Lawnmower vs trimmer – which of these tools is actually essential?

When it comes to lawnmower vs trimmer, you only need one tool

A lawn mower vs trimmer on a lawn in front of a plant border
(Image credit: Getty Images / Vitalliy)

We're heading towards the thick of the mowing season, so it's time to weigh up drawbacks of two of the most important tools in the garden.

As you tidy up your yard, you may find that your mower isn't cutting it along your borders or around tricky obstacles like trees. However, lawn trimmers can be a little expensive, so it's worth considering if you actually need a trimmer. Conversely, the truly brave my be considering breaking garden orthodoxy and considering getting rid of their mower altogether. 

If money is a little tight and you're wondering which of these tools is truly essential, I've tested dozens of both appliances in the past few years, particularly the best lawnmowers. I've also spoken to fellow gardening experts about the benefits and drawbacks of both tools. 

What are the benefits of a lawnmower?

A Greenworks riding mower in a garden

(Image credit: Getty Images / Viorika)

The benefit of a lawnmower is pretty simple. There's no better tool for cutting grass. It's very straightforward - if you want a neat, tidy lawn, you need a lawn mower. 

Lawnmowers have big decks that cut a lot of grass at the same height. That means that they're efficient and uniform. In an hour or so, you can mow your whole yard and totally transform your garden aesthetics.  

I won't bore you with whys and wherefores, but I once had to fall back on a trimmer to mow a small lawn. It was an ugly cut, and bad for the health of the grass. It was incredibly uneven and looked patchy. It's lucky that it was my own lawn, because you'd never pay for work that bad. It also takes a long time. Even on a tiny lawn - I'm talking no more than 200 square feet (0.005 acres, for those with bigger plots) it took me much longer than a mower.

Modern mowers are also pretty good at cutting along the edges of lawns and under trees. Garden expert and H&G content editor Drew Swainston told me that 'with the invention of lightweight plastic mowers and even big zero-turn riding mowers, it's increasingly the case mowers are nimble enough to maneuver around most obstacles.'

Drew Swainston
Drew Swainston

Drew’s passion for gardening started with growing vegetables and salad in raised beds in a small urban terrace garden. He has gone on to work as a professional gardener in historic gardens across the UK and also specialises as a kitchen gardener growing vegetables, fruit, herbs, and cut flowers. That passion for growing extends to being an allotmenteer, garden blogger, and producing how-to gardening guides for websites. Drew was shortlisted for the New Talent of the Year award at the 2023 Garden Media Guild Awards.

What are the drawbacks of a lawnmower?

mowing a lawn

(Image credit: lutavia / E+ / Getty Images)

The drawback of a lawnmower is that it's a single-task machine. Just think how many things you can tackle with a good trowel. My favorite trowel, the Capability Trowel, available at Amazon, has a depth gauge, hammer, and saw blade. It can hammer in small posts, measure the right depth for seeds, saw through tough roots, as well as all the usual trowelling tasks like digging and transplanting. A lawn mower cuts grass: that's it. Good mowers will also mulch, but it's not exactly a separate function. If you live somewhere snowy and have a tractor ride-on mower, you can convert it to a snow plow, but lots of manufacturers don't recommend this as the small motors can't handle the weight of the snow. 

Mowers also can't handle truly overgrown grass or weeds. Most mowers tap out at around 5 inches, so if you have an unruly lawn to cut back, your mower won't do the job.

What are the benefits of a lawn trimmer?

An action closeup of a grass trimmer

(Image credit: Getty Images / webphotographeer)

Trimmers can do several things that mowers can't. The first is that lawn trimmers - also known by the trademark name 'weed whackers' - are great for tackling long grass and weeds. If you've just moved to a new place and are tackling an old garden, a string trimmer is perfect for cutting back long grass. If you've discovered a spot of overgrown weeds behind a shed, for example, a string trimmer is perfect for reaching into tricky, tight spots and cutting down weeds. It doesn't just have to be for removing weeds. 

Drew Swainston told me 'Even if you're rewilding a lawn and have let your grass grow long with wildflowers, these eventually need to be cut back in August. A trimmer is the most efficient way to do this.' 

Trimmers are also crucial for tidying up grass around trees and shrubs. If you have a tree in the middle of your lawn, or grass that comes right up to the trunks of the trees in your border, a trimmer will let you cut the grass right around the tree without damaging it. It's an efficient way to trim neatly. 

Unlike lawnmowers, trimmers excel at cleaning up the edges of a lawn. Mowers can do a fine job at cutting to the edges of a lawn, but you usually end up with some scraggly overgrowth onto your paths or into flowerbeds. A trimmer can create a neat line along the edge of a lawn much faster than if you were to use lawn scissors and does a much better job than a mower. 

What are the drawbacks of a lawn trimmer?

The drawback of a trimmer is that it isn't essential. It makes many jobs far faster and easier on your back, but if you lack money, you can make do with much cheaper tools. 

For example, I've cleared unruly patches of weeds with cheap hedge shears like these from Amazon. If you want to step it up, these hedge shears at Home Depot are my favorites - they're sturdy, incredibly lightweight, and remarkably sharp. 

Gardens expert Thom Rutter told me 'While a trimmer can tackle the job in minutes, you can do the same job with shears - you just need to put in a little effort'. 

This is also true for tidying up along edges and around trees. You can achieve the same thing with long-handle grass shears like these from Amazon, and if you want a precise finish, all you need is these grass scissors from Amazon. Don't get me wrong, it's a lot of work. I've clipped a couple of hundred feet of lawn edges before and it was tough on my back and shoulders by the end. However, you don't need to spend a couple of hundred dollars on a good lawn trimmer for similar results. 

Thomas Rutter
Thomas Rutter

Thomas is a Content Editor within the Gardens Team at Homes and Gardens. He has worked as a professional gardener in gardens across the UK and in Italy, specializing in productive gardening, and growing food and flowers. Trained in Horticulture at the Garden Museum, London, he has written on gardening and garden history for various publications.

Which is most essential?

When it comes down to it, a good mower is much more important than a lawn trimmer. A trimmer is great for perfecting your lawn, but if you don't have a good mower, you won't have much of a lawn to work with. 

For more advice on mowing, take a look at my guide to how much to spend on a lawnmower.

Alex David
Head of eCommerce

As Head of eCommerce, Alex makes sure our readers find the right information to help them make the best purchase. After graduating from Cambridge University, Alex got his start in reviewing at the iconic Good Housekeeping Institute, testing a wide range of household products and appliances. He then moved to BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine, assessing gardening tools, machinery, and wildlife products. Helping people find true quality and genuine value is a real passion.