6 Tips & Tricks For Mowing Ground That Slopes

Anyone can mow a flat field and do the job well. But mowing sloping ground is another challenge entirely, and one to be undertaken with caution.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: Daniel Johnson

Anyone can mow a flat field and do the job well. But mowing sloping ground is another challenge entirely, and one to be undertaken with caution.

We’re not talking about those gently sloping hills that can be easily handled with a riding mower, so long as you travel slowly and carefully. We’re talking about sharp slopes of 15 degrees, 20 degrees, or even more—those areas you’re tempted to let grow up in grass and weeds since they’re so challenging to mow.

But with the right equipment and proper care, you might be surprised how even the most formidable slopes can be cleaned up satisfactorily. On my farm, there is a steep, artificial slope falling away from one side of the house. It’s short, but I’d venture to guess the angle is around 20 degrees in places.

Historically, I’ve let this slope grow up in grass. But in recent years weeds have taken root. So this summer I decided to mow and maintain the slope using several different pieces of equipment:

It’s still a work in progress (defeating weeds always is). But I’m happy with the progress I’ve made.

Looking for tips and tricks for safely mowing steep slopes? After tackling this formidable project, I have a few to share.

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Read more: Trying to mow and reclaim an overgrown field? Follow these tips for success!

1. Drive riding mowers straight up or down slopes.

As the user manual might inform you, driving a riding mower across a steep slope is an accident waiting to happen. You risk rolling over.

If you do decide to mow a slope with a riding mower, you should drive straight up or straight down the slope, which is safer and more stable. On the mildest portions of the slope I’m tackling (where the angle is 10 degrees or less), this is the approach I take.

However, you should be aware that if flat ground transitions quickly into a steep slope (as can happen with artificial slopes), the mower deck can bottom out at the transition point and stall your mower so it’s unable to move.

At this point, you have no traction. That’s dangerous.

And if you’re tackling a slope approaching or surpassing 15 percent degrees, you may want to skip the riding mower entirely.

2. For steep slopes, use a push mower or handheld string trimmer.

Rather than using a riding mower on steep slopes, consider using a push mower or string trimmer. They do require more physical exertion on your part. But at least they can’t roll over with you in the driver’s seat.

Unlike with a riding mower, it’s OK to mow across a slope with a push mower. In fact, it can be easier (and safer) than mowing up and down the slope.

Try to mow down a steep slope with a push mower, and you’ll need all your muscle power to keep its momentum in check. Mowing up a steep slope is even more difficult—have you ever tried to push a ~60-pound mower up a 20-degree slope? You’ll exhaust yourself in no time.

But above all, use the approach that feels most comfortable to your footing.

A handheld string trimmer can be the best option of all, allowing you to simply walk the slope however you’re comfortable and not worry about pushing or pulling a heavy push mower around. But string trimmers are best for light-duty work, so you’ll have to hit the slope frequently to keep growth in check.

And if you’re trying to tame an overgrown slope, you may have to start with a push mower before doing cleanup work with the string trimmer. That’s the approach I use when mowing slopes.

3. Rake grass clippings as you go.

Grass clippings and steep slopes don’t mix. Large amounts of grassy debris can become a slipping hazard.

The last thing you need is for you (or your mower) to lose your footing/traction on a steep slope. So as you mow, stop and rake away the clippings to keep your footing firm.

Read more: Don’t forget to clean your mower deck! Here’s why (and how).

4. Don’t mow in wet weather.

Damp grass and soil can also make for slippery terrain, increasing the risk of an accident. And wet conditions tend to clog mowers, reduce cutting quality and even damage grass.

It’s better to pass on mowing slopes (or even flat ground) when grass is wet.

5. Be careful not to exhaust yourself.

Mowing a steep slope with a push mower or handheld string trimmer can be very tiring, so be careful not to overwork yourself. When you’re exhausted, you’re more likely to slip or lose control of the mower.

Don’t think you have to mow the whole slope at once. Take breaks when you’re tired, and resume when you’re refreshed and strong again.

6. Use common sense!

You know your limits! And you know what’s safe or not. Always wear appropriate safety gear, and realize you might not have the strength or equipment to mow some slopes.

Use common sense, and always prioritize safety over aesthetics. You can always bring in professionals if necessary.

Mowing steep slopes is always tricky. But following these tips and tricks can help you achieve good results.

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