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Mowing grass with riding power equipment could be a death sentence if you dont consider safety

Residential Lawn Tractors and Zero-Turns are not designed to mow on slopes steeper than 15 degrees.  Mowing a sloped yard can be a challenge at best and is potentially unsafe if done improperly or with the wrong equipment. Determining whether your slope is safe to mow is much easier than actually mowing it. If your slope is mow-able, you will have to make sure that you have the right equipment to handle the job safely. Some slopes that can be mowed with a walk-behind mower, for example, may not be safe to mow with a riding mower.



Measure the slope of the yard by planting a stake at the top of the steepest part of the slope and another at the bottom. Tie a string between the two and slide the string up the bottom stake until a level says the string is even. Measure the height from the ground to the string on the bottom of the stake. This is the “rise.” Measure the distance between the two stakes: this is the “run.” Divide the rise by the run to determine the slope. Multiply your answer by 100 to convert your slope into a percentage if necessary.


Consult the owner’s manual for your mower to determine whether your slope is safe to mow. In general, you should never mow a slope greater than 20 degrees with a walk-behind mower or more than 15 degrees on a riding mower. Zero-turn-radius riding mowers are safest on slopes of less than 10 degrees.


  • Always mow across slopes when using a walk behind mower and up and down the slope when using a riding mower.


  • Never mow a slope if you feel unsafe on it or feel the need to shift your weight to keep the mower stable.

If it is too steep to mow, turn it into a landscape bed or wildlife area.

Be Safe:

  • On steep slopes, GO SLOW.
  • Side hill mowing, watch the front uphill tire to verify it’s making a solid depression in the grass. If it isn’t, SLOWLY turn downhill.
  • Always have an escape route when in rough ground so if the machine kicks out of gear or the brakes fail or both you can steer to safety.
  • Keep the brakes properly adjusted and maintained.
  • Be very, very aware that going up a steep slope how quick and easily a tractor will flip back on you. If the front end does come up, the rear wheels provide the motive force to flip it back.
  • Generally speaking brakes are for stopping, NOT slowing down in tractor usage, that’s what the trans is for. If you step on the left pedal you set the parking brake and the rear wheels will lock. In most cases this will not hold you on the hill, instead you will slide down the hill.
  • The “GO SLOW” mentioned above means regulate your speed with the transmission.  Choose a lower or lowest gear, with a hydro do the same, keep the RPM’s (engine speed) up.


Zero-Turns are not weighted to mow up hill. Especially older zero-turn mowers. They will tip over backwards.

  • If you cannot back up the slope or if you feel uneasy on it, do not mow it with a ride-on machine.
  • Mow up and down slopes with a lawn tractor, not across.
  • Watch for holes, ruts, bumps, rocks or other hidden objects. Uneven terrain could overturn the machine.
  • Choose a low ground speed so you will not have to stop or shift while on a slope.
  • Do not mow on wet or damp grass. Tires may lose traction.
  • Do not mow on drought-dry grass. Tires will lose traction.
  • Always keep the machine in gear when going down slopes. Do not shift to neutral and coast downhill.
  • Avoid starting, stopping or turning on a slope.
  • Keep all movement on slopes slow and gradual.
  • Use extra care while operating the machine with grass catchers or other attachments; they affect the stability of the machine. Do not use them on steep slopes.
  • Do not try to stabilize the machine by putting your foot on the ground.
  • Do not mow near drop-offs, ditches or embankments.

46 inch 2 bladed decks on lawn tractors do not have the clearance between the rear of the deck and the rear tires to install tire chains.

Do not mow near drop-offs, ditches or embankments. Don’t mow near a pond. The first 6 to 10 feet of turf by the water’s edge is water-logged and your mower will sink in and tip over.

Follow the rules in your operator’s manual. But remember, an unseen hole on the down-slope or a bump or stick of wood on the uphill side can increase your slope quickly and cause an accident.

Terry Penney

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