Hand held seed spreader

How to Apply Lawn Fertilizer

By Lance Walheim, The National Gardening Association

You can apply dry lawn fertilizers to your grass with one of two types of spreaders — drop or broadcast. If you don’t need this equipment often, don’t buy them; both are available at rental yards, and many nurseries loan them.

To use a broadcast spreader properly, you need to know how wide a band the spreader covers. If the directions that came with the spreader don’t indicate the width, put some fertilizer in the spreader and run the spreader over a short stretch of lawn to find out. Don’t measure the coverage on concrete unless you plan to sweep up the fertilizer.

Applying dry fertilizers evenly by hand is very difficult. If you have no other option, apply the fertilizer very carefully and only on small lawns. Wear gloves and walk backwards across the lawn as you throw the fertilizer as evenly as possible with a sweeping motion.

You can apply liquid or water-soluble fertilizers with handheld, hose-end applicators. Liquids are more difficult than dry fertilizers to apply evenly because it’s done by hand, and the handheld sprayers require frequent refilling on large lawns. Still, they save you the cost of a fertilizer spreader. When using liquid fertilizers and handheld sprayers, follow the label instructions precisely.

The key to applying fertilizer evenly is to use the spreader properly. Uneven fertilizer application leads to uneven greening or burning of the grass. Take the following steps to achieve a well-nourished, attractive lawn:

  1. Set the spreader settings to correspond to the amount of fertilizer you want to apply.

    You can find the information you need on the fertilizer label or spreader instructions. If not, you need to calibrate the spreader.

  2. Place the spreader over a hard surface (like a driveway or walkway) and fill it with fertilizer.

    Sweep up any fertilizer that spills.

  3. Spread fertilizer over the edges of the lawn first.

    Move at your normal walking speed. Then move back and forth between the edges. To avoid missing strips, make sure to overlap the path of the wheels when using a drop spreader. You should have a little overlap at the edges of broadcast spreaders.

    Turn the spreader off when you reach the end strips, when you come to a stop, or when you’re turning around to avoid uneven application.

    Water the lawn thoroughly after fertilizing. Watering in the fertilizer washes the nutrients into the soil where lawn roots can use them and where they won’t be washed away by a heavy rain. Watering also gets the fertilizer off the leaves which may cause burning. A dry lawn is more likely to burn than a wet one.

    When you finish, clean the empty spreader with a hose. If you skip the cleaning, the spreader can slowly corrode. Wash out the spreader on the lawn. Let the spreader dry before storing.

If you have a spill, clean up the fertilizer as best as you can (you may want to try a vacuum cleaner) and flood the area with water to prevent the lawn from chemical burns.

To apply liquid fertilizers, start in a corner or edge of the lawn and walk backwards in a straight line as you spray. Turn the sprayer off at the end of each row.

Different Types of Lawn Spreaders: Pros, Cons & Uses

Choosing the right lawn spreader – and using it correctly – will make lawn maintenance easier and more enjoyable. Whether your plan is to improve an existing lawn or to seed brand new areas, selecting the right spreader will help you to get the most out of your seed or fertilizer investment and your efforts. Today we’ll be looking at the 3 most popular types of lawn spreaders – broadcast, drop, and hand-held – their uses, pros, and cons.

What to keep in mind when choosing a lawn spreader

Whatever your project is, it’s essential to match the right spreader to your lawn. Keep the following facts in mind before choosing a spreader:

  1. The shape and overall size of your lawn, including corners, lines, or curves
  2. The number of obstacles, like stones, garden beds, and seeds
  3. What are your time constraints, and what degree of precision are you looking for?

Broadcast spreaders

A broadcast spreader scatters seeds over a large area in a fan-like pattern. Various passes back and forth are necessary to overlap seed, since seed distribution thins out the further it is from the spreader. A general rule of thumb is if the arc of your broadcast spreader is approximately 365 cm across at its furthermost points, then your actual coverage is about 275 cm wide. Every pass across your lawn should be about 275 cm apart. Set your spreader at about 50%, and use a crosshatch pattern to spread the seeds.

A broadcast spreader can be push-type, hand-held, or pull behind. It is, in the opinion of many, the most versatile spreader for dry fertilizer. Fertilizer drops onto a rotating wheel or spinner that can throw and distribute your fertilizer pellets evenly over a large area.


