July is here. Even in high elevation and northern locations — where we’ve just set out plants and are seeing germination from the previous weeks’ seed sowing — we’ve already mowed our lawns a handful of times. In earlier zones, we’ve been mowing for months. No matter where we live, it’s time to review some lawn mowing tips and tricks.

How is summer mowing different than spring mowing? It’s less frequent. As spring moisture conditions give way to the dryness of summer, lawns grow less quickly. Higher temperatures also encourage faster moisture evaporation. The most important thing you can do at this time of year is to encourage moisture retention. The best way to do it? Set your mower to cut less grass. Generally, three-and-a-half, even four inches is a good height for the most common grasses (Bermuda, zoysia and other warm-climate grasses can be cut shorter). This is the highest setting on most mowers. Carrying a yardstick around your lawn and measuring different places — shaded and not, northern exposure and southern exposure — will give you a good idea of how your grass is faring (and bring a kid-friendly pun to the common usage of the word “yardstick”). Longer grasses in your yard help shade the ground, thus lessening moisture evaporation. Shading the ground also discourages weed seed from germinating. Different types of grasses require different mowing heights.

Another general rule: don’t cut more than a third of the grass’ height. If you’ve been away on vacation or otherwise have not been able to mow, don’t immediately trim your lawn down to three-and-half inches. Grass needs length to generate the energy it requires and produce chlorophyll. Removing a large part of this generating surface may cause your lawn to brown prematurely. If your lawn is overgrown, cut it in stages.

Many lawn experts recommend you mow in the early morning or early evening to avoid placing stress on your grass while protecting the person pushing the mower from heat-related problems. Mow with a sharp blade. Dull, nicked blades cut grass unevenly and damage its ends leaving an entry point for disease and extra surface for evaporation. Finally, do you leave your clippings on the lawn or collect them? Organic gardeners know clippings are a good source of nitrogen for your grass. Regular mowing leaves clippings of just the right size to settle into your turf, inhibiting evaporation and eventually breaking down into the soil. Unless your clippings are long and thick enough to shade your grasses, let them return to the soil from which they came. In the organic garden, everything is part of a cycle.

A riding lawn mower takes the toil out of cutting a lawn, but not all riding mowers are created equal. There are small mowers for low-acreage lawns, electric mowers for easy operation, and big mowers, like the Cub Cadet XT1 ST54 Lawn Tractor, for cutting acres and acres of grass. With a wide 54-inch mowing deck and an impressive 24-horsepower engine, the XT1 ST54 is one of the faster and larger-sized lawn tractors on the market. It’s also chock full of convenience and safety features. We put this Cub Cadet to the test, using it to cut our two-acre yard and to haul brush.

Cub Cadet XT1 ST54 Lawn Tractor
The Spruce / Kelly Hodgkins

Design: Lots to like

Very few details were overlooked when Cub Cadet designed the XT1 ST54 riding lawn mower. Let’s start with the core components: The ST54 has a 24-horsepower Kohler V-Twin engine and a rugged fabricated 54-inch deck made with 11-gauge steel, meaning it can handle impacts from rocks, roots, and other hazards with minimal damage. It also has a self-charging electrical system that will charge the battery when the mower is in operation. As long as you are running the mower regularly you will power to electric start the engine

Around the edges of the deck, it boasts three blades and four anti-scuff wheels that adjust the deck to the terrain to keep a level cut. A single lever can raise or lower the deck into 12 different positions between 1 and 4 inches. There is no PTO lever to engage the cutting blades, as the Cub Cadet has an electric PTO that engages with the push/pull of a small yellow knob on the console.

Very few details were overlooked when Cub Cadet designed the XT1 ST54 riding lawn mower.

The Cub Cadet has a push-button electric start with electronic fuel injection, so there is no choke you need to set. Just press the button, and the engine fires right up. Press it again and the engine turns off. There also is a push-button, cruise control setting that maintains your speed over level terrain. Got a large area to mow and want an even cut? Push the button, sit back, and cruise.

Not only can you automatically engage the hydrostatic transmission and drivetrain, but you can also disengage it when needed. If you need to move the mower without engine power, a simple transmission bypass rod can be used to disconnect the transmission so you can push the mower right where you need it.

The Cub Cadet supports a variety of optional mowing attachments for mulching, snow plowing, and more. A quick wash adapter on the deck allows you to connect your garden hose for cleaning. If you are mowing at night, the Cub Cadet has an LED headlight that delivers a steady and bright beam of light. They won’t brighten and dim with engine output like traditional bulbs.

