If you've got a large lawn to maintain, and don't have the time or inclination to push the mower around every weekend or two, there's now a 21st-century option to consider: give the job to a robot.
Husqvarna's Automower 305 is the smallest model in their robotic mower line-up and is designed for lawns up to 500 square metres in area. Husqvarna compares its operation to that of a grazing sheep – "cut just a little, all the time, in a random pattern".
- It uses razor-sharp blades to cut the lawn only a millimetre or two at a time, with the fine cuttings mulching the lawn.
- The blades are well within the edges of the machine.
- Its sensors mean that it won't damage itself or objects it bumps into, and will shut off if tilted.
- PIN code security and an alarm.
- Can be programmed to suit a variety of different yards and operating times.
Ease of use
Our tester Brian Champion found the initial set-up a tedious task, mainly due to the need to install a special boundary wire around the entire area to be mowed. The Automower senses this wire and won't stray too far over it. The wire must be pegged flush with the soil or preferably buried a little below the surface. For a large lawn, this could be a very time-consuming job. Husqvarna specialist dealers offer an installation service at an extra cost and this could be worth considering.
We found that if the wire is even a little above ground level, there's a chance the Automower can damage it. If the grass is much longer than 5cm (the Automower's highest blade setting) you should consider mowing the lawn down to a suitable height before setting up the Automower.
Once the wire is installed, and the recharging station is set up, the Automower can be charged and left to do its thing. Different yard shapes can be programmed, so that it knows to tackle the distant areas first (while it has plenty of charge) before working its way back to the charging station.
We found that it runs for nearly an hour, mowing in a random pattern, redirecting itself if it meets an obstacle, and returning to recharge for about 140 minutes before setting out again. It's fairly quiet when operating, though definitely noticeable on a quiet day (or night). It's claimed to be weatherproof and can handle moderately sloping ground.
It has no trouble finding and docking with its recharging station thanks to a guide wire which the Automower uses to help steer itself into the station. Overall, it does a neat job of mowing and over a few months, with the fine mulching effect, we'd expect the lawn to be in good condition. You need to keep the lawn clear of fallen branches, toys and so on, so that the Automower won't get stuck or be forced to mow around the obstacles.
The Automower 305 is a clever machine, and with the right set-up in a suitable yard, it should maintain the lawn effectively. It does have a few important limitations, such as the initial setting up, the need to keep the lawn clear of obstacles, the challenge of managing gardens with separate lawn areas (especially on different levels, or front and rear yards) and security (such as leaving it unattended in a front yard). On performance alone our tester was fairly impressed, but when factoring in the price, setting up and other limitations, he found it much less attractive overall.
The price is certainly considerable and there are other ongoing costs (blades, servicing and eventually replacing the battery), and the limitations mentioned above could rule it out for many homes. But the only other option for having a well-maintained lawn without doing it yourself is to pay a mowing service. With a typical cost of $40 per session, that's about $840 per year, assuming you have the lawn mowed every four weeks in autumn/winter and every two weeks in spring/summer. At that rate, the Automower could pay for itself in less than three years, though it won't do the edging as a lawn service will. For that reason, we're considering the Automower on performance alone.
It's not for everyone, but for the right home it's a good option. That, or get a sheep.