When you hear the words ‘garden tractor,’ you may think of a glorified lawnmower. Garden tractors, however, are extremely versatile machines, not only able to mow your lawn, but also perform any number of tasks in your yard or garden. Sure, garden tractors can mow the heaviest of yard growth, but they can also till earth, aerate turf, spread seed and dethatch a yard after a harsh winter.
Garden tractors can do all these tasks through the versatility of their attachments. One such attachment can grind down stumps and other woody growth, while another can broadcast seed or aerate your lawn by removing soil plugs.
If you own a large plot of land that you’d like to manage or if you have a medium to large size garden, a garden tractor can drastically reduce the amount of time you’ll have to spend getting the property in shape and keeping it that way.
Best Garden Tractors
Like any large machine, garden tractors are a big investment. Before buying a garden tractor, there are several factors you will want to consider. In this article we outline many of the main characteristics and explain why they are important to think about when searching for a garden tractor that is right for you and your property.
Factors to Consider for Best Garden Tractors
As mentioned above, the key to a garden tractor’s success is the versatility of its attachments. You will want to look for a model which can utilize a number of attachments with as little hassle to you as possible.
One of the first questions to ask is whether the garden tractor can tow or carry the attachments we will discuss. Whether it is towing, pushing or carrying an attachment, a good garden tractor needs enough power to effectively use the attachments you want. Be sure to compare the weight of an attachment to any potential garden tractor model’s power output.
Another question to ask is whether the garden tractor can use other ‘off-brand’ attachments. Obviously, a company will want to sell you its attachments for its garden tractor. But the company may not sell the attachment you need. Furthermore, you may have several attachments already and don’t want to buy them a second time. Some garden tractor models are compatible with several brands of attachments, allowing you to save money and keep the right tool for the job in question.
Unlike its smaller cousin the lawn mower, a garden tractor has a lot more horsepower than is needed to simply move and cut grass. Usually these tractors have an overhead valve engine and two or more cylinders for maximum performance. The higher the horsepower, the more easily it can perform the tasks you have.
The mowing deck is the cover to the garden tractor’s cutting blade. Generally it’s just a bit bigger than the blade itself. So, the size of this deck is a reasonable indicator of how much yard you can cut in one pass. These decks are measured in inches (though the biggest ones can be measured in feet). The larger the deck size, the wider a swath of grass you can cut and the quicker you can mow your lawn.
A sturdy garden tractor should last you years, as long as you perform proper maintenance. Some models are built better than others. So, be sure to look at customer reviews before making a final decision.
How tightly a garden tractor can turn is another important consideration. The turning radius is the smallest circle a tractor can make. When possible, getting a tractor with the smallest turning radius is recommended. This allows you to maneuver into tighter spaces and spend less time trying to coax your tractor on the path you want.
Your ability to control your garden tractor over any terrain is very important. Wheel size plays a huge factor in control. Tractors have small front wheels and large rear wheels. Generally the larger both sets of wheels are relative to one another, the more steering control you will have over your tractor. In other words, the front wheels will always be smaller than the back wheels, but larger wheels (front and back) make it easier to move your tractor where you want it to go.
How big of a garden tractor do you need? Or, perhaps, how big of a garden tractor can you use? Before buying a specific model, make sure it can fit through any gates on your property, or through shed or barn doors. You do not want to get stuck, literally, with a tractor that is too big. Plus, a larger tractor is often more expensive and harder to clean and maintain. So, don’t just go get the biggest one you can find.
Most modern garden tractors are equipped with automatic transmissions, so you don’t need to change gears manually. Some ‘zero-turn’ models have a rear wheel with a separate transmission. However, most of these models are designed only for mowing large areas, not handling other heavy work that other garden tractors are capable of doing.
How It Controls
Some models of garden tractors place the throttle on or near the steering wheel while others use a foot pedal just like in a car.
Foot Pedals – Foot pedals are a more convenient option if you are working on rough terrain or doing tasks that take both hands for steering or one hand for driving and one hand to operate the attachment.
Hand Levers – Models with hand levers are generally cheaper but are not as convenient. They are fine for easy terrain and for tasks with constant speed.
