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Spreaders and Sprayers

Tips for finding the best way to apply seeds, sprays, dusts and granular products to your yard and garden.

Need to reseed the lawn, spread fertilizer or apply pesticides? Gardening by the Yard host Paul James discusses the various tools you can use — and how best to use them.

Drop spreaders

Spreaders are the rig of choice for applying granular materials such as fertilizer and grass seed, and there are two basic types:

Figure A

Drop spreaders (figure A) do just what it sounds like they would — they drop their contents directly on the ground, which allows for fairly precise coverage. However, it's important to keep in mind two things:

1. First, make sure you overlap the wheels of your spreader with each pass over your lawn. But be careful: Overlap is a delicate thing. Too much, and you'll lay down twice as much material in the strip between passes; too little and no material at all will fall between the passes. If you're spreading fertilizer, the result will be funny-looking stripes in your lawn — dark stripes where too much fertilizer was dropped, light stripes where there was too little.

2. And when you're using a drop spreader, it's a good idea to work back and forth in one direction — say north and south — and then work east and west. That'll give you the best coverage possible.

The biggest downside to using drop spreaders is their small bucket. It's no big deal for folks with small properties, but if you've got a lot of spreading to do, filling the bucket every few passes can be a real drag.

Figure B

Broadcast spreaders

These spreaders spray their contents by means of a whirling mechanism located just below the bucket (figure B). They allow you to cover a lot more ground with each pass, which means you get the job done much faster. What's more, you can buy broadcast spreaders with large buckets, reducing the need to refill.

The downside? It can be hard to control the broadcast of the spread. You may find it difficult to keep the grass seed you're laying down from ending up in a nearby flower bed, for example.

Figure C

So either be careful by determining the diameter of the throw, or select a spreader with a guard device (figure C), which will prevent seed from being scattered in a given direction. This will allow you to get right up to the end of your beds.

Figure D

Just right for small yards

If you're only interested in spreading in a certain area, consider a miniature spreader (figure D). It operates much like a drop spreader, but you shake the contents onto the ground.

Figure E

With the baby broadcast spreader (figure E), you turn the crank to power the whirling mechanism below the bucket.

Figure F

Adjusting output

Nearly all spreaders have dials that you can adjust to vary the amount of material being applied (figure F). And virtually all fertilizer manufacturers include tables on their bags that list the recommended settings for their product.

Hand-held sprayers

Paul is a great fan of the inexpensive hand-held sprayer, but they tend to clog easily. And consistent use could wear out your wrist. Pressurized versions, which you pump manually, are great for small jobs, and they're easier on the wrist. And battery-powered versions are arguably the easiest of all to use.

Figure G

Then there are the familiar, pressurized tank sprayers (figure G), which have the advantage of holding a lot more of whatever you're spraying, but you still have to pump them manually. Or you did, until rechargeable, cordless sprayers became available. Other large-capacity sprayers use the motion of their wheels to pressurize the reservoir.

Figure H

And for big spray jobs, nothing beats the backpack sprayer (figure H). They hold up to three gallons, and you pressurize the reservoir by pushing on a lever every now and then.

Handy tips

When you spray, keep these points in mind:

  • When spraying insecticides, fungicides and liquid fertilizers, remember to cover both the tops and undersides of leaf surfaces.
  • When spraying herbicides, don't overdo it. One quick pass over the leaves of weeds is all it takes.
  • Walk backwards as you spray to avoid direct contact with what you're spraying.
  • Avoid spraying on windy days to prevent drift. Herbicides in particular can blow onto plants you want to preserve. And spraying on calm days will reduce your chance of inhaling the spray.
  • Applying dusts is a bit trickier than sprays, but the same precautions apply. In addition, however, you might consider wearing a mask to avoid inhaling the dust.


    AccuGreen 3000 spreader: Scotts
    stainless steel economy spreader; broadcast Spyker spreader with border patrol: Gempler's
    baby broadcast hand-operated spreader; sprayer duster pump: EarthWay
    bucket spreader: Gardener's Supply Company
    pressuized sprayer; backpack sprayer: Solo
    battery-powered sprayer: Cepia, LLC
    rechargeable cordless sprayer: Black & Decker
    pressurized rolling sprayer: Gilmour
    sprayer duster: Home Harvest Garden Supply

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