How To Use a Broadcast Spreader the Right Way

Updated: May 08, 2024

A broadcast spreader is an essential tool for taking care of your lawn.

Maintaining an attractive lawn takes lots of hard work, knowledge, timing and good weather. It also takes the precise (and seemingly endless) application of grass seed, soil builder and fertilizer. Each product you apply requires a different spread rate. Too much is wasteful and could kill your lawn; too little won’t do the job.

A good broadcast spreader can apply just the right amount of product. The key is to choose a model that has an adjustable spread rate setting to deliver the product uniformly and in accurate amounts to the left, center and right while applying the recommended volume for your lawn size.

Broadcast spreaders are reasonably priced and widely available from garden and home centers. Here, we’ll show you how to use your grass seed spreader more effectively to save time and make your lawn more attractive.

What Is a Broadcast Spreader?

Also called a broadcaster, these devices use a spinning wheel to spread grass seed, lawn fertilizer, salt, etc. over a wide area. They work best for covering large areas, yards larger than 4,000 sq. ft.

How Does a Broadcast Spreader Work?


One of their wheels is geared so that as you push the broadcaster, the drive wheel turns a whirling impeller plate with several fins on it under the hopper that catches and throws the payload. When the shutoff plate is open, the impeller broadcasts the material in a 180-degree arc 7 ft. to 11 ft. wide (depending on the product’s granular size and your walking speed).

Broadcast Spreaders vs. Drop Spreaders

What’s a drop spreader?

Drop spreaders lay a trail of material the width of their hopper (less than 24 in.). They work best on small lawns and in yards with numerous flowerbeds, sidewalks or patios where you need to control the spread pattern carefully. Unless you’re meticulous about lining up adjacent passes, the payload either is laid too thick or misses portions of the grass, resulting in visible striping.

Broadcaster spreaders and drop spreaders are push-powered workhorses that share many features in common. At the heart of both is a hopper with adjustable holes in the bottom. A gauge mounted on the spreader’s handlebar allows you to accurately set the size of these holes (following the recommended setting listed on many bags of lawn products), allowing the proper volume of material to uniformly exit the hopper. Alongside the gauge, a flow lever controls when the material drops onto the lawn by opening and closing a plate under the hopper holes.

How to Use a Broadcast Spreader

Whether you’re reseeding your lawn or just maintaining it, the key to operating a broadcaster spreader is to achieve even dispersal at the right concentration.

Find the right setting and test the dispersal pattern

Dial in the product manufacturer’s recommended setting on the spread rate gauge, and test and measure the product’s dispersal pattern through the spreader.

Conduct the dispersal pattern test in your driveway or another flat, clear area. Be sure to sweep dirt and debris away if you are using your driveway.

With a broadcast spreader, the right side of the dispersal pattern will be a foot or two wider than the left. Use this test information to establish the pattern you’ll use to push the spreader across your yard for total coverage with 6 in. to 1 ft. of overlap. Write this “wide side,” “narrow side” measurement information on a piece of masking tape and stick it to the back of the hopper so you don’t forget the broadcast pattern for each side.

How To Use A Broadcast Spreader The Right WayTMB STUDIO

Important: Don’t sweep, blow or wash this test material into the street. Sweep it up and dump it back in the hopper.

If the product doesn’t list a recommended setting for your spreader, consult your owner’s manual for generic equivalents of each product. Otherwise, you’ll have to resort to trial and error. Set the spreader to a light coverage (try a 1/4-in. to 3/16-in. hole in the hopper), apply the product over the recommended square footage, and check how much product you have left in the hopper. Adjust the dial to spread the remaining material over the same area, going perpendicular to the first pattern.

Start spreading product on your lawn

Begin your yard pattern by spreading across hills first. This way, you’ll have enough lawn product in the hopper to reduce “skipping” over the uneven terrain.

Keep a steady pace

Maintain the pace you’d use to take a middle-aged, midsized dog for a walk (about 3 mph). Your walking speed affects how wide and how much product the broadcaster throws. Walking too slow reduces the throw width and increases product density; walking too fast thins out the coverage.

Stopping and turning

Each time you’re ready to stop or make a turn, close the flow lever to stop dispersing the product and continue one more stride. This reduces waste and avoids damaging the lawn from saturated product coverage. Avoid pulling the spreader backward when the flow lever is open; you’ll release more of the product.

Keep the spreader level

Operate the spreader, keeping the impeller plate close to level. Tilting the handlebar up or down from level throws the product too high or low, resulting in uneven coverage.

Don’t overdo it!

Don’t over-apply fertilizer and weed killer. Follow the recommended coverage rate for each product. Overuse and overapplication can lead to lawn runoff that contaminates lakes and streams. Protect yourself by wearing gloves and a nuisance dust mask when handling chemical lawn products that contain pesticides and herbicides.

Optimal Broadcast Spreader Pattern

Optimal Broadcast Spreader PatternFAMILY HANDYMAN

Follow this optimal pattern for running your broadcaster spreader. Apply a “header strip” by circling the spreader once around the yard’s perimeter. Avoid throwing the material payload into adjacent flowerbeds by running the spreader back from those areas the distance your driveway test showed.

Complete the pattern by pushing the spreader on a serpentine route back and forth in the longest direction on the lawn while overlapping the throw patterns about a foot.

Shut off the flow lever as you near the end of a row when the spreader is within 5 ft. of the header strip. Keep the lever off during the turn and open it to begin the new row.