• Read, understand, and follow instructions in the manufacturer's operating manual.
  • Know how to operate the equipment and use the attachments safely. Be familiar with the location and function of all the controls.
  • Be familiar with the speed, ability to drive on slopes, and the braking and steering characteristics of your tractor.
  • Check the oil level and refuel the engine before starting work while the engine is cool. If refuelling is required before the job is completed, wait for the engine to cool if there is a likelihood that fuel can spill or splash on the hot engine.
  • Make sure that shields, guards, and other safety devices (such as warning lights) are in place and working properly (for example, guards for power take off, mower input drivelines, drive belts, chains and gears).
  • Replace or tighten all loose or damaged parts or guards. Keep the tractor in good working condition.
  • Wear close-fitting clothing, long pants, non-slip footwear, hearing protection, and head protection suitable for the hazards that you may encounter. Tie back long hair and anything that may get tangled in moving or rotation parts.
  • Check the area to be mowed. Clear the area of debris, and make sure that no people or pets can be hit by cuttings or items thrown when mowing.
  • Ensure that the tractor is in neutral gear and that any attachment clutches are disengaged before starting the engine or motor.
  • If the tractor started inside a garage or other enclosure, it should be moved outside to prevent exposure to carbon monoxide that would build up inside.
  • Ensure that the brakes work properly and that the gas throttle is in good working order.
  • Always check behind you before you put the tractor in reverse. Look behind and downwards while backing up.
  • Drive tractor up and down slopes rather than sideways for greater stability. Reduce speeds on slopes, sharp curves (when they cannot be avoided), and slippery or muddy surfaces.
  • Add appropriate counter weights recommended by the manufacturer if you are using attachments that are mounted on the front or back of the tractor.
  • Before adjusting the machine or attachments, turn off machine, shift to neutral gear, set the brakes or take other precautions to prevent the equipment from moving, wait for all moving or rotating parts to stop, and disconnect spark plug wire, if accessible (or remove the ignition key).
  • Turn off the machine and remove the key when the machine is left unattended. If attachments are attached, disengage the power take off (PTO) and lower attachments.
  • Let engine idle a few minutes before shutting down.
  • Have a qualified mechanic regularly service the tractor.
  • Take rest and stretch brakes (such as 5 minutes per hour) to give your body a break from equipment vibration. Walk around to stretch your legs, and stretch your back and upper body.
  • Make sure the seat and steering wheel are properly adjusted for your body. You should be able to reach and operate the pedals without moving your back off the seat.
  • Do not ride on tractor hood or draw bar.
  • Do not allow other people to ride on the tractor.
  • Avoid sharp, fast turns, holes, ditches, embankments, etc. that may cause equipment to overturn.
  • Do not park tractors where they can endanger the public.
  • Do not tamper with or remove safety attachments, machine guards or safety labels. Use attachments that are designed specifically for the machine you are using and for the task you are doing.
  • Do not clear or unclog the mower while the blades are moving.
  • Do not drive across gravel or rocks when the blades are rotating.
  • Do not leave a tractor unattended unless the power is off and the ignition key is removed.
  • Do not drive with PTO running if it is not being used.

No matter what type of garden you plan to buy, the size of your property plays a large part in the decision-making process. If your property measures one acre or less, a simple light-duty riding lawn tractor with a 42-inch mower deck will probably do just fine. If you have one to two acres, you may find that a light-medium duty unit with a 46-inch deck does the job.

Are you planning to buy a garden tractor simply to mow the lawn and haul a small trailer around? Or are you planning to use attachments such as snow blowers, snow plows, large garden trailers, and tillers? What about hauling heavy loads?

Not all garden tractors are made to handle this type of use, in fact, most ZTR models cannot handle any of them. Be sure any tractor you choose can handle the extra tasks. I bought a true heavy-duty garden tractor with a PTO to ensure it would fit my needs during the early days of my garden and keep up with them as changed.