  • Best for covering large areas of lawn efficiently
  • Very time efficient – broadcast spreaders cover a lot more ground in a lot less time


  • Seeds can be scattered outside of the intended area – there’s less precision around obstacles and tight spots
  • The lighter the spreader, the more they’re affected by wind, and more operator skill is needed to get complete uniform coverage

Drop spreaders

Drop spreaders are gravity-fed and drop seeds straight downward in neat rows with a great deal of accuracy. Your spread width is the distance between your 2 furthermost hopper holes. You’ll need to overlap your wheel paths every time you pass across your lawn since the seed only drops directly between the wheels. Drop spreaders are best for smaller yards (anything under about 1500 square meters). Set your drop spreader at 50%, and make sure to spread the seeds 2 ways, using a crosshatch pattern. Make sure that your spreader is set to the OFF setting before filling it, and fill it over an easily cleanable surface in case of spillage.

Drop spreaders were the first spreaders utilized in the application of dry granular fertilizers. Care should be taken not to apply too much fertilizer in one area since green stripes might appear on your turf, or you could even burn the grass.


  • Easy to use and control, and they’re not affected by normal winds
  • Precision is possible around obstacles and in tight spots since your seeds will be kept in bounds, making any cleanup unnecessary


  • There’s a danger of stripping if you don’t overlap your wheel paths
  • It will take more time to spread seeds since each pass covers less ground

Hand-held Spreaders

Hand-held spreaders are ideal for those lawns that are too small for even the smallest of push mowers. They are equipped with multiple spreader type settings, are usually rustproof, and are dependable season after season. Only hold your spreader over a hard surface like pavement when you’re filling it so any spilled product can be swept up. Adjust your spreader’s selector settings, pull the trigger, and start walking at an average pace while turning the crank counter-clockwise.


  • Can hold approximately 300 square meters of grass seed or fertilizer
  • Provides even dispersal and is simple to use


  • Hand-held spreaders frequently suffer from lower quality manufacture than either pull or push spreaders
  • Has a smaller hopper which requires more refills

With thanks to Mark Kelly from yardcaregurus.com for this informative article.

If you’re lucky enough to have a large yard or garden, you’ll probably need a fertilizer spreader to take some work off of your plate.

Also known as lawn or seed spreaders, these handy tools make seeding or fertilizing your yard an absolute breeze…but choosing one can be a pain.

There three different types of fertilizer spreaders, each of which are best suited for a particular application or yard size. On top of that, there are a bunch of brands that seem to offer the same product…but the products vary widely in quality.

In this this buyer’s guide, we’ll take a look at lawn spreaders in detail: what they are, the different types, how to choose one, and tips for calibration and use.

We also recommend the best fertilizer spreaders for your situation, which you can either see below or at the bottom of the article.

  • Best Broadcast Spreader: Scotts Turf Builder EdgeGuard Mini Broadcast Spreader
  • Best Drop Spreader: Scotts Turf Builder Classic Drop Spreader
  • Best Hand Held Spreader: Scotts Wizz Hand-Held Spreader
  • Best Tow-Behind Spreader: Agri-Fab 130-Pound Tow Behind Broadcast Spreader
  • Best Walk Behind Spreader: Earthway 2150 Commercial

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What Is a Fertilizer Spreader?

Before we get into the weeds (pun intended) about spreaders, let’s understand how they work. The basic idea is easy to understand: they’re a garden tool that helps you take a uniform material like fertilizer or seed and disperse it over a large area.

They make it easy to control the exact amount of seed or fertilizer so you don’t under or over-apply to an area. On top of that, they’re a massive time-saver compared to doing the same work by hand.

Types of Fertilizer Spreaders

There are four different types of spreaders overall, but they fall into two major categories: drop spreaders vs. broadcast spreaders. Which you choose depends on a few factors, including the size of your yard and the type of application that you need to do. Let’s take a look at both types in detail.

Broadcast Spreaders vs. Drop Spreaders

The most popular types of spreaders: Broadcast (left) and Drop (right)

Broadcast Spreaders

Also known as rotary spreaders, these are the most common type of lawn spreader. They’re perfect for larger areas (up to and over an acre of space). A typical broadcast spreader will spray about 3-4’, making your job easy.

The idea behind this type of spreader is simple: there’s a hopper at the top that feeds the material to a horizontal spinning disk below. On the disk, there are fins that disperse material as it drops from the hopper. Fancier broadcast spreaders will include the ability to adjust the direction and distance of the spread.

Most lower-end hoppers are made out of plastic, but the higher-end models are made out of stainless steel for improved durability and corrosion resistance.

Recommendation: Scotts Turf Builder EdgeGuard Mini Broadcast Spreader

Drop Spreaders

Drop spreaders are true to their name. They usually have a larger hopper than a broadcast spreader, and drop material directly below the hopper. This makes them good for precision application of seeds or fertilizer. You can push them directly over a specific area, like a row garden or strip of dead lawn, and not worry about throwing material all over the place.

