What are your expectations? Can you live with a few weeds in your lawn?
Are you willing to wait a year for your lawn to reach the condition you
desire? Two years? How much chemical treatment will you accept?
Communicate your expectations to the lawn care services you deal with.
If you can be patient, you may save money and minimize chemical use by
limiting treatments to the most important times of the year, targeting
only problem areas, and relying heavily on techniques like core aeration
to build a fundamentally strong lawn.
Be aware that more treatmentat least in the short termis not necessarily
better treatment. Any company can produce a quick flash of green growth
with quick-release fertilizer that weakens your lawns root systems. A
company that treats your entire lawn with herbicides and pesticides may
be less effective than one that targets limited areas and specific problemsand
subjects you and your surroundings to the least possible chemical exposure.
Whatever professional lawn treatments you get, you still must water properlytypically
a single watering of about one inch per week during summer dry spellsand
mow properlyusing a mower with sharp blades, not too short, removing about
one-third of the leaf on each cutting.
To choose a lawn care service, you can use the ratings of area companies
on our Ratings Tables. At the time of our last full, published article,
three of the 25 companies were rated superior overall by at least 90
percent of their surveyed customers. But nine failed to receive superior
ratings from even 60 percent of their surveyed customers.
Get proposals from several companies. Tell them what you expect your lawn
to look like and how soon you want it that way. Get companies to commit
to meeting your expectations and to an overall cost. For average-size lawns,
price differences of more than $300 per year are common.
Try to get the company to guarantee in writing that it will refund your
money for an entire year if you are not satisfied that it has met its commitments;
some companies will offer this guarantee.
Once your lawn is established, you will probably need fewer professional
treatments than during the first year or so when you are building up a
Maintaining a lawn is for some people a source of pride and satisfaction,
and a great reason to get outdoors. For the rest of us, well, there are
Even if you hire help, youll need to do some work to realize your fields
of green. To choose the right company and level of service, you need to
find out the range of services they offer; potential risks of lawn treatments
to your family, neighbors, and the environment; costs; and the tasks you
may still have to do yourself.
Lawn care services work with different products, tools, techniques, and
schedules, but the results they promise are similar from company to company.
Companies usually offer customers a selection of packages that include
specified treatment plans to take place over the course of a year. Some
lawn care services also offer one-time treatments, some automatically renew
the contract each year, but almost all allow you to cancel a contract at
any time and pay only for the visits you have received.
Most lawns benefit substantially from core aeration. In this process, a
device with metal tubes about one-half inch in diameter is rolled over
your lawn, penetrating several inches into the turf to remove plugs of
turf and soil, and deposit them on the surface. The resulting holes admit
water, air, fertilizer, and humus-creating organic matter to the root systems.
The holes give the soil room to loosen, permitting easier root growth and
better air and water circulation throughout the turf. In addition, the
plugs of soil deposited on the surface contain microbes that cause grass
clippings, dead roots, and stems to decompose, preventing the buildup of
thatch (see below) and returning nutrients to the soil.
Compared to most other lawn care treatments, core aeration is labor-intensive
and likely to cost at least $30 or so per 1,000 square feet of lawn. But
in heavily compacted areas, core aeration once a year is advisable, and
most lawns benefit from core aeration about once every three years.
But dont confuse core aeration with an aeration process in which a lawn
is simply penetrated with spikes. While a spiking treatment delivers water,
air, and fertilizer access to plant roots, it compacts the soil around
each hole and doesnt deposit microbe-bearing soil on the surface.
Core aeration is a relatively simple job that you can do yourself. You
can get an aeration unitwhich looks like a cross between a lawn mower
and a tillerfrom a tool/equipment rental shop. If youve never operated
a core aeration machine before, get some instruction before you leave the
Lawns typically develop a layer of dead grass roots or stems at the base
of the grass plants. This layer, the thatch, serves as a mulch, keeping
moisture in the soil.
But thatch that becomes too thick prevents water, air, and nutrients from
reaching grass plants roots. If grass is regularly allowed to grow excessively
high before it is cut, and if clippings are allowed to remain on the lawn,
an impenetrable organic matter can form.
Thatch becomes a problem if it gets more than a half-inch or so thick.
For such organic matter to decompose, microbes from the soil must act on
it. But a thick layer of thatch creates a barrier that the soil microbes
cant penetrate. The problem most often occurs when soil is allowed to
become too acidic or if excessive application of pesticides or fertilizer
reduces the population of microbes or worms.
