Robotic mowers: an installation in the garden not to be neglected

Robotic mowers: an installation in the garden not to be neglected

That's it, you have decided to entrust your lawn to a robot to say goodbye to the chore of mowing and enjoy a lawn that is always cut to the right height. That's good, but the question now arises of installing said robot in the garden: is it better to take care of it yourself, to save a few hundred euros, or to entrust it to a professional? We will see that it certainly depends on the state of your bank account and your DIY skills, but also and above all on the configuration of your garden!

When we talk about robotic mowers, a concern often arises for those who are not yet familiar with their mode of operation: the complexity of their installation in the garden, in particular if a perimeter wire has to be put in place to delimit the mowing surface. Carried by a low current, this wire emits a signal detected by the robot which can thus stop at the desired places. However, it is not so much the laying of the wire itself as the complexity of the garden that can make the installation tricky - which is the reason why a robotic lawnmower that can work without cables is not. necessarily easier to install. Let's see first of all what are the prerequisites for installing a robotic mower, then under what conditions we recommend calling in a professional.

The complexity of the garden in question

In addition to the lawn area, the configuration of the garden determines the choice of a robotic mower. Indeed, a garden of less than 500 m², but divided into several zones, very wooded and with narrow passages can prove to be much more tricky for a robotic mower than a large lawn of more than 1 m² without obstacles and in one piece. While it is of course necessary to take into account the maximum area that a robotic mower can mow, it is necessary to know how to take a little margin for certain complex grounds and above all to check that the robot knows how to manage corridors and mowing areas. multiples, among others.

Examples of more or less complex gardens (extracts from the instructions for use of Viking MI 632 robots).

To eliminate any human intervention, some gardening work, or even earthworks, may be advisable.

Without making an exhaustive list here of all the garden configurations that could pose a problem, let's mention the most frequent. The greatest difficulty for a robotic lawnmower lies in managing narrow passages and very congested areas, which they must not only mow, but sometimes also cross to reach another area (see for example the map at the bottom left of the image above). Many entry-level robots are therefore unable to handle such situations and can drain their battery trying to mow an area that is too narrow or obstructed, or even get stuck on the way back to the station. Differences in level (whether to cross a driveway, cross a concrete cover or any other element protruding from the lawn ...) can also complicate the installation. Finally, too steep slopes are also tricky for some robots: even if the most advanced robots can manage slopes of up to 45%, or around 24 °, this remains relatively low and sometimes requires setting aside entire sections. lawn. These are all elements that must be taken into account from the start in order to choose a sufficiently advanced model. In extreme cases, or to optimize your garden in order to eliminate any human intervention (mowing of borders, in particular), some gardening work, or even earthworks, can be very judicious.

If our comprehensive robotic mower tests are here to guide you, they can hardly cover the entire market and each garden has its peculiarities. It can therefore be complicated to find the robot corresponding to the services sought at the price that we have set. However, if you know how to accurately determine your needs, choosing a robot mower model on your own is quite possible. It is often enough to review the characteristics of your garden to determine the essential points: number of zones, presence of isolated secondary zones, narrow corridors, slopes, position of installation of the charging station (on the lawn or in removal) and of course the total area to be mowed. Depending on these parameters, one can proceed by elimination by examining the capabilities of each robot on the official websites of the manufacturers. However, we will try to provide you with a summary at a later date that would allow you to see more clearly, as well as sorting filters in our comparison.

It's decided, I do the installation myself!

Before getting started and after having carefully read the instructions - there is no question here of improvising and telling yourself that you will see on the job - you should draw a diagram of your garden, in order to limit the risk of errors. . The installation of a perimeter wire, although it often constitutes a psychological brake, is not very complicated. Manufacturers provide plastic stakes for pinning the wire to the ground, which are readily available to anyone who has the vagueness of handling a hammer and using a ruler. The instructions for use are then detailed enough to complete a simple installation. And even though the complexity of managing multiple or delicate areas could be frightening, the installation can still be carried out by a handyman or an experienced gardener if he knows how to remain methodical. Sometimes you will have to take your time, but according to our experience in the field, there is no need to leave Polytechnique to carry out this operation.

Installation diagram taken from the Gardena Sileno explanatory video.

Installation errors are not uncommon and in some cases only experience can avoid the pitfalls.

Some manufacturers go so far as to advise installing your mower yourself, with a lot of explanatory videos. Among them, Robomow: its entry-level RX mowers are made to be installed by their purchaser; the manual is designed with this in mind, as well as the explanatory video. This is also the case for the general public brand Gardena for its Sileno models. Even Viking, whose mowers are mostly found at specialist dealers, has an installation video of their top model MI 632.

However, installation errors are not uncommon and in some cases only experience can avoid pitfalls, which are not necessarily immediately detectable. This is why hiring a professional can be a wise decision when one starts to step outside the framework of the perfect garden.

Professionals to the rescue, for peace of mind and pain points

To better understand the advantages of calling in a professional, we contacted several manufacturers of robotic mowers. Among them, Husqvarna and Honda have agreed to equip with their robots two gardens free of any installation that we had designated to them beforehand.

A manual installation for the Honda mower

The first garden measures approximately 1 m². All in one piece, it is moderately wooded, but a garden hut makes access to certain portions more difficult and encourages the definition of several zones and / or starting points. Honda chose to test its Miimo HRM500 there, but the lower model, limited to a surface area of ​​520 m², might just as well have been suitable.

The Honda Miimo 520 being installed.

We can congratulate Honda on making an easy-to-use tool available free of charge on its website, giving a fairly precise idea of ​​how its robots work on any terrain. It suffices to delimit your garden, which will have been spotted on satellite photos, to know not only what area is really to be mowed, but also which model will be the most suitable to overcome it, taking into account the programming that we will eventually have modified. Viking also usually offers such a simulation tool (iMow Planer), but it seems out of use at the time of this writing.