Drop spreaders are great for “spot fixing” areas of your yard or lawn, especially if you have dead patches.

Recommendation: Scotts Turf Builder Classic Drop Spreader

Handheld Spreaders

Hand held fertilizer spreaders are by far the easiest to use and the most lightweight. All you need to do is toss some material in the hopper and then turn a crank to disperse your seed or fertilizer.

However, what they have in portability and ease of use, they lack in capacity and precision. The hoppers don’t hold much material, and they don’t spread too far compared to more robust broadcast spreaders. They’re also less precise than a well-calibrated drop spreader.

Recommendation: Scotts Wizz Hand-Held Spreader

Pull-Behind Spreaders

These spreaders are the heavy-duty, top of the line versions of smaller broadcast spreaders. Also known as a tow behind fertilizer spreader, they can be attached to a tractor or ATV. They generally use the wheels to power gears that turn the horizontal spreader disk.

If you need a heavy-duty spreader for a very large space, using a pull behind fertilizer spreader is a must. They’re better made, have a larger hopper capacity, and their spread distance is much further than smaller models. However, you do have to pay for that privilege — but the cost is well worth it.

Recommendation: Agri-Fab 130-Pound Tow Behind Broadcast Spreader

Choosing the Right Lawn Spreader

Now that we have an understanding of the different varieties of spreaders available, it’s time to look at what makes one spreader better than another. There are a few factors you should consider aside from type: your budget, the durability, the size of your lawn, and the materials used to construct the spreader.

Size of Your Lawn

Both the size of your yard and its shape will affect the type of spreader you should buy. If you have a large, uniform lawn, a drop spreader is probably the best choice. This is because it’s more precise, allowing you to run it over your yard much the same way you’d mow the lawn.

For a smaller garden area or strip of lawn, a handheld broadcast spreader is probably a better choice. You’ll save money on the purchase and it’ll be portable and easy to use for the small space.

If you have a very large space to cover — over an acre or so — consider a larger broadcast spreader or even a pull-behind broadcast spreader. The spread distance is large enough to cover a significant percentage of the yard with one pass, making your fertilizing or seeding work as efficient as possible.

Your Budget

In general, fertilizer spreaders are pretty cheap. You can get a good one for around fifty bucks, but there are a few higher-priced models out there. These high-end spreaders will be made out of better materials, last longer, have a larger capacity, and have extra features like spread adjustment.

Lifespan / Durability

As long as you take care of your seed spreader, you’ll be able to use it for years. If it’s made of plastic, it should be stored away from the sun to prevent premature breakdown and brittleness. If you’re using corrosive fertilizers, then you should consider a spreader with a stainless steel hopper so it holds up to the abuse.

Build Quality

When it comes to build quality, what matters most is the material used in the hopper. Higher-end hoppers are made of stainless steel, making them very precise in how they feed the dispersion disk or dropper.

Lower-end spreaders will have a plastic hopper which will vary in quality. You might think you should always buy a spreader with a metal hopper, but one advantage that plastic has is durability. It’s immune to the corrosive effects of some of the more extreme fertilizers out there, so if you’re using it constantly you may actually want to pick a plastic hopper.

How to Use a Fertilizer Spreader

It’s not useful to have a fertilizer spreader and not know how to use it, is it!? These suggestions will help you get the most out of your purchase. Pay particular attention to the calibration section, as it’ll make the biggest difference in how much square footage you can fertilize and how densely you fertilize.

General Fertilizer Spreader Tips

First of all, read through the instruction manual when you get your spreader. It’ll contain most of the info you need to know, including the all-important spreader settings and calibration instructions.

Here are a few more tips that your instruction manual may not cover:

  • Fill your hopper in an area that’s easy to clean up, like your driveway
  • If you spill or misapply any fertilizer, scoop it up and dump it back in the hopper
  • When applying fertilizer, move at a consistent pace to ensure even spread
  • When done fertilizing, wash your spreader with water and oil any metal parts to prevent rust or corrosion

Tip on How to Use a Broadcast Spreader

Because broadcast spreaders are a bit more haphazard than a drop spreader, try fertilizing or seeding in a criss-cross. If you do this, be sure to turn the settings down to half for each application, otherwise you’ll over fertilize and kill your yard!

By making two passes, you’ll get a more even spread while applying the same amount of fertilizer overall.

Calibrating a Fertilizer Spreader

One of the most important things to do when you get your spreader is to calibrate it properly. They work by throwing little granules of fertilizer, seeds, or pesticides out into your yard. If you don’t control how fast that material comes out, you’ll either over or under apply and have disastrous results.

