Photo courtesy of TruGreen

You may not give your sprayers and spreaders a second thought, but this equipment can make your work easier – or give you a lot of headaches if you neglect them. “They’re like any other piece of equipment in your shop. Take care of them, and they’ll take care of you,” says Marcus Belote, owner of Turf Experts in Raleigh, North Carolina. “I do a lot of preventive maintenance because I can’t afford to have them not working or to be waiting on a part.”

Here are some considerations for when you’re shopping for sprayers and spreaders, as well as how to make these units last and how to train crews to use them properly.

Get a demo.

Do your homework: Read reviews, watch manufacturer videos and talk to others who have purchased a similar unit. “Get the salesperson to show your model in action,” says Fred Kapp, educational director for the Green Industry Web Portal (www.giwportal.org), a training website affiliated with Auburn University. “Have them fill it with water. Check out the agitation system. It should look like the water is ‘boiling,’ not barely vibrating, when you look in the tank. If you use wettable powders, you want to make sure they will be getting thoroughly mixed.”

Test drive them.

About four years ago, Beau Hartman, owner of Hartman Landscaping, in Zanesville, Ohio, purchased a used sprayer-spreader. “It did not feel stable unless I was on flat ground,” Hartman says. “I didn’t feel comfortable on it, so there was no way I was putting an employee on it.” He has since purchased a new unit which operates safely on the hills of southeastern Ohio. “It seems to have a lower center of gravity. Although it doesn’t carry as much product, it’s more appropriate for the types of properties we do, which are primarily on slopes.”

Perform a reality check.

“You don’t want to have to grow into the machine,” Kapp says. “If it’s only working a half-day a week, stick with a tank and hose rather than a ride-on. A machine that’s sitting around destroys profit.” And before you buy the biggest, baddest machine available, figure out if it’s going to fit where you need it to go. You may have tight or fenced areas where you won’t be able to maneuver.

Look for the little things.

Slight quirks can become big annoyances down the road. “Look at how the hose winds,” Hartman says. “After a year or two, I found that the coil hoses start to droop. If the muffler is on that side, it melts the hose. I prefer a hose reel rather than a coil type.” An electric windup is a timesaver, too.

Clean everything regularly.

Equipment will last longer if corrosive products, such as fertilizers, aren’t left to sit in the hoppers. Some products can build up on the impeller so that you’ll get uneven distribution of material, Belote says. Rinse out spreaders on a daily or weekly basis, depending on how frequently you use them.

Sprayers should be cleaned daily.

Ideally, don’t leave product in the tank overnight, as it can degrade. It also may cause issues with fittings and gaskets over time, Kapp says. Check the manufacturer’s recommendations for how much water to use to flush the system, and follow local codes for proper capture and disposal of waste water.

Do a regular inspection.

Examine the spray nozzles, which can get damaged if dropped or dragged. You may need to take them apart and clean them every few days to prevent clogs, Hartman says. “We don’t use granular product, but even with liquid a film remains behind,” he says. “You can’t wait a week in between cleanings.”

Look for leaks at connections.

Examine the diaphragm. Some companies replace them proactively, rather than waiting for them to fail. Lube grease fittings as needed, typically every few days. Examine impellers, as well. The fins should not be worn, which can cause a distorted distribution pattern, Kapp says.

It’s also important to maintain proper tire pressure. “If you run on under-inflated tires, that can change the operating speed of the machine,” Kapp says. Even on push units, 80 pounds of fertilizer on flat tires will not yield a smooth application.

“I do a lot of preventive maintenance because I can’t afford to have them not working or to be waiting on a part.” Marcus Belote, owner, Turf Experts
Stock extra parts.

Keep parts such as belts, cables, pins and extra hoses on the truck so you won’t be stuck going back to the shop in the middle of a job, says Belote. At the shop, have agitators, regulators and diaphragms on hand for unexpected repairs. “You’re going to need to replace these eventually, so keep them on the shelf,” he says.

Keep engines humming.

For ride-on units, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for tasks such as changing the oil and air filters, inspecting spark plugs and checking the battery. At the very least, do all these maintenance tasks at the end of the season. Have a system in place to keep track of hours and what was done for each unit. Spreadsheets are fine, but an old-school binder is OK, too.

Provide supervision.

No matter how experienced a new employee may be with chemical applications, make them go through the paces with you before clearing them to work independently. “We do all our own training,” Hartman says. “We have 4 acres at our shop we use for instruction. Then crew members start out doing properties under me or my ops manager. We train them how to calibrate and monitor how much coverage they’re getting.”

Practice makes perfect.

Set up a spray course so crew members can demonstrate that they are able to replicate the right amount of chemical. Observe them to ensure they are not making the most common mistakes: not overlapping correctly, making uneven passes, changing operating speed or making passes too wide. “If you’re off by even a foot, that’s a lot,” Hartman says.