One solution is mechanical dethatching, which can be performed in small
areas by hand with a rigid garden rake and in large areas with a dethatching
machine. While dethatching may remove piles of dead roots and stems, these
generally represent just a small fraction of the total thatch layer. The
main benefit of the process results from mixing of microbe-containing soil
with the remaining thatch material, with microbes causing the remaining
material to decompose. For most lawn care companies, dethatching is an
expensive add-on service. Also, dethatching damages a lawns appearance
for two or three weeks.
In most cases, core aeration is a better way to eliminate thatch problems
because the aeration treatment, as noted, brings microbe-bearing soil (from
the removed plugs) into contact with the thatch and causes decomposition.
Another alternative is to apply a top dressing of a natural fertilizer
such as compost or composted manure.
Many lawns benefit from seeding (or over-seeding). New seed can replace
grass that has died or been removed, fill in thinned-out areas, or add
a desirable grass variety to an established lawn. For example, in the Puget
Sound area, where a blend of perennial ryegrasses and fescues is recommended
for most lawns, areas with dense shade where ryegrasses dont grow well
can benefit from a blend that contains a higher ratio of fescues. Seeding
also discourages weeds and pests by creating a denser lawn. For these reasons,
some companies recommend seeding every year (usually in April or May, although
it may also be done in early fall). Seeding can be expensive, however.
Although some lawn care companies do limited seeding at no cost, most charge
for major reseeding jobs.
When applying seed to an existing lawn, make sure the seed comes into contact
with the soil. Do this by stirring up soil through a dethatching processand
possibly applying a light topcoat of compost after distributing the seed.
Some companies use a process called slit seeding, in which a machine
penetrates the thatch layer and deposits seeds into the soil. And some
companies follow seeding with aeration.
Many modern grass varieties resist insect and disease better than older
varieties, and considerable recent research has been devoted to developing
turfgrasses even more resistant to insects and disease. The availability
of more and better pest-resistant grasses provides an increasingly strong
rationale for over-seeding older lawns.
All lawn care firms apply fertilizer. Most recommend treatment three to
six times per year, depending on the needs of the particular lawn.
The three most important elements in a fertilization program are nitrogen
(which is particularly important for green top growth), and phosphorus
and potassium (which promote healthy root growth). Fertilizers are labeled
according to the percentage of the weight represented by each of these
elements. For example, in fertilizer labeled 20-5-10, the nitrogen portion
(always listed first) accounts for 20 percent of the weight, the phosphate
(always listed second) is five percent, and potash is 10 percent. Because
runoff from lawns treated with fertilizer containing phosphorus pollutes
waterways, some statesincluding Washingtonlimit its use on residential
lawns. At the end of 2012, lawn care product giant Scotts stopped using
phosphorus in its products.
An important issue in lawn care is the type of fertilizer used. As a nitrogen
source, there are three basic typesfast-release synthetic, slow-release
synthetic, and slow-release natural (organic).
Synthetic fertilizers may be applied in liquid form or in dry, granular
form. Granular fertilizers only become available to plants, of course,
after rain or watering. If too much fertilizerespecially fast-release
fertilizeris applied, your grass can become burned, since the fertilizer
is really just a form of salt. Excess fertilizer also makes its way into
the watershed and can further injure salmon populations.
A fast-release nitrogen fertilizer, such as urea, gives grass a quick shot
of nutrition, resulting in fast leaf growth and greening. When applied
by a lawn care service, these fertilizers produce dramatic effects.
The burst of green leaf vitality from a fast-release fertilizer may divert
energy from the formation of a strong root system. A lawn that gets fast-release
fertilizer five or six times per year may look good when the weather is
good, but its weak root system may cause it to dry up during dry weather.
Consequently, many lawn care services do not even offer fast-release fertilizers.
Slow-release fertilizers give lawns a more steady and gradual supply of
nutrients. Synthetic varieties are made in factories by chemical processes.
Some synthetic slow-release nitrogen fertilizers, such as urea formaldehyde,
become available to plants only after they have been acted on by microbes
in the soil. Such action occurs only under proper conditions of warmth
and moisture. Another form of synthetic slow-release nitrogen fertilizer
is really the same as the fast-release type, except that nitrogen components
are enclosed in a porous sulfur coating that slowly releases the nitrogen.
