Attacking a Severe Slope

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Mowing on a slope can be risky business. Every year, a handful of lawn workers – from professionals to DIYers – are injured or killed when working on a severe slope. By “severe,” we are talking about any slope that is more than 15 degrees, meaning a rise or fall of more than 25 inches or so over 10 feet. It’s not just riding mowers that are a problem on these slopes, either. Push mowers can be just as difficult to handle, and can result in similar injuries.


Grass Slope, courtesy Fort Scott Kansas Division of Water Resources.

Choosing the Right Tools

You can use a riding mower on a steeper slope, you just have to pick the right mower and read the owner’s manual. A four-wheel drive mower or a front-wheel drive mower are your best bets – zero-turn mowers can be difficult to maneuver and pose a greater rollover risk. Make sure your mower has a roll-over protection structure (ROPS) in place – it’s a roll bar that provides a frame around the operator. This keeps the operator from hitting the ground if they lose control. You also will want a unit with a seat belt, and make sure to use it.

A push mower is a better choice, particularly for steeper slopes. A lightweight model that is not self-propelled is the best choice. Both heavier as well as self-propelled models may be more difficult to control. A model with larger rear wheels will help provide some leverage.

It’s not just the mower itself. Having other tools can make the job safer and easier. If using a push mower, invest in lawn mowing shoes or cleats, as well as a pair of tacky gloves. The cleats will give you better footing, while the gloves will provide a better grip on he mower.

Method is Just As Important

Regardless of the tools at hand, you’ll need to attack the slope with a plan. The path you take should be planned ahead of time. Turns on the slope should be avoided, but if absolutely necessary, they should be made slowly and in a downhill direction. With a riding mower, you need to mow up and down the hill, not across. Mow around bumpy, uneven terrain instead of through it. Take everything at a slow speed, making deliberate turns and movements – don’t jerk the mower around.

The Don’ts of the Slopes

There are a number of things to avoid when working on a slope.

  • Don’t Mow a Wet Slope: It’s fairly common sense – a wet slope reduces traction. Reduced traction increases the chance of slipping and falling. Mowing wet grass itself is a poor idea, mowing a wet slope is courting injury or worse.
  • Don’t Mow Near Embankments or Drop-offs: Another bit of common sense, as the closer you are to a drop-off, the greater the possibility of a miss-step to send you right over it.
  • Don’t Use Attachments: Grass catchers and other attachments can cause an imbalance of the machine, making it more likely to roll over.
  • Don’t Use a Foot to Balance a Riding Mower: Just don’t. If the mower seems to be headed over, tuck in and hold on, and rely on the seat belt, ROPS, and frame of the mower to keep your from being crushed or pinned. Putting a foot down will end up with a broken leg, while trying to jump clear could result in the operator ending up under the deck of the mower.

Mowing on a slope doesn’t have to be risky, so long as you put the proper planning and effort into it. Don’t take unnecessary risks, think ahead, and take proper precautions, and there’s no reason your lawn slope can’t be trimmed as nicely as the flat areas.

About AndrewT

Written by Andrew T for LawnEq - The specialists for Lawn Mower Parts and Small Engine Parts. We offer genuine premium OEM parts for Land Pride, Toro and many more dependable brands.