How to mow on a slope or incline

How to mow on a slope or incline

Every summer you see guys on tractor mowers and similar mowing machines mowing the steep inclined hills that reach upward from the road to overpasses on the freeways and highways. It’s almost a marvel to watch them mow, and it can be scary too! 

How do they do that without feeling the panic of the upward slope on a moving machine that looks like it could flip upside down or roll down the slope at any moment?

The answer may surprise you. If you are ever faced with your own steep slopes or hills to mow, there are a couple of right ways to mow, and lots of wrong ways to mow. 

Mowing grass on a slope

Mowing grass on a slope has to be managed carefully, especially if the slope rises really steep and goes very high. Most of the grass, brush, and weeds down low can be mowed with either a tractor mower (ride-on) or a walk-behind. 

The rest has to be cut back in other ways because the ride-on tractor mower is not supposed to be used to cut incline slopes with a grade greater than fifteen degrees. Most tractor mower manuals for owners will specify this if you read the manual prior to using the tractor mower for the first time.

Ergo, those workers on the highway cutting back brush, grass, and weeds reaching up the highways and freeways have special tools and techniques for this. 

If the brush is not too high, a weed whacker (a string trimmer) is used to remove a lot of it. Specialty mowers designed specifically for mowing on an incline with grades greater than fifteen degrees are used for higher grasses and brush or when the grasses and brush are particularly thick.

If you are just mowing your own little hill, you can use either the string trimmer or weed whacker (which takes a long time!) or buy one of these specialty mowers. 

The specialty mowers are definitely not cheap, but you might be able to get a used one at a city auction. You can also rent them from hardware stores and equipment rental centers.

Slopes vs. inclines

People tend to use “slope” and “incline” interchangeably. Technically you could, but when it comes to mowing on an incline, you are more likely to use a technique versus use an entirely different piece of mowing equipment. 

Slopes suggest the types of sharply rising hills near a highway, while an incline is more like a low sloping bank of a ditch. Most of the time you can attempt to mow an incline with a riding mower, but the slope of a high-rising bank of a highway overpass is going to need a special technique and/or special equipment instead.

How to mow grass on a slope

If you can’t afford the expensive specialty mowers used by highway maintenance crews, you can mow your slopes in one of two patterns. Either mow up and down on a diagonal to reduce the possibility of slipping and rolling, or mow only uphill behind a walk-behind mower, then turn it off, walk down, and mow up again. 

This is a safety measure that prevents you from tripping, slipping, skidding, and/or rolling downhill with a mower that is turned on and actively cutting.

Additionally, it helps to know how to mow grass on a slope with a riding mower. If you happen to have a slope that dips down to a point and rises up, start at the point of the dipped area. 

Mow along the top-most edge with the riding mower where the slope peaks because this is where it will be more level and easier to control the mower. Raise the deck of the mower to its highest point. Then mow upward vertically. 

Never try to turn the mower to mow downward as the bulk of the weight of these mowers is under and behind you and it could cause the mower to flip on top of you going down. Instead, back the mower down the slope, and then mow the next patch upward.

The best mowers to use

The best lawn mower to mow on incline has certain characteristics. Look for a mower with rear wheel drive for better traction on slopes and inclines, a very wide cutting deck to avoid spending an entire day trying to cut your slope/incline, and a mower that is lightweight so that you are not exerting too much energy on a hot summer day trying to push and control the mower on the upward climbs of mowing. 

If you can find one with all of those characteristics and it is also very easy to use, that is the mower you want for your slope and incline mowing jobs.

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