Best Tips On Using Fertilizer Spreaders

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A healthy and green lawn of grass is every homeowner's dream. However, it takes more than dreaming to get the results you desire.

For starters, you need to take care of the lawn regularly, water it consistently, and above all, add the right amount of fertilizer (1). Without proper nutrition, you can't really expect a lawn to grow to its full potential.

However, applying fertilizer by hand isn't a very nifty solution, that's why most gardeners take to using a fertilizer spreader for the task. Using a fertilizer spreader, one can get the job done efficiently and quickly.

While using a fertilizer spreader, certain factors must be kept in mind to get the best results. Today, we are going to share some tips on how to use fertilizer spreaders to get the maximum growth out of your lawn.

Without further ado, let's get straight to the details.

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14 Tips On Using Fertilizer Spreaders

1. Choose The Right Spreader

The first thing you need to take care of when fertilizing a lawn is what kind of spreader you are going to use. This itself depends on the size of the yard that you have, and also on the results you desire.

Broadcast Spreader

When fertilizing a large lawn area, go for a Broadcast or Rotary spreader. This is the most widely found variety of fertilizer spreaders and is perfect for lawn areas that are more than an acre in size.

These spreaders are designed to cover larger areas in a shorter time. Some spreaders also have the facility of adjusting the distance and direction of the spread. With one of these, you can easily cover a bigger area in less time.

Drop Spreader

This type of spreader has a larger hopper than the broadcast spreader and is perfect for precisely applying fertilizers to targeted spots. If you have patches of dead grass that you'd like to fertilize, nothing beats a good old drop spreader in action.

Handheld Spreader

When the lawn area you have to fertilize is small, then a handheld spreader can get the job done nicely. Handheld spreaders are perfect for shaded lawn areas that need a different amount of fertilizer than the sunny sections of the lawn.

Pull-Behind Spreader

These are usually heavy-duty spreaders that are meant to be attached to a tractor or an ATV. A high-capacity version of the broadcast spreader, these spreaders have an expanded hopper and a greater spread distance. Keep in mind that they cost a lot more than the other variants, so you must be ready for a pocket pinch.

In short, the kind of spreader that you need essentially depends on the type and size of the lawn that you have. Once you have settled on the right type of spreader, next, it is time to pay attention to the soil itself.

2. Aerate The Soil

The compaction level of the soil (2) plays a vital role in the effectiveness of the fertilization process. In case the soil is highly compacted, the fertilizer won't be able to penetrate deep into the ground, resulting in stunted grass.

That's why, before spreading, you need to evaluate the compaction level of the soil in your lawn. In case the soil is highly compacted, you have to aerate the ground with the required equipment.

3. Mow Before Fertilizing

A well-grown lawn needs to be cared for, and fertilization is part of that care. To ensure that the grass can reap the full benefits of fertilization, it is essential to ensure that the lawn is appropriately mowed.

For optimal results, you need to mow the lawn a few days before starting with the fertilization task. Mowing the lawn is also an opportunity for grasscycling (3), i.e., letting the grass clippings remain on the lawn after they are cut.

Clippings are an excellent source of nitrogen and take care of almost a quarter of any average fertilization needs. Doing this will enable you to economize on the fertilizer, thereby saving money as well as time in the process.

4. Keep An Eye On The Weather

This is one of the few factors that you can't control, but it pays to take the weather into account before starting with the fertilizer spreading task. The weather that you spread in will impact the efficacy of the spreader in a significant way.

Climatic factors such as rain, wind, and humidity can affect your spreading patterns. For example, high-velocity winds may blow light fertilizer granules off-course. Also, heavy rain tends to wash away fertilizers, rendering the entire process ineffective and a waste of your precious time.

Even humidity can affect the chemical composition of fertilizers that have high amounts of sulfur or lime. That's why it is best to use the spreader on a sunny day with less breeze and no rain. This helps to enhance the action of the fertilizer spreader.

5. Calibrate Your Spreader

Before you use a fertilizer spreader for the first time, you need to calibrate it for proper operation. Spreaders typically work by spreading out small granules of fertilizer onto the yard. Calibration can help to control the rate at which the material flows out of the machine.

For accurate calibration, refer to the manufacturer's instruction manual and see if there is any recommended setting. Start with that, and then adjust according to your needs and requirements.

Calibration greatly depends on the size of the granules you will be using, so keep that in mind. Whenever you shift to a new type of fertilizer or granule size, remember to recalibrate the spreader for that material.

6. Settle On The Correct Fertilizer

Just like human food, not all fertilizers are created equal. Some have a higher quantity of nitrogen, while others may be rich in phosphorus and potassium. While all three are essential for lawn-grass growth, it is critical to focus on nitrogen first.

There's a reason behind this, of course. Most healthy lawns naturally have a sufficient amount of phosphorus and potassium. Nitrogen, however, is highly mobile and usually gets washed away by water.

That’s why, when fertilizing, you need to focus more on the nitrogen content of the fertilizer being used. Look for the N-P-K ratio on the fertilizer packaging to determine the nitrogen content.

Another factor that you must keep in mind is the type of soil that your lawn has. Factors such as soil pH levels (4) play a vital role in determining the kind of fertilizer needed. Consider getting your lawn soil tested for the best results.

