Rotary Mowers vs Hover Mowers – Which One is Right for You?

You know it’s coming shortly after the snows melt, the nights get shorter, and the temperature rises.

Mowing season.

Away go the snowblowers, out come the lawnmowers.

And if you’re in the market for a new machine, there’s so many to choose from, it can cause a bit of a headache.

In this article, we’ll be taking a look at rotary vs hover mowers, and exploring their advantages and disadvantages head-to-head.

Hopefully, by the end of it, you’ll know which version is right for you.

Or, you could just get one of these awesome riding lawnmowers instead.

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Hover Mowers vs Rotary Mowers – Too Long, Didn’t Read

I get it – you’re in a rush. You want to just cut to the chase and be told the answer without the waffle, so here it is.

Hover mowers are ideal for smaller yards and gardens, where you might have hilly terrain or many obstacles to negotiate.

Rotary mowers are more suitable for small to medium-sized areas, for just about everything else.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each in more detail, for anyone who would like to stick around.

Lawn mower on green grass

Rotary Mowers

Easily the most common lawnmower type on the market, there are hundreds of models to choose from.

Identified by a protective deck that covers a spinning blade, they can be gas, corded electric, or battery-powered machines.

Rotary mowers will have four wheels that sit on the surface, so you can push the mower along in the direction you want to cut.

They might also be self-propelled, with a drive system that helps move the mower along and helps reduce operator fatigue.

Craftsman V60 3-in-1 Cordless Lawn Mower

I’m including this lawnmower as a rotary example for a couple of reasons. One, because it’s awesome, and two, because I own it.

I’ve just this moment finished preparing it for another season, juicing the powerful battery that does just under 1/4 acre on a single charge.

It’s quiet, economical, and easy-to-use, with three-in-one bagging, mulching, and side discharge capabilities. I fully expect to see the neighbors pick up the same one or similar very soon.

Rotary Mower Advantages

Mulching, bagging, and side discharge – Most rotary mowers these days are of a three-in-one design that allows you to make the choice between mulching, bagging, or side discharge your grass clippings.

Having these options offers you more control over what happens to yard waste, which can seriously benefit you and your lawn.

At YardThyme, we’re particularly fond of putting our clippings back to work, and you can check out this article on the benefits of mulching for more information.

Lawn aesthetic – Additionally, with a rotary mower you have more control when it comes to your overall lawn aesthetic.

This is for anyone who dreams of having a striped lawn like a sports field. That’s a feature that a hover mower simply doesn’t have in its locker.

And if you’re dying to learn the technique, check out this article on how to stripe your lawn.

Choice – Being the most common type of lawnmower, there’s a wealth of rotary mower choice out there – so pretty much anyone can find the right tool for the job.

Ease of use – It’s not rocket science to use a rotary mower. The learning curve is pretty straight, and you’ll pretty much be out there mowing in no time.

Adjustable height – Most good rotary mowers come with a height adjustment level, so you can set the cutting height exactly where you want it while you’re on the go.

Able to handle tall grass – If you’ve neglected to mow the lawn for a couple of weeks – or maybe you’ve returned from vacation to find a jungle – a quality rotary mower should be able to handle it.

mowing the grass with a push lawn mower in garden

Rotary Mower Disadvantages

Limited maneuverability – Rotary mowers are somewhat limited when it comes to the direction they can go in. With the wheels placed the way they are, forwards and backwards are pretty much your lot.

You can obviously turn with a rotary lawnmower, but it can be cumbersome and challenging – particularly in hard-to-reach areas, around tight corners, or when negotiating obstacles.

Unless, of course, you’re using one of these incredible zero turn mowers that can swivel on a dime – but your yard will need to be pretty huge for this kind of machine.

Some assembly required – Rotary mowers nearly always need putting together out of the box in some form or another – and not everyone is comfortable doing so.

Especially if the instructions appear to be in Latin, and/or you’re not that confident with DIY.

Track marks – Rotary mower wheels will cause track marks across your lawn – with heavier, gas-powered machines being the main culprits.

Sure, they will fade in time, but some people don’t like seeing them at all. Plus, they can cause damage when going over new seed, or anywhere you’re encouraging the grass to grow.

Hover Mowers

Technically speaking, hover mowers are still rotary mowers – they have a blade that spins around at high speed in order to cut the grass.

The main difference is that they don’t have any wheels.

A hover mower works by creating a cushion of air, so it literally “hovers” over the surface of your lawn.

They are more commonly available as corded electric models, although there are plenty of gas-powered versions if that’s what you prefer.

At the time of writing, it seems there are no battery-powered hover mowers currently available. Quick – there’s a gap in the market!

As a side note, hover mowers are actually much more popular in the UK.

This is largely thanks to iconic British brand Flymo developing the technology, as well as the generally smaller yards and gardens they have on the other side of the pond.

California Trimmer Gas Hover Lawn Mower

California Trimmer Gas Hover Lawn Mower

Here we have an example of a gas-powered hover mower, backed with a reputable Briggs & Stratton engine that doesn’t require prime or choke to start.

Any Brits reading this will be livid I didn’t choose a Flymo, but they’re just not as popular or readily available in the US and Canada.

With a 19-inch cutting deck, the mower has a tri-blade system, which will make short work of grass clippings, automatically mulching and depositing them on the lawn.

Capable of cutting at angles of up to 45-degrees, it’s perfect for hilly yards and gardens, and an extension handle and wheel kit is available to make operation and transport a little easier.

Hover Mower Advantages

Superior maneuverability – Watch any hover mower in action, and right away you’ll see its number one advantage – unbeatable maneuverability.

It can handle hills and obstacles with ease, as the operator can simply swing the deck pretty much anywhere they need to cut.

