Having a beautiful lawn is tricky if your yard has many hills and inclines.
Fortunately, mowing steep hills is easier than you’d imagine, provided you keep a few key tips in mind and take things slow.
Before you call a landscaping company to take care of mowing those steep hills, check out this guide first!
When mowing a steep hill, avoid using a riding mower. Additionally, mow the hill from side to side rather than up and down, avoid turning as much as possible, move at a slow, steady pace, avoid mowing wet, slippery grass, and wear shoes with plenty of traction for increased control and stability.
Want an in-depth, step-by-step look at mowing grass on difficult hills and steep slopes?
Keep reading to learn all the tips professional lawn care experts use to make even the roughest, hilliest lawns look great.
Table of Contents
How Steep Is Too Steep To Mow?
If your lawn has steep hills, you’ve probably been tempted to seek out a landscaping company to take care of mowing them for you.
However, mowing on hills and even fairly steep inclines is a lot easier than it looks at first glance
if you take plenty of safety measures, take it slow, and use the right kind of mower in the right sort of weather conditions.
But not all hills are possible to tackle with just any lawnmower, and you’ll first need to know if it’s possible to mow even in the best of conditions.
You’ll need to determine just how steep the incline is on average to determine this.
If the hill has more than a 1’ foot vertical incline every 3’ horizontal feet, you won’t be able to mow it regardless of the type of mower you use.
Additionally, most riding mowers aren’t designed to handle slopes steeper than 15 to 20° degrees, and even push mowers will struggle a bit with said inclines.
There are alternative ways to deal with too-steep inclines, which we’ll get to soon, but for now, let’s talk about the hills you are able to tackle on your own.
What To Do When It’s Too Steep
If a certain hill in your yard is simply too steep to mow, don’t fret–you still have plenty of options to keep it looking great.
The most obvious solution is to cover the hill with certain ornamental plants which thrive well on steep inclines and don’t need much upkeep, like ferns, ornamental grasses, and creeping plants.
Of course, you’ll need to convert the slope into a suitable growing medium by using an herbicide to get rid of any weeds, tilling the slope, and applying fertilizer and compost.
However, once this part of the process is done, most low-maintenance plants don’t need much aside from regular watering and occasional pruning.
Alternatively, grass-eating animals like goats and sheep will make quick work of all kinds of grasses and weeds even on the steepest of slopes.
Depending on where you live, you potentially have the option to “rent” herds of these animals to trim the grass for you, but this is often tricky to manage if the area isn’t fenced-in properly.
Use The Right Kind Of Mower
The first tip to keep in mind when mowing lots of hilly terrain is to use the right kind of mower for the job.
In general, it’s best to avoid riding mowers if possible, especially if the inclines are sharper than 15° degrees or so.
Use a riding mower for the surrounding grass leading up to the hill, then switch to a lighter, more maneuverable push-behind mower to take on the incline itself.
If the hill is gentle enough for a riding mower to handle and sits at an angle of fewer than 15° degrees, make sure your mower has decent traction, a wide cutting deck, and is as lightweight as possible.
Rear-wheel drive riding mowers are also better for inclines overall.
If you’re using a push-behind mower for a slightly steeper job, the lighter, the better also applies here.
If possible, use a lightweight, self-propelled mower to make the job less physically intensive.
A self-propelled mower will make things a lot easier overall if your lawn has a lot of rolling hills.
You don’t want to be pushing or lugging a heavy mower up and down the hill, and heavier mowers are more prone to tipping over and becoming more damaged.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall, after all.
You’re also more likely to fall and injure yourself when using a very heavy, bulky push mower to tackle slopes and inclines.
Finally, mowers with certain additional features such as twin blades rather than single blades will also make mowing on hills and, in general, a lot faster, easier, and less labor-intensive.
Lots of height adjustment and speed settings are similarly helpful to make quick work of steep inclines, but make sure these adjustments are quick and easy to manage while mowing.
Trouble with your mower? Check out our article on why your lawn mower starts and stops.
8 Tips For Mowing Steep Lawns
Always Mow Left To Right, Not Up and Down
Another helpful technique for mowing steep hills is to keep in mind the direction you’re moving in.
Regardless of the type of mower you’re using for the job, you never want to tackle a hill vertically.
You’ll have far more control over your mower if you hit the incline horizontally instead.
The most obvious reason is that pushing a mower or even riding one up a hill is very challenging for both you and the mower itself.
If you lose control even for a second, you risk the mower tipping backward on top of you or rolling down the hill and becoming damaged.
Then, afterward, you’d have to push it back up again, which is exhausting for even the fittest homeowners.
Additionally, moving downhill presents just as many challenges.
With push-behind or self-propelled mowers, it is especially difficult to hang onto the mower and prevent it from rolling or, worse, tumbling down the hill out of your grasp.
Then you’re in a similar situation as when you were moving up the hill, having to lug the thing back up to where you left off.
Instead of mowing up and down a hill, mow it from side to side.
While the incline will feel a bit awkward, you’ll have far more control and stability as you move across the hill.
Simply start at one side, mow across, turn around, go up slightly, and repeat.
No matter the type of mower you use, you’ll want to remember this tip next time you take on an incline.
