As we’re in the depths of a cold, wet and windy winter (unless you live Down Under, that is) my trusty robot lawnmower is in hibernation. Gone, but not forgotten. My once lovely lawn is languishing, as I expect most are at this time of year. In years gone by I despaired at the state of it – unkempt grass, waterlogged earth, frostbitten foliage – but now I can rest easy, safe in the knowledge that come spring my marvellous mulching machine will bring it back to life.
So, what is a robot lawnmower and why is it a dream come true for frustrated, time-deprived gardeners like myself?
Custom zone features are surprisingly handy, allowing you to utilise different settings for different areas such as mowing a particular patch of new grass more regularly. You can set schedules too, so there’s no need to turn the mower on and off. The simply “wake up” when they’re told to, and get on with the job. On opening the mower app, I was gobsmacked to learn that my little robot has covered almost 500km since I installed it last summer, it really has kept busy!
Lawn height detection is another feature I’ve been seriously impressed by. When I first purchased the kit, I had it set up to run every day (who doesn’t love a super tidy lawn?) but after a week or so I found the mower was back in its docking station more often than not. Turns out, the mower can detect resistance on the blades – if the blades aren’t hitting grass, it doesn’t need cutting and it will return home to charge.
Arguably even better is the fact they never need emptying! The mower cuts the clippings into fine mulch which is left on the lawn to encourage healthy grass growth and prevent weeds – win-win!
Some models, but not all, have rain sensors to determine if it’s too wet to mow. Certain high-end ones can even continue mowing regardless of the weather. There are even GPS-enabled ones which can track the mower if it’s ever stolen, although fingers crossed that’s a feature you’ll never need!
There are a few important factors to bear in mind, however. The size of your lawn, the surface – whether it is flat or hilly – and amount of battery life can all have implications. They can cover a lot of ground in a day but if you’re looking for a quick turnaround for a last-minute BBQ, think again. Some can take as long as 16 hours to charge too - something to check if you want it to be ready to go when you need it.
Also, don’t assume that mowers meant for smaller lawns will just do a larger one in double the time – they won’t come with enough perimeter wire so you’ll fall at the first hurdle. And there sadly won’t be any Wembley-esque lawn stripes to admire either - the mowers cut in a random pattern to avoid any harsh lines.
With all of that in mind, are they worth the expense?
Well, they’ve actually been around longer than you may think. Companies like Husqvarna have been refining the technology since the 1990’s, with larger corporations such as Honda getting in on the act too.
They are typically targeted at those who desire a neat and tidy lawn, but who don’t have the time, inclination or ability to manage it. In this sense, it is a particularly viable option for elderly or physically impaired people too, offering an automated solution that avoids lugging heavy equipment around. Some models can cover up to a staggering 1.2 acres so most residential garden sizes are catered for.
It’s also another bit of fancy tech for the gadget geeks among us. It goes without saying that I fall firmly into that category. Why expend valuable energy on monotonous manual labour when a robotcan do it for you?!
Professional installation is an optional extra for several models, ensuring a perimeter is set up correctly. It can bump up the cost, but when you’re already splurging on high-tech gadgetry, it’s a price worth paying for many purchasers.
I chose to set up my system - the Husqvarna 430x - myself. I relish this type of challenge, and thankfully found the steps simple enough to follow. Having mapped the perimeter (most models come with a wire that you hook into – or under – the ground), I selected the appropriate settings, and off it went! You’ll need a mains power source accessible for the docking station, but otherwise the lawnmower itself is wireless. Much like their vacuum counterparts – Neato, iRobot and the like – the mower returns to the docking station of its own accord for charging when the battery runs low. In my case, I utilise a guide wire to help it find its docking station allowing me to tuck it out of the way completely. My guide wire loops through the kids swing and under the slide to a quiet corner of the garden – it’s quite a sight to behold!
From my perspective, absolutely. And not simply because I’m a sucker for automation.
There’s no denying the large outlay – costs can vary between £600 to £3,000 – but they can (at least begin to) pay for themselves in the long run. The energy spent is similar to that of a lightbulb, meaning ongoing energy consumption costs are low. Good for your wallet and for the environment!
The most important factor for me, however, is the time saved. Time spent outdoors in the summer sunshine should be savoured, and I’d much rather spend mine playing with my children or relaxing with my wife. My robot lawnmower achieves the same – if not better – results than I could achieve having spent two hours pushing the ol’ Flymo back and forth. You must choose your battles in life and, for me, the weeds are not worth it. Let the Mulching Minion take care of them, and let me get back to sipping my morning coffee on the patio – in a few months’ time, anyway!