As a result, they’re an excellent choice for lawns that are an odd shape, perhaps with many curves, or nooks and crannies that a wheeled rotary mower might struggle to get into.

Storage – Hover mowers are generally more compact than their wheeled rotary counterparts, and they’ll take up less space in your shed or garage. They’re easier to hang on a wall, too.

Ready-to-go – Right out of the box, hover mowers have a plug-and-play kinda vibe. You can get to mowing the lawn with minimal assembly (if any is required at all).

Ideal for boggy ground – Hover mowers don’t have wheels, and so they can’t get stuck in the mud. While it’s not recommended you mow in damp conditions, using a hover mower is a good solution.

If you absolutely must cut wet grass and there’s no other way around it, at least look at this article on how to mow wet grass safely.

Suitable for overseeding – Furthermore, given the fact that hover mowers are devoid of wheels, they’re more suitable for mowing over new seed – or anywhere you don’t want to mark or damage the turf.

Wheels will nearly always make track marks, and while these will fade in time, if you’re going over freshly seeded spots or other sensitive terrain, they can cause traffic damage you just wouldn’t get with a hover mower.

Hover Mower Disadvantages

Uneven cuts – Hover mowers can take a bit of practice to control, and it’s quite possible that uneven cuts will be the result of this learning curve.

Swinging the machine around willy-nilly doesn’t always achieve an attractive, uniform finish. Certainly not when compared to a wheeled, rotary mower. Sticking to a systematic cutting route might be trickier.

Weight – You need a certain amount of physical fitness to use a hover mower, as it can take a bit of effort to swing it from side to side, especially if you’re mowing for any length of time.

You don’t have the luxury of a self-propelled system to do it for you, and moving a hover mower around can increase operator fatigue much faster than a machine with wheels.

You also need to transport the mower to the area it needs to cut – and given the lack of wheels, it means you’re going to have to lift it.

Gas-powered hover mowers in particular aren’t going to be all that lightweight.

Limited grass clipping options – Hover mowers don’t have the versatility of rotary mowers, in that your choice of how you dispose of grass clippings is limited.

Some machines do offer a bagging option, but for the most part, you’re going to be scattering the material back on the lawn – which isn’t for everyone, nor is it for every lawn.

No battery-powered options – As mentioned it appears there are no cordless hover mowers out there, but you can always check this article for the best battery-powered lawn mowers if that’s what you’re looking for.

Limited cutting heights – Hover mowers don’t come close to rotary when it comes to cutting height options. And even if they do have a selection to choose from – adjusting them can be a time-draining chore.

walk-behind push gas lawn mower in garden

Hover Mower or Rotary Mower – The Final Verdict

It’s clear that both types of mower have a lot to offer the homeowner, and you might still be having a little trouble in making a decision.

Here’s my two cents.

If you have a small to medium lawn that’s a uniform shape, you want the option of mulching, bagging, and side discharge, and/or you want to stripe your lawn – then go with a rotary mower.

If your lawn is small and irregular, perhaps with slopes, uneven terrain, and obstacles – then consider choosing a hover mower for the job.

And check out this review on the best lawn mowers for small yards if you do happen to have a more modest plot.

walk behind push lawnmower standing in a garden

FAQs

Is a hover mower better than a rotary?

Yes and no – it depends on what you need it for.

Hover mowers are better for hills and negotiating obstacles. They’re more suitable for smaller yards and gardens.

For just about everything else, a rotary mower comes out on top.

What type of mower do I need for my lawn?

Good question, and one that we see and hear a lot of here at YardThyme.

As such, we’ve written a whole article on all the different types of lawnmower – and which one is right for your lawn.

Take a look at that link, and you should be able to figure out the best option for your particular needs.

Should I choose a gas or electric lawn mower?

Ahhh the endless debate when it comes to just about any piece of outdoor power equipment. Do you go for gas or electric?

Luckily, you can find out the merits of each over at this article on gas versus electric lawn mowers, which will help you with this difficult decision.

We think of everything.

What is the advantage of a hover mower?

As mentioned above, the main advantages of a hover mower are maneuverability, and that they’re ideal for use on hills or sloping terrain.

What type of mowers give the best cut?

It depends entirely on the quality of the mower and not the type itself.

You’d need to try every single mower type and then compare every model of that type against every model of every other type in order to find an answer.

Best of luck with that.

Seriously though, any powerful mower with a sharp, quality blade set up should provide a very satisfactory cut.

But purists will tell you that a premium reel mower with razor-sharp blades will give you the best possible finish.

Many dedicated lawn enthusiasts will do the hard work with a gas-powered or electric machine, and then finish it off with a fine cut from a reel mower.

Are rotary mowers any good?

Yes, they are. But perhaps only when used in the right environment.

They come into their own in smaller lawns, on hilly or sloping terrain, and/or when tackling obstacles and hazards.

Which is cheaper – a rotary or a hover mower?

This isn’t a straightforward one to answer, I’m afraid. It will depend on the quality of the mower and if it’s gas or electric. Gas tends to be more expensive for both versions.

For the most part, I would say that hover mowers are generally cheaper than rotary – all things being equal.

Take a look at this article on the best cheap lawn mowers if you are on a budget.

Summary

In the battle of the rotary vs hover mowers, the results are interesting, to say the least.

Personally, I’d choose a rotary every time – unless my grass cutting needs were specifically met with the hover mower’s advantages.

Let me know in the comments which mower you would go for and why – or if I’ve missed anything out from either machine.

Happy mowing!

About the Author: Andy Gibson

My name's Gibson. Andy Gibson. I like to think of myself as the Bond of the backyard, that is if yard work ever became sexy. I write about everything about indoor and outdoor gardening and the dread-it-but-still-need-to-do-it chores around the yard, like cleaning out the gutter guards.