To produce a high-quality lawn with a minimum of labor and materials, and minimal use of pesticides and other chemicals, lawn care services have to employ workers who 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.

Checkbook’s undercover shoppers over the years have collected proposals from lawn care services for more than 50 properties. Usually these proposals include a “lawn analysis” or similar notes from representatives who inspected the lawn and recommended work and a treatment plan. If all the lawn care services’ estimators know what they are doing, every analysis would contain similar findings and recommendations. Not so. Not even close. The proposals we get rarely agree on identification of weed species, presence of disease, need to correct soil acidity, and recommendations on core aeration. Sometimes companies can’t even come close to agreeing on the square footage of a lawn with clear boundaries. Worse, some companies try to propose service plans based on customers’ over-the-phone estimates of the sizes of their yards, without ever seeing the lawns.

Because most companies don’t employ representatives who can make informed judgments, many companies simply are forced to follow fixed routines—providing 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, you’ll have to find a company that employs knowledgeable staff. It won’t 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 company’s 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 technician—what you learn in this process will help you decide whether to continue using the company.