How to Choose the Right Tractor Attachments

Joe Tomaino heads home on his lawn tractor after conducting his banking business at the First National Bank of Orwell in Orwell, Vt.
AP Photo/Alden Pellett

First things first, let's be clear: We're talking about lawn and garden tractors, not the big monsters that till acres of cornfields in Iowa. These are the attachments that can be used with most riding mowers or tractors. That said, there's a lot of equipment out there that can make lawn care a much easier job in any season -- even in the winter.

Admittedly, home and garden tractors can be a pretty substantial investment; however, by adding any number of useful attachments, you can make these tractors capable of more than merely mowing the grass. Attachments can spread fertilizer and seed, prepare soil for gardens or new lawns, thatch and roll existing lawns, vacuum up leaves and debris, and even clear the snow away when the weather turns cold.


For anyone who has already taken the lawn tractor plunge, attachments can extend the machine's usefulness. A few things to consider when choosing tractor attachments:

  • What kinds of lawn and garden projects do I want to tackle?
  • Will I use this attachment once or several times over the years?
  • Do I have the space to store this tractor attachment?
  • What does my budget for lawn and garden projects allow?

Once you know exactly what you want to do, choosing the attachment is the easy part.


Tractor Snow Blowers

Steve Daurizio plows snow with a tractor in Morrisville, Pa.
AP Photo/Mel Evans

Tractors used for lawn care get a good workout in the lawn and garden growing season, but they often get parked for winter. Why not put that machine to good use? In snowy climates, adding a tractor snow-blower attachment means year-round use for your tractor.

The snow blower attachment fits to the front of the tractor, and it looks like a small snowplow blade with a rotating coil that breaks up the snow and feeds it to the blower. The discharge pipe comes out of the top of the snow blower and shoots the snow off to one side, clearing a wide path as the tractor travels along.


Manufacturers of tractor snow blower attachments often recommend tire chains to avoid spinning the drive wheels and a rear ballast attached to the back of the tractor to offset the additional weight of the snow blower on the front.

Most home and garden tractors are used in warmer weather, though. Next, we'll take a look at how they can help with hay.


Tractor Attachments for Hay

When caring for your property involves mowing hay or tall brush, a tractor is a necessity. And a tractor with a sickle-bar mower attachment can handle any long grass or hay cutting chores.

The sickle-bar mower is like a giant hedge trimmer that sticks out to the side of the tractor, with a set of sharp spinning knives for cutting off hay just above ground level. Unlike some other tractor attachments, this one is powered by the tractor itself. It uses a power take off (PTO), which is basically a shaft that takes the tractor's engine power and transfers it to the attachment rather than carrying its own motor. Given the position of the blades (low and out to the side), the sickle-bar mower can be damaged by rocks, saplings, or hitting a tree or fence post.


Disc mowers are also used to cut hay at or near the ground level with spinning discs. If the hay is to be harvested and used later, disc mowers are often the attachment called on to do the cutting. Like the sickle-bar mower, disc mowers are powered by the PTO rather than having an on-board, self-contained power source.

Home and garden tractors get used most often for mowing and landscaping, so we'll take a look at the variety of popular attachments for these chores next.


Tractor Attachments for Mowing and Landscaping

Jason Griffith mows the infield at Fenway Park in Boston, Mass.
AP Photo/Gretchen Ertl

Lawn and garden care is where tractors really shine, and a few extra attachments can expand the work the tractor can do with minimum effort.

Let's start with the lawn care basics. For a neat and tidy lawn, a bagger attachment keeps grass clippings off the ground by gathering them into a bag that can then be emptied into a trash bin or onto a compost heap. To keep the lawn lush and full, a pull-behind broadcast spreader can ensure even coverage of insecticide, fertilizer, or any granular material. A simple tow-behind utility cart means fewer trips from the shed to the garden with things like hand tools, plants or mulch.


Home and garden tractors can be made as fancy as you like. Attachments like a roller striper can give the lawn the criss-cross pattern, just like you'd see on a baseball outfield, by bending the grass in a specific direction. A lawn sweeper can take the back strain out of raking by brushing leaves and other small objects from the ground into a bin towed behind the tractor. Water-filled rollers simply tow behind the tractor to smooth the lawn's surface. Similarly, a scraping blade can level uneven spots in your lawn.