Cub Cadet XT1 ST54 Lawn Tractor
The Spruce / Kelly Hodgkins

Performance: Fast and effective

Most people purchase a riding lawn mower to cut grass, and the XT1 ST54 excels in this area. We found that its mowing deck cuts a full swatch, allowing us to make fewer passes across the lawn. The 24HP Kohler engine starts and runs without a hitch and provides plenty of mowing power. The Cub Cadet cuts at a blazing 5.5 miles per hour in forward and an impressive 3.2 miles per hour in reverse, meaning we could cut even large areas quickly and efficiently.

If you have a smaller or slower lawn mower, you’ll be amazed at how fast the Cub Cadet mows. It cut our mowing time down by a third. It is also highly maneuverable, with a 16-inch turning radius that made us think we were driving a zero-turn mower. This handling means you can tackle lawns that have obstacles with ease.

If you have a smaller or slower lawn mower, you’ll be amazed at how fast the Cub Cadet mows. It cut our mowing time down by a third.

Our yard has a little bit of everything, from straight flat sections to hills and plenty of obstacles, and we had no problem using it to remove brush cuttings and mowing slightly to moderate inclines. The side discharge discards the cut grass close to the tractor so there is little to no dust. Unfortunately, the mower does not ship with a bagger, but you can purchase one as an optional accessory.

Still, this Cub Cadet is sold as a riding lawn mower and not a garden tractor, so don’t expect it to be able to pull heavy loads or mow on steep hills. When we tried to pull a railroad tie from an old garden bed, the mower struggled, and the wheels spun out more than once. We experienced similar slippage on a steep, grassy hill. But overall, we found the floating-style deck was easy to move from height to height, and it helped the ST54 deliver an even cut on uneven terrain.

The floating-style deck was easy to move from height to height, and it helped the ST54 deliver an even cut on uneven terrain.

Cub Cadet XT1 ST54 Lawn Tractor
The Spruce / Kelly Hodgkins

Gas Mileage: Roomy tank lasts for hours

With a 24HP engine and three cutting blades, the Cub Cadet XT1 ST54 is a powerful lawn mower. It guzzles fuel faster than a smaller mower, especially at high speeds, but the three-gallon tank helps to offset consumption. We were able to mow several hours without a refill. A side-mounted gas spout and a transparent container made it easy to check the fuel level as we were mowing and refill the gas as needed.

We were able to mow several hours without a refill.

Noise Level: Ear protection advised

The noise level from the ST54 is on par with most gas-powered riding lawn mowers. It is loud enough that you cannot hear your surroundings and have to stop the mower to talk to someone. We recommend using some form of hearing protection while using the Cub Cadet lawn tractor.

Safety: Multiple levels of protection

The Cub Cadet XT1 ST54 has a wide variety of safety features to protect you in case of an accident. The seat has a sensor that detects when someone is sitting on it and will prevent the mower from starting if it is vacant. The mower will also turn off if the rider comes off the seat without engaging the parking brake. Another useful feature is the blade brake clutch, which turns off the blade but keeps the motor running so you can safely empty the bag of grass without having to turn off the engine.

The ST54 can both drive and mow in reverse, but it has safety features to prevent you from going backward by mistake. When driving backward, you have to press the reverse button on the console and depress the reverse pedal on the riding mower. Mowing in reverse requires an extra step. You first have to turn the key to the Reverse Caution Mode before you engage the reverse button and the reverse pedal.

Cub Cadet XT1 ST54 Lawn Tractor
The Spruce / Kelly Hodgkins

Comfort: Could be better

Mowing takes time, and you will be sitting for hours in the seat, so it better be comfortable. The seat in the Cub Cadet XT1 ST54 has an ergonomically-shaped molded plastic frame with padding and a high back that provides extra support. The seat has springs that do a decent job offsetting the bumpy ride of the riding mower.

There are no armrests on this Cub Cadet model, which is disappointing. You’ll have to upgrade to the XT2 or XT3 models if you want this extra level of comfort. Next to the seat within easy reach is a cup holder and a holder for small tools.

The seat has springs that do a decent job offsetting the bumpy ride of the riding mower.

Maintenance: Quick and easy

Maintenance is a breeze thanks to the Bluetooth-enabled Cub Connect mobile app, which provides reminders and lets us log any work we’ve done on the riding mower. It was easy to do the essential maintenance, like changing the oil, ourselves; the oil dipstick is accessible underneath the hood.