The Miimo simulator allows you to visualize how the Honda mower will behave in the field.

The field installation was carried out by a specialist of the brand - whom we thank for his professionalism and advice - not by a reseller. In the absence of a machine to bury the perimeter wire, a simple installation using stakes was carried out (remember that the wire ends up disappearing naturally under the grass after a few months). It only took a morning to set up the 250 m of wire around the perimeter of the land and delimit the shed so that the robot does not bump into it all the time. Only fragile shrubs have been demarcated; trees that are strong enough can be hit with the robot without damage. However, some dealers advise to surround any obstacle, whatever it is, so that the mower bumps as little as possible, and therefore wears less quickly.

In three days of continuous mowing (24 hours a day, counting recharges), a Miimo 24 covers almost the whole of this 310 m² lawn. Even with a slightly less intense frequency, we can assume a satisfactory result with this model.

Honda's experienced installer, who specializes in solving installation problems, told us that a large number of traps could jeopardize an installation: undefined shrubs on which the mower rubs, too closed angles where it gets trapped, but also simply configuration errors. Because this point is just as important: the wire may well be the best possible, if the mower is not properly programmed, some areas may be poorly mowed. We therefore come back to the importance of carefully studying the configuration of your garden, to create viable areas (whether delimited by the wire or virtual) and indicate to your robot the correct frequency of passage. Some smart models handle this aspect on its own, but this is still far from the case with all robotic mowers.

A machine buried wire for the Husqvarna mower

Other operation, other installation at Husqvarna. The manufacturer has chosen to use one of its dealers (Massé Motoculture SARL, in Val-d'Izé in Ille-et-Vilaine), whom we also thank for the quality of his work. Specialized Husqvarna, it favors the use of a machine burying the cable. The installation is thus faster and the result more careful, because the wire is directly buried a few centimeters underground.

The famous machine for burying the wire, looking like a tiller.

There is no risk of digging it up by using a scarifier or even with a rake. As for carrying out the installation oneself, if one wishes to bury the cable, the interest is necessarily reduced, since the rental of the machine already represents a good part of the cost of the installation.

We can see the electric wire, in darker green, in the trench dug by the machine. A few days later, it will be closed.

Although smaller (800 m²) than the testing ground of the Honda mower, the garden hosting the Husqvarna Automower was paradoxically more difficult to equip.

The 800 m² plot is divided into three distinct areas. The simulation is here carried out with a Honda mower, but it is indeed a Husqvarna Automower which was installed there. Advantage of this mower: it works with guide cables which allow it to go more easily to a secondary area, without necessarily going along the perimeter wire.

Divided into three zones, the garden required some adjustments, in particular to ensure that the robot could automatically go to the third zone, accessible only via a concrete path.

On the right, the passage to the most isolated secondary area, only possible via the concrete path. On the left, at the corner of the house, a narrow passage separates the main area from the other secondary area.

The most elegant solution: remove a rose bush and pass a guide wire directly through the concrete path. Grinder with mandatory diamond disc, but that's the price to pay for not having to move the mower manually from one area to another.

On the left, a rose bush has been dug up. The grooves created in the concrete driveway will be filled with cement.

Another difficulty, this time without any real solution in the immediate future: too steep a slope, at the foot of which is the entrance to the garage, a good meter drop. Safety requires, the mower will not be able to mow to the limit of the lawn. This is an area that would benefit from being modified as part of a robotic mower installation, if a perfect result is desired.

At the edge of the lawn (bottom left), too steep a slope could cause the mower to fall, especially when the grass is wet. This angle will be excluded from the perimeter.

A final tricky point - and this is typically the kind of detail an experienced installer will notice - a narrow strip of lawn separates the last secondary area from the main area. A second guide wire must be installed so that the mower can pass from one area to another without always rolling in the same place, which could cause marks on the lawn with repeated passages.

Ideally, soil should be added to the edge of the patio, so that the mower can roll over it and thus mow the edge perfectly. Another solution: install pavers in front of the border so that the grass does not grow there.

The installation ends with the test of the correct movement of the mower in each zone, and the adjustment of the maximum distances: the mower must in fact respect certain limits when navigating from one zone to another or when returning to its base. Options that may seem a bit obscure at first.

The most isolated area is very wooded. Each tree is carefully delimited by the perimeter wire so that the mower stops before hitting it. On the right, however, there is no need to hope to pass the mower between the tubs in the vegetable garden, it would end up getting stuck there and would not be able to mow the edges anyway.

Without being excessively complex, this installation therefore turned out to be quite technical in spite of everything. In our opinion, the use of a professional is much more justified here than on the 1 m² site. However, the operation has a cost: around 500 € in this case, for a morning's work with two installers. This is not necessarily that expensive compared to the price of the robot mower required for such an area at Husqvarna (€ 300 the Automower 1, capable of mowing up to 759 m², little sister of the Automower 310 that we tested). Especially since the garden, once equipped, should be able to accommodate several generations of robotic mowers, the operating principle being broadly the same between the brands.

To sum up, calling in a professional is certainly not an obligation, but it brings assurance of results and peace of mind. There is also a gain in laying quality if the wire is buried in the machine. Conversely, in the case of a purchase on the Internet and if your garden is not too complex, the total savings achieved in the event of installation by your own means is often far from negligible, provided you to feel capable of it obviously. Be careful, however, counting the installation, a specialist dealer with a storefront is not necessarily more expensive, because the installation packages offered on the Internet sometimes reach exorbitant prices. Compare before you buy!

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