Large properties and big projects often call for machines that can handle heavy duties. Jobs like cutting acres of grass, removing snow, digging holes, or hauling mulch can be commonplace on some properties. A trusty workhorse to help get the job done can be a relief. But what type of machine makes the most sense?
In most cases, a garden tractor is the way to go. These compact-yet-powerful machines can cover everything from small- to medium-size jobs, and they’re relatively affordable compared to their full-size counterparts. But there’s a lot to know about choosing the best garden tractors, and this guide will cover them all and offer some of the top choices on the market.
- BEST OVERALL: Toro 60″ TimeCutter Zero Turn Mower
- RUNNER-UP: Cub Cadet Ultima Series ZT1 54
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Troy-Bilt Bronco 46K Riding Lawn Mower
- UPGRADE PICK: Bad Boy ZT Elite 60″ Zero-Turn Mower, BZS60KT745
- BEST BATTERY-POWERED: Greenworks Pro 60V 42″ Crossover T Riding Lawn Mower
- BEST VERSATILITY: Husqvarna TS 354XD
- BEST LIGHT-DUTY: Cub Cadet Enduro Series XT1 LT46
- BEST HEAVY-DUTY: John Deere 1023E Sub-Compact Tractor
Before You Buy a Garden Tractor
The term “garden tractor” can mean a lot of different things to people. Some people consider light-duty models meant for mowing lawns as garden tractors. Others don’t consider any machines with less than 25-horsepower (hp) engines as garden tractors. Still, some folks maintain that zero-turn mowers and battery-operated machines cannot be garden tractors.
For our definition, “garden tractors” include the following:
- Large riding lawn mowers with engines in the front that steer similarly to a vehicle.
- Zero-turn mowers with individually operated rear wheels for making tight turns.
- Rear-engine mowers that have their engines on the back of the machine but still have standard steering.
This guide will cover something for just about every type of garden tractor shopper. Each person’s specific property needs will determine the best type of garden tractor, but keep in mind that there is no hard-and-fast definition.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Garden Tractor
Choosing one of the best-rated garden tractors for a property requires a lot of research, so keep these important considerations in mind when choosing one of these hard-working vehicles.
Property Size and Terrain Type
One of the most significant factors to consider when choosing a garden tractor is the size of the property. Large properties may require larger, faster machines that can cover several acres quickly. These machines may also need to be slightly heavier-duty than typical garden tractors to allow for the wide range of tasks that a large property might require. Smaller properties, such as 2 or 3 acres, might demand less from a garden tractor.
Also, consider the terrain type. While zero-turn mowers are excellent for large, flat yards, they’re often a hindrance on rocky or uneven terrain. For rougher, hilly terrains, a larger ride-on mower or compact tractor will often do the trick—some of which even come with four-wheel drive.
For many folks, the mowing deck is the most important part of a garden tractor. After all, during peak growing season, some users might mow their lawn two or three times per week. It’s important that a garden tractor can handle this frequent use.
If a tractor’s deck is too small, it has to make more passes over the yard. This leads to additional time mowing and more wear and tear on the machine’s engine, deck, blades, tires, steering, and other components. On the other hand, a properly sized tractor can fit through the narrow spaces that need mowing without taking all weekend to mow the rest.
For a small yard, a garden tractor with a mower deck measuring 40 to 46 inches across is typically fine. For medium-size properties, a 50-inch to 59-inch deck is suitable. For a large yard, a 60-inch deck—or even larger—may be necessary.
Attachments and Other Uses
Mowing may be a lawn tractor’s main use, but garden tractors have plenty of other uses. DIYers can use them to plow snow or run a snow blower, haul a trailer, dig holes, move dirt, and do lots of other tasks.
While most garden tractors have hitches designed for garden carts, many have other functions or attachments that they can accommodate. For instance, DIYers can purchase snow plow attachments that bolt to the frame of the tractor, allowing the user to push snow out of their way. Another alternative may be a snow blower, which replaces the mower deck and uses the tractor’s engine to throw snow. These tractors can also pull dethatchers, scarifiers, or even seed spreaders. They can also run heavier machinery, but more on that in a bit.
In many cases, engine size is a significant factor when choosing a garden tractor. Smaller garden tractors with roughly 10 to 15 hp may work for smaller properties, but larger properties or attachments that draw power from the tractor require more horsepower.
For general-purpose, light-duty work with the occasional snow blower or snow plow attachments, engines with 15 to 20 hp are typically sufficient. For those who want a compact machine that will run attachments from the power takeoff, a 20- to 30-hp engine is better. Larger machines meant for small agricultural settings will have 30 to 50 hp.
