Deciding between skid units and ride-on models

When it comes to deciding between a self-propelled, ride-on or skid-type sprayer, there are a number of factors to consider, such as the type of properties you service, the ease of access to the landscapes, and—when it comes right down to it—what you’re used to. Here is a more detailed look at some of the general capabilities and advantages of each type.

TurfEx skid sprayers are typically mounted in the back of utility vehicles, providing quick travel when applying chemicals on large grounds, such as a college campus or office park. PHOTO COURTESY OF TURFEX.

Skid sprayers

TurfEx offers skid sprayers in 25-, 50- and 100-gallon models. The smallest size allows operators to take advantage of the best of both worlds by splitting the difference between a skid sprayer and self-propelled unit. While it can be used as a traditional skid sprayer, “The 25-gallon has a unique hitch underneath the skid that adapts to a zero-turn mower, so it can be put on the front of an Exmark or Scag or any other brand of zero-turn mowers,” explains Bruce Carmichael, national sales manager with TurfEx. That model comes standard with a 25-foot hose and spray gun. An optional boom attachment is available, as well as a “boomless nozzle,” says Carmichael. “The boomless nozzle clips onto the front of the sprayer, and it’s like a fan sprayer that sprays down in front of the sprayer,” he says of the latter option, which provides about 12 feet of coverage side-to-side. The effect is similar to a boom, but without the boom.

The larger TurfEx sprayers—the 50- and 100-gallon models—are strictly skid-mount units. “We have a trailer adapter that provides a wheel kit and a trailer tongue on the 50-gallon, so you can actually trailer it behind a utility vehicle,” says Carmichael. “Really, though, they’re designed to be put in the back of a utility vehicle.” Some customers also mount them in the back of small pickups. The units are electric and come with 50 feet of hose and a reel so the hose can be manually wound up. “Being all-electric, they’re a little unique,” says Carmichael. Currently, the larger TurfEx models are boomless only, but Carmichael says the company expects to offer boom options later this year. So, for now, the larger models are used mainly for spot-spraying. “With the gun, it’s not really being used to go out and cover a whole 1/3-acre lawn,” he says.

Reduced effort is one reason some contractors look at ride-on sprayers versus a skid unit, says Ron Revis with Westheffer Company, which manufactures a full line of skid sprayers. The biggest advantage of a self-propelled sprayer “is, of course, the fact that you’re riding on it; there’s less work involved than pulling a hose around,” he says. “The problem is that when you get into residential areas and you have an average size lawn, especially if there’s trees spread out around it, by the time you simply get that piece of equipment unloaded with the ramps and get it set up and started, you could have just pulled the hose and been gone. That’s the biggest asset of skid sprayers.”

Ironically, bigger skid sprayers sometimes make the most sense for smaller yards, and smaller ride-on sprayers make the most sense for large lawns. “For the smaller, more compact yards with lots of trees, the skid-type sprayers have a lot of advantages in terms of being able to get the job done quickly. If you’re doing a big soccer field or something, then the ride-ons are the way to go,” says Revis.

Westheffer sprayers are available with a variety of hose sizes and lengths. There are also different pump volume options based on the types of chemicals being sprayed and how much agitation those chemicals require in the tank. Operators can also mix fungicides, insecticides, weed killer, etc., in a skid tank, providing greater versatility than a ride-on unit, which usually is used with just a concentrated chemical, such as weed killer. Revis says, “With a skid sprayer, you can mix everything in there together, and you can vary the pump volume depending on whether you’re spraying lawn or trees.”

Westheffer sprayers are usually mounted in a pickup truck, which acts as a dedicated spray vehicle. “The ride-ons have little-bitty tanks, and they deal with concentrated material. In a skid sprayer, especially one in the back of a pickup, it has 200 or 300 gallons of liquid – you’re applying 2 to 4 gallons per minute. You’re getting the chemical plus the water,” says Revis. “It’s really two different kinds of spraying.” Selecting between these options often comes down to personal preference, adds Revis. “If you grew up pulling a hose in the lawn care business, you’re probably going to continue to do it.”

Among other manufacturers offering skid-type sprayers for lawn and landscape applications is Gregson-Clark, which has Honda-powered models ranging from 50 to 300 gallons in its V-Series lineup; and Turbo Technologies, whose hydroseed skid units offer versatile service thanks to a “Seed and Spray” option, which allows the same machine handle both tasks.

ProLawn (www.prolawnsprayshields.com) offers both walk-behind sprayers and units designed to fit on the front of zero-turn mowers or on the back of utility vehicles. What all of the models have in common, says Company Owner Randy Gerosa, is enhanced spray accuracy and operator safety, thanks to the use of spray shields. “The shields enclose the chemicals within the spray chamber, so the spray goes straight down,” he explains.

Gerosa also points out that the shield offers several environmental advantages. First, in some cases the recommended spray mix includes 15 percent less chemical concentrate than herbicide manufacturers specify. And, second, because the spray is hitting the turf with greater accuracy than an open boom, the chemical is staying where it’s intended rather than blowing or drifting elsewhere. “It’s an on-target application, so we can use less chemical,” he explains. “It’s an accurate kill.” Generally, the droplet size in these sprayers is smaller, but thanks to the shields operators can choose various spray tips to vary the size of the droplet as desired.