The Price Tag
The cost of a garden tractor varies greatly depending on the brand and its abilities. Two thousand dollars, roughly, will enable you to get a decent model which will suit your needs and budget.
A Power Take-Off
Some of the more useful attachments require a ‘power take-off’ feature on garden tractors. The power take off is a shaft which is spun by the garden tractor’s motor. This shaft provides power to various attachments like snow blowers or ground tillers. Garden tractors with a power take off are usually more expensive than those without it.
Top Garden Tractors
Below our team of experts list and review some of the top garden tractors on the market today.
1. Cub Cadet XT1 46-inch 22 HP Garden Tractor – Best Electric Start Garden Tractor
The Cub Cadet’s XT1 46-inch 22 HP Garden Tractor is a very efficient model that lets you get most jobs done in less time. Compared to most competitor models in its class, the machine cranks out 20X more power.
It’s electric starter means you don’t have to worry about pulling a crank cord. And the electronic fuel injector increases power while reducing fuel consumption by about 25%. The Xt1 has an adjustable seat and a padded steering wheel.
A twin blade deck
Hydrostatic Transmission system
Power take-off clutch
230 amps cold crank battery
Steering can require some effort.
The Cub Cadet XT1’s 46-inch long blade is well suited for large yards and properties. It’s adjustable seat allows you to cover the ground in comfort.
2. Troy-Bilt Pony 42K Tractor – Best Durable Garden Tractor
The Troy-Bilt Pony 42K Tractor makes short work of large properties. It sports a seven-speed transmission. Combined with its 17-HP 541cc Kohler engine, the Troy-Bilt can really move, even in reverse.
The Troy-Bilt Pony 42K Tractor’s steel front axle provides more stable control and allows for easy maneuvering. Grass height can be controlled on the go with an easily reachable blade lever. The variable cutting height comes in handy on yards and spaces with varied levels.
Large three-gallon tank
Easily maintained/changed oil filter
Does not grip well on slippery or inclined surfaces.
This is a heavy duty garden tractor that makes short work of large yards. It’s rear bag is easy to empty and reinstall.
3. Troy-Bilt 46-inch Hydrostatic Lawn Tractor – Best Garden Tractor for Hilly Terrain
The widely used Troy-Bilt 46-inch Hydrostatic Lawn Tractor has established a long track record with loyal customers who love its ability to handle heavy-duty yard tasks.
The Troy-Bilt 46-inch Hydrostatic Lawn Tractor has a foot control hydrostatic shift, which allows for quicker response times. Its 22-HP twin-cylinder 679cc OHV Troy-Bilt engine can handle both hot and cold weather equally well.
Grass doesn’t take getting mowed lying down, especially the kind you find in less regularly maintained yards. The Troy-bilt utilizes two cutting blades which make short work of any grass types. The model’s cutting deck is designed to keep debris and grass from accumulating under the deck.
Control on rough ground and hills is very good and the cruise control allows you to focus more on completing the task at hand vs. maintaining constant speed.
Easy to control speed
Strong braking system
Responsive and robust throttle system
Takes some effort to steer on rough surfaces.
The Troy-Bilt 46-inch Hydrostatic Lawn Tractor’s fully welded steel frame can handle a lot of abuse while shielding the operator and keeping the rise as smooth as possible. It has a max speed of 5.5 mph both forward and in reverse. The Troy-Bilt 46-inch Hydrostatic Lawn Tractor also has a meter which tells you engine operation times, allowing for scheduling of more timely maintenance.
4. Husqvarna YTH24V54 54-inch 24 HP Riding Mower – Best Garden Tractor of All Time
Ease of control is one of the most sought after characteristics in a garden tractor. The Husqvarna YTH24V54 54-inch 24 HP Riding Mower’s sturdy frame gives this model the stability needed for great control. The body and spindle housing are all cast metal, which gives this model a lot of strength.
This garden tractor comes with a massive 54-inch blade deck which cuts wide swaths of grass in one pass. The mulching kit grinds grasses into valuable green fertilizer.
This Husqvarna YTH24V54’s 22-inch rear and 16-inch front wheels provide good stability and control.
