How To Use Spreaders

Having an array of lawn and garden tools is a must for proper care. But no matter how many hoes, shears or shovels you have one thing remains true: lawn care uses chemicals.

Those chemicals may be in the modern form of commercially manufactured fertilizers, pesticides and weed killers. Or they may be 'organic' (a misleading term, since nearly all artificially produced chemicals are organic compounds as well. But in either case, they are best spread using a spreader or sprayer.

One of the handiest tools for that purpose is a broadcast spreader. A tub on wheels with a handle and handlebars, it dispenses material out a series of holes in the bottom when the user walks forward and squeezes a lever. A dial allows the user to set the amount spread by adjusting the size of the holes.

To use a broadcast spreader is simple, if a few simple guidelines are followed.

The first step is to read the directions carefully on the package of material to be dispensed. The directions will state the setting needed for that compound and when it can be applied. Some should be applied, then watered into the soil. Others will become ineffective if rain follows within 24 hours. Applying too little results in the failure to kill weeds or green up or failure to kill pests. Too much can lead to burned lawns and wasted product.

Most applications involve spreading chemicals that can be potentially harmful to skin, eyes or lungs. Herbicides and most pesticides fall into that category. Wear proper gloves (often neoprene gloves do the job) and if necessary a mask.

A simple test can help determine whether the amount is what's desired. Clear the driveway of gravel and dirt and dispense an amount in some part of a rectangular spiral, for a dozen feet per side or so. The package will usually give information about how much is laid down for a particular setting. Just compare. The dials and hole systems are usually well manufactured so you have little to worry about.

Adjust the dial according to your test and note that broadcast spreaders fling material in a wide arc (usually 180 degrees), about 5-10ft. The distance depends on how fast you push, since the wheel and axle are connected to the mechanism that throws the compound out. The faster you push, the farther it goes.

Keep in mind that the pattern will dispense a large amount of material over a wide area. If you need to be more precise, use a drop spreader instead. Drop spreaders simply open the holes and allow gravity to dispense the material.

They're ideal for areas near the edge of a lawn, such as near sidewalks. But, since they're only about two feet wide, they can't cover an area as quickly. Also, it's necessary to use a drop spreader very carefully in order to avoid overlap or gaps.

Many broadcast spreaders are designed to overcome that problem to a degree by flinging more to one side than the other. This way, it's possible to get fairly close to the edge without throwing material onto the sidewalk. Which side that is, and whether yours works that way, is easy to observe during your test.

From here on, the task is easy. Simply walk up and down the lawn along rows as if you were plowing a field. Or, walk around in a rectangular spiral. Start at the center and work out, but take care not to overlay too much material where it's been dispensed already. As you make a turn, briefly release the lever. Then once you've made the 90 degree left or right hand turn, clamp it to begin dispensing again.

Keep the tub close to level to avoid flinging material too high up or (worse) at too low an angle into the ground. The dial settings assume a level dispersion pattern.

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