First, read through the instruction manual to see if the manufacturer included any recommended calibration settings. If so, always follow those to start and see how they perform. If they work, then stick with them…but don’t expect them to. It’s best to think of the recommended settings as a starting point to work from You should also recalibrate your spreader any time you change to a different type of material, because the sizing of the granules won’t be the same.

Best Fertilizer Spreaders

Now that we have an understanding of the different types of spreaders available as well as what to consider when making a purchase, here are our recommendations for the best spreaders in each category.

Best Broadcast Spreader

Scotts Turf Builder EdgeGuard Mini

Sale Scotts Turf Builder EdgeGuard Mini Broadcast Spreader – Spreads Grass Seed, Fertilizer and Ice Melt…

  • Features Scotts exclusive EdgeGuard Technology
  • Designed to ensure superior results when used with…
  • Holds up to 5,000 sq. ft. of Scotts lawn product,…

Type: Broadcast Spreader

Capacity: 5,000 sq. ft. of material

This is a smaller version of a broadcast spreader that’s a perfect choice for almost everyone who has an average-sized yard. It comes fully assembled and has a settings dial on the back, making it a great choice as a precision broadcast spreader.

Perhaps the most interesting feature here is that it has EdgeGuard technology, which is just a fancy word for blocking off one side of the broadcast so you don’t throw fertilizer or seeds into your driveway. You can run it against the edge of your yard without worrying about creating a total mess or fertilizing an area that doesn’t need it!

See Prices >

Best Hand Held Spreader

Scotts Wizz

Scotts Wizz Hand-Held Spreader with EdgeGuard Technology – Apply Grass Seed, Fertilizer or Ice Melt…

Type: Hand Held

Capacity: 2,500 sq. ft. of material

The Wizz Spreader from Scotts is a fantastic choice for smaller yards. It’s cheap, lightweight (2.4lbs), and still holds enough material in the hopper to fertilize 2,500 sq. ft. That’s more than enough for the average backyard.

It’s a good choice if you want portability and ease of use, but it’s a bit more labor intensive than other spreaders and also has a hard time dealing with any material that’s been wetted down.

See Prices >

Best Drop Spreader

Scotts Turf Builder Classic

Scotts Turf Builder Classic Drop Spreader

  • Large capacity hopper holds up to 10,000 sq. ft….
  • Heavy-duty frame for optimum stability
  • 22-inch spread pattern delivers maximum coverage…

Type: Drop

Capacity: 10,000 sq. ft. of material

Yet another recommendation for a Scotts product! What can we say, they make quality gardening tools. This is an efficient precision drop spreader that will make your fertilizing job a breeze. Unlike our next recommendation, it comes fully assembled so you can use it right out of the box.

If you have a large, uniform area to fertilize or seed, you should consider this drop spreader. It’s got a 10,000 sq. ft. capacity and the drop mechanism ensures you won’t throw fertilizer all over the place.

See Prices >

Best Pull Behind Spreader

Agri-Fab Tow Behind Broadcast Spreader (45-0463)

Sale Agri-Fab 45-0463 130-Pound Tow Behind Broadcast Spreader

  • 130 pound hopper capacity saves time refilling on…
  • Durable rod linked on-off control with precise…
  • Enclosed gear box with tapered gears for even…

Type: Pull-Behind Broadcast

Capacity: 25,000 sq. ft. of material

For the largest yards, you can’t go wrong with this tow-behind broadcast spreader from Agri-Fab. It’s got enough capacity to cover ½ an acre at a time, meaning you won’t have to constantly refill it to get the job done.

Here are a few features that make it our tow-behind pick

  • You can turn it on and off from your tractor
  • The gearbox is enclosed for protection from the elements
  • The tires are pneumatic, meaning they’ll roll smoothly over even the roughest terrain

You’ll have to assemble it yourself once you receive it, but it doesn’t take long at all.

See Prices >

Best Walk Behind Spreader

Earthway 2150 Commercial

Type: Walk Behind Broadcast

Capacity: 50lb or 10,000 sq. ft.

Our final recommendation is a solid choice for those who want a mix of ease of use, broadcast, and a larger capacity spreader. The Earthway will cover around 10,000 sq. ft., all while being easy to both fill and use.

The rubber tires and the cylindrical drum make it stable to use even on rougher terrain. It comes with a screen to help break up clumps of material before it hits the spreader disk.

See Prices

The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:
Kevin Espiritu
Founder Did this article help you? × How can we improve it? × Thanks for your feedback!

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Last update on 2020-01-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


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