Even the oil drain is right out in the open. Just attach the drain tube, which is included with the mower, twist to unlock the drain plug, and let it drain. Once the oil is completely removed, we were able to turn to close the plug and refill with clean oil. It takes 15 minutes tops.

The brand’s patented SmartJet high-pressure deck washing system helps to mitigate the buildup of grass clippings and other debris. If you happen to damage the blades, they are replaceable. Just makes sure you purchase the 54-inch blades. They are harder to find and a bit more expensive than the common 42-inch size.

Price: Get what you pay for

With a price tag just under $3,000, the Cub Cadet XT1 ST54 is pricey, but you get what you pay for. The lawn tractor has a wide mowing deck, a powerful engine, three blades for cutting, and a slew of convenient features that make mowing enjoyable.


A worthy investment.

The Cub Cadet XT1 ST54 Lawn Tractor cuts evenly and mows quickly, making short work of most household lawns. The seat could use some armrests, and the reverse could be easier to engage, but overall, this mower is a worthy investment for people with larger lawns.

Courtesy: The Spruce

There are plenty of options in the marketplace when it comes to choosing the right zero-turn lawnmower. And if you’ve decided that a zero-turn mower is right for you, it’s time to understand what to look for in a machine when stepping up to a new experience. From offering superior cut quality and a comfortable ride to being durable and easy to maintain, there are several characteristics to look for in a zero-turn. Below are the major areas to focus on when shopping.

Evaluate your needs

A zero-turn mower needs to meet the needs of your specific situation, so it’s important to ask yourself what size zero-turn can maneuver best in your space and how long it will take to get the job done. Zero-turn lawnmowers are ideal for yards with lots of obstacles due to their zero-degree turning radius, and they can get the job done faster, so take into account the unique parts of your lawn when making a decision.

Zero-turn feature checklist

Once you’ve considered the needs of your yard and decided on the right size mower, there’s a checklist of features that your zero-turn mower should fulfill. Beware of zero-turn mowers that focus on just one feature and look for a machine that can excel across the board.

Excellent cut quality and performance

At the end of the day, you need a mower that’s going to give you the best cut possible without sacrificing performance. That means finer clippings, fewer clumps, and a uniform cut. Not all zero-turn mowers were created equal. Yours should be outfitted with a deck that’s focused on maintaining a quality cut (preferably a cut that has been proven out by a trusted third party) but that’s also easy to adjust from a height standpoint. Superior bagging performance is a major bonus, as it makes short work of fine grass clippings.

Zero-turn mowers generally have a breadth of deck sizes, so you can choose the right size for your lawn. For larger yards with more acreage, a larger deck will reduce the amount of time it takes to mow your lawn. However, for smaller yards, the same deck size isn’t practical and in some cases can be limiting.


Strength and durability are a must for any zero-turn mower you purchase. You’ll want to look for a machine that’s built on a strong frame, houses a powerful engine and resists corrosion. Mowers that are built on a continuous square tubular frame will make for a strong, durable machine.


A comfortable ride is just as important as quality and speed. Choose a mower outfitted with comfortable features like a high-back adjustable seat so your mower feels like your armchair, ample legroom, ergonomic rubber hand grips for a comfortable grip, and seat isolators for a smoother, quieter ride on any terrain you need to tackle.

Easy maintenance

Maintenance shouldn’t be a headache when it comes to your zero-turn, and your machine should be as easy as possible to maintain. Mowers with maintenance-free spindles, for instance, mean one less part to worry about, while a hinged floor pan makes for easy deck access.


Part of the experience of owning a zero-turn mower is being proud of the machine you’re operating. Take the all-new Ultima Series of zero-turn lawn mowers, for example. These mowers offer an automotive-inspired, compelling design that captures attention and exudes performance.

Cut quality, strength, comfort, maintenance and style are just a few of the many considerations when shopping for a zero-turn. Check out Cub Cadet’s new line of residential zero-turn lawnmowers, the Ultima Series, which pairs strength, comfort and, best-in-class cut* for the ultimate all-around mowing experience.


While the arrival of summer heralds great rejoicing by outdoor enthusiasts around the country, warm-weather lawn care can be a bit of a daunting task. This is especially true if you are a first-time homeowner or novice landscaper. Fortunately, maintaining a healthy lawn isn’t challenging – heed this simple list of do’s and don’ts to keep your lawn looking fresh and green.

1. DO mow often, but DON’T mow too short.

Maintaining a healthy lawn requires mowing your lawn frequently (around once a week) to keep the ends healthy and to stimulate growth. Let it grow naturally and don’t cut it shorter than around half the stem length. Cutting grass too short shocks the plant and prevents it from growing properly.

