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‘The right tool for the right job’ is an old adage which, when followed, saves dollars and makes a lot of sense.
Your arsenal of equipment needs to be fairly extensive, due to the wide variety of services you offer your clients. To keep your company healthy, you need equipment that will do the best job in the shortest amount of time.
One of the most important aspects of keeping a landscape looking its best is a lush, green turf. To keep the turf properly fed, fertilizer should be applied several times a year. The turf should also be monitored periodically, to make sure that there’s no insect infestation, fungus or weeds. If those conditions arise, you’ll need to apply the appropriate controls.
To perform these tasks, there is a variety of equipment from which to choose. To apply dry products to an area, such as granular fertilizer or seed, a spreader is used. A sprayer is used for wet products, such as weed controls, growth material, liquid pesticides and herbicides.
Let’s take a look at some of the units that are available, starting with spreaders.
There are two types of lawn spreaders: drop spreaders and broadcast spreaders. Drop spreaders drop fertilizer or other material directly onto the lawn below. This provides accurate placement of the material. They are also a good choice when it comes to applying granular chemicals. But drop spreaders require more time than broadcast spreaders to use.
On the other hand, broadcast spreaders dispense the materials in a much wider arc. A large hopper is positioned over a horizontal or pendulum-spinning disk. The disc has a series of three or four fins attached to it. The fins throw the material from the spreader in an even manner, allowing you to accomplish the job much more quickly.
There are many models to choose from, so it’s important to determine which best suits your company’s needs. To narrow the list, ask yourself a couple of questions. What type of volume output is needed for most of your projects? How much surface area or property do you need to cover? If you have to go through gates to reach the backyard, will the width of the opening be an issue?
There are stand-alone ride-on units, stand-on units, towable units and push models, as well as handheld units and backpack models.
Then there are the sprayer and spreader attachments; these are mounted on mowers or utility vehicles. Each unit comes with different options and benefits.
All sprayers and spreaders require some form of power to spin the disk or push the spray to the nozzles. Power options include 12-volt electrical systems, belt-driven motors or hydraulic motors.
Applying any solid or liquid materials can be tedious and time-consuming, unless you pick the right equipment. For example, if you were contracted for a large project involving acres of property, you would never think of using a backpack spreader; you probably wouldn’t want to walk behind something you push, either. Instead, a spreader that attaches to a mower, tractor, or is a dedicated ride-on unit is definitely the right tool for this kind of job.
Using the right equipment allows you to finish projects in a shorter time. If you think about it, a motorized riding or standing unit will take half the time it would take to cover the same amount of area on foot, saving you time and money.
The type of spreader or sprayer you choose will depend largely on the size and shape of the lawns you service. You want to choose a model that is large enough to accommodate the amount of product you’ll need to treat the entire surface area; this will avoid having to refill the hopper in the middle of a job.
“Contractors whose primary customer base is residential are going to prefer smaller hoppers, because they have better visibility and more machine stability,” said Bruce Crawford, president of Ground Logic in Lincoln, Nebraska. “For bigger commercial properties or sports fields, larger hoppers are desired, because of fewer fill-ups.”
“If you’re considering motorized units, one option to think about is how many bags of material the machine can hold. Most ride-on units come with fertilizer trays where you can use 50-lb. bags of fertilizer,” said Shane Bell of L.T. Rich Products in Lebanon, Indiana. “We have equipment that can load up to 100 pounds of material on the machine. These machines will save you valuable time, because you won’t need to return to your truck to load them.”
“Some spreaders come with dials or knobs to control the amount of material being applied. It just makes it a little easier to dial in a setting,” said Brad Turner, marketing manager at Spyker, a division of Brinley Hardy in Jeffersonville, Indiana. “You determine how much material is allowed out of the hopper at any given time. The dial offers 99 degrees of adjustability, allowing you to set the spread coverage. It also ensures even spread patterns and helps to prevent turf striping. Because of the higher degree of adjustability, you can save some money on material costs.”
Another way to ‘dial in product’ is to use a unit powered by a hydraulic motor. “With our hydraulic-driven, rate-controlled spreaders, you can adjust the throw of material with a control knob. This knob offers from zero to 25-foot increments of throw,” said Bell. “This is unique because other power types usually only offer either six-foot or nine-foot spread patterns. Keep in mind, all these options add cost. It all comes down to your needs.”
Some companies market spreaders and sprayers that can hook up to virtually any mower, so you don’t have to buy another engine to motorize them. Even if you own a variety of different lawn mower brands, the spreaders are interchangeable.