Depending on the specific type, synthetic slow-release fertilizers can
provide a steady (but diminishing) source of nitrogen for a few weeks or
The disadvantage of both liquid and dry synthetic slow-release fertilizers
is that they dont produce a quick burst of green vigorand some formulations
may produce no effects at all for weeks if weather conditions arent right.
But the steady, lower dose of nitrogen these fertilizers provide allows
grass to build strong roots without sudden diversions of energy to leaf
growthand may also spare you from mowing as often.
The third broad category of fertilizer typesnatural slow-release fertilizersconsists
of all types that are not synthesized. Examples include dried blood, fish
emulsion, manure, and processed sewage. These fertilizers are sometimes
referred to as organic, a word used very loosely by lawn care companies
eager to sell their product. In the language of chemistry, any compound
containing carbon is organicincluding many synthetic fertilizers. A
more accurate term is natural, nonsynthetic fertilizers.
All natural, nonsynthetic fertilizers, like some synthetic slow-release
types, require action by soil microbesunder proper conditions of temperature
and moisturebefore the nitrogen becomes available to grass plants. The
natural fertilizers offer all the advantages of the synthetic slow-release
types and, in addition, provide various minor nutrients not found in synthetic
formulations. And the bulk provided by natural fertilizers contributes
modestly to the buildup of humus in the turf and fosters microbe activity
near the surface of the turf, which helps control the buildup of thatch.
Natural fertilizers made from wastes also help solve an environmental problemdisposal
of solid wastes.
But natural fertilizers tend to be expensive. A major contributor to cost
is bulk: To get a pound of nitrogen from a good natural fertilizer, you
may need to use four times as much product as a good synthetic, slow-release
fertilizer. Bulk contributes to costs of distribution and the labor required
for lawn application.
Regardless of what type of fertilizer you use, timing is important. Most
of the grasses grown in this area benefit most from September and May fertilizations.
Generously fertilizing your lawn can have little effect if its acid balancepH
readingis not right. Your grass simply wont be able to use the nutrients
if the soil is too acidic. Although most grasses in Puget Sound area lawns
thrive within a wide range of acidity levels, your lawn may need lime if
it is highly acidic (pH reading of 5.5 or less).
Maintaining proper soil acidity may also help control moss and many types
of weeds. Moss, for example, thrives at higher pH levels compared to turfgrasses.
By keeping soil pH at ideal levels for turfgrasses, you give your grass
an advantage in competing with moss.
Many lawn care companies will test the pH level of your soil and apply
lime, which reduces the acidity, as needed. Some companies include this
service in their basic packages; others add an extra charge.
There are several ways to control weeds
CompetitionThe best way is to crowd out weeds with turfgrasses. Most weeds
thrive in sunny, thinly planted areas. A thick, strong lawn will have few
weeds because weeds cant compete. Mowing high and often, and seeding every
year or two, will help produce a virtually weed-free lawn.
Pre-emergent herbicidesAnother approach is to apply an herbicide that
kills seed sprouts; its what lawn care companies do to control undesirable
grasses such as poa annua. After a lawn has been seeded, most types of
pre-emergent herbicides must not be applied until the desired grasses have
matured or the new grass will be killed or stunted. Since you cant know
in advance exactly where weeds will appear, pre-emergent herbicides must
be applied generally to broad areas that seem likely locations for weed
grasses. While some lawn care companies treat every lawn in its entirety,
many limit treatment to lawns with a history of weed problems or even to
vulnerable portions of such lawns.
Post-emergent herbicidesWhile no pre-emergent herbicides are in wide use
for broadleaf weeds such as dandelions and clover, there are post-emergent
herbicides that kill these plants without killing desired grasses. Some
lawn care companies apply post-emergent herbicides all over every lawn
to kill both visible plants and small not-yet-apparent plants, thus reducing
the chances that plants will later appear and require special follow-up
service calls. But many companies limit the application of these herbicides
to lawns with a history of weed problems or currently visible weeds, and
some treat only the portions of lawns where weeds are visible.
Physical removalIn small lawns with few weeds, physical removal is a reasonable
option; use an asparagus knife to cut the roots. Many lawn care companies
dont offer this labor-intensive service.
Natural deathWeeds die off. If the problem isnt too severe, just let
nature take its course. In fact, thats often the only practical option
once the weeds have matured.
When choosing a company or deciding which of a companys programs to choose,
keep in mind that weeds are for the most part just wildflowers and grasses
that have sprouted up in the wrong places. If you can live with a little
wayward flora (consider them pops of color!), you may be able to avoid
some expense, trouble, and exposure to herbicides.
