CO-Horts Blog

Friday, April 7, 2017

Hort Peeve and Pleasure: Fertilizer Spreaders

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

Spring is off to a racing start in the Front Range of Colorado this year. I had a Master Gardener tell me that she keeps a historical diary of when plants bloom and this is the earliest she's ever seen Callery pear and crabapples in full bloom.

With the early spring come lawn questions. To be fair, lawn questions occur most of the year, but generally the most frequent questions start in late April to May when things aren't greening up like they should. But not this year--I started booking Lawnchecks (lawn evaluations) in March.

Lawnchecks are one of my favorite things to do, primarily because there are so many old wives tales surrounding lawn care--such as leaving grass clippings on the lawn leads to thatch (it doesn't), you shouldn't water at night because it causes disease (it doesn't) and every weedy grass is crabgrass (it's not). I find that doing these visits is one of the best ways to dispell myths and get homeowners the correct information.

One thing that's surprised me is how people fertilize their lawn. We see a lot of "hungry" turf out there and when we ask about fertilization, the answers are all over the board. First of all, fertilizer is good for the lawn. The healthier the lawn is, the fewer weeds it will have. Healthy turf also benefits the environment.
Early spring greening of a lawn in Loveland.
Use whatever fertilizer you like. The lawn doesn't care if the nitrogen comes from chicken poop or the Scotts Company. There is no "best" fertilizer, just like there's no "best" car. They all have advantages and disadvantages. But it is very important on how you apply the fertilizer.
Find a fertilizer you like! It's kind of like shampoo...something for all lawn types.
So many clients use the hand fertilizer spreader...on their 3000 square feet of turf. First of all, this leads to a lot of cranking and is also a very inefficient and non-uniform application of fertilizer. The hand-crank fertilizer spreader is best used on very small lawns (<500 square feet). I can understand why it's attractive to consumers--it's compact and easy to use. But to fertilize a typical lawn with one pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet would mean filling the hopper about 30 times (not an exact number). That's not my idea of easy! So you end up fertilizing less, thus leading to a "hungry" lawn that can't combat weeds and other stressors, like disease and insects. Plus, the fertilizer bags do not list the hand-crank spreader as an option, so it's a wild guess as to what setting to use.
The hand-crank fertilizer spreader. Only useful on very small lawns.
Instead, it is worth it to invest in a push fertilizer spreader. I know that you're only using it a couple times of year and it takes up space. But you can also use the fertilizer spreader to apply seed if you need to overseed. If space is an issue, see if you can borrow one from your neighbor...or the neighborhood hardware store. You can also rent them. The big thing is to make sure the fertilizer you bought has the spreader you're using listed on the bag so you can set the spreader accordingly. Using the correct fertilizer setting will ensure that you apply one pound of nitrogen/1000 square feet.
A push fertilizer spreader. Best for typical lawns.
Push spreaders are two types--drop spreaders and centrifugal ("whirly-bird") spreaders. Drop spreaders drop fertilizer directly below. This means that you walk a lot more to apply fertilizer, but it also means that the fertilizer is staying on the lawn and not spraying to sidewalks or driveways (very important). Centrifugal spreaders can cover larger areas more quickly and do have "edge guards" when you're near a sidewalk or driveway. Just be sure to use them. Fertilizer in our sewers is not a good horticulture practice.

So fertilizer spreaders are a peeve and a pleasure. It's good that you fertilize your lawn...but make sure you do it accurately using the right equipment. After you fertilize, make sure it's watered in well (or time it with precipitation). Happy fertilizing!


  1. Thanks Alison! As always such helpful info to jog my brain out of its winter doldrums.

  2. I own a spreader like the one in the photo. I enjoy using it. It's light weight and easy to push. When not in use, it's hung from a beam in the garage freeing up garage floor space. I would recommend this spreader. Jan Stoven

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  4. What if I want to get a better arm workout- how long do you think it would take me to fertilize my lawn using the hand-crank spreader? Also, how many calories do you think it would burn? :)

    With the, seemingly, endless warm weather we've been having- Greeley actually moved up the 'legal date' that customers could begin watering (from the typical April date to March). But....this is Colorado- we can still get a hard freeze, so should we use the 'ol hose and sprinkler method, instead of turning on our sprinkler-system? What do you think will be the caloric-burn from the moving of the sprinkler and hose around the yard? ;) ;)

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  6. Sorry for the multiple comments....the system kept getting 'errors' and then it posted- multiple time. Oops! (Yes, I couldn't sleep and saw the CO-Hirt blog in my 'bookmarks'....thought I'd check it out.) :)