Take Your Time When Mowing On A Slope
While it’s tempting to zip back and forth across your lawn just to get the job done as quickly as possible, a slow and steady pace is essential when you’re moving on a slope.
This also applies regardless of the type of mower you’re using, as mowing too quickly and haphazardly will quickly result in technical issues and all kinds of possible injuries.
If you’re using a self-propelled mower, be sure to set it to one of the lowest speeds, especially when you’re starting and getting a feel for the hill’s elevation.
As you get more comfortable mowing, you’ll be able to change up the speed a bit more later, but starting at slower speeds with a bit of extra care is crucial.
Additionally, keep the speed low even if you’re using a riding mower on a fairly gentle slope.
Regardless of how comfortable you are with using your mower on flat ground, you won’t have nearly as much control or stability while taking it over an incline.
For standard push mowers, you’re mostly restricted to how fast you’re able to push the mower.
Still, be mindful of your speed and move at a steady pace for best results.
Avoid Turning On An Incline While Mowing
Like we covered earlier, you ideally want to mow slopes from side to side in a straight line.
Once you get to the end of the side of the slope, then you’re able to carefully turn around to move up or down a bit for the next “row” of grass.
However, what you want to avoid is turning while on the middle of an incline or slope.
Aside from being difficult and unwieldy, this is stressful both for your body and your mower, especially for riding mowers.
It’s much harder to right yourself after turning on a steep hill, and you risk tipping over in the process.
Keep turns to a minimum unless they’re necessary.
Never Mow Wet Grass
Mowing during the right weather conditions is especially important when you’re taking on a steep hill or slope!
If the grass is too dry or too wet, your mower will struggle to cut it evenly, and even the best mowers already struggle a little with inclines, to begin with.
Avoid mowing if your lawn has just dealt with heavy rain the day before.
Even if your lawn desperately needs a trim, put it off for a day or two, as dry grass will be far less slippery.
In addition to mowing unevenly, your mower will slide around a lot more than usual on a steep incline if the ground is wet underneath.
You will have less control over the mower and over your movements on a wet lawn since the slick surface will make it especially difficult for you to walk across the slope without tripping or tumbling down the hill.
Even the most high-tech mowers are tough to use on wet grass, and a steep slope makes everything less stable.
Read more in our dedicated article on mowing after watering grass and how long you should wait.
Wear The Right Shoes For The Job
Your physical stability is just as important as the stability of the mower you use on an incline.
To ensure you don’t slip and injure yourself during your mowing session, be sure to wear shoes with as much extra traction as possible.
If you’re willing to spend a bit of extra money on safety here, it’s worth considering purchasing a pair of cleats to use specifically for mowing.
While most sneakers will have decent enough traction and stability for inclines, the steepest hills will still be a bit tricky to traverse without some extra help.
Cleats are surprisingly ideal for mowing difficult, steep lawns since they dig into the ground a bit deeper than normal running shoes, giving you more control and flexibility, so you don’t accidentally slip while moving across the slope.
Keep The Mower Height As High As Possible
On uneven surfaces, it’s best to keep your mower deck set to the highest possible setting.
This is especially true for steep slopes.
On top of the usual natural bumps in your lawn, you’re going to be tackling a sharp, uneven incline.
If your mower deck is too low, you’re going to have to stop and re-adjust it often.
This makes the entire job more tedious, laborious, and time-consuming.
It’s also a good idea to keep your mower deck high for the overall health of your grass.
If you allow grass on inclines to grow a bit longer and don’t cut it as short as the rest of your lawn, it’ll also grow back a lot thicker.
In turn, this provides more traction for future mows, so you aren’t sliding around as much in the process.
Remove Debris Before Mowing
Before you mow any area of your yard, it’s a good idea to go over it and pick up any large debris like rocks, branches, and other stray objects.
You ideally want the mowing process to be as fast, simple, and safe as possible while taking on a steep slope and stopping every few seconds to toss some sticks and stones out of your way will make the job a lot harder and longer.
Although removing debris manually seems excessively tedious at first, it’ll save you quite a bit of time in the long run.
If you end up going over a sharp rock or perhaps one of your dog or kid’s toys while mowing, you risk damaging your mower.
What’s more, you risk losing your stability on such a steep hill, in turn resulting in you potentially losing control of the mower, tripping down the hill, or worse.
Take 10 to 15 minutes or so to pick up any junk in your yard before you mow a slope.
Mow Hills and Inclines More Often Than Usual
It’s a good idea to mow any hills and slopes in your yard more often than the rest of your lawn.
Exactly how often you mow will vary quite a bit depending on where you live, the weather in your area, and how short you mow, but mowing inclines at least once a week or so is usually sufficient.
Overgrown grass on steep hills often looks more unkempt more quickly than grass on flat ground.
Cutting it often will mean that you mow will be fairly easy and quick each time you mow.
On the other hand, if you wait for it to become overgrown and unmanageable, you’ll potentially do a lot more damage to your mower and risk injuring yourself in the process.
Be sure to keep a close eye on the hills and slopes in your yard to get an idea of how often you should mow them.
Everyone’s preferences are a bit different, but for a pristine-looking lawn, you’ll have to keep tabs on those inclines, so they don’t get out of control.