How to Cut Grass on a Steep Hill: 6 Strategies For Sloped Yards

By Brian Mounts | Aug 17, 2020
How To Cut Grass on a Steep Hill

Not everyone has a perfectly level lawn, in fact having a slope in your lawn can be really nice even though it can make mowing the grass a bit harder. If you have a small hill in your yard then you may not have a lot of trouble getting the lawn cut down every week but as that hill gets steeper and taller things can get very challenging very fast.

In my yard I have a few hills at different grades and lengths and one of those hills is quite steep and very hard to mow. Over the years I’ve developed a few strategies that I use whenever it’s time to cut the grass on that hilly section of the yard.

Cutting grass on a steep slope can be dangerous if precautions are not taken. You should never mow up and down the hill directly. Instead you should take a lateral approach running your mower parallel to the slope. If you can use a self-propelled mower make sure to put it in the slowest speed, wear shoes with extra traction, and always keep the mower height to the highest setting.

Although those tips are fundamentally the most important things to keep in mind while mowing a steep lawn I’ve also settled into a few extra practices that I do regularly, each of which makes the job a little safer and easier to get done. Let’s look closer into how I mow my steep hill and I’ll explain what I do, why I do it, and how it helps.

My Strategies For Cutting Grass on a Hill

Tip #1: I Keep My Mower Set To A Higher Setting

The lower your keep your mower deck the more difficult it will be to push around and when you are on the side of a hill you don’t want it to be any harder than it is already. The higher setting makes it easier to get over bumps and lumps in the lawn that may cause the mower to get high-centered and I usually find the higher settings to bounce around over the ground less.

High mower heights allow the grass to stay longer even after a mow which can help with irrigation control and the overall health of your grass. If the grass is thicker then it will also provide extra traction for your mower wheels which are rolling along the hillside – basically the length of the grass will actually help the mower stay up on the hillside and not slide down it as much while you mow.

Tip #2: Mow Along The Hill Laterally Instead of Going Straight Up The Slop

This is the number one safety tip for all hill yards. Pushing a mower straight up a hill can be very dangerous because it can be so easy to lose your footing. If this happens the mower could easily come back down the hill at you or get away from you while it’s still running.

If you have trouble safely mowing up and down the incline in your yard then try mowing it crosswise (i.e., push your mower from the left side of the hill to the right side of the hill, rather than pushing it up the hill and down the hill). You may find that you have to expand significantly less effort to do so, especially if you’re able to move crosswise while going down.

When I do this I actually have started going sideways but with a slight lean towards the vertical axis. Basically I take a narrow angle in the direction of going up and down but with a much greater emphasis on going side-to-side. I find this helps a lot in keeping the mower steady while remaining in full control of my body and my footing.

For riding lawn mowers you need to take extra care, even more so than you would for push mowers. Riding a mower laterally on the side of a hill can be very dangerous if the hill is too steep because you run the risk of flipping the lawn mower over on it’s side while you mow.

For hills you should always get off the riding mower and use a push mower and in extreme slopes opt for a handheld brush trimmer instead.

Tip #3: Get a Pair Of Cleats To Wear For The Mow

This is a tip I got from a video I watched on YouTube many years ago. A guy was trying to mow his backyard which was just a big hill and he always did the job while wearing his old baseball cleats. The cleats gave him extra traction and allowed him to handle the mower with more control, more power, with a much lower chance of slipping.

If you’ve ever slipped while operating a lawn mower then you know how scary it can be. Athletes wear cleats for a reason, they make it much harder to slip so get yourself a pair and call them your lawn-mowing shoes.

Tip #3: Buy a Special Mower Just For The Hill

This tip may sound wasteful or costly but in my experience it’s very important. In our garages we keep tools for very specific purposes and a lawnmower is just another tool.

On my steep hill yard I almost always use one of my smaller deck mowers because they are lighter and easier to handle. For the regular sloped parts of my yard I use a rear-wheel drive self-propelled mower to make the job easier but for the steepest parts of my yard that I actually mow I drop down to my smallest, lightest mower that doesn’t have a self-propelled system. It’s by far the easiest mower I have to push around.

Battery mowers are far lighter than gas powered mowers too so using one of those for your hill can really conserve energy and make the job easier all season long. Here is another post of mine outlining the best battery mowers on the market today, each one I have personally owned and reviewed.

For me I always use my easiest to maneuver battery powered push mower on the steepest parts of my lawn. I start at the bottom and push the mower up the hill 4-5 feet while my feet are still firmly planted on the flat ground at the bottom of the hill. Then I cut the rest of it down by going side-to-side with a slight angle pointing up the hill.

