopes? How many? How Steep? If your lawn has slopes less than 10 degrees just about any lawn tractor will mow your lawn. The quality of the cut is based on the cost of the mower and how well the deck is designed. If your lawn is steeper a smaller 42-46 inch deck is easier to control and will mow evenly without tilting and gouging on the downhill side as you cut. There are a few lawn tractors over $2300 that have traction control or locking differentials that help you get up and down these steeper hills easier. (Always mow up and down slopes with a lawn tractor. This is different than mowing with a walk-behind mower)
How many landscape beds, trees and driveways do you have? How wide is the space between the areas you trim around? Figure the width of the deck and the discharge chute when determining if a deck will fit. A Craftsman Yard Tractor with the 6 inch turn tight steering and a 46 inch deck is 52 inches (width of deck and discharge chute)
Do you circle each tree and bush when you mow? I have a group of 40 pine trees that I mow. I go through once or twice a season and use a garden rake to clean an 18 inch circle around each tree. That way I don’t have to circle each tree when I mow. I can pretty much mow in straight lines that way. If you do circle each tree or bush consider a 46 inch or larger deck. The deck sticks out the side of the mower far enough so you may be able to just circle the tree once. Lawn tractors with turning radius less than 14 inches really help here.
Do you have fenced in areas? How big are the gates? Do you have small areas tucked in behind patios, bushes, or buildings? I have one area that has 34 inch gate and one area with an 8 foot gate. I need a 30 inch mower to get through the 34 inch gate. If you have a side gate from the front to back yard, a dog yard, grass inside your garden fence consider how large a deck you can get through those areas. If you have an area of grass between two landscape features and you want to mow it with your riding mower be sure the deck is small enough.
Do you want to use a string trimmer and/or walk-behind to trim areas where your mower can’t go? I built my landscape beds so there is enough room to go between them with a 46 inch deck. I have changed my yard to the point where I only need about 10 minutes of trimming with a Cordless Line Trimmer. I can mow and trim everything else with the lawn tractor. Plastic, Metal, Wood, Mulch, Rock and Chemical Edging all can be used to separate your lawn to reduce trimming around your landscape beds and other obstructions in your yard. I use a growth retarder along the chain link fence around the dog yard so I only have to trim there once a month.
What type of grass do you have? Do you want to mulch? Southern bent grasses that are cut short need smaller decks. Smaller decks are easier to keep level and give a better cut. Midwestern bluegrass/fescue lawns can use any size deck for mowing but all of the 3 blade decks have issues for mulching. If you want to mulch a 2 bladed deck works the best.
Common Deck Sizes:
Deck sizes and why you may want that size deck. I am only going to discuss residential/homeowner mower decks. Commercial decks are designed for higher ground speeds. For example a 36 inch commercial deck can mow as much in one hour as a 54 inch homeowner deck. Note: Use this data to give yourself an accurate estimation of how long it will take. These times are figured on 80% productivity which takes into account overlapping each pass you mow, turns and trimming. If a retailer lists how much their mower can mow it is usually based on 100% width, no turns and no overlap.
Mowing at 3 mph. If your deck will mow at 4 mph you can add 10% to the amount you can cut per hour.
28-30 inch single bladed decks: 3/4 acre and hour. My one acre acre home takes about 1 1/2 hours to mow with a 30 inch deck because I have 40 trees, 14 landscape beds and a dog yard for obstructions. These decks cut, bag and mulch well but none of the riding mowers are very agile compared to the Craftsman YT3000. If you have a really small lawn consider them, but if you have a lot of trees to go around look at a 42 inch because none of the 30 inch riders have a small turning radius.
38 inch, 2 bladed decks: Less than 1 acre per hour. The main issue with these decks is the overall quality of the current lawn tractors. Lawn tractors like the Yard Man and Bolens are just cheap machines and the quality of cut is average to poor.
42 inch, 2 bladed decks: About 1 acre per hour. This is the most common size deck. It works well for lawns up to 2 acres and all the manufactures make both quality machines and economy lawn tractors in this size.
46 inch, 2 bladed decks: About 1.2 acres per hour. 46 inch, 2 bladed decks generally give you the best cut. They mulch well and bag well. If you have hills and want to put chains on your rear tires there is not enough clearance between the deck and rear tires. The chains will hit the deck. You will have to go to a 42 inch or 48 inch, 3 bladed deck.
46, inch 3 bladed decks: About 1.1 acres per hour. This deck is obsolete, but you will find this size on older, used lawn tractors. They side discharge well but do not bag well. Most were never designed to mulch and you will have problems finding specialty blades.
48, inch 3 bladed decks: About 1.2 acres per hour. A quite a few of these decks are still sold. Consumer Reports lists these with the larger decks because they generally don’t mow as evenly as the 42 and 46 inch decks. Only decks that have internal baffles mulch well. (Usually a $100 option)
54, inch 3 bladed decks: About 1.4 acres per hour. 54 inch decks are very common. They are floating decks so the edge between each swath is not always even because they tilt and bounce around, but if you are mowing large areas this shouldn’t be a reason not to buy one. Don’t buy one if you intend to mulch unless the deck has a special mulching kit available that includes internal baffles. (These kits cost over $100) The reason these are not good mulching decks is they are designed to side discharge well. They have large air intakes in the top of the decks that allow the decks to lift the grass and cut it. They then discharge the clippings and all that air out the side discharge. When you plug the discharge with a mulch plug all that air still has to go somewhere and it usually comes out the right front of the deck. On a nice day these clippings get thrown up and over you and the tractor. These decks disperse the clippings well and bag well.
What else would you like to know? Ask away in the comments below.
Once you have figured out what is the best size and type of mower then determine how much you want to spend. There is a wide price range of mowers in every size. Here are 4 lists to help you get started