7. Use A Tarp To Fill

One of the common problems that gardeners face is fertilizer waste while filling the spreader's hopper. Most hoppers are of a fixed size, and during filling, a lot of the fertilizer falls out and goes to waste.

To prevent this, place a tarp on a clean location and fill the hopper on it. This way, you'll be able to gather up any spilled fertilizer and reuse it later. What's more, you don't even have to clean the ground.

8. Maintain An Even Pace

Unless you're using a tractor with a large pull-behind spreader, you'll most likely be walking around with the spreader while applying the fertilizer. This means, if you walk fast and try to finish the job in a hurry, significant portions of your lawn will not get the correct amount of fertilizer.

For best results, we suggest walking at an even, slow pace while using the spreader. This will ensure that all portions of the lawn get fed evenly. With each pass that you make, be sure to overlap the dispersal patterns for maximum effect.

9. Move From The Outside In

When using a spreader, it is also important to keep in mind the direction of the spread. For optimal results, start fertilizing around the lawn perimeter. When that's done, you need to move across the lawn in an organized manner, slowly going from the outside in.

And at each pass, do remember to overlap application strips so that you don’t run the risk of leaving any patch with uneven fertilizer distribution. After coming to the end of a pass, make sure to close the hopper before changing directions.

10. Reduce The Spreader Setting By Half

One of the major headaches while using a fertilizer spreader is that of uneven spreads. To avoid this, a couple of tactics can be applied. First, reduce your spreader settings by half, which will ensure greater control over the spread rate.

Second, when fertilizing, make sure to spread half the material in one direction and the other half in the opposite direction. This guarantees more even spread, which is essential for even grass growth throughout the lawn.

11. Keep A Stiff Broom Handy

Not all portions of your lawn may require the same levels of fertilization. In that case, you will no doubt be using a drop spreader for precision spreading. The trouble is, with a drop spreader, you might accidentally dump excess fertilizer in any area of the lawn.

But don’t worry even if that happens, because there is a simple way out: first, gather up whatever you can. Then, use a stiff broom and spread the remaining material evenly as far as possible. Finally, water that portion to ensure that the nutrients move down through the soil.

12. Water With Precision

We have already mentioned that you should not be fertilizing a lawn during or before rainfall, as this washes the nutrients away. Similarly, it is important not to fertilize the yard during drought conditions, as there won't be enough water for nutrient movement.

For best results, we suggest watering the lawn one or two days before using the spreader. Once the grass is dry, apply a layer of fertilizer and then water again. This is done to wash any residual fertilizer and move it into the soil. Long story short, you need a fine balance of water to help the fertilizer seep through the soil but not get washed away.

13. Clean Up After

Once you are done with spreading the fertilizer, don't just set the machine aside in the gardening shed. Doing so may result in the spreading system becoming damaged due to dirt, dust, and moisture.

Instead, after every application, make sure that your spreader is cleaned, and the parts are properly oiled. This will not only help to prevent rust from damaging the pieces but will also ensure that the machine's calibration remains stable.

14. Maintain The Spreader Carefully

At the end of the day, a fertilizer spreader is nothing but a machine, which means it needs its fair share of maintenance. To ensure this, you need to regularly check your spreader and maintain it as per the manufacturer's instructions.

Spreader parts will naturally undergo wear and tear due to use. So, you need to keep a check on this and replace parts as and when required. Particularly, take special care of the hopper base, the drive system, and the spinner disc.

All the above components are vital to the proper working of the spreader, and any malfunction can lead to significant changes in the quality of the spread. Regularly cleaning these parts will ensure that your spreader works according to the desired settings.


A home lawn needs careful nurturing, and proper fertilization is an essential part of that process. Without the right amount of care and feeding, your lawn can grow to resemble either a barren field or an overgrown jungle.

On the other hand, careful fertilizer application and maintenance can result in a lawn that's the pride of your neighborhood. Using the above tips correctly, you can easily get a well-maintained and adequately grown lawn that's sure to turn heads.

Just remember to use the right fertilizer, and maintain adequate levels of moisture on your lawn. That'll ensure that the grass stays healthy, looks great, and is always greener on both sides!

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Scotts Whirl Hand-Powered Spreader
  • Perfect hand-held spreader for small yards
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SaleBestseller No. 2
Scotts Turf Builder EdgeGuard Mini Broadcast Spreader - Spreads Grass Seed, Fertilizer and Salt - Holds up to 5,000 sq. ft. of Scotts Grass Seed or Fertilizer Products
  • Scotts Turf Builder Mini walk-behind broadcast spreader features Scotts exclusive EdgeGuard Technology to keep product off landscaping, driveways, and sidewalks
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Bestseller No. 3
Scotts Wizz Hand-Held Spreader with EdgeGuard Technology - Apply Grass Seed, Fertilizer or Weed Control Products, Battery Powered, Holds up to 2,500 sq ft of Scotts Lawn Products
  • Battery-powered spreader you can use year round—designed to spread grass seed, lawn fertilizer and weed control products
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About the Author

Steve has been gardening for over 20 years now. He enjoys sharing his experiences with others.

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