ProLawn’s sprayers use electric pumps and are powered off the spray vehicle (mower, utility vehicle, etc.) battery.

Ride-on sprayers

L.T. Rich Products can provide a machine specifically for applying granular fertilizer or liquid material, but most customers opt for units that can do both. Being able to use the same machine for both spreading and spraying is an advantage that many customers appreciate, according to the company’s Ray Riley.

The Z-Spray ride-on sprayer from L.T. Rich offers operators a comfortable way to apply lawn care chemicals with precision and uniformity.

L.T. Rich offers sprayers in four sizes, with different widths and capacities. “Our feeling behind that is that one size doesn’t fit all,” explains Riley. “The amount of commercial versus residential properties a company provides services for might determine what size machine they need.” The size of the property that needs to be covered isn’t the only consideration when selecting sprayer size, adds Riley. “You might need to get through narrow gates, for example,” he says. Riley says that L.T. Rich sprayers are more efficient than spraying with a skid sprayer, or just a tank off the back of a truck, noting that these units can spray at up to 5 mph, while someone walking with a hose might be traveling at only 3 mph. “We’re also going to be a lot more consistent,” he says. “The machine is obviously not going to tire out at the end of the day.” Someone who’s dragging a hose connected to a skid sprayer is likely to slow down as the day progresses.

These sprayers are also smart in the sense that they know what speed they’re traveling, and therefore what rate of spray material should be applied. “We use a GPS speedometer, so we always know our ground speed. And we know what our [spray] tip is, and all of our equipment has a pressure gauge. Those are the three things you need to know when you’re spraying,” says Riley. With this type of machine, the width of spray coverage is also consistent. That’s something it’s difficult for a person to do over the course of a long day when spraying by hand. Increased precision can lead to decreased material costs, he points out.

Riley says that operators can also spot-spray with the units. A foot switch can turn the sprayer on and off, leaving a hand free to work the spray gun. Perhaps of greater interest is the ability to spray large areas of turf with uniform coverage thanks to a boom. “All of our units use a three-section boom. That’s an advantage over sprayers that depend on just two or three nozzles – those nozzles each have to cover a much bigger area than one of our nozzles has to cover.” Each boom can be operated by its own valve, allowing the user to customize the spray width as needed.

L.T. Rich sprayers are a little larger than some other ride-on spray units, and the company recommends using a small utility trailer to transport them from site to site, or the machine can be loaded on a landscape trailer with mowers.

PermaGreen’s ride-on sprayers, including its new Triumph model, apply liquid and granular material. “In one trip over the lawn, you can get both applications done. That saves wasted time on making two separate applications,” says Tom Jessen, company president. “For example, in the spring you could put down a granular fertilizer and preemergent, while at the same time spraying a broadleaf weed control.”

The sprayer controls on PermaGreen’s units are the handlebars, so operators can control valves easily when running the machine. It also means that they can choose to spot-spray—instantly turning the chemical application on and off—as needed while covering the yard with granular fertilizer. “This helps you avoid using more of the liquid product than is necessary to get the results people are looking for,” Jessen says.

PermaGreen’s units feature boomless nozzles with a 12-foot application width with a single nozzle. A second nozzle with a narrower band width can be selected for trim work, such as around garden beds, walkways and tight lawn areas, allowing the same machine to perform in large, open turf areas and small backyards.

“One of the things that makes our machines unique is that we have very precise controls to ensure consistent, repeatable results every time you’re out with the machine,” says Jessen. There are two working speeds: approximately 5 mph and approximately 3.5 mph, he adds, and a pair of nozzles designed specifically for each speed and desired spray width. The operator simply selects a gear and adjusts the RPMs to ensure a consistent ground speed every time. “There is very precise control over ground speed,” he explains. “For example, any time you select the high-speed broadcast nozzle, it’s going to go the same speed and spray the same width every time, so you get an accurate application of product.” He says this prevents employees from “fiddling” with the settings in the field and possibly under or over-applying. “Especially on the spray side of it, the machine is pretty much automatic.” It’s also easier on the employees, adds Jessen, who got into the lawn care business by using a skid sprayer and dragging hose.

Ride-on spreader-sprayers are also available from, among others, Turfco, whose T3000 Applicator unit is designed to fit through tight gates on smaller residential properties, while also handling large turf acreage; and Ground Logic, whose Pathfinder model features all stainless steel construction and is powered by a Honda engine. Gregson-Clark offers a drop-in unit (the Spreader Mate) that allows lawn care contractors to add a 9-gallon tank to the hopper of a walk-behind spreader and use that for spraying, and even includes a boom.

Editor’s Note: These are only a few of the companies that manufacture sprayers. For more makes and models, you can do a search at LawnSite.com.

Patrick White is a freelance writer and editor who has covered every aspect of the green industry in the past 15 years. He is based in Middlesex, Vt., and is always on the lookout for unusual stories.