Lay it down

How you apply chemicals, and in which format, can depend on a number of factors.

Photo courtesy of Weedex

When it comes to selecting sprayer and spreader equipment, durability and ease of usability are essential. Here are a few key considerations to explore when selecting equipment — and preferred protocols — for your team’s fertilization and weed control applications.

Spreaders that stand out.

Affordable, commercial fertilizer spreaders are the spreaders of choice for Adam Jackson, co-owner of Nature’s Turf, which specializes in tree and shrub care as well as turf management and pest management services for residential clients in the Metro Atlanta area.

Jackson said his spreaders are more affordable than some comparable commercial-grade brands, plus the support and proximity of area dealers means their equipment “is just much more readily available in our market,” Jackson says. “If we need one, I can run and get one in 10 minutes.”

Weedex Lawn Care, which serves the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, uses 80-pound, hand-push commercial spreaders rather than larger ride-ons, since their average client’s lawn is only around 5,500 square feet.

“I’ve tried other push spreaders, and their gearboxes just aren’t as good,” says Brennan Weir, Weedex’s chief operations officer. Weir also finds the dial settings on spreaders — of which users can set levels of application — to be easier to use than the dashboards on some other spreaders he’s tried.

Plus, there’s the issue of longevity and durability to consider. He finds his spreaders “run around $500, so they’re not cheap, but they do seem to hold up,” Weir says.

Jackson says his spreaders also tend to be lighter than some other brands’ counterparts, making them easier to haul and maneuver. Nature’s Turf crews transport their fleet of roughly 40-50 commercial spreaders in custom built racks installed on their trucks.

With that many sprayers in heavy use, Nature’s Turf team members have become pros at repairing and modifying the spreaders as needed to keep them lawn-ready.

“Certain parts on the spreaders can break prematurely, and you have to learn how to work on them,” Jackson says, pointing specifically to the roll pin that attaches the impeller to the spinner shaft as an example. “The one it comes with breaks very quickly. So, we replace it with a heavier, industrial-grade roll pin, which tends to hold up longer.”

Weir also says that repair know-how is essential to keeping spreaders ready for use.

“Obviously, when they're used at the rate that we use them at, you have to do some maintenance on them,” says Weir, who tries to use the same standard equipment models across his fleet, so as to reduce the types of repair parts he must keep in inventory.

While affordability and durability are certainly key, Gary Barker, owner of Kentucky-based Barker’s Landscaping, also considers load capacity and equipment material in spreader selection.

“When I purchase a spreader, I look at the hopper and the type of drive that goes into the spreader and the material that it is made of,” Barker says. “I prefer spreaders that have plastic hoppers, metal gears and pneumatic tires. This gives you a lighter spreader that is sturdy and easier to push.”

Superior sprayers.

In selecting hand-held sprayers, Barker prefers ones with battery-powered pumps.

“They give you a constant flow while spraying,” he says.

Jackson’s teams at Nature’s Turf, too, have been incorporating more battery-powered spray pumps into their lawn care arsenal.

Battery-powered sprayers have “gotten so much better since they have the lithium- ion batteries now. They last much longer,” he says.

“When I purchase a spreader, I look at the hopper and the type of drive that goes into the spreader and the material that it is made of.” Gary Barker, owner of Barker’s Landscaping

Like Barker, Jackson feels battery-powered sprayers are able to deliver a much more even, consistent spray flow — and they’re simply easier for crew members to use, since they don’t require pumping, Jackson says.

For larger job applications, Nature’s Turf utilizes a fleet of 22 spray trucks that the company has outfitted themselves using direct-order sprayer parts.

“We buy the components we need, and we rig up our own trucks,” Jackson says. “We save tens of thousands of dollars per unit by doing it that way versus buying a custom-built spray truck.”

Combination approach.

In Lake Park, Florida, Revival Landscape Services crews prefer to use equipment that combines both spreader and sprayer capabilities — while caring for greenspaces in the South Florida home owners’ associations that make up the bulk of their client roster.

“We do anywhere from 50-plus home to 1,000-plus home communities, so I need equipment that is able to get into the big areas and the small areas alike,” says Revival Landscape Services Owner Rob Gresham.

He says he has a fleet of spreaders/sprayers in different sizes that allow access from the lake banks in the back to sides of homes to smaller front yards.

To ensure the longevity of his equipment, Gresham encourages his crews to hose down the equipment after each day’s shift to reduce the risk of rust or corrosion.

“If you let the fertilizer sit on there for more than a couple of days, you're going to be replacing parts left and right,” he says.

No matter what products crews are using, taking the time to quickly rinse off spreaders at the end of the day will reduce part replacements.
Photo courtesy of Nature’s Turf

If one of the spreaders goes down, it's usually down at a local repair shop for a minimum of a week or two, Gresham adds. As a result, Gresham prioritizes preventative maintenance to keep his equipment running smoothly and ready for action.

Granular applications.

Ninety-nine percent of Revival Landscape’s fertilization applications are granular, Gresham says.

The situation is similar for Weir’s teams at Weedex.

“I would say 98% of our fertilizer is granular and pushed out of a fertilizer spreader,” Weir says, noting that the company does sometimes use a small amount of liquid fertilizer in the spring.

“With the summer heat in Texas, if you were to try to use a liquid fertilizer as your primary fertilize … then you would price yourself out of the market,” Weir says. “It’s just so much cheaper to use granular fertilizers.”

In addition to fertilizer applications, Jackson’s teams at Nature’s Turf also routinely use spreaders to apply granular fungicides, simply for logistical ease.

“We use more granular fungicides than liquid ones, simply because you might only have one or two clients needing a certain fungicide treatment on your route. And the space in the tank or sprayer is better used for something else,” Jackson explains.

Spray applications.

For weed control and pest prevention, Nature’s Turf prefers to use liquid applications. Using liquid allows the company to easily combine multiple application types in a single spray for a given property as needed.

“For weed control, we’re going to use liquid pretty much exclusively,” Jackson says. “We feel like it works better, and we're usually combining multiple things. As an example, we might have an application of pre-emergent, which is preventing weeds, a post-emergent, which is killing existing weeds, and then maybe even some type of fertilizer, whether that be to green (the lawn) up or for root health or micronutrients.”

Recently, Jackson and his crews have been increasing their use of liquid nutritionals for turf care management. “In a lot of ways, they’re much more efficient,” he says.

When spray applications are required, Weir’s teams utilize a concentrate mix, allowing them to customize their applications as needed. Unlike some firms that may use a 500-gallon tank filled with 100% soluble solution, Weedex crews use a 100-gallon tank in combination with a 60-gallon product tank to inject their concentrate mix into solution, Weir says.

Like Jackson, when it comes to spray equipment, Weir prefers to rig up his own trucks in house.

“We are buying the pumps and engines, but as far as building the stainless steel racks that this equipment is going on, we build that all in house,” Jackson says. “We build all of our own equipment here, whether it’s the spray real racks, fertilizer racks or our water tank racks.”

The author is a freelance writer based in Kentucky.

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