Although virtually all lawns have some harmful insects, the severity of
the problem depends heavily on the weather and other factors. Even if insects
are plentiful, however, a strong lawn can withstand a substantial insect
attack. Like weeds, many harmful pests prefer sunny areas. A thick, properly
maintained lawn discourages widespread insect problems, and most of this
areas turfgrasses are fairly resistant to most insect attacks.
Many lawn care firms treat the entirety of all lawns with insecticides
at times when insect damage is likely, an approach that may reduce a companys
costs. If all lawns are treated, a company doesnt need to hire personnel
skilled enough to recognize insect problemswhich may not be easy to distinguish
from problems caused by drought, disease, or other types of stress. Broad-scale
preventive treatment also reduces the chances that a company will be called
back between scheduled visits and reduces the risk that customers will
be unhappy about losing portions of their lawns for the season.
But insecticides may kill beneficial organisms that prey on harmful insects
and other harmful organisms. Insecticides may also harm organisms such
as earthworms, which contribute in other ways to the maintenance of healthy
turf. As a result, broad-scale application of insecticides can make a lawn
more vulnerable than before to attack by various pests. From a community
perspective, broad-scale use of insecticides may pose an additional risk
to lawnsthe risk that resistant strains of insects will develop.
Many lawn care firms have adopted Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs.
Good IPM programs provide for reduced and better usage of pesticides, and
rely on prevention, careful monitoring, and targeted control. In IPM programs,
the natural enemies of pests are conserved by the use of only selective
pesticides, timing applications properly, planting proper grasses, controlling
thatch buildup, and proper mowing and watering. Lawns are regularly monitored
for potential pest problems, keeping in mind the lawns history, weather,
and behavior of specific pests. Chemicals are used only when necessary,
and only to ensure that damage is not permanent. Lawn care firms that follow
IPM principles limit use of insecticides to lawnsor portions of lawnswhere
potentially serious insect problems have been specifically diagnosed. Trained
company representatives evaluate the lawns progress throughout the year,
and use chemicals and controls only as last resorts. Because IPM practices
demand trained, knowledgeable staff working constantly in the field, good
IPM programs are labor-intensive and can be much more expensive than conventional
methods of controlling insects, which rely simply on broad-scale use of
pesticides at certain times of the year when pests are likely to pose problems.
If you are concerned about a companys practices in applying pesticides,
ask a representative what problems he or she sees for your lawn in the
future and why; how they will treat these problems; how often your lawn
will be inspected and by whom; the inspectors training and qualifications;
and whether or not the company will notify and consult you throughout the
year about suspected pest problems.
Most turf diseases are caused by fungi. Disease is most likely to occur
in lawns that have been over-fertilized, improperly watered, cut too short,
or otherwise subjected to stress. Weather conditions strongly influence
the incidence of disease.
In typical years, most lawns experience no serious disease problems. Diseases
that do occur are usually self-limiting, with the full damage often done
by the time a disease is spotted. Better fertilization and watering practices
and other changes in turf care usually cure diseases that are not self-limited
or prevent their recurrence. Over-seeding with a disease-resistant grass
variety often helps, but if damage is still spreading, or theres a compelling
reason to reestablish a lawn with a nonresistant grass variety, fungicide
treatment might be necessary.
Because most lawns wont benefit from fungicide treatment and the chemicals
are expensive, lawn care companies seldom apply fungicidesand only after
a specific problem has been spotted by the homeowner or company personnel
during a scheduled visit.
While you can expect any lawn care company you choose to provide various
services to improve your lawn, many important tasks are still left to youor
to someone else you hire. A good lawn care service will, however, regularly
advise you about how to do your part.
How and when to mow the lawn is key. Make sure you dont mow too short.
Most grasses in this area should be cut to a height of about two inches.
Mow frequently enough so that no more than one-third of the leaf is cut
off at any one time. Mower blades should be sharp, so that the cut ends
of grass leaves arent torn, which makes them brown and vulnerable to pest
attack. Mow when grass is dry. Leave clippings on the lawn so they can
decompose and return nutrients to the soil; but if the grass grows too
long between mowings, you might have to remove clippings or spread them
out so they dont form areas of matting on top of the lawn.