The finally for the particularly large areas of my lawn that are mostly flat I switch over to my riding mower because it can get that area cut down much faster. It might be an expensive change to own two or three mowers but your legs and back will thank you after even a single session and you’ll always feel as safe as possible while you are actually doing the chore.

See my full grass growing guide here for more helpful tips – no opt-in needed.

Tip #4: Use a Brush Trimmer or String Trimmer on The Hill Instead

There are really two reasons to ever seek assistance in mowing a steep hill – we’ve looked at both reasons already. The hill can be difficult and tiring to mow, especially for people not as physically capable as healthy young adults usually are.

The second reason is that cutting grass on extreme slopes is very dangerous. Whether you are going up or down the hill you can slip and lose control of the mower. Going sideways puts you at risk for tipping the mower if you are going to fast.

The simplest solution to getting these areas done with much less risk is to simply not use a mower on the hillside. String trimmers are usually light enough for most people to handle just fine and although they take longer to use and won’t cut the grass as perfectly flat and consistent as a mower will it may still; be your best option.

Tip #5: For Hillside Yard Maintenance I Recommend You Tend To It More Often Than Usual

For general lawn maintenance I always recommend my readers to mow twice a week when time allows. The grass is always going to be healthier when you do this but I fully realize that life can get in the way sometimes.

In most situations a flat lawn can do just fine if you skip a mow or let it go for 10-12 days every now and then, a steep hill however gets even more challenging if you let it get too long.

When it’s hard for me to find the time to mow the property I always make it a point to do the hill first and if I have the time I’ll do the rest of the yard. If I let the steep hill get overgrown then cleaning it up the following weekend just gets harder

Mowing a little more frequently makes it much easier to keep everything looking good and makes each mowing session a lot easier to get done start-to-finish. The longer you let the grass grow the more effort you’ll have to put in to cut it every time. Keeping it short will cut down on the resistance and simply make the mower easier to push, even when going uphill.

As long as you’re fertilizing enough, watering your grass an adequate amount, and staying off the hill when it’s wet you can consider upping your regular mowing schedule a bit; you may find that you have to put in less effort per session than was absolutely necessary beforehand.

Tip #6: The Last Rule I Never Break: I Never Mow My Hills When It’s Wet

Finally, mowing grass that’s wet isn’t ever a good idea, even under the most ideal circumstances. When you have healthy grass located on a flat level plane even the best mowers possible can bog down and get clogged up and mulching the clipping can be nearly impossible.

When you add in a slope to the mix then the problems compound and you greatly increase the element of danger. It is far easier to slip while mowing on a wet hill than it is to slip on a dry hill – even when you are wearing cleats.

In addition to the mud factor and the poor mulching of wet grass, wet grass doesn’t cut as well as dry grass because so much of it lays down under the mower blade and fails to actually get cut.

Grass blades are best mowed when they are all uniform, all standing up straight. During or after a rain, even a light one, your blades of grass won’t all be standing tall and the suction of the running blade won’t pick them up as well either. Lots of blades may be standing straight up but many others will be sticking to each other and laying flat on the ground under the weight of the water droplets that cover them. When you mow, it may seem like you’re hitting every area consistently, but afterwards you’ll notice that when your lawn is dry it has an uneven look.

Mowing your lawn when it’s wet is kind of like cutting your hair while it’s dry, right after you wake up in the morning. It might look good in the moment, but you’ll probably regret it later.

Additionally, mowing while the ground is wet is bad for the soil that the grass sits on. Running a heavy mower over wet soil could put rut marks in the ground or even uproot some of the grass, resulting in a torn-up, uneven lawn when it all dries out. On a hill this is even more pronounced especially when you are running the mower parallel to the slope, your wheel marks will be terrible and the mower will slide down the slope as you go.

Mowing while it’s wet outside is also just plain difficult just as mowing on a hill is difficult. I never stack these two tasks on top of each other. I always wait for things to dry out before I pull the mower out of the garage.

There are obviously many strategies you can take to make cutting grass on a steep hill slightly more manageable, probably even more than I’ve outlined above. These are the methods I use to make my mow easier so I hope they help you in your situation.

Regardless, remember to stay safe when mowing your lawn! Cutting grass on a steep hill can be dangerous and tiresome. Nonetheless, if you try out some of the solutions listed here, you’ll be on your way to an easier and more relaxed way to mow your lawn in no time.