Keep in mind that this length varies depending on the type of grass you are growing, so you should always consider the species of grass before determining how short to cut.

2. DO fertilize but DON’T necessarily use chemicals.

Fertilizing is important, as it helps feed your grass the nutrients it needs. You can start fertilizing around the time you start mowing your lawn. Try not to fertilize during the hottest days, as this can burn the grass.

Keep in mind that fertilizer doesn’t have to be a store bought, synthetic brew. Organic, all-natural fertilizers work just fine, as well as, mulched grass clippings and shredded leaves. Grass clippings work well to naturally replenish the soil, and are easy to disperse evenly on the lawn during and after mowing. Other organic fertilizers include manure, bone meal, and compost.

3. DO follow a regular watering schedule but DON’T overwater.

Your lawn needs regular watering. If you live in a dry area or if it’s a particularly dry season, make sure you are supplementing rainfall with your watering. Consider installing an irrigation system to ensure your plants are receiving adequate access to moisture. Water in the early morning between 6 and 10 am, as this gives your plants adequate time to absorb the moisture before it evaporates under the hot sun.

Water deeply, but infrequently-aim for a good soaking every two to three days. Conversely, try not to overwater. Watering too often can leave your lawn soggy and cause fungi to grow.

4. DO pay attention to the time of day but DON’T ever cut wet grass.

Try to mow your lawn in the afternoon. Before noon, your grass should still be damp from morning dew or watering. Cutting wet grass inhibits further growth, and also makes the lawn more susceptible to damage and soil compaction. Plus, wet grass will clog your mower blades and make the chore more tedious. Set aside time for regular lawn maintenance, and follow a strict schedule to avoid working your lawn at the wrong times.

5. DO plan ahead but DON’T feel like everything must be done at once.

Regardless if you are a first-time landowner or a seasoned expert, planning out your summer landscape and lawn care is crucial. Don’t attempt to tackle your landscaping plan haphazardly. Dedicate spaces to vegetables, lawn, perennials, and annuals, and then stick to your plan.

At the same time, you shouldn’t feel like you need to transform your front yard into a verdant oasis in just one season. Landscaping is not cheap, and while curb appeal and home value both increase as you improve the landscape, it can be cost-prohibitive to do it all at once. Add a new garden bed, seed a section of lawn, or plant new shrubs one at a time, and don’t let yourself become overwhelmed by the vast array of opportunities available to you. Taking care of your lawn shouldn’t be overwhelming, so take it easy and improve your lawn slowly, year by year.

  • Periodically check to make sure the lawn mower blades come to a complete stop within approximately five seconds after operating the blade disengagement control. If the blades do not stop within this time frame, take your machine to an authorized service dealer.
  • Check the lawn mower blade(s) and engine mounting bolts at frequent intervals for proper tightness. Also, visually inspect blade(s) for damage. Replace riding mower blade with the original manufacturers (OEM) blade only. Use of parts which do not meet specifications may lead to improper performance and compromise safety.
  • Keep all nuts, bolts and screws tight to be sure the equipment is in safe working conditions. The natural vibrating motion of your riding lawn mower can cause them to loosen throughout the season, so it’s important to check periodically before use.
  • Sharpen lawn mower blades frequently to maintain the health of your lawn. Brown grass tips may be an indicator it is time to sharpen or replace blades.
  • Add fuel stabilizer to fresh gasoline before adding it to your mower. Otherwise, the gas will begin to destabilize and leave deposits that gum up the engine. Stabilizer can extend the shelf-life of your gas pas 30 days and help keep the engine clean.
  • Watch for wear and damage on the grass catcher components, discharge cover and trail shield that could expose moving parts or allow objects to be thrown. Frequently check components and replace immediately with OEM parts only.

Zero turn mowers have been used by professional landscape contractors for many years to produce a manicured-looking lawn in the most efficient way possible.

Lawn Tractors vs. Zero Turns The term “zero turn” refers to the turning radius of the machine being zero inches, or a zero-degree turn radius. This means the zero turn mower can turn within its own footprint. When looking at a lawn tractor and a zero turn side-by-side, some of the differences are obvious. The zero turn mower does not use a traditional steering wheel or pedal brake and the seat is mounted in a lower position. The main difference between a zero turn mower and a steering wheel lawn tractor is in the controls. Each rear wheel has an independent wheel motor (one on the right and one on the left) that is controlled by the two steering handles.