Large four gallon gas tank for extended operation
Durable steel cutting edge
Cuts grass cleanly
Clutch can be ‘sticky’
The Husqvarna 54-inch Mower is a heavy-duty lawn tractor that combines durability and high performance. The ground-engaging transmission is a nice added feature.
5. Husqvarna YTH18542 42-inch 18.5 HP Tractor –Best Low-Cost Garden Tractor
The Husqvarna 54-inch’s smaller brother, the Husqvarna YTH18542 42inch in 18.5 HP Tractor may have less power and smaller cutting deck, but the YTH is more maneuverable.
The full cast molded body and 20-inch rear wheels absorb vibrations and give the operator a smooth ride.
The 42-inch cutting deck has 3 mower blades. The solid body and good shock absorption helps prevent ‘scalping’ or cutting grass too closely. The Husqvarna YTH18542’s 18.5 hp Briggs and Stratton Intek V-Twin engine allows the tractor to adapt easily to indifferent climates. It’s air filter prevents dust from clogging the engine. The automatic transmission allows smooth transition between forward and reverse gears.
Accepts several different attachments
Runs smoothly on rough surfaces
Takes up a lot of storage space
Factory tires wear out quickly
This garden tractor lets you mow large areas in comfort. It’s ‘use-meter’ lets you keep track of operation time.
6. Craftsman T225 Tractor Mower
If you want to spend more time working with your tractor than maintaining it, this model is an excellent choice. Research shows that the Craftsman T225 is one of the more reliable models on the market. It’s 19 HP Briggs and Stratton engine provides plenty of power and it’s 46-inch cutting deck removes grass clippings efficiently to avoid build up. The included mulching chute lets you get rid of the clippings easily. The operator can change gears via the hydrostatic foot pedal.
20-inch front wheels
Excellent stability and control
Only 2 gallon fuel tank
Seat adjustment is difficult
The Craftsman T225 Tractor Mower high seat back and automatic transmission gives the operator a smooth ride even in rough terrain and tight turns.
7. John Deere E100 Lawn Tractor – Best Garden Tractor For the Money
The John Deere E100 Lawn Tractor is one of the most affordable John Deere models available. This tractor provides a comfortable ride and comes equipped with a 45-inch mower deck which can be fitted with a mulch bag.
The John Deere E100 utilizes a 17.5 hp engine with an automatic transmission, controlled with a pedal. The E100 can attain a maximum speed of 5.5 mph both forward and in reverse. It’s 42-inch cutting deck is designed to reduce grass clipping build up.
Strong construction doesn’t dent or rust easily
Durable factory installed battery
Cuts cleanly with durable blade edge
Can be delivered in 14 days
Shock and vibration dampening system
None we can find!
John Deere has long been an industry leader in innovation. This model continues the tradition with the John Deere MowerPlus app which tells you when maintenance is necessary and allows you to communicate with help experts.
How to Care for Your Garden Tractor?
Regular maintenance of your garden tractor can help it keep running for years. If you use your tractor a lot, then once a month is a good rule of thumb. A tune up before the season is a great way to avoid headaches and breakdowns once you’ve already started working. The nice thing is that given a few hours of effort and the correct tools, you can perform this maintenance yourself and save some money. Below is a good checklist to follow to make sure you don’t miss a step.
Annual Garden Tractor Maintenance Checklist:
Add fuel stabilizer (especially if you are planning to store your tractor for extended periods)
Drain all fuel if you aren’t going to use it in the next 30-60 days
Clean/replace spark plug
Clean/replace the air filter
Sharpen the lawn mower blades
Clean off debris
Top Tips for Garden Tractor Maintenance
Get Familiar with the Manual.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions – this is the best way for you to make sure your garden tractor remains in good condition.
Clean the cutting deck
After each use, use a wire brush to remove any grass clippings before they dry and harden.
Clean or Replace Air Filter – The engine filter is either disposable or reusable. Paper filters need to be replaced once a year. Foam reusable filters should be cleaned 1-2 times a season.
Change/Check oil – Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to check and change the engine oil.
Lawn Tractors vs. Garden Tractors vs. Riding Mowers – What’s the difference?
