All lawn care companies are not the same. Lawn care programs offered by companies will vary not only in cost, but in the variety of standard and optional agronomic services offered to the homeowner. The homeowner will be most successful at choosing a company to supply the desired type of program if he/she first becomes familiar with: (1) the annual cost for a company's standard program, (2) the services supplied as part of the standard program, and (3) the types of and costs for optional services provided by the company. Before contracting for lawn care services, it is best to contact and compare 2 to 3 (or more) reputable companies. The following series of questions and answers should serve as a guide for the homeowner during the process of selecting a lawn care company.
Fertilization is a standard part of any lawn care program. Most companies will offer preemergence (for crabgrass) and postemergence (for broadleaf weeds) weed control as part of their standard package, although these may be offered as options by some companies. Many lawn care programs will include control of surface-feeding insects (chinch bug, bluegrass billbug, sod webworm) as part of their standard program, but grub control is often offered at an additional cost. Some companies will offer no insect control at all, while others may provide it only as an extra-cost option. Disease control is generally not offered in a standard lawn care program, but is offered as an optional service by most lawn care companies.
Nitrogen is the key nutrient in turf fertilization programs. Reputable lawn care companies will supply Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, fine fescue, or tall fescue lawns with 3 to 5 pounds of actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet of lawn per year. Phosphorous (P) and potassium (potash, K) are sometimes supplied with the standard fertilizer program. The actual requirement for these latter two nutrients will vary from one lawn to the next and the need is best determined through soil testing. Routine applications of P and K will cause no harm, however, and are actually recommended where the homeowner consistently removes grass clippings during mowing.
Nitrogen fertilizers can vary in the types of growth and color responses that they elicit from the turf. For simplicity, nitrogen fertilizers can be categorized as supplying quickly-available or slowly-available nitrogen. Quickly-available nitrogen promotes rapid grass growth and dark green turf color relatively soon after application. The promotion of excessive growth through overuse of quickly-available N sources is undesirable from both the standpoint of increased mowing requirements and because grass hardiness and health may be reduced. Slowly-available N sources provide a slower, more uniform growth and greening response from the turf. Quickly-available nitrogen is acceptable for use during the fall and early spring months. Slowly-available nitrogen is excellent for use in the late-spring and summer months. It is important to note that slowly-available nitrogen can be supplied to turf with equal success in the liquid (sprayable) form, as well as the dry (granular) form.
University research has shown late-season nitrogen fertilization to be a very desirable option for Ohio and other midwestern states. This type of program, which emphasizes fertilization during the September-December period, is reported to enhance winter turf color, quicken spring green-up, reduce lawn disease problems, and improve grass hardiness during the summer months. Such a program reduces the amount of spring and summer nitrogen required to maintain a healthy, green lawn. When a large amount of nitrogen is applied during spring, the incidence of disease may be increased and tolerance to heat and drought can be reduced.
To date, university research has not found any major agronomic differences between liquid and dry fertilizers. The bottom line is that BOTH types of lawn care service can accomplish the same goal-the production of a high quality lawn.
Lawn quality will vary from year to year due to variations in weather. It is IMPOSSIBLE for a lawn care company to guarantee that no problems will occur if you contract their services-be suspicious of one that does! Reputable lawn care companies, however, will make every effort to satisfy their customers. Many companies will provide corrective applications as a free service if the customer is not satisfied. Some companies are staffed with sales/service representatives to handle service calls. They may visit the home lawn if a problem cannot be diagnosed/resolved over the telephone.
Established lawn care companies have long recognized that the most successful lawn care program is dependent upon some cooperation from, and education of, the homeowner. The homeowner generally performs several cultural practices, such as mowing and watering, which have a substantial effect on lawn quality. Some companies will provide the homeowners with seasonal information on proper lawn care. They may also provide special information when they make an application with regard to special watering or mowing requirements for the next day or two following their visit to the lawn.
Some homeowners may wish to have fertilizer, but no herbicides or insecticides, applied to their lawns. Some like to apply fertilizer themselves, but would rather have a lawn care service apply the appropriate controls for weed, insect, or disease problems. Individual lawn service companies may be unable to offer such specialized types of program because of the way in which they purchase or mix their fertilizers and pest control products. Others may charge extra for such a specialized program because of the expense and time involved in providing a service which differs from their standard lawn care program.
Lawn care companies offer agronomic expertise and a convenient, time-saving service at a most reasonable cost. In a competitive market, prices for similar lawn care programs may differ little from company to company. A company that appears more expensive that the other may offer some services as part of its "standard" program which are designated as optional (extra-cost) services (see Table 1) with the less expensive companies. Be wary of that company that claims to offer services similar to those of other companies at a much lower price and seems "too good to be true"-it probably is! Also avoid companies that do not furnish a contract detailing their services and your obligations as a customer.
A list of desirable services offered as options by many lawn service companies:
All educational programs conducted by Ohio State University Extension are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, age, disability or Vietnam-era veteran status.
Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Adm. and Director, OSU Extension.
TDD No. 800-589-8292 (Ohio only) or 614-292-6181