Spray it or spread it?

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.

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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,” says Ron Connor, fleet and safety manager of Lawn Dawg in Nashua, N.H. 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.

Tackle training.

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,” Conner 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,” says Chris Lemcke, technical director for Canada-based Weed Man.

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.

The author is a freelance writer based in Lincoln, Ill.

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