One of the most useful aspects of some very large garden tractors is a feature known as a power takeoff, or PTO. The PTO is essentially a link between the tractor’s engine and an attachment, allowing the tractor to provide the power the attachment needs to run.
Here are some attachments that might run on a PTO output:
- Log splitters
- Brush hogs
- Post hole diggers
- Wood chippers
- Pumps (water and hydraulic)
These machines attach to the mower and then link to the PTO output, giving them the power they need to dig, cut, pump, or perform another slew of functions. And since these attachments are relatively universal, finding one to work with a machine shouldn’t be a challenge.
It’s one thing to own a big, powerful tractor, but storing one is something completely different. Garden tractors are not inexpensive, but the better a DIYer takes care of a particular model, the longer it will last.
In general, it’s better to store the tractor indoors and away from the elements. This will reduce the risk of wear and tear on the garden tractor’s components, prevent corrosion, and possibly prevent small animals from chewing on wires and hoses. A garage is best, but covered sheds and barns can provide good coverage as well. Just be sure to have enough room for the mower and any attachments before buying a garden tractor.
Our Top Picks
That might be a lot of information about how to choose the best garden tractor, but the research is a critical part of choosing the ideal model. Below are some of the top models on the market for DIYers shopping for a garden tractor that will fit their properties’ needs.
Those with large properties and plenty of grass to cut should check out Toro’s TimeCutter Zero Turn Mower. This zero-turn style mower features a 24.5-hp engine and a 60-inch-wide deck. The combination of these allows the mower to run at speeds up to 7 miles per hour (mph) while also requiring fewer passes to cut an expansive property’s grass.
The Toro is more than just fast. It also has a handcrafted, suspended seat that cuts down on vibration and shock, allowing users to stay comfortable while mowing, pushing snow, or doing other tasks. The TimeCutter features a step-through front end that makes getting on and off this mower a breeze. Also, the TimeCutter series uses Toro’s IronForged deck system, which includes 10-gauge steel and Kevlar belts for durability. Its only real drawback is that it doesn’t have a PTO output, but this is common for zero-turn mowers due to their design.
- Type: Zero turn
- Deck size: 60 inches
- Horsepower: 24.5
- Wide mower deck
- Handcrafted seat to reduce vibrations
- Step-through front end
- Uses brand’s IronForged deck system
Get the Toro garden tractor at The Home Depot or Tractor Supply Co.
There’s no denying that zero-turn mowers tend to be a bit more expensive than the run-of-the-mill ride-on tractor. However, for its price point, the Cub Cadet ZT1 54 offers a lot of value. This zero-turn mower features a 54-inch-wide mowing deck as well as a 24-hp engine, giving the ZT1 54 the ability to mow several acres at speeds of up to 7 mph.
But it’s more than just raw power with the ZT1 54. It has adjustable lap bars that users can tweak to fit their size and frame as well as a fully adjustable seat to promote comfort during long mowing sessions. It also has a full tubular frame, which helps with rigidity but also leaves open access to the engine and mechanicals for easier maintenance. It has a welded-on hitch for the full lineup of accessories from Cub Cadet. While it’s possible to register a complaint about this model not coming with fenders, the built-in headlights will likely offset the inconvenience.
- Type: Zero turn
- Deck size: 54 inches
- Horsepower: 24
- Affordable price point for a zero-turn
- Adjustable lap bars and seat for comfort
- Full tubular frame for strength and rigidity
- Built-in headlights
Get the Cub Cadet ZT1 garden tractor at Tractor Supply Co. or on Mowers Direct.
Cutting costs and cutting the grass don’t have to be mutually exclusive, especially when it comes to the Troy-Bilt Bronco 46K mower. This riding lawn mower features a reasonable price tag as well as a capable design, allowing users to minimize the amount they have to spend on a garden tractor without giving up much functionality.
This mower features a 46-inch deck that can handle most small to midsize lawns. It also has a built-in hitch system for towing items like aerators, scarifiers, spreaders, and garden carts. The 18-hp engine should have plenty of power for most uses, including hauling dirt or moving snow (with snow chains and a properly sized plow, of course). It has a relatively tight 18-inch turning radius for a riding mower as well, allowing users to spin this garden tractor around quickly for the next pass. If there’s a drawback to this mower, it could be that it’s a little undersized for larger properties, but it really stands out for small to midsize yards.
- Type: Riding lawn mower
- Deck size: 46 inches
- Horsepower: 18
- Tight turning radius for riding mower
- Built-in hitch for handling attachments
- Affordable price point
- Relatively large deck for compact design
- Too small for large properties
Get the Troy-Bilt garden tractor at Troy-Bilt.
Folks with rugged properties full of uneven terrain might still want a well-manicured lawn, and this upgrade pick from Bad Boy can deliver. The ZT Elite is a zero-turn mower with a 60-inch deck made from very thick 7-gauge metal with a ⅜-inch front lip, making it durable enough for very heavy-duty mowing. Also, the 26-hp engine has the power to mow quickly and efficiently, allowing this machine to cut grass at speeds of up to 7 mph.
One of the most notable features that the ZT Elite offers is its completely independent front suspension. This design allows the mower to say level longer, maintaining deck contact with the grass for even cutting on rough terrain. The built-in hitch allows for easy towing of trailers and garden carts as well. Also, the high-back adjustable seat allows for comfortable cutting for longer periods. Despite its price tag, this mower’s suspension, rugged design, and power make it worth considering for those with large, uneven properties.
- Type: Zero turn
- Deck size: 60 inches
- Horsepower: 26
- 26-hp engine
- Independent front suspension
- Rugged design
Get the Bad Boy garden tractor at Tractor Supply Co.
While garden tractor purists might struggle to accept battery-powered models, the Greenworks Pro 60V 42″ Crossover T Riding Lawn Mower makes a strong case for itself. This rear-engine mower features a 42-inch deck and a 60V motor, and it comes with six 8.0Ah batteries and three chargers. This combination allows it to mow up to 2.5 acres on one charge, all while being quieter than a traditional gas-powered mower (and without the emissions).
This battery-powered garden tractor has plenty of other features to consider as well. First, because of the relatively small size of the motor, there’s room for an integrated cargo bed capable of hauling up to 200 pounds. Also, this model has integrated USB ports, a phone holder, and a cupholder. The Crossover T also features a high-intensity LED headlight, a brushless motor, and a built-in hitch for towing. Recharge time does take up to 90 minutes, and the deck is relatively small for a garden tractor, making it less than ideal for large properties.
- Type: Rear engine
- Deck size: 42 inches
- Horsepower: N/A
- Quiet, zero-emission mowing
- Cuts up to 2.5 acres on 1 charge
- Integrated USB port and phone and cup holders
- Built-in headlights, hitch, and integrated cargo bed
- Not ideal for large properties due to recharge time and smaller deck
Get the Greenworks garden tractor at Tractor Supply Co. or on Greenworks.
DIYers looking for a garden tractor that can serve as the foundation of the power equipment regimen should consider the TS 354XD. This model from Husqvarna is compact but offers a 24-hp engine and a 54-inch mower deck, allowing this machine to handle small to midsize properties with ease.
The TS 354XD is compatible with a slew of accessories from Husqvarna, including a snow plow, a scooper, an aerator, a sweeper, a snow shield, garden carts, and other accessories that make it a fully capable and versatile machine. The only drawback to the TS 354XD is that its basic package (just the mower) is expensive compared to other models. However, this machine has an electric-locking rear differential, forcing both wheels to spin together at the same rate for better traction in slippery conditions—ideal for snow removal.
- Type: Riding mower
- Deck size: 54 inches
- Horsepower: 24
- Locking differential for plenty of traction
- LED headlights
- Full line of attachments available from Husqvarna
- Expensive for basic mowing functions
Get the Husqvarna garden tractor on Amazon or at Lowe’s.
Those looking for a compact garden tractor that can handle most light-duty jobs without taking up an entire garage bay for storage should check out the XT1 LT46 from Cub Cadet. This riding mower features a 46-inch deck and a 23-hp engine that can easily handle small properties up to 2 acres.
Despite being a relatively basic riding mower, Cub Cadet XT1 LT46 has some standout features. First, it has a tight 16-inch turning radius, allowing it to turn around quickly and easily for the next pass or maneuver through garden beds. Also, the adjustable seat allows the user to find the most comfortable position for lengthy mowing sessions. There is even a push-button cruise control to allow the user to kick back and maintain consistent speeds. Keep in mind that this mower may be small for some properties, but the array of attachments, including baggers, snow pillows, and carts, help boost its versatility.
- Type: Riding mower
- Deck size: 46 inches
- Horsepower: 23
- Comfortable, adjustable seat
- Tight turning radius for a riding mower
- Push-button cruise control
- Small for some properties
Get the Cub Cadet garden tractor at Tractor Supply Co., The Home Depot, or Blain’s Farm & Fleet.
Heavy-duty projects or large properties require a true workhorse, and the 1023E from John Deere might be the perfect choice. While it’s not a full-size tractor, it has many of the same features, including hydraulics systems to run attachments like loaders and plows as well as a built-in PTO for running backhoes and other attachments. While the 21.5-hp engine might not impress in terms of numbers, the PTO and hydraulics make up for it.
Although the John Deere 1023E is compatible and capable of running an array of attachments, it’s important to note that it doesn’t come with any. However, this model is compatible with the brand’s Load-N-Go mower deck, allowing the user to simply drive over the deck to connect it. It’s also compatible with self-leveling loaders, snow-removal implements, and more.
- Type: Riding tractor
- Deck Size: No deck
- Horsepower: 21.5
- Compatible with an array of John Deere attachments
- Built-in PTO
- Built-in hydraulics for attachments
- Easy-change mower deck available
- Expensive and doesn’t come with a mower deck
Get the John Deere garden tractor at John Deere.
For those looking for a fast mower with plenty of power and a wide deck, check out the Toro garden tractor. However, for those who’d prefer to save a little cash without giving up much capability, the Troy-Bilt garden tractor may be the best garden tractor for the job.
How We Chose the Best Garden Tractors
Putting together a list of the best garden tractors wasn’t a small task. After all, this is a category with very loosely defined criteria. First, we had to define our own parameters for the category before we could consider the best models.
Once we had criteria to choose from, we called upon our team’s experience with lawn care and power equipment to pick out the most important specs and features. We then performed extensive product research to develop a pool of some of the best garden tractors on the market. Finally, we compared the models to ensure that they offered enough value and met our criteria, tossing away those that didn’t cut it and giving the ones that did awards based on their strengths.
The Advantages of Owning a Garden Tractor
Garden tractors are faster and generally have larger mower decks than standard ride-on mowers. These features allow DIY lawn-care pros to cut their lawns faster and with fewer passes, letting them move on to other projects or simply get back to weekend relaxing.
The best garden tractors can handle a variety of attachments and add-ons to improve their usability. Add-on tools or attachments like snow blowers, snow plows, seed spreaders, wood chippers, backhoes, and pole-hole diggers make getting the job done faster and more efficiently.
Garden tractors are generally more over-built than a typical ride-on mower. This allows them to handle rougher terrain, heavier-duty work, and longer days without feeling the strain. Lighter-duty machines may experience more frequent breakdowns, slipping belts, tire failure, and other issues resulting from light-duty construction.
- Garden tractors are fast and have wide mowing decks for faster work.
- Users can purchase additional attachments to improve functionality.
- Garden tractors are more over-built than light-duty riding mowers.
Tips for Using and Maintaining Your Garden Tractor
One way to ensure a garden tractor’s mower deck lasts as long as possible is to clean it after each use. Most decks have a garden hose adapter that the user can hook a hose to. With the mower deck engaged and the water running, the blades will kick water all over the underside of the deck to loosen clippings.
It’s also important to service the engine at regular intervals. In general, change the oil, oil filter, fuel filter, and air filter every 50 hours or at least once every summer. The spark plugs should also be changed as frequently.
Here’s another helpful tip: Be sure to keep the garden tractor’s user manual in a safe but easily remembered place. These manuals will have all of the parts and their identifying numbers listed, allowing users to quickly order replacement parts without guesswork.
- Clean grass clippings from the deck after every use.
- Service the engine regularly.
- Keep the owner’s manual handy.
Even with that extensive primer on how to choose the best garden tractors, there might be some additional questions. The following is a collection of the most frequently asked questions about garden tractors, so be sure to check for an answer to your question listed below.
Q. Do they still make garden tractors?
The term “garden tractor” has several definitions, but in the traditional sense of a mower with over 25 hp and the ability to run attachments, then yes, garden tractors are still available.
Q. What is the difference between a garden tractor and a lawn tractor?
Traditionally, garden tractors are larger and more powerful than lawn tractors. However, this definition has loosened a bit. Most garden tractor and lawn tractor models are somewhat interchangeable by today’s definition.
Q. Who makes the most reliable garden tractor?
Some of the best garden tractors from a reliability standpoint are from lawn mower brands like Toro, Husqvarna, and Troy-Bilt.
Q. How long do garden tractors last?
With regular maintenance, a garden tractor can last from 10 to 15 years. As long as replacement parts are available, regular maintenance should keep a garden tractor running for quite some time.