Lawn Sprayer Buyer's Guide
How to Pick the Perfect Lawn or Garden Sprayer
Pulling weeds by hand is effective but tiresome and time-consuming, and scattering fertilizer pellets with a spreader is convenient but not precise. Sometimes you need to care for your lawn or garden by applying a chemical in the safest, most efficient way possible.
In those cases, what you need is a lawn sprayer.
Lawn and garden sprayers are tools with a variety of uses. Although some can be used to spray cleansers and sealants, they’re most often used as tools for applying common treatments that keep your yard healthy and green:
- Insecticide sprayer
- Herbicide sprayer
- Fertilizer sprayer
Thanks to their low cost and versatility, lawn sprayers are handy not only for residential users but for commercial and professional users as well.
Types of Lawn Sprayers
One of the reasons that liquid sprayers are so versatile is that there are so many types available:
- Handheld sprayers
- Backpack sprayers
- Wheeled sprayers
- Vehicle-mounted sprayers
- Tow-behind sprayers
They differ in the way they’re transported, the amount of liquid they can carry, and the mechanisms they use to create the pressure needed to apply the spray. Because of all these differences, it’s easy to find a yard sprayer perfectly suited to any outdoors task.
Handheld sprayers are the simplest kind of sprayers. With a liquid capacity typically falling in the three-to-five gallon range, these lightweight plant sprayers are easy to store and easy to carry.
Many handheld sprayers create pressure through a manual pump mechanism, such as a handle attached to a piston that the user pumps up and down to build pressure inside the sprayer’s tank. However, battery-powered and gasoline-powered sprayers are available.
Need to bring a sprayer around your house or small yard? With a handheld pump sprayer, all you have to do is pick it up by its handle and carry it at your side. This makes handheld sprayers excellent for many residential tasks:
- Providing fertilizer to a few plants in a small garden
- Spraying pesticide on the leaves of one or two trees or plants
- Gently watering plants grown in containers
Note: for safety reasons, avoid using a sprayer to apply insecticide, herbicide, or any other pesticide to indoor plants. If you’re using a handheld sprayer inside, be sure that the only liquid you’re spraying is water!
If you have an entire yard to spray or more than just a few plants on your patio to care for, you might benefit from a backpack sprayer. These sprayers typically hold between four to seven gallons of liquid in their tanks, so you can spend more time working and less time refilling.
Because they’re made for efficient spraying over a larger area, manual pumps are less common on backpack sprayers (but still available). Instead, many backpack sprayers draw on gas or battery power, which prevents a user from having to stop and pump their sprayer every few minutes.
Backpack sprayers are excellent for tasks like these:
- Applying pesticides across a medium-sized orchard or garden
- Spraying fertilizer over a large lawn
- Carrying herbicide through a public park to target patches of weeds
Backpack sprayers are popular with landscaping professionals as well as residential users, and not just because of their larger tanks. Having the tank on their backs leaves the users with one hand free for better multitasking and greater efficiency. Plus, many backpacks come with padded straps designed for hours of comfort during the workday.
If you want the tank capacity of a backpack sprayer but don’t want that weight sitting on your shoulders, a wheeled sprayer might be the right choice for you.
Similar to backpack sprayers, wheeled sprayers use battery, gas, and manual power (with manual power being far less common) and feature tanks made to carry four to six gallons of liquid. However, the tanks on these sprayers rest on plastic or metal frames with large wheels attached for easy transport. Simply push or pull your sprayer, and you’ll be able to take it almost anywhere on your property.
Wheeled sprayers are designed for both homeowners and professionals and are ideal for many of the same kinds of grounds as backpack sprayers:
- Large lawns
- Mid-sized orchards and gardens
- Small farms
- Public parks and outdoor facilities
One consideration to keep in mind with wheeled sprayers is that their wheels can compact soil, so take care not to push them over ground that you don’t want to disturb. If your ground is rough or rocky, though, you can rest easy knowing that those wheels are made with durable plastic for rugged outdoor use.
For the landowners, grounds maintenance workers, or landscaping professionals with large properties to treat, carrying around a sprayer simply isn’t the most efficient solution. A better option would be to mount a sprayer with a much larger tank to a vehicle made for the long haul.
The kinds of vehicles that mounted sprayers are designed for are just the kinds used frequently in land maintenance:
- Lawn tractors
- Garden tractors
ATV sprayers and other vehicle-mounted sprayers usually have tanks that can hold 15-25 gallons of liquid, but some can hold up to 60 gallons. Many are powered by an electric motor that moves a diaphragm-style back and forth to create pressure within the tank.
Like backpack and wheeled sprayers, mounted sprayers dispense chemicals through a wand with a nozzle attached. Because they can be driven anywhere but can be used to treat a specific problem spot, they're sometimes called spot sprayers.
ATV sprayers have large tanks, but their single spray nozzle doesn't provide efficient coverage for a lawn care professional who needs to spray large tracts of land. For those professionals, a tow-behind sprayer is a great option.