1. Mowing Pattern

When all things are equal, a zero turn mower will allow you to cut a property more efficiently due to the ability to turn 180 degrees at the end of a mowing row. The wider turning radius of a tractor leaves strips of uncut grass that requires awkward maneuvering to reach. When mowing with a traditional lawn tractor, you need to drive over already cut areas, backing up to cut or taking multiple passes at the end of a mowing row. This awkward maneuvering can create an inefficient pattern of mowing, increasing the overall time it will take you to mow a property. The efficient cut pattern also helps you achieve that freshly-cut “striping” look of a professional job.

2. Reduce Mowing Time by up to 50%

Most facility managers who convert to a zero turn mower find they can cut their mowing time in half. Here are some of the time-saving features of zero turn technology:

Maneuver Around Obstacles: The maneuverability of zero turn mowers allows you to mow around trees, flower beds and other obstacles more easily than with a steering wheel vehicle such as a riding lawn tractor.

Drive at a Faster Speed: Zero turn mowers are designed to cut grass nearly twice as fast as traditional lawn tractors so your straight line mowing speed is improved. A typical lawn tractor cuts at a speed of 3-4 mph while a typical zero turn mower cuts at a speed of 5-8 mph.

Mow in a Single Pass: When you get to the end of your property and have to turn around and come back, you literally can spin 180 degrees and come straight back without having to back up and cut the strips of grass you would miss when making the turn with a lawn tractor.

Eliminate Follow-Up Trimming: With an unobstructed view of the cutting deck, zero turn mowers make it easy to cut very close to your trim edges – you can nearly eliminate the need to trim hard-to-reach areas with a push mower or a string trimmer.

3. Add Attachments for Versatility

There are a number of different attachments that add to the versatility of zero turn mowers. You can bag clippings, transport materials or even clear snow by using one of the many attachments designed for zero turn mowers. The most popular attachment is a bagging system for collecting grass clippings. There are many bagger options available for zero turn mowers including two- and three-bucket designs. Powered baggers have a belt-driven powered blower that forces grass into the bags. Commercial-quality baggers dump from seat using a lever to tilt the collector so you don’t have to get off the machine to dump clippings. All of these items attach to the rear of the machine on the frame. Some may require weight kits or mount kits to install. Zero turn mowers can accommodate a variety of rear attachments, including a dump cart, spreader, plug aerator, lawn dethatcher, roller or sprayer. Some zero turn mowers may require you to add a hitch for these attachments while others may come standard with a hitch.

In addition, some zero turn mowers can accommodate a front-mounted blade or even a snow blower or brush for clearing snow or debris. These attachments, in some cases, may require an adapter kit or weight kit. “Quick hitch” mechanisms may also be available for fast and easy changeover.

4. Easy to Drive

Without a steering wheel, a zero turn machine may look intimidating to drive but most operators become comfortable with the way it handles after just a few times using the equipment. Steering a zero turn mower is easy. In fact, it is not that different from steering a shopping cart. The key to driving in a straight line is to assure that the same amount of pressure is applied to each lever.

Most zero turn mowers do not have a foot-pedal brake. The steering handles of a zero turn mower control both the direction and the speed of the machine. As you push the handles forward, the speed of the mower will increase. So when you want to slow down or stop, you simply bring the handles back to neutral in their original position. Zero turn mowers are equipped with a parking/emergency brake.

5. How do zero turn mowers handle on slopes?

It is not recommended to operate a zero turn mower on slopes over 10 degrees. (As a reference point, most roads do not have slopes greater than 10 degrees. A 20 degree slope would be difficult even to stand on). Because zero turn mowers steer by traction of the rear wheels, a loss of traction could also reduce your ability to stop. When operating on slopes, a zero turn mower will not steer if you are sliding or skidding. There is no power to the front wheels of a zero-turn mower.

6. Cost Comparison

Zero turn mowers typically will cost more than a traditional lawn tractor. Part of the additional cost is due to the fact that there are two hydrostatic transmissions in a zero turn mower instead of one in a lawn tractor. Zero turn mowers usually have larger engines, larger decks, stronger frames and, overall, more steel in their construction compared to lawn tractors.

Although they may cost more, there are some long-term cost savings associated with zero turn mowers that are often overlooked. Because zero turn mowers can cut your mowing time in half, less gas is required to cut your lawn. Shorter run times also means less wear and tear on belts and pulleys resulting in longer machine life.

If your old lawn tractor is scheduled for an overhaul, now may be the time to invest in zero turn technology to help you maximize your lawn maintenance budget.