Knowing whether to use a sprayer or a spreader for lawn care applications isn’t an easy task. These pros’ pointers can get you spraying or spreading in the right direction.
Pick your priorities.
When it comes to shopping for new equipment, Ron Connor, fleet and safety manager for Lawn Dawg in Nashua, N.H., keeps four considerations top of mind for his nearly $13 million company:
“Number one, the equipment has to be reliable,” he says. “It has to live up to the commercial requirements we have of a million square feet a week per applicator.”
Second: Is the equipment easy to fix ?
“Most lawn guys work on their own equipment, and not many mower shops know how to work on fertilizer equipment, so we look for equipment we can fix in-house that’s relatively easy to work on and get up and running in less than an hour,” Connor says.
Budget comes next. He says an entry-level sprayer-spreader will run around $6,000-7,000. A higher-end unit, he says, will cost closer to $10,000 on the retail side. When you’re buying multiple units, it pays to negotiate a better deal, Connor says.
Finally, customer service is key. “How well does the company stand behind its products?” Connor asks.
Consider key features.
Chris Lemcke, technical director for Canada-based Weed Man, is all about keeping things simple when it comes to selecting sprayers for his company. “We try not to make them too complicated,” Lemcke says of the company, which posted $134 million in 2013 revenue. He favors sprayers with reels on each side of the truck, so employees can pull from either side.
Rather than using a spray gun, most of Weed Man’s almost 300 franchises use a low-pressure, heavy-droplet wand. “It’s easier to train on, we save on chemical costs and it’s more environmentally friendly because we can spot treat when we need to versus blanket spraying,” Lemcke says.
Lemcke is also a fan of aluminum tanks rather than plastic ones. “We’ve used aluminum tanks for nearly 40 years. We’ve had rollovers and the tanks hold, so they don’t spill any material,” he says.
Although Weed Man franchises, which serve mostly residential customers, have used electric pumps in the past, most now use gas-powered ones for their versatility. “They go at a lower pressure, which is great, but can go at higher pressure for more output,” Lemcke says.
On the other hand, Tod Hampton, president of 20-employee Tender Lawn Care in Cummings, Ga., favors electric sprayers. Originally, his company used gas sprayers and pumps for tree and shrub services, but now that landscape technicians are cross-trained to also take care of trees and shrubs – and gasoline equipment can’t go in the enclosed vans the company uses – the company switched to all electric models. “It saves us a lot of money having one vehicle on the property instead of two,” Hampton says.
In terms of features, Hampton raves about the remote deflector kits on his rotary spreaders. “When we’re trying to spread around areas like sidewalks and driveways and beds, we can remotely put a shield down and keep it from going into those areas,” Hampton says.
Lawn Dawg’s 10-day training program for all new employees – regardless of previous work experience – involves textbook training, agronomics, preparation for pesticide exams in some states, safety considerations and a week of field training that focuses on push training. “It’s basics first,” Connor says. Once employees have mastered the push spreader technique, they undergo a mandatory 16-hour ride-on training program with a service manager in the field.
Weed Man utilizes online training provided by the company that custom-builds its sprayers. The training covers everything from how to spray properly to how to rebuild a pump. Calibration is particularly important. “We have systems in place to make sure they’re calibrating properly. That’s something we stress in all of our training,” Lemcke says.
Know when to use each.
“We’re trying to teach employees to be good decision makers and know when to use the right piece of equipment,” Connor says of his more than 100 workers. With big commercial properties, Connor says nothing beats the efficiency of a ride-on sprayer-spreader, particularly when employees can apply insect and weed control as well as fertilizer in a single pass.
But on a smaller lawn with a lot of backing up and tight turns, employees using a ride-on piece of equipment may waste valuable time being overly cautious about where the product is going. “You might spend twice as long as you would if you grab the backpack sprayer and do it by hand,” Connor says.
In addition, slope and size matter. “We don’t use ride-on equipment on anything with any degree of slope, because it gets them into trouble and becomes a safety issue,” Connor says. “So if it’s flat, we use the ride-on.” Any lawn smaller than 6,000 square feet is done by hand.
Be mindful of maintenance.
“If you don’t clean, maintain and lubricate these machines, they will break down. If you stay on a preventative maintenance schedule, it saves a lot of money in the end,” Connor says.
Connor created a weekly maintenance schedule that covers key tasks including lubrication, visual inspection of belts and hoses, and more for each type of equipment. “Whether the machine was used five or 30 hours, it’s checked weekly,” Connor says. He also follows all manufacturer guidelines for less frequent maintenance, such as hydraulic fluid changes. As a result, all of the machines Lawn Dawg purchased in 2010 are still in use.
Maintenance is key for Weed Man franchises too. “One of the things we train our franchises on is that at the end of every day you have to take the fertilizer out of the spreaders, wash them, grease them and put them back in the proper spot. Same thing with trucks with spray systems,” Lemcke says.
Calculate extra costs.
Connor suggests factoring in annual costs for maintenance on machines. “One machine might not be a lot, but if you’re buying 18 to 20 machines in one year, maintenance might be minimal in the first year but $200-$300 in years two or three. That adds up.”
And, Connor stresses, you’ll also have to consider how you’re going to transport your sprayers and spreaders to the field. If you have to buy new vehicles, trailers or ramps, your new investment is going to get a whole lot more expensive.
Although all of these considerations might seem daunting, Lemcke says they’re worth thinking about upfront. “It’s better to spend money now and make sure it’s right than to find something cheap. We want the best equipment to ensure the applications are being put down properly,” he says.
The author is a freelance writer based in Lincoln, Ill.