Riding lawn mowers, lawn tractors and garden tractors are all different machines. They come in different sizes, with different sized cutting decks, and are supplied with more or less ‘tractor-like’ attachments. Which one you choose will depend on the size of your yard and what you want to do with it.
A riding lawn mower is not a lawn tractor or garden tractor. A riding mower has the engine at the back and a front cutting deck, while a lawn tractor has the engine at the front and a centre cutting deck. Garden tractors are larger still and come with all the attachments of a full sized tractor.
Let’s dive down into this subject in more detail. Bear with me here as the terminology is a little complicated, but it’s important to understand so you buy the right model for your exact requirements.
Riding Lawn Mowers Are Not Tractors
They may look similar, however a riding lawn mower is not a small tractor. If you’re looking at buying a riding machine of some sort to help you with your lawn, the subtly different specifications and definitions can be confusing.
The best starting point is knowing what you need your new mower to do. There are different types of mower and tractor for different jobs, and we’ll take you through their features and functions.
It has an engine, a cutting deck and you drive it along: so why is a riding lawn mower not classed as a tractor? The reason a riding lawn mower is not a tractor because it has one job alone: it cuts the grass.
And to be honest, it’s great at it. If you have a small or medium-sized yard, a modest riding mower is an excellent solution. Yes, they may be slow, but they are easy to move about, and not too expensive. However, if you’re after more power or need your machine to perform more than one function, you may need to consider a lawn tractor instead.
What’s The Difference Between a Riding Lawn Mower & a Lawn Tractor?
So, how do riding lawn mowers and lawn tractors differ? One of the main differences is the construction of the machine and the location of its main parts. A riding mower has the engine at the back and the cutting deck at the front. With the lawn tractor, the engine is at the front and the cutting deck in the centre.
This may seem largely unimportant, however these different layouts affect the weight distribution of the machine, and thus its maneuverability. As well as being smaller, a riding mower is more agile because the cutting deck position makes it easier to steer. This is really important when you’re winding around between shrubs, beds and borders.
A lawn tractor is more powerful than a riding lawn mower, and can cut swaths of grass up to 48 inches. They can perform more tasks, as their more powerful engine enables you to pull a trailer, and some tractors can be converted into snow throwers.
Yes, they are more expensive than the more modest riding mower, but for this extra cost, you get a powerful mower with improved functionality. You also get to sit on a more comfortable seat. You may even get a cup holder.
What’s The Difference Between a Riding Lawn Mower & a Garden Tractor?
Next, you have the garden tractor, and this is up a grade from the lawn tractor (we hope you’re keeping up with the terminology here, as it’s not the clearest).
This is a good option if you have a lot of grass to cut. The generous-sized cutting deck can measure up to 72 inches, speeding up the job as it cuts through larger areas, faster. These are ideal for modest smallholdings, as they really are mini tractors. You can attach kit to the garden tractor including backhoes and front loaders as well as seeders and tillers.
Like the lawn tractor, some models can convert to snow throwers, which is perfect for the snowy states. They have superb traction for rougher land, and although they can be costly, they are essential if you have land to look after.
These are completely different machines to riding lawn mowers, which are for smaller, domestic yard use only. The evolution is basically riding lawn mower – lawn tractor – garden tractor. Which you go for depends on whether you’re maintaining a yard or a larger parcel of land.
How Do I Choose The Best Option For My Garden?
There are several ways to decide which is the best type of mower or tractor for your garden. These are size, terrain, uses, storage and budget. There’s also driveability to take into account: do you want something easy to steer, something more comfortable, or something that will get the job done quickly.
Let’s look first at the size of your garden. If you have a yard with a decent-sized lawn, a riding mower may be sufficient for your grass-cutting needs. Its lighter steering and manoeuvrability are essential for more landscaped gardens, where the mower has to navigate shrubs, trees and beds. However, the terrain is largely smooth and flat, which suits the limited traction of these nifty little machines.
For larger lawns or a small paddock, a lawn tractor will do the job faster, and with more comfort for the gardener. Their ability to tow a cart really adds to their functionality, making them handy for carrying tools and animal feed as well as mowing grass. If your kids have a pony, this is a good choice.
Then, for smallholdings and larger fields, upgrade to the mighty garden tractor. This is the best option if you’re growing any crops and have a few more animals. It’s also a handy machine to have around if you have a building or landscaping project lined up for your home.
If you have rougher terrain, the garden tractor has the best traction, although a lawn tractor may manage up to a point, Both these can often be converted into snow throwers, so if you have a smaller garden but live in a snowy climate, it might be worth investing in the next size up and choosing a lawn tractor over a riding mower.
Related to yard size is the issue of storage. A typical suburban yard probably won’t have much space to store a larger tractor. If your terrain means you have to have a larger machine and you don’t already have a suitable outbuilding, you’ll need to build this into your budget.
How Much Does Each Type of Machine Cost? (Just Ballpark Figures)
Which of course, leads us onto cost… The riding lawn mower will set you back somewhere between $800 and $1,400, which is more expensive than a typical rotary mower, but will save you a lot of time and backache.
The lawn tractor, naturally, costs more. A typical model starts at about $1,200, and you can expect to pay up to $1,000 more than this for a fancier tractor. If you’re going to be spending a deal of time cutting the grass, upgrade to the comfy seat and cup holder option…
Finally, the big guy, the garden tractor. Yes, they can cost $8,000, but you’re basically getting a miniature real tractor for this, which can work with all sorts of agricultural attachments and power along on all types of terrain. If you have a smallholding or a very big garden, this really is the best option.
So, nippy riding lawn mower or a tougher lawn or garden tractor? Once you’ve worked out which machine does what, it’s not a difficult decision to make. If you feel your garden falls in between two categories, the lawn tractor is a versatile compromise.
I hope this article has helped you decide exactly what type of lawn machine you’re going to need to get the job done in your own backyard.
There’s a lot to take into account with all this – not least the subtle differences between a riding lawn mower, a lawn tractor and a garden tractor. However, it’s important to make the distinction so you don’t spend your hard earned dollars on the wrong one.
Last thing you need is a tiny tractor for a larger smallholding or a huge commercial model for a tiny yard, so it definitely pays to do your research before you make the investment.
Homeowner and property investor Larry Jones founded Take a Yard in 2020 to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >