Is there a place for automatic mowers? Or are they just a gimmick?

A: I believe there are locations where automatic mowers are useful, although I do wonder whether mobile garden maintenance businesses will lose work as a result.

Clearly the main advantage of an automatic mower is the fact that nobody spends time walking behind it or riding on it. But there are other benefits. There is no smell of petrol, no oil to top up regularly and no choke to go wrong. There is also very little noise.

Last month, I visited the UK headquarters of John Deere in Langar near Nottingham. The lawn in front of the offices was being cut by John Deere's Tango E5. It quietly trundled one way, met the edge of the lawn where the wire was hidden under the surface and quickly turned to set off in another direction.

That could be another advantage. This kind of automatic mower is never going to give you stripes, but neither is it going to cause ruts or marking from being run in the same mowing pattern every Sunday morning. Not having the weight of an operator, it could prove useful on lawns where moisture levels and soil type make them liable to compaction - and there are also no clippings to dispose.

Tango regularly manicures the lawn at Langar, keeping it at the desired height. Since it works daily, the small amount it clips quickly decomposes and returns nutrients to the soil. Height of cut is adjustable from 19-102mm and, with its double-walled casing to protect the li-ion battery and electronics, it does not mind working in the rain.

Maintenance is also simple. John Deere recommends it is brushed clean once in a while and the blades checked. The blades are as hard as those used on the company's conventional mowers and lawn tractors - so no problem there.

The Tango will maintain lawns up to 1,800sq m in area. Other automatic mowers are available from Etesia and Husqvarna.

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Sally Drury has been reporting on product developments and testing kit for 30 years. The advice given in this helpline is independent.

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