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Fertilizer Spreader Buying Guide

Use this guide to learn about the types of fertilizer spreaders and get tips on using a spreader to apply fertilizer, grass seed and pesticide.

Fertilizer Spreader.

Fertilizer Spreader Essentials

Tow-Behind Rotary Spreader.

The basics of fertilizer spreaders — also known as lawn spreaders — are similar, regardless of the model. A bin or hopper holds the seed or lawn-care product. As you move the spreader over your lawn, the product drops through an opening or series of openings onto the lawn. An application rate control lets you set how much material the spreader applies.

  • A push spreader or walk-behind spreader is a wheeled model useful for covering an entire lawn. As the wheels rotate, they engage a mechanism that dispenses the product.
  • A tow-behind spreader is a large-capacity, wheeled model that attaches to a compatible riding mower or all-terrain vehicle. Like push spreaders, the turning wheels engage the spreading mechanism. Some tow-behind devices include both a spreader and an aerating component, allowing you to handle two lawn-care tasks with one attachment.
  • A handheld spreader is a compact, crank-operated model — an effective option for use on a small lawn or for repairing bare spots in a lawn.

You can find spreaders that don't require you to pour product into the hopper; you simply load the package onto the spreader, lock it in place and begin applying the material. There's no need for calibrating. These spreaders don't work with products not specifically designed for them, so make sure you purchase the correct product.

All spreaders use either a broadcast or drop mechanism to disperse material.

Good to Know

Some spreader labels indicate the maximum square footage a single hopper load can cover. A larger-capacity hopper allows you to spread more material before you need to refill, but a compact model may be sufficient for a small lawn.

Broadcast Spreaders

Broadcast or Rotary Spreader.

Broadcast or rotary spreaders distribute product over large areas quickly. The material drops from the hopper onto a spinning disc, which tosses it over the lawn. These spreaders offer quick coverage but at the expense of some control. Without proper attention and technique, the spreader can scatter material into the wrong place — such as a neighbor's yard, a flowerbed or the street. Some broadcast spreaders have a guard you can engage to block part of the distribution pattern. This mechanism allows you to work around the edge of your lawn or near planting beds and walkways without accidentally dispensing product. Keep in mind that the farther away from the spreader the material travels, the lighter the coverage, so you need to overlap passes to spread the product evenly.

Drop Spreaders

Drop Spreader.

Drop spreaders apply seed and lawn-care products with greater accuracy. The material falls straight down to the lawn at a specific application width, so it's simpler to control and keep track of the treated area. The increased accuracy of drop spreaders makes them good candidates for lawns that contain planting beds, but the distribution pattern is relatively small, so you may need to make more passes to cover a lawn. Remember to align each pass so you don't apply too much product or leave gaps. A distinctive pattern known as striping occurs if you don't cover the area equally.

Good to Know

Pay attention to the width of the hopper on a drop spreader. A wider hopper dispenses material in fewer passes.

Tips for Using a Fertilizer Spreader

Handheld Rotary Spreader.

Instructions for using a spreader vary by model and the material you're spreading. Some general tips are below, but always follow the instructions for your specific products.

  • Calibrate the spreader according to the manufacturer's specifications. Follow the distribution rate and pattern indicated on the seed or lawn-care product packaging.
  • Load the spreader on a sidewalk or driveway.
  • Move at a steady pace when using a spreader.
  • Close the spreader opening when you make turns or stop.
  • You can get good coverage with a broadcast spreader by applying product in a crisscross pattern. Reduce the application setting by half and make a pass over the lawn. Then make a second pass over the lawn that runs perpendicular to the first pass.
  • Sweep up any material on surfaces such as sidewalks and driveways. Pour it into the hopper and apply it to your lawn.
  • Some lawn-care products are caustic and can promote rust. Use a garden hose to clean the spreader after each use. After it's clean and dry, apply a light machine oil to metal parts in the wheels and spreader mechanism.

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When using lawn treatments or lawn-care products, always follow package directions regarding proper clothing, protective equipment, application procedures and safety precautions.

Watch our DIY Basics video: How Do I Use a Lawn Spreader?