Regular lawn maintenance requires occasional aeration to keep the soil from becoming too compact. Tow-behind aerators use either rotating spikes to loosen the soil or plug tines that remove short columns of dirt from more densely compacted ground. And a thatching attachment will remove the matted thatch from your lawn, which makes for healthier grass. And that's just for starters. There are many other useful lawn and garden tractor attachments designed to make your outside chores a lot easier.

However, if there are some heavy-duty tasks in your near future, you may want to check out the attachments for loading and digging on the next page.


Tractor Attachments for Loading and Digging

A front bucket loader can do more than carry dirt. It can act as a replacement for a wheelbarrow or tow-behind cart, carrying tools, gloves, seed, fertilizer, mulch, plants, hay, the dog -- well, maybe not the dog. But just about anything involved in lawn care can go in a loader. Single-action loaders are lifted by hydraulics and lowered by gravity, while double-action loaders use hydraulic power to lift and lower. Some loaders can even be self-leveling, which keeps them from tipping and losing their contents between point A and point B.

A tractor shovel works similar to a loader in home and garden chores, but without as much lifting capability. It can dig into loose material like mulch or snow, pick it up and dump it out. For merely pushing material about in one area, rather than removing it and hauling it to another spot, a front blade attachment can do the job.


No lawn and garden to-do list is complete without spreading a little fertilizer. Find out how attachments can help you with that task on the next page.

Tractor Attachments for Spreading Manure

It's important when spreading manure to keep the mess to a minimum and the application even in order to avoid burning the soil and plants. An attachment for a tractor helps with both issues.

Some manure spreader attachments shred the manure as it is being applied to keep it from clumping, which means it will cover the ground more evenly. The fewer clumps there are sitting on top of the ground, the more quickly the manure will decompose and improve the soil. That also means less time for it to smell.


While larger farm and ranch tractors use powered manure spreaders, home and garden tractors generally use a tow-behind spreader with turning blades to shred the manure as you drive forward.

Once the soil is prepped with manure, it's ready to be tilled. Next, find out which attachments can make that job easier.


Tractor Attachments for Tilling

A worker tills the soil on a farm near Hanford, Calif.
AP Photos/Gary Kazanjian

When the ground needs to be broken up for spring planting, there are several options for home and garden tractor attachments. Tillers, which are used for breaking up soil, can be either mechanically or hydraulically operated, and they'll have their own motors on board for powering the turning tines. They're most often towed behind the tractor rather than positioned in front.

Another option is the plow, or disc harrow. These attachments will, like the tiller, prep a seed bed and crumble the soil, but this time by turning rows of discs into the dirt. A cultivator has several curved tines that pull behind the tractor, and it's used for ground preparation, weed control and creating several evenly spaced rows for planting.


And when you're ready to plant, there's another helpful attachment that you should be aware of -- a seed spreader.

Tractor Attachments for Seeding

Seed spreaders, sometimes referred to as fertilizer spreaders, are designed do just what the name implies -- spread seed or granular fertilizer, as the situation dictates.

In the case of a typical lawn and garden tractor, the spreader is a tow-behind attachment that's operated by gravity and the forward motion of the attachment's wheels; a lot like the action of a push seed spreader that you may already be familiar with. The seed hopper is shaped like a big funnel that slowly empties its contents onto a spinning disk that evenly distributes the material as the tractor moves along.


Larger tractors on farms and ranches often require even bigger spreaders, and they make use of spreaders powered by a PTO. Sometimes these larger spreaders are called commercial broadcast seeders and spreaders, because they're capable of spreading (broadcasting) the material over much larger areas when compared to the lawn and garden variety of seed spreader.

Large or small, a spreader attachment for your tractor can take some of the edge off the chore of seeding or fertilizing your lawn or pasture. And as you can see from the previous pages, lawn care tasks ranging from basic mowing to heavy-duty landscaping can be made a lot easier with a little help from a few extremely useful attachments to a typical residential tractor.

For more information about tractor attachments and other related topics, follow the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • ABI Attachments. "Manure Spreaders for ATV and Tractors." (March 24, 2010)
  • Burner, Ken. "Glossary." The Small Tractor FAQ. 1997. (March 24, 2010)
  • Burner, Ken. "What Attachments Will I Need?" The Small Tractor FAQ. 1997. (March 24, 2010)
  • John Deere. (March 17, 2010)
  • Sears. "Lawn and Garden - Tractor Attachments." (March 17, 2010)