Although homeowners have a wide choice of products to use in their lawns and gardens, sometimes a hand-cranked spreader for granular fertilizers and pesticides is more practical than a wheeled model, according to an engineer at the LSU AgCenter’s Hammond Research Station.
"A wheeled spreader can be difficult or impossible to use when spreading granules in nurseries, beds of flowers and ornamentals, and other restricted areas," says Dick Parish. "You can use a hand- or strap-carried, hand-cranked spreaders in such cases, but use a wheeled spreader whenever you can."
Parish says a hand-cranked spreader is most useful for spreading fire ant bait on lawns because most wheeled lawn spreaders cannot deliver the very low rates typically recommended for ant baits. Many hand-cranked spreaders, on the other hand, can deliver the low rates – often as low as 1 pound per acre.
"Since insects are mobile and will forage for the bait, the uniform pattern from a wheeled spreader is not necessary, and a hand-cranked spreader is a good choice for ant baits," Parish says.
In general, the pattern and rate from a hand-cranked spreader will be more subjective and operator-dependent than from a wheeled spreader. Many operator variables can affect pattern and rate with a hand-cranked spreader, Parish says. They include the angle at which the spreader is held – left-to-right, up-and-down and rotation around the direction of travel – as well as cranking speed, height and walking speed in addition to normal spreader variables relating to product characteristics and temperature and humidity.
Of the several types of hand-cranked spreaders available, Parish says the least expensive type has a very small hopper and is held with one hand while it’s cranked with the other. Larger units are carried by a strap around the operator’s neck.
Parish says some of the larger spreaders can broadcast granules both to the right and to the left at the same time while another other type broadcasts to one side.
"For some applications, it’s easier to walk along one side of a bed and throw material in only one direction," Parish says. "Using one of the one-sided spreaders and angling it somewhat in the predominant direction can often give a good one-sided pattern."
Handheld spreaders may have a plastic or cloth hopper, and they may or may not have a pattern adjustment, Parish says. But there should always be a rate adjustment that is often combined with the on-off control.
"One of the most critical things you can do to get good coverage with a hand-cranked spreader is to be consistent," Parish says. "Always hold it at the same height and the same angles – remember, there are three – crank at a consistent speed and walk at a constant speed.
"The best way to obtain the pattern you seek, whether one-sided or two-sided, is to look at the material coming out of the spreader and then either change the pattern adjustment on the spreader or angle the spreader until the pattern looks right.
"Hand-cranked spreaders are useful for some special situations where wheeled spreaders cannot be used," Parish says. "Good results depend on the skill and consistency of the operator."