SUSTAINABLE LIVING IN THE MODERN WORLD
LANDSCAPING - SELF-MAINTAINED LAWNS
Discovering the benefits of an automower for our lawn areas has been a joy - one of the best additions to the project we’ve made. Read further through this page for more information on our aims, research, decisions and results, as well as our tips and advice summary, for this element of our project - achieving self-maintained lawns.
Not all our outside areas could be paths and garden beds. It was important that non-garden areas were still nicely grassed and maintained, so as to still be accessible and useable spaces. Due to the large areas involved we needed them as easy to maintain as possible.
Our property is 1.5 acres (approximately 6000m2), of which one-third to one-half is taken up by the house, carport, sheds, driveway and planned-for garden beds, orchard and natural pond habitat. That leaves 3000-4000m2 of grassed areas that have to be maintained somehow.
Common solutions to the maintenance of large grassed areas usually involve the use of animals or ride-on mowers.
Animals - such as a couple of sheep, goats or a cow - can be an environmentally friendly solution, however drawbacks involve on-going time and cost for the care of the animals, as well as the cost of setting up suitable fencing.
Ride-on mowers are readily available in petrol form, but for those really wanting to free themselves of fossil fuels as we did, there was only one battery powered ride-on mower we came across available in Australia, which came at quite a premium compared to its petrol counterparts. Looking for non-fossil fuel mowing options, however, led us to investigate the idea of “automowers”, sometimes referred to as “robot mowers”. These are battery powered electric units that mow the lawn completely by themselves, keeping within their working area via the use of boundary wires that you install just beneath the surface of the soil.
From a time and effort point of view, looking after large animals in order to look after the lawn was definitely not a winning calculation. Add to that the cost of suitable fencing, and this pathway was not appealing (the kids can have guinea pigs and chickens instead - much easier).
So battery powered mowing options were the focus, and it turns out that an automower is significantly cheaper than the battery powered ride-on mower option. That, together with the fact that I wouldn’t have to mow the lawns myself - ever - had me enthusiastically sold on the automower pathway.
Looking into all the automower options, there was a clear stand-out winner: the . This was one of the few units, from any manufacturer, that’s designed to handle the area we needed maintained (the 450X handles up to 5000m2, whereas the best that other brands could offer were around the 2000-3000m2 mark or much less). The energy use (which I always look carefully at due to our off-grid situation) of the 450X was also outstanding: it mows for over four hours off a one hour charge, using only around 30 watts per hour (less than an old incandescent light globe!). The 450X also comes with other features that stand out from the crowd, such as GPS mapping which allows intelligent algorithms to inform optimal mowing coverage.
By the time we were ready to install the automower, I was spending a full day a week mowing our first lawn area myself - a large time commitment that was becoming a real chore and holding up the rest of the landscaping. I literally could not wait to get the automower installed!
The installation process was simple enough, with the installation kit containing all the wire, pegs and connectors you need. The boundary wire can be pegged on top of the ground (covered just by the grass), or you can set the wire safely into the ground a centimetre or so using a straight spade edge or line-trimmer to cut a shallow groove (we actually found a saw to be easiest). The instructions give clear details on how the charging station, boundary wire and guide wires need to be set up - following the instructions closely will result in a successful installation. We actually pushed the envelope of the recommendations just a little to have our charging station tucked out of sight in a passageway around the corner of a shed. It's a set-up that's working successfully for us, but I’d recommend following the instructions and recommendations closely for a hassle-free install. All up it took us two days to install the charging station, guide wire and boundary wires around the area, which wasn’t bad at all considering that we had quite a large area.
OUR THOUGHTS ON COMPLETION
It felt a little too good to be true to think that this mower unit would now be doing all the mowing while I sat back and watched… Would it really work?
OUR EXPERIENCE SO FAR
I honestly think this 450X is one of the best things I’ve ever spent money on. Looking out every day across the expanse of well-maintained lawn, without ever having to mow it, still makes me smile. One of the best decisions we’ve ever made.
After the set-up, the unit has been remarkably easy to use. You really only need to plug in the days and hours that you want it to mow (pretty much all other settings remaining the same from the original set-up parameters chosen) and that’s it. Inputting those timer settings can be done directly into the unit itself via its keypad, or if you don’t even feel like walking outside and bending down, just use the app it comes with on your phone.
The unit mainly mows in a deliberately random fashion, changing direction whenever it reaches a boundary wire: the random trajectory ensures that no ‘tracks’ are etched into the lawn due to using the same path constantly. However the 450X model also builds up a GPS map of the working area, so if it notices there’s a section it hasn’t been to recently, it will head there on its next mow. There is also an ability to notice the resistance its blades are experiencing, so if it encounters a patch of grass that has grown faster than other areas, it will go into ‘spot’ mow mode, concentrating on that section for a bit.
There are guidelines for how many mowing hours are recommended for a given area. For the estimated 1500m2 of lawn we have at the moment, Husqvarna recommends around 7.5 hours of mowing per day. That sounds like a lot of course, as when I was mowing it myself I was only doing that amount per week, not per day. But that’s how these machines are designed to operate: they mow every day, trimming just a few millimetres each time (i.e. whatever slight growth has occurred since the unit last passed over that particular area). This results in a lawn that is neatly manicured week in week out, and there’s nothing to speak of in terms of lawn clippings to worry about (the few millimetres of cut grass go entirely unnoticed by us, just joining the soil to fertilise it). The time of year, and the corresponding grass growth rate, makes a difference to optimal mowing hours of course. During some months this same lawn area has looked perfectly maintained on only 4 hours mowing per day. On average I have it set at 6 hours per day.
When we bring the next two lawn areas online through our current landscaping plan, we’ll probably have around 3500m2 (give or take a few hundred) for our 450X to maintain. That may bring the mowing hours up to around 15 hours per day, but at only 30 watts per hour in energy expenditure this is no problem whatsoever - I’ve calculated that on an average day our solar PV system takes less than 3 minutes to produce the energy needed for those entire 15 hours of mowing.
Likewise, adding in the other two ongoing costs of running the unit - blades and batteries - things still work out cheaper than other mowing options. The blades are surprisingly small (like large razor blades, designed for efficient trimming) and need be changed every couple of months (depending on usage and grass type etc), but they are quite cheap. The battery has a lifespan of 2-4 years (again depending on usage), but even taking the cost of that into consideration, the overall cost for running an automower beats the fuel and maintenance costs of traditional lawn mowing methods (especially if you value your own saved work hours).
The phone app the 450X comes with has proved extremely useful when away from the house or away on holidays. You can change the mowing days and hours very easily if needed, and even see where the mower is at any given time on a map of your property.
The kids and I have named the mower Humphrey, and talk about him almost like a family pet. He’s a big hit with visitors to our house, most of whom have never seen anything like it (as I hadn't before this). Not only is he a popular talking point, but also fun to watch: there’s been quite a few late Sunday afternoons socialising on our front deck when we’ve sent Humphrey out for an extra ‘work shift’ just to watch him mow the lawn while we drink our gins… As I said, best money we’ve ever spent… :)
OUR TIPS AND ADVICE SUMMARY
- We highly recommend the Husqvarna Automower 450X for maintaining lawn areas. As an energy efficient, non-fossil fuel using, time saving device, it really can’t be beat.