Sprayers Using sprayers is a much different story. A number of model types and sizes, ranging from hand-operated units to motorized machines, are available. Some apply dilute mixtures, while others apply concentrates. The pressure and volume of applications vary; others offer an adjustable range of volumes and pressures you can control with a dial.
Some sprayer units even offer the choice of one tank or two.
Many commercial sprayers use multiple nozzles, or spray heads, linked by sections of pipe or tubing to form a boom. Booms offer the ability to provide coverage from two to ten feet in length. This gives you the ability to adjust the boom to accommodate whatever terrain you are working on.
Sprayer nozzles provide accuracy for the units. The spray tips serve three main functions: to regulate the flow of the liquid, to atomize the liquid stream into droplets, and to spread the droplets in specific patterns.
Nozzles can provide various spray patterns. An even or flat spray is a fan-shaped pattern with gradual tapered edges. A wide flat spray consists of large droplets, also called a flooding spray. These different spray patterns give an operator the opportunity to set up the equipment specifically for each job.
“There are about eight different tips that can be changed out on the equipment. Tips range from a quarter-gallon per 1,000 square feet to up to a gallon and a half per 1,000 square feet,” said Bell. If your nozzles become worn, they will never give you an accurate application.
Depending on the material, the size and location of the area, the right kind of sprayer can make a difference in the effectiveness and simplicity of the application. These tools are also a crucial part of any pest control plan requiring the spreading of chemicals. More pesticides are applied with sprayers than with any other equipment.
If your surface area is not large, a cart sprayer or a backpack might best suit your needs. These units can make the application process much easier than hand-held units. For even larger capacity, you might want a unit that attaches to a lawn mower.
There are also sprayer systems that offer 75-foot hose reels with spray guns. If there is an area that you can’t reach with a machine, you can walk away from the machine and simply use the hose. A sprayer can give you more coverage by using flood spray nozzles.
Another area you want to consider, when choosing a piece of equipment, is how easy is it to replace parts? If you’re in the field and the machine breaks, you need to have it up and running again quickly. Your bottom line depends on your ability to perform a job on time and efficiently. If you are down due to broken equipment, or have to replace equipment, you’re losing time and money.
Still another factor to consider is the type of weather conditions you work in. Do you operate in a humid or dry environment? How much does rain and wind hamper your jobs? The biggest problem with wind is that it creates drift.
Drift can be defined simply as the unintentional airborne movement of particles to non-target areas. The drift from the spray of pesticide can expose plants, animals and the environment to residues. These residues can cause health issues, environmental effects and property damage.
Drift typically occurs when wind or application equipment blows the pesticide off the intended site during application.
Sprayers designed to handle the problem of drift come equipped with a shield over the nozzle or boom. More importantly, this prevents the drift or drip from hurting people, ornamental beds, trees and pets. The shield also reduces waste of the product. If you live in a state where it rains frequently, a hard rain may cause pesticide to be washed off plants or eroded with soils and become a potential environmental hazard.
“Our shield and curtain system is designed to help prevent drift problems by being in contact with the turf during applications, thus keeping the spray within the spray chamber,” said Randy Gerosa, partner in Elm Grove, Wisconsin-based Pro Lawn. “This allows for a more effective on-target application.”
Some companies offer backpack units with interchangeable tanks, one liquid and one dry. This gives you the option of using the dry tank or the wet tank, depending on the job. You can perform multiple tasks using just one unit, such as misting, dusting or blowing. The tanks are designed to be easy to remove and switch out. “The blower is helpful to move granules around for a more even spread and also to blow leaves,” said Susan McMillen, marketing manager of Maruyama, U.S. Inc. in Fort Worth, Texas.
Finally, a number of companies offer sprayer/spreaders in one package. This option is gathering momentum for a myriad of reasons, mainly because of better utilization of manpower and equipment. Let’s say you have a number of clients that you’ve scheduled for service. Your records show that those properties need to be fertilized and have insecticide applied.
If you were using one of these pieces of equipment, with one pass over the lawn the spreader could be applying granular fertilizer, while the sprayer would apply the liquid insecticide. “We listened to our customers,” said Gerosa. “We give them the choice to spread and spray or to spray all liquid applications, if they choose.”
Whether purchasing dedicated spreaders and sprayers, or attachments that mount on your mowers, having the proper equipment for the job is a good investment. It’s the best way to keep labor costs in line, and saves time. And we all know that time is money.