a green lawn takes time and energy. These days, some people prefer
hiring lawn care services to take over a large part of the effort.
Lawn care services perform some of the time-consuming and complicated
tasks of lawn maintenance. These may include analyzing, fertilizing, and
seeding the soil; controlling and killing weeds and pests; and caring
for trees and shrubs. These services may be provided an average of four
to five times during the spring through fall. You also may want these
firms to regularly mow and water your lawn.
Sometimes, in order to hire these companies, you must sign expensive and
long-term contracts. It is important, therefore, to know exactly what
you want from a lawn care firm. The following information may help you
decide whether to hire a lawn care service and, if so, how to find the
one right for you.
How do you choose a lawn care service?
If you decide you want to hire a lawn
care service, you may want to consider the following suggestions.
* Talk with others in your neighborhood who have used lawn care
services. Find out which companies have done a good job and why.
* Talk with representatives from several lawn care firms and get
estimates. The lowest estimate may not necessarily provide all the
services you need.
* Remember that each lawn is different and that your lawn does not
necessarily need the same treatment as your neighbor's. Some companies
may offer a free lawn analysis. Make sure you are getting
* Even the best lawns have weeds and pests. Ask to see evidence of
specific and real problems before you agree to any treatment.
* Check to see if the company is licensed by your state. Licensing often
requires employees to have special training, especially those who apply
pesticides to lawns. Ask what specific lawn care training the employees
* Check with your local consumer affairs office or Better Business
Bureau to see if any complaints have been lodged against the company.
* Find out if the company has liability insurance to cover any accidents
that might happen while work is being performed in your yard or while
pesticides are being applied.
* Ask if the company belongs to a professional pest control association.
This membership may help keep members better trained and informed.
What should you look for in your contract?
If you select a lawn care service,
you should put all your agreements with the company into a written
contract. You may want to keep the following information in mind before
you sign any contract.
* Read your contract carefully. Know what specific services and lawn
problems are covered and what are not.
* See if there are extra charges for special services, such as
fertilizing, disease control, or reseeding.
* Find out if the work is guaranteed. If it is, get the guarantee (or
warranty) in writing. Know what the guarantee includes and excludes, and
how long it lasts. For example, if you believe a seeding job produced
little improvement, will the company come back and reseed for free
during the same growing season?
* Know how long the services will be performed. Must you renew annually
or is service scheduled indefinitely? What are the costs of renewal and
how much might they increase? Many lawn care service contracts require
written notice to cancel. Find out how you can cancel the contract you
If pesticide treatment is offered, what should you look
Lawn care companies often provide
pest, disease, and weed control services. This usually means the company
will use a pesticide on your lawn.
Pesticides are toxic chemicals used to destroy different kinds of lawn
pests. For example, insecticides are used to kill bugs; herbicides kill
Lawn care companies generally maintain that the kind and strength of the
pesticides they use are safe. Some organizations, however, including the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have some health and safety
concerns. Before you agree to pesticide treatment for your lawn, you may
want to consider the following information.
* Although pesticides can kill unwanted weeds and bugs, the treatment
also may destroy the organisms that create a healthy soil for your lawn.
Some people feel that a lawn that is overtreated will become dependent
on chemicals to thrive.
* If pesticides are going to be used on your lawn, find out what
specific lawn problems are being addressed.
* Get the name of the pesticide in writing. Ask to see the EPA label and
read it carefully before any pesticide is applied to your lawn.
* Find out about the harmful characteristics of the pesticide,
especially to those most vulnerable to its effects: young children,
pregnant women, older people, and household pets.
* Inquire about the availability of less harmful compounds.
* Inquire carefully about the training of anyone who applies the
pesticide to your lawn.
* Ask what kind of posting will be done to notify people in your
neighborhood that pesticides are being applied to your lawn. A number of
jurisdictions now require this notice. If your city or county does not
require the notice, you still may want to let neighbors know -- to
protect them from any problems that might arise from the pesticide
* Find out what you need to do during the pesticide treatment -- and for
how long. Should you stay indoors, keep your windows closed, bring in
your outdoor lawn furniture and children's toys? How long should you
stay off treated areas?
* Make sure pesticides are not applied in windy weather (over 10 miles
an hour). This will prevent their spreading to other lawns.
* Ask for alternatives to pesticide applications. Many companies now
offer a more "organic" and less chemical approach to lawn
* Ask about ecological effects, including danger to non-target species
and the possibility of groundwater contamination.
What are alternatives to pesticide controls?
Good-looking lawns may take a year or
more of care to get that way. Although you may choose to use chemical
applications to quickly improve the appearance of your lawn, you also
may want to consider longer-term approaches to lawn care that do not
One such approach is called "integrated pest management."
Basically, this involves planting several kinds of disease resistant
grasses, properly conditioning your soil, and using new low-toxicity
pest control materials.
For More Information
For more information about integrated
pest management, you may want to contact your local county extension
agency. For more information about specific lawn care companies in your
area, contact your local consumer protection agency or Better Business
If you need information beyond that given on a pesticide label, you can
call the National Pesticide Telecommunications Network at
1-800-858-7378. If you have problems with the pesticide application of a
lawn care company, contact your state or county environmental protection