Tow-behind or pull-behind sprayers feature a large-capacity tank (typically 15-25 gallons, but up to 65 gallons) mounted to a wheeled frame that can be attached to a riding mower, tractor, or ATV. These sprayers draw their power from the towing vehicle, so they’re made to deliver a consistent liquid stream through a boom with multiple nozzles attached.
With such large tank capacities, these sprayers are excellent for tending to larger properties:
- Large lawns
- Small golf courses
- Small farms and pastures
Although many sprayers weigh less than 100 pounds, always be sure to check your vehicle’s weight capacity in the product manual before buying and connecting a tow-behind lawn sprayer. The last you want to do is buy a sprayer to increase your efficiency, only to find that your vehicle can’t tow it!
Additional Commercial-Grade Sprayers
In addition to sprayers made to be pulled behind riding mowers and ATVs, you can find chemical sprayers designed to be attached to other types of vehicles (or attached in other ways):
- Skid steer sprayers
- 3-point sprayers
Thanks to their increased power, tank size, and vehicle-powered designs, these sprayers are best suited to the largest properties and are recommended for those who professionally manage tracts of land.
What distinguishes a lawn or garden sprayer from a hose? It’s the spray, of course. Sprayers have two features that allow them to spread liquid lawn treatments so effectively: the nozzle, and the dispensing mechanism that connects the nozzle to the tank.
The nozzle is the component through which liquid leaves the sprayer; it’s the last part that the liquid touches. As a result, nozzles are designed with tips of different shapes that determine how you deliver your fertilizer, pesticide, or other liquid treatment:
- Fan tip - for covering flat areas and areas with little chance of drift, such as cracks and crevices
- Cone tip (single or dual cone) - for delivering a fine mist to an area
- Shower, stream, or droplet tip - for providing a steady, concentrated stream to drench an area dense with gravel or weeds
Fan tips are best for a wide application over a flat surface. However, if you want to soak an area with a targeted stream, a shower or droplet-style tip is the way to go.
Sprayer Dispensing Mechanisms
What does the nozzle attach to? The dispensing mechanism is the piece that feeds liquid from the tank to the nozzle.
The most common dispensing mechanism you’ll find on handheld, wheeled, and backpack sprayers is a long wand with the nozzle at one end and a hose connecting it to the tank at the other. To dispense liquid, a user simply pulls a trigger or presses a button on the wand to start the spray. The wand allows the user to reach into tight spaces and deliver the chemical precisely where it needs to go.
Many sprayers with wands include multiple tips so that you can choose the most effective spray pattern for your lawn or yard care project.
Some tow-behind mowers will come with a wand attachment that can be used for spot-treating weeds or other plants in the field. However, the main dispensing mechanism that a tow-behind sprayer employs is a boom, a long beam to which multiple nozzles are attached.
You’ll find two kinds of booms on tow-behind sprayers:
- Dry booms, which carry liquid through tubes attached to the beam
- Wet booms, which carry liquid through a pipe inside of the beam
Both types of booms deliver liquid across a wide stretch of space so that more ground can be sprayed in less time.
Tips for Spraying Fertilizers and Pesticides
Lawn sprayers can make yard care easy and convenient, but it’s important to pay attention to several details when using them to apply fertilizers and pesticides (which includes insecticides and herbicides).
1. Practice Safe Spraying
Fertilizers and pesticides are chemicals that can cause serious harm. However, a few safety precautions will ensure that they’re used properly:
- Dilute chemicals outdoors or in a well-ventilated area per manufacturer directions
- Never mix multiple chemicals together in a sprayer
- Make sure no pets or children are nearby
- Wear protective clothing, including goggles, gloves, long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and closed-toe shoes
- Avoid spraying on windy days
- After use, wash your hands before eating, drinking, or smoking
2. Adjust Your Flow Rate
Your sprayer’s flow rate (the rate at which liquid passes through the nozzle) will change over time due to wear and tear as well as clogging of the parts.
Maintaining and cleaning your sprayer’s parts will help you achieve a consistent flow rate throughout the life of the sprayer. However, if your sprayer has been well maintained and you simply want to spray more liquid, you can increase your flow rate either by increasing the pressure in your manual pump sprayer or increasing the RPMs of your engine or motor in your gas or battery-powered sprayer.
3. Spray at the Proper Times
Whether you're spraying a fertilizer or a pesticide, there will be specific times at which that chemical will be most effective. Consider these examples of recommended times for using a sprayer:
- To avoid drift, broadleaf herbicides should be sprayed on dry days when the temperature will be no higher than 85°F and the wind speed no higher than 5 mph
- Due to insect activity, insecticides are most effective when sprayed in the early morning or at sunset
- To avoid harm to plants, lawns should be sprayed with liquid fertilizer during the fall instead of during the warm summer months
- Because foliar (leaf) fertilizers provide short-term nutrient boosts, they can be sprayed on plant leaves during the plant’s active growing season
By following these tips, you can enjoy not only the most from your plants but the most from your lawn or garden sprayer as well.