Lawn tractors are larger, more powerful and more expensive than riding lawn mowers. They can be used for mowing, using attachments or towing a trailer. They have mowing decks up to 48 inches wide.
Garden tractors are larger and more powerful than lawn tractors. They can range from $2,200 to $8,000 depending on their capabilities. They have mowing decks up to 72 inches wide and can use a number of implements such as snow blowers, tillers and seed broadcasters.
Riding mowers are most commonly used for smaller yards with uniform terrain. They are less powerful and versatile than lawn tractors. But they are also usually cheaper ( $800-$1,400) than lawn tractors.
Tips for Safe Operation
Read the manual – Manuals will have instructions that are specific to the correct use of your model.
Switches and controls – Learn what each control and switch does before you start your tractor up for the first time.
Make sure any attachment you plan to use is compatible with your tractor model. Tractors generally don’t have a ‘park’ gear. Always make sure the tractor is in neutral position before you start it.
Check fluids – Before starting your tractor, make sure you have the right fluid levels. Running out of oil can destroy an engine very quickly.
Dress appropriately – Wear close fitting clothing that won’t get snagged on branches or fences. Be sure to wear closed toe shoes. Eye protection is very important so use, either goggles or safety glasses.
While riding/operating the tractor:
Do not let anyone ride on the hood
Only one person should be on the tractor at a time
Watch out for sharp inclines and deep holes since your tractor can tip over if it hits these
Do not take off any safety attachments, labels, or guards
Make sure your attachment connects properly to the tractor
Disengage the blade before driving over gravel. Otherwise, you can spew rocks like missiles.
Do not remove clogs while the blades are moving (duh!)
Always turn off the tractor when you get off and if you leave it unattended, take the keys with you.
Q. What is the Best Garden Tractor?
It really depends on what you need to do with the tractor and what kind of terrain you have on your property. However, the list below are some of the highest rated models on the market.
1. Cub Cadet XT1 46-inch 22 HP Garden Tractor
2. Husqvarna 200 Series Hydrostatic 54-inch Mower
3. Husqvarna YTH24V54 Tractor Mower
4. Troy-Bilt Pony 42K Tractor
5. Troy-Bilt 46-inch Hydrostatic Lawn Tractor
6. Craftsman T225 Tractor Mower
7. John Deere E100 Lawn Tractor
Q. What is the difference between a lawn tractor and a garden tractor?
A lawn tractor differs from a garden tractor in three ways:
1. Function: A lawn tractor is designed to simply cut a larger area than a normal lawn mower. A garden tractor can cut even larger areas but can also use different attachments for more jobs.
2. Size: A garden tractor is larger than a lawn tractor and is usually made from more durable materials.
3. Power: A garden tractor will have a more powerful motor than a lawn tractor.
Q. How long do garden tractors last?
The general ‘life’ of a garden tractor is 250-300 hours of use. Of course this depends how well maintained it is and how hard you use it.
Q. Where are John Deere Tractors manufactured?
John Deere tractors are made in the United States as well as several other countries including India, Germany, China, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Russia.
Q. What does a garden tractor cost?
Depending on features and engine size, a garden tractor can cost between $3,000 and $10,000.
Q. Do I need a lawn tractor or garden tractor?
If you just need to mow a large area, a lawn tractor is a better buy. If you need to do more jobs, such as tilling, snow removal or seeding, then a garden tractor is best.
Q. Do garden tractors have PTO?
Yes, all garden tractors have a PTO (Power Take Off). This is either a shaft (on larger models) or a belt (on smaller tractors) that enable the tractor’s engine to also power an attachment.
If we had to choose one model from our list above we would pick the Cub Cadet XT1 46-inch 22 HP Garden Tractor. This model is versatile, has excellent handling and has enough power to do most heavy jobs you might encounter.
A garden tractor is a machine that can tackle most of the heavy jobs you might encounter on your property, though, not all are created equal. Some are more suitable for certain kinds of jobs compared to others. Once you know exactly what you need a tractor for, do your own research to make sure you are buying the right ‘amount’ of tractor and not wasting money on capabilities you don’t need.