How to Choose Garden Sprayers that Work for You

Garden sprayers are used to apply liquid treatments to tomato plants, such as fungicide to treat diseases, insecticide to control pests, or a fertilizer product like fish emulsion. Both synthetic (man-made) products as well as organic materials like horticultural oils can be applied with a sprayer.

Products used in a sprayer are available as liquids, granules, or powders.

  • Liquid treatments can be pre-mixed or concentrates.
  • Granules can be water-soluble.
  • Powders can be water-soluble or wettable powders (suspended in the water while being sprayed on the plants).

The main considerations you need to think about when choosing a sprayer are:

  • Must your treatment be mixed with water or is it pre-mixed? This will determine which kind of sprayer you choose will deliver the treatment.
  • How many tomato plants do need to treat? This will determine how big a sprayer you will choose.
  • What kinds of products are you using? This will determine the number of garden sprayers you need on your gardening shelf. Designate one sprayer for herbicides, one for pesticides, and one for fertilizer products. You may also want to designate one sprayer for organic products and one for synthetics. Residues can be hard to completely remove form inside a sprayer tank, meaning products could do harm if mixed. Many gardeners also keep a clean, unused garden sprayer on hand with which to spray a stream of water to shake out unwanted pests. Make sure you label each sprayer appropriately.
(Garden sprayers are available at Garden.com and Gardens Alive!, along with a good selection of sprayers at Amazon.com.)

Kinds of garden sprayers

Hose-End Sprayer

A hose-end sprayer is a device attached to the end of a garden hose. It includes a container for the product (whether a liquid concentrate, granules, or powder); a sprayer head that you set to allow the correct proportion of product to be diluted with water to make the solution; and a nozzle to deliver the product to your tomato plant.

Advantages to hose-end sprayers

  • Hose-end sprayers don't require pumping. The force of the water draws up just the right amount of concentrate into the stream.
  • Hose-end sprayers don’t require pre-mixing.
  • Hose-end sprayers can cover a large area quickly.
  • Hose-end dials may be adjustable, with up to 16 different settings to dilute at the ratio you need. Blending and dilution both take place in the spraying head. Just pour the chemical in the bottle; the sprayer takes care of the rest.
  • Nozzles may be adjustable to apply product as a mist, a fan-shape spray, a straight stream, or to plant undersides. This is helpful when you want to treat large tomato plants or a number of plants during one application session.
  • They can save money by preventing waste. You can pour the unused portion of undiluted chemical back into its original container to use the next time.
  • Newest types can attach directly to the original product bottle. Some even figure the dilution rate automatically.

Disadvantages to hose-end sprayers

  • Require a hose
  • Garden hose length limits the sprayer’s range
  • Dilution mix may not be completely accurate, depending on water pressure

What to remember about hose-end sprayers
Clean nozzle thoroughly after application.

Gardener's Supply offers a good hose-end sprayer icon.

Compression Sprayers

Also called pump sprayers, tank sprayers, or pressure sprayers, compression sprayers are the most commonly-used in the garden. A compression sprayer is made up of three main parts: a tank which holds the product mix, a pump to provide pressure, and a nozzle/wand combination to apply the product to your tomato plants.

To operate, combine the correct proportions of the product with water, fill the tank, and secure the top. Pump the handle to build air pressure into the tank. When you're ready to apply the product, press the trigger to open a valve at the end of the hose and direct the stream or mist to your plant. Compressed air forces the liquid spray out the nozzle.

Compression sprayers are available in hand-held versions or as backpacks. Hand-held versions range from 1 gallon to 3 gallon capacity and usually have a trigger valve and spray wand to which a single nozzle is attached. Backpack versions typically hold 5 gallons.

Advantages to a compression sprayer

  • Light and portable, easy to carry around the garden
  • Versatile
  • Consistent coverage
  • Wands and adjustable nozzles allow application to different sized plants, both close to the ground or the underside of leaves without having to bend over.
  • Provide a more accurate product mix than hose-end sprayers
  • Some models have adjustable nozzles to vary stream
  • Some models include wheels, which makes it easy to move them around the garden

Disadvantages to a compression sprayer

  • Are more likely to clog than other types of sprayers
  • Depending on its size, the sprayer may require frequent pumping with one hand while the other directs the stream.

What to remember about compression sprayers

  • Larger hand-held versions are heavy when filled and may be difficult to carry around
  • Rinse tank, nozzle, and wand thoroughly after each use to remove product and prevent parts from becoming corroded.
  • Backpack pump sprayers require some physical strength even though the set up is contoured to your body and their size means longer applications in between refills.
Garden.com offers a nice selection of garden sprayers.

Trigger Sprayers

Trigger sprayers are made up of a simple plastic squeeze-pump handle mounted on a plastic bottle. They’re used often as a mister. Trigger sprayers work well if you have just a couple of plants than need a product application. Combine the right proportions of the product with water in the sprayer and apply.

Advantages to trigger sprayers

  • Simple
  • Inexpensive
  • Works well when treating just a few plants

Disadvantages to trigger sprayers
Their small size makes trigger sprayers impractical if you must treat more than two or three plants.

What to remember about trigger sprayers
If you use it for a fungicide or pesticide treatment, be sure to mark the bottle clearly and use it only for that purpose.

Burpee.com offers a good trigger sprayer icon.

Slide-type (trombone) sprayers

Slide sprayers can produce the farthest-reaching stream of the entire sprayer family, but they require continual pumping and the stream is not constant. The pump, which is built into the handle, has an action that works on both the push and pull strokes to maintain a constant stream. Because this type of sprayer throws the spray further than any other type of hand-operated sprayer, it's quite effective for spraying fruit trees. It is not recommended for spraying tomato plants.

A range of garden sprayers are available at Garden.com and Gardens Alive!, along with a good selection of sprayers at Amazon.com.

More on garden sprayers and treating tomato plants

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