Another task for you is inspection. Thoroughly examine your lawn every
two weeks or so. If you see problems, call your lawn care company and describe
what youve seen. But dont overreact; during long dry periods, in particular,
browned-off areas may just mean that the grass has gone into a dormant
stage to save its moisture and energy.
If you decide to turn to a lawn care service, youll have many choices.
Our Ratings Tables provide information comparing area companies.
We survey area consumers (primarily CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers)
for their feedback on services they use. Our Ratings Tables report
the percent of surveyed customers who rated each company superior (inferior
and adequate were the other rating options) for the survey questions
doing service properly on the first try, starting and completing service
promptly, letting you know cost early, advice on service options and
costs, and overall performance. Our Ratings Tables also show the
percent of each companys surveyed customers who rated it adequate or
superior (as opposed to inferior) for overall performance. The table
lists all the companies for which we received at least 10 ratings. (Click
here for further discussion of our customer
survey and other research methods.)
At the time of our last full, published article, three of the 25 companies
were rated superior overall by at least 90 percent of their surveyed
customers. But nine failed to receive superior ratings from even 60 percent
of their surveyed customers.
In addition to ratings from customers, for firms that were evaluated in
our last full, published article, our Ratings Tables show counts of
complaints we gathered from the Consumer Protection Division of the Washington
Office of the Attorney General for a recent two-year period, and complaint
rates relative to the volume of work companies do. For more information
on reported complaint counts and rates, click here.
To compare prices, you need to solicit bids. Because different companies
will propose different combinations of treatments, you wont be able to
compare prices on the basis of the tasks that will be performed. Rather,
youll have to describe the level of quality you want and any special constraints
you wish to imposefor example, your tolerance for weeds and the types
of fertilizers or pesticides they can useand get prices for the service
each company recommends to meet your objectives.
Your choice of a company and a lawn care program will have to be made as
a single decision because youll have to choose a program that a company
agrees is appropriate and efficiently fits into its work routines. You
will also probably want a companys help in designing your program (but
see also the other information sources listed below), but be aware that
the companies may not be well-informed and their advice should be received
with a healthy degree of skepticism.
Start by selecting from our Ratings Tables companies that surveyed
customers rated high. Invite several to inspect your lawn and propose programs
Although most companies dont require the homeowners presence during inspections,
we recommend meeting with representatives in person. This is a good way
to size them up and get answers to any questions you may have. Help the
company propose a program that will satisfy you by explaining
Your degree of tolerance for weeds, thin spots, and other lawn defects;
What you envision as the end result of the treatments;
How soon you expect the lawn to reach an acceptable condition;
How much work you are willing to take upon yourself;
How strong your concerns are regarding the use of chemical fertilizers
and pesticides; and
What kinds of notification and other precautions against possible pesticide
risk you will expect.
Also show the companies representatives what you dont like about your
lawns current condition, and ask them what they would do to solve these
Each of the companies is likely to see different problems with the lawn
and recommend different solutions. You can validate the representatives
findings and recommendations by consulting one of the independent sources
listed below. Second opinions from one of these experts will provide a
good indication of that companys knowledge and skill.
Also ask about service contract options. Make sure you get a price quote
for the services that will be provided during at least one entire year.
Table 1 shows the range of prices we found when seven CHECKBOOK shoppers
asked lawn care services to propose the work needed, and the cost, to meet
our shoppers quality expectations. You can see that there are big company-to-company
price differences. When collecting prices, keep in mind that the specific
services recommended to meet your expectations will vary from company to
companyand that some companies might not be able to meet your expectations.
|Lowest price quote||$335||$302||$301||$350||$448||$312||$647|
| ||$460||$445||$445||$492|| ||$825||$1,035|
| ||$467||$460||$455||$567|| ||$1,210||$1,045|
| ||$550||$495||$460|| || || || |
| ||$551||$524||$460|| || || || |
| ||$609||$580||$536|| || || || |
| ||$646||$597||$555|| || || || |
| ||$650||$614|| || || || || |
| ||$703||$702|| || || || || |
| ||$730|| || || || || || |
| ||$795|| || || || || || |
| ||$840|| || || || || || |
|Highest price quote||$928|| || || || || || |
|Difference between lowest price quote and highest price quote||$593||$400||$254||$217||$1,269||$898||$398|
A large portion of the price differences exists because some companies
recommend expensive treatments such as core aeration and seeding as part
of their annual programs while others do not. Core aeration and seeding
often cost as much as all other recommended treatments combined. Some companies
quote a price for regular periodic visits for fertilization, weed control,
and spot insect control; and later, if necessary, they recommend more expensive
treatments such as core aeration, seeding, and dethatching. If a company
neither recommends these expensive treatments nor includes them in its
quote, ask how much these treatments would cost if they eventually become
Ask what guarantee the company offers on its services. Almost all companies
provide some kind of guarantee, usually to refund money or reapply a treatment
if the customer is not satisfied. This standard guarantee will provide
little consolation if the company you hire for one year makes little progress
with your lawn.
