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When it comes to getting the best value for your dollar, it’s important to buy the most appropriate fungicides, herbicides and insecticides for the job.

But it’s equally important to maintain the equipment used to apply these products. Maintaining your sprayer may seem elementary, but it can stretch your crop protection dollar and deliver more healthy plants. A sprayer in good shape provides better coverage, and that means better disease and pest control.

Consistent coverage

“When applying any plant-protection product, it is always important to have the best possible coverage,” said Jim Petta, Syngenta Professional Products field technical manager. “This will ensure that you are receiving the most activity and benefit from that product.”

Optimizing your spraying pattern is the first step. Petta suggests using water-sensitive paper or a fluorescent dye to test the droplet pattern.

Thorough and uniform coverage is essential for contact insecticide and fungicide products. They provide protection by coating the outside surface of crop foliage, stems or root systems. For best results, these products should be sprayed with small microdroplets, reaching both the tops and undersides of leaves in a uniform pattern.

Products with translaminar or locally systemic activity provide control from the inside out. When sprayed on the tops of leaves, they control pests or diseases underneath, so they may be more forgiving when it comes to spray coverage.

But remember that only the leaves that receive adequate spray will be protected. So optimizing spray pressure is key to ensuring that foliage within the plant canopy is covered.

But there’s more involved in getting consistent coverage than just the way you hold the sprayer or run the hoses to the nozzles. It’s about maintaining equipment to ensure you get every last drop of protection on your plants.

Start at the beginning

“Good coverage starts with a good sprayer. And a good rule of thumb is to buy new equipment each time you begin or expand your operation,” Petta said. “When you unpack that new equipment, you should always read the manual to make sure you are following the manufacturer’s recommendations.”

Filling and priming your sprayer can differ from unit to unit.

“Improper use of your sprayer, or neglecting it, will increase your maintenance costs and adversely affect the solution output, pressure and particle size.” said Kurt Becker, Dramm Corp. director of commercial products and marketing.

“Variance also adversely affects both distribution (getting the solution to the plant in the correct amount) and deposition (sticking the pesticide, fungicide or insecticide to the plant), which greatly reduces the effectiveness of your products and wastes money,” Becker said.

Measuring sprayer output

A key component in pesticide performance is knowing how much pesticide is applied over a given area. Measuring your power sprayer output is the first phase in calculating how much pesticide is applied over a given area, said Dramm salesman Russell Blackwell. This example will help determine how much pesticide is applied in a specific area. This way you can follow the product’s label recommendations.

The best advice

The three best pieces of advice for maintaining your equipment is:

1. Clean the sprayer.

2. Clean the sprayer.

3. Clean the sprayer.

You just can’t clean it enough. Remember to immediately clean your equipment after each use.

“We suggest running warm water through the pump, but if that’s not available, then a drop of liquid dishwashing soap will clean the pump,” Blackwell said. “After the dishwashing soap, flush the pump with clean water.”

The detergent helps remove sticky residue some chemicals can leave behind. Left in the equipment, this residue causes moving parts to stick and clog, reducing your sprayer’s effectiveness.

Off-season storage

While greenhouses are wonderful for starting seeds, their dampness and humidity are not the best location to keep a trigger sprayer between seasons. Even though sprayers are designed to operate just fine in a greenhouse, you’ll be better off if you store it in a clean, dry building over the winter.

Before you hang the sprayer up and walk away, take a few minutes to clean, complete periodic maintenance and winterize your sprayer. After the sprayer is cleaned and serviced, flush rubbing alcohol through the pump and hose.

Flushing with rubbing alcohol before draining the unit will help you avoid having freezing water in the equipment. It will also reduce mold buildup.

Just as you disconnect a garden hose from spigot at home, remove the discharge hose and drain the unit before storing it for long periods.

Needs assessment

Cleaning and proper care of a sprayer will greatly extend its life. So will regular, thorough examinations for wear and tear, and prompt replacement of worn parts.

Set up a schedule to replace seals, nozzles and other parts before the system is so worn that replacement parts won’t correct a spray pattern or improve the equipment’s performance, requiring the purchase of a new tool.

A visual inspection should consist of these steps:

1. Check hoses.

2. Inspect filters for damage.

3. View seals for clogs, fractures or cracks.

4. Examine the tank lining.

5. Ensure straps are tight.

5. Check for proper pressure and leaks.

If you find problems, promptly replace or repair the parts.

Simple tips for measuring pressure sprayer output

* Time yourself. Know how long it takes to spray a given area with your hydraulic sprayer as a garden tool. An example is 12.5 minutes to cover a 5,000-square-foot area.

* Know the solution output through the spray gun. Fill the tank with several gallons of clean water. Spray into a covered bucket for 1 minute at the “typical” PSI (pounds per square inch) and spray-gun pattern setting. Personal protection equipment (PPE) is required to avoid exposure from residue in the spray solution. Avoid spraying or splashing your eyes or skin during this step.

* Measure the solution sprayed into the bucket. Two gallons of solution would mean a 2 gpm output.

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* Determine how much solution is applied per acre. Given a 2 gpm output and 12.5 minutes needed to spray 5,000 square feet, it would take 217 gallons and 48 minutes to spray 1 acre.

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Maintenance checklist

Here is a checklist with general suggestions for cleaning sprayers after use, and it is also suitable for a watering can. Each type of sprayer may have different requirements. Check the owner’s manual for specific recommendations.

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* Rinse the inside of the tank.

* Flush the pump with clean water (warm water if possible).

* Use a drop of liquid dishwashing soap while flushing when using chemicals that leave sticky residues. Then follow with a flush of clean water.

* Clean filters and nozzle tips.

* Clean the outside of the entire sprayer.

* Wipe the motor and pump with a damp cloth.

* Check the sprayer for needed replacement parts.

* Do not leave chemicals in the tank overnight.

* Store the sprayer in a clean, dry building or cover the unit.

* If necessary, winterize your sprayer.