Keep health issues at bay by spraying the right way

July 16, 2005 The Detroit News

By Jeff Ball / Special to The Detroit News

While spraying my vegetable garden with some compost tea, it occurred to me that while I have been using all kinds of spraying equipment in the past 25 years, I am using sprayers a bit differently now than I did back when I had my first mortgage. I've changed my spray habits and the sprayer tools have changed considerably.

I no longer use any hose-end sprayers because I no longer use liquid fertilizer outside. Over the years, I have learned those tools cannot be precisely calibrated and therefore waste much of the chemical you are applying. There are better spray tools today that are just as convenient and do a better job.

Another change is that I don't use as many small hand-compression sprayers as I had in the past. Years ago, I had four or five half-gallon compression sprayers, each dedicated to a particular chemical. One held RoundUp herbicide for spot treatments, another held insecticidal soap, one had neem-oil insecticide, and a fourth had a repellent for rabbits. Using that system I didn't have to dispose of partially used chemicals and have to repeatedly clean my sprayer. It seemed like a convenient system, but those sprayers are no longer in my tool shed.

Today, you can buy RoundUp and many other herbicides used for spot treatments in half-gallon containers with a spritzer and hose attachment built right into the bottle. It eliminates my need for mixing that chemical in a sprayer. The insecticide I prefer -- Schultz's Houseplant and Garden Insect Spray containing pyrethrin-- I buy in a ready to use hand spritzer bottle. This works for me because to treat a plant or two, the spritzer bottle does the job.

The one tool that has not changed is my backpack compression sprayer that holds three gallons of liquid. The Craftsman model I currently use ($80 at Sears) has a handle that sticks out at about belt level that you pump up and down to keep the pressure steady as you spray. If we are having an outdoor party, then that is the tool I use to spray the Mosquito Barrier on the lawn the day before. I also use it to spray compost tea or other plant bio-activators on the vegetable garden, shrubs and flower beds. It has a large mouth with a built-in strainer for easy filling. The strainer helps to keep the sprayer nozzle from clogging, a common problem. The only downside is when full, it weighs a hefty 25 pounds -- which on my aged back is definitely noticeable. I feel like those poor kids I see walking to school with backpacks that look like they contain half the school library.

The big change today is I have two new compression sprayers that I do not have to pump. My animal repellent of choice these days is Garlic Barrier. It is very effective in keeping the raccoons from digging up any seedlings I have recently planted. I keep the Garlic Barrier in a great new sprayer from Gilmour, called the "No Pumping Sprayer" ($40 at This 1-gallon device is pressurized by a pump powered by four D batteries. If I need to spray a spot with Garlic Barrier, my Gilmour battery sprayer is always loaded and ready to spray with the push of a start button.

The other new product from Gilmour is called the "Wheel Pump Sprayer" ($60 at DoItBest Hardware Stores). It is pulled around the yard on wheels. As the wheels turn, they power a pump that creates the pressure in the two gallon tank. If you are standing in one spot for a bit you just roll the sprayer back and forth to maintain the pressure. This sprayer is my utility player taking care of all the other spray jobs I might have over the season, like occasionally spraying my apple tree.

So in reflection, I still use a number of spray tools in my yard, but I feel that the tools are easier to use. I can finish a job and not have a sore arm from all that pumping.

The Yardener Jeff Ball, a Metro Detroit freelance writer, has authored eight books on gardening and lawn care and was the gardening expert on NBC's "Today" show for eight years. You can visit his yard care Web site at E-mail him at