But you may be able to persuade some companies to guarantee much more.
Ask each company you are considering if it will agree, in writing, to refund
your money for an entire year if you are not satisfied that the company
has met its service commitments. We have found some companies willing to
make such a guarantee. Alternatively, ask a company if it will agree, in
writing, to continue service at no cost until you are satisfied or, at
the companys discretion, refund service payments for the past year. We
find that, if asked to do so, about half of lawn care services will provide
such a guarantee.
If all the companies propose prices above what you are willing to pay,
ask the lower priced bidders how they can cut back your service to reduce
costsand the possible effects on your lawn. You may be able to cut out
a few treatments over the course of a year and still get similar results,
although it might take an extra year or two for your lawn to reach the
conditions you find acceptable. If service has to be very limited, autumn
fertilization and seeding (if needed) are generally regarded as the most
Again, for most lawns, proper mowing can reduce the need for other expensive
treatments throughout the year.
If you can be patient, try a very limited program for a year or two; if
it doesnt progress satisfactorily, switch to a more extensive program.
Alternatively, start with an extensive program and then switch to a limited
program once your lawn is established and healthy. Generally, once a lawn
is established, less treatment and maintenance are necessary.
In the past few years, virtually all lawn care services have begun offering
natural or organic alternative programs to limit the environmental
risks and preserve beneficial insects and other organisms.
Although the labels are used rather loosely, most firms natural or organic
programs simply call for fertilizing several times a year, usually with
a natural nonsynthetic fertilizer, and possibly periodically aerating and/or
over-seeding. Coupled with proper mowing and watering, these simple programs
often create lawns just as attractive as those that receive conventional
Some companies offer more extensive organic programs that include specific
controls for weed and pest problems, with emphasis on careful study and
inspection by knowledgeable, trained staff. Many companies use natural
herbicides, such as corn gluten, or insecticidal oils and soaps and other
chemicals that are less toxic than traditional herbicides and pesticides.
Some companies also offer biological control alternatives, such as nematodes.
Use of these biological controls is fairly uncommon, however, mainly due
to the costs for labor and materials and uncertainty about results. Nematodes,
for example, are tiny worms that exist in soil. Some varieties invade grubs
and other insects, and cause hosts to die. Nematodes can be applied in
great quantities to lawns with standard spraying equipment, substantially
reducing grub populations. But maintaining an adequate population of nematodes
requires constant attention. If soil temperature and moisture levels arent
right, nematodes wont survive.
Chemicals used in lawn care treatments can be transported from your hands
to your mouth, or can readily enter your body through your skin or eyes,
or through inhalation. Furthermore, children may actually ingest treated
grass. (Pets and wild animals, of course, are also exposed.) For most chemicals,
there is little evidence about the amount that actually gets into humans
as a result of lawn treatments or the total accumulation that results from
lawn treatments, other household uses, and use on food crops.
The manufacturers of most controls use modern procedures to test their
products for long-term risks and submit the results to the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA), which reviews the tests and evaluates the findings.
While some chemicals are known to cause allergic reactions in some individuals,
evidence indicates that available pesticides and herbicides used in lawn
care treatments pose little risk to most individuals as long as they are
used according to the directions on their labels.
On the other hand, some pesticides and herbicides have not been evaluated
using the most advanced scientific procedures, and it is possible that
current procedures cannot detect all possible risks of cancer, mutations,
birth defects, reproductive problems, and long-term neurological effects.
So you certainly want to make sure that your exposure to chemicals doesnt
exceed what the labels recommend and you need to be cautious.
(Check out specific pesticides and herbicides with the National Pesticide
Information Center by visiting www.npic.orst.edu or calling 800-858-7378;
find out what testing data the agency has on possible long- and short-term
dangers. The NPIC also provides guidelines for the safe handling and application
of control agentsbut it will not advise you on what chemicals to use.)
