Fuel-Free Trimmer and Edger
Rechargeable electric string trimmers are easier to start, quieter, and cleaner to operate (no fumes or mixing fuel) than the gas-powered types. In exchange for those advantages, you give up power. None of the three electric trimmers we tested were powerful enough to cut down dense stands of cover crops.
For regular lawn maintenance, however, we found the Ryobi One+ Trimmer/Edger durable and comfortable to use. The telescoping shaft allows each user to set the length to what works best for his or her height. Its pivoting head and a handy guide bar make this trimmer easy to use for edging beds and walkways. The battery charges up fully in an hour and holds its power for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on how thick and wet the grass is. (You can also buy a second battery to have ready.) On most trimmers, the cutting line is replenished using a bump-and-feed mechanism that is often so frustrating some users refer to it as the "slam-and-jam" approach. Ryobi has solved that problem by equipping the One+ with an automatically advancing line that worked reliably for us all season long. You get only one string, not the two you find on gas-powered machines, but it stays at the optimal length at all times. Trimmer plus battery: $75; ryobitools.com
String trimmers, a.k.a. weed whackers, are handy for cutting grass on slopes and other places that are hard to reach with a mower, as well as around the edges of garden beds and other objects in your landscape. We also put string trimmers to the test taking down thick stands of soil-nourishing cover crops in our test garden plots.
The Echo SRM-265T started with just a pull or two on the starter cord every time we used it, which was not the case with the other two gas-powered models we tried. The Echo is hefty at 13.4 pounds, but well balanced, so it was comfortable to use for long periods of time--for both right- and left-handed testers. It has professional-level power, essential for slashing down brush and cover crops. Our one complaint: The grass shield is too small, allowing a heavy spray of clippings to coat our legs. About $320 from retailers; echo-usa.com
We trimmed a thick stand of sudangrass, a coarse, grassy cover crop that renews weedy beds and adds a big dose of organic matter to the soil. We had been using hand shears, so the trimmers made the job quicker and easier on our backs.