How to buy - Fertilizer spreaders

Type of fertiliser, range of application and finances all affect choice of distribution method.

Economic and environmental reasons mean people want to apply fertiliser as accurately as possible. Using the right spreader or distributor is the key to getting good results.

There are three simple questions you must answer to be sure of using the appropriate spreader: what do you want to apply, where do you want to apply it and how strong is the wind?
Fertilisers come in either solid or liquid form, the latter usually being applied through a sprayer. Various styles and sizes of spreaders are available for the application of solid fertilisers.

Basic application

In this technological age it may be thought a strange device, but the handheld applicator — usually hung around the neck and operated by turning a handle — has its place when fertilisers need to be applied to very small areas of turf or beds and borders. More often, however, turf managers will use hand push spreaders for areas such as fine lawns, bowling greens and individual golf greens. Fertiliser spreaders mounted onto a compact tractor will give the quick and accurate coverage needed for more extensive applications on pitches, outfields and fairways.

Hand push spreaders comprise of a small hopper on a set of wheels. There is a choice of spinning disc, roller feed or belt feed distribution methods. Most models offer a range of application rates but with a basic model with no calibration facility, you’ll need to make multiple applications to achieve the desired rate.

The spinning disc type of spreader is characterised by a cylindrical hopper, below which is the disc driven by the turning of the spreader’s wheels. Fertiliser falls from the hopper, lands on the disc and is spun off in a circular pattern.

Roller feed spreaders — also known as drop spreaders — usually have a rectangular hopper. A grooved or slotted roller sits in the bottom and revolves as the spreader’s land wheel turns.

Fertiliser is picked up by the roller and carried to the outlet in the base. Using a variety of rollers to dispense the amount of fertiliser changes the rate of application. Belt feed spreaders are a form of drop spreader but they use a belt instead of a roller to carry the fertiliser to the aperture at the front of the hopper. The land wheels drive the belt as the spreader is pushed forwards over the ground. Drop spreaders normally range between widths of 50cm and 90cm.

Both powdered and granulated fertilisers can be applied by either broadcast or drop spreaders, but powders will not be thrown as far as granules by a broadcaster and the pattern can be severely disrupted in windy conditions.

Large-scale spreading

Tractor-mounted fertiliser spreaders also distribute fertiliser by broadcast or drop methods.

Broadcasters are recognised by their large conical-shaped hoppers and are usually mounted to the tractor hydraulics and driven by the power take off.

With hopper capacities varying up to a tonne or more, these units must be matched to the power and hydraulic lift capacity of the tractor. But you don’t need a tractor — trailed versions are available for towing with compacts, utilities or ATVs. The fertiliser is thrown out by means of one or two spinning discs or an oscillating spout. Controlling the flow of fertiliser from the hopper varies the rate of application. Twin disc mechanisms are noted for even spread patterns and can spread fertiliser across widths from 5m to 15m or more.

Drop or full-width spreaders are also available in tractor-mounted or trailed versions and employ a roller, belt or agitator to feed the material to the aperture. Topdressings can be similarly applied but usually use a belt conveyor in the floor of a very large hopper to move the bulky materials and are generally either semi-mounted or trailed. Flow is controlled by means of a shutter.

With any type of applicator it is important to assess ease of loading and access for cleaning.

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