It is unclear how great a threat chemical lawn care pesticides pose to
the environment. It appears that most of the chemicals decompose by the
time they work their way through lawn turf. Although there may be some
runoff from areas with thin grass cover or from driveways and other hard
surfaces where pesticides may be spilled or blown, theres generally less
of a runoff problem from lawns than from agricultural applications. But
not enough hard data exists for a definitive assessment of environmental
risks from lawn care treatments.
Chemical pesticides are not the only potential environmental contaminant
from lawn care treatments. Fertilizers can pollute waterways.
To minimize health risks from lawn care treatments, read the warning label
on the container; lawn care services will provide copies of labels upon
request. Stay off the lawn for at least several hours after it has been
treated, until the chemical is dry; some experts recommend 72 hours or
more. Make sure your lawn care service posts signs warning that your lawn
has been sprayed. But remember that young children and pets cant read
signs, so youll have to use other measures to keep them off a treated
If a member of your household or a neighbor has a pesticide allergy, insist
that your lawn care company notify the allergic person before making treatments.
Washington State operates a pesticide allergy registry (phone: 360-902-2073)
where pesticide-sensitive individuals can arrange to be listed; pesticide
applicators must notify a registered individual before making an application
on any property adjacent to the property of the registered person. In general,
risks from pesticides and herbicides are smaller if the chemicals are applied
by a lawn care company rather than by a homeowner. An inexperienced homeowner
is more likely to make errors in mixing concentration, adjustment of application
equipment, use of safety measures to protect the applicator, storage, and
disposal of containers and unused supplies.
To produce a high-quality lawn with a minimum of labor and materials, and
minimal use of pesticides, lawn care service employees have to know what
they are doing. Assessing soil needs, recognizing insects and diseases,
selecting seed varieties, deciding on the timing of treatments, and many
other tasks should be guided by extensive knowledge. Unfortunately, many
companies lack such knowledge.
When our shoppers get proposals from lawn care services, they usually receive
a lawn analysis. If the lawn care services estimators know what they
are doing, every analysis would contain similar findings and recommendations.
Not so. In fact, the proposals rarely agree on identification of weed species,
presence of disease, need to correct soil acidity, recommendations on core
aeration, and even the dimensions of the yard itself. Worse, some companies
propose service plans based on customers over-the-phone estimates of the
sizes of their yards without ever seeing the lawns.
If a companys representatives cant make informed judgments, the company
may be forced to follow fixed routinesproviding roughly the same treatment
for every lawn and applying controls in a preventive broad-scale manner
rather than treating specific identified problems.
If you desire a more tailored program, youll have to find a company that
employs knowledgeable staff. It wont be easy to identify such a company,
but you might get some insight by walking your property with an estimator,
listening to his or her observations, and asking questions. Also, carefully
read the companys written materials to determine whether it coherently
describes and justifies its lawn care practices.
After each treatment by the company you hire, ask it to leave you a brief
written explanation detailing what was done to which parts of your lawn
and why. Also, arrange to be present during some service visits and ask
questions of the technicianwhat you learn in this process will help you
decide whether to continue using the company.
Below is a summary of the kinds of complaints we receive from area consumers.
Poor work or results. Mentioned in 45 percent of complaints.
Customer serviceLack of responsiveness by staff, poor communication or
rude treatment by staff, or failure to deliver promised services. (34 percent)
OverchargesCompany billed for charges exceeding agreed amount or for work
that was not performed. (21 percent)
PriceToo expensive. (14 percent)
PromptnessWork took too long to complete, or company was late for or missed
appointments. (11 percent)
Incompetence, poor advice, or untrained workers. (10 percent).
Selling practicesCompany representative tried to sell extra services.
Cooperative Extension agents will give you advice by phone or at their
offices and will help you diagnose plant problems if you bring or send
them specimens. Each Cooperative Extension office also offers a publications
catalog listing guides you can send for (some of which are free) on plant-related
topics. The addresses and phone numbers of the local agencies are listed
1000 Oakdale Ave SW, Suite 140
345 Sixth Street, Suite 550
3602 Pacific Avenue, Suite B
600 128th Street SE
Bellevue Botanical Garden
12001 Main Street
Center for Urban Horticulture & Horticultural Library
3501 NE 41st Street
Lake Wilderness Arboretum
22520 SE 248th Street
Maple Valley, WA
Washington Park Arboretum
2300 Arboretum Drive East
Washington State University Master Gardener Program