The lawn spreader: tips on use

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

A good lawn spreader ranks in value next to the mower. Properly used and maintained, it provides precision in applying seed, herbicides, fertilizer, and lime.

There are two basic types of spreaders: drop-through and rotary.

A drop-through model gives better control and accuracy in applying any material to the grass, but it is slower than the rotary spreader. The rotary is much faster and is especially good for fertilizing and seeding large areas, but it is not accurate or controllable for applying herbicides.

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With both, the average walking speed controls the rate of application. If you walk faster than the average person, you need to compensate for the higher speed by increasing the spreader setting about half a point. The reverse is true if you walk slower than most people.

As any drop-through spreader gets older, the hopper openings enlarge, thus increasing the rate of distribution. You can check the opening on some spreaders with an accuracy gauge. If your spreader doesn't have the proper-size openings, reset the hopper plate by loosening the screws, moving the control plate to the proper position, and then retightening the screws. Instructions come with the gauge.

A few turns around the lawn will help you to perfect the spreader flow and pattern accuracy. Never fill the spreader on the lawn. Make sure the hopper is closed, and then set the proper opening for the material you intend to apply.

Unfortunately, spreader settings are not uniform or standardized. Each manufacturer of lawn products has a system of setting calibrations. Some manufacturers print on the bag of lawn material a table of the recommended settings for a number of popular-name spreaders. If yours is not given, ask a lawn and garden center to suggest the proper setting for your spreader.

To begin spreading, push the spreader at the same time you flip the control lever to ''on,'' so as to give an even distribution at the start of the strip and thus avoid a pileup of fertilizer on the lawn. Too much fertilizer will kill the grass in that spot.

To get a tapered finish, shut off the spreader at the end of the strip while you're still in motion.

Back and forth the long way will usually give the best spreading pattern, with two passes the short way across each end at turning zones. Continue spreading the long way, using and overlapping the wheel tracks as guides. Going perpendicular to the sun usually allows you to see the wheel tracks more easily.

If you have a striped lawn of dark and light green grass after about a week, you'll know you should redo these missed areas for a uniform appearance.

Always clean a spreader after each use. Never let it stand with any material in the hopper, or you'll get an accumulation of rust.

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