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The Homeowners Column
Lawn Care – Hire a Service or do-it-yourself?
State Master Gardener Coordinator
Lawns may not be at the top of your list of concerns; however, many homeowners are now being asked to make decisions about their lawn care. Although it may not require mountainside mediations, anyone concerned with lawn care should first ponder what they expect in a lawn. Some people just want the lawn to be sort of green most of the time and don't mind a few weed infiltrations. Others want a putting green. Still others have total lawn annihilation as a goal, but that's another story. So are your expectations realistic?
Do you want to hire a professional lawn care service or do it yourself?
Few lawn care companies do everything with lawns, therefore, important practices such as mowing or watering will be left to you. Without proper maintenance than the lawn may not look as good as you wish even with a lawn care service. Also keep in mind special maintenance or renovations may be needed if the lawn is too shady, desired grass is sparse, or if soil is compacted.
When considering a lawn care service look beyond the bottom line price. For example fertilizer applications are an important part of most programs. Slow- release or controlled-release nitrogen fertilizers are suggested for most applications. Although cost is higher, lawns will benefit from controlled-release nitrogen fertilizers either as liquid or dry applications rather than quick release for most applications.
The timing and frequency of fertilizer applications vary. Lawns do not have to be fertilized, but an unfertilized lawn will definitely look lighter green and perhaps have more weeds. Also fertilizer applications are not recommended in mid-summer when heat and drought have prompted the lawn to go dormant and if irrigation is not a part of your maintenance routine.
What is included in a lawn service treatment? Find out what fertilizer or pesticide is being used, why it is being used, and the cost. Ask if they offer organic alternatives and what you might expect from those alternatives. For many reasons lawn care companies have traditionally applied pesticides to the entire lawn on a preventative basis. Many homeowners find this comforting. The drawback is that some of the chemical applications may be unnecessarily adding cost to our budget and chemicals into our environment. All lawns are different and experience different pressures from weeds and insects and often in hot spots. For example weeds often appear next to driveways and roadways and not throughout the lawn.
One alternative is to look for a company that checks for pest problems and applies chemicals to those specific areas only when the potential exists for unacceptable damage. Service companies will likely try to be responsive to reasonable customer requests and needs, but it may be difficult to be totally flexible. Keep in mind lawn services have a full schedule of customers that may make immediate service difficult. Your schedule as a "do-it-yourselfer" may be more flexible to react immediately.
Carefully weigh all the alternatives when making the choice whether to hire or do it yourself. One size does not fit all. Know what you have in a lawn, what you want, and what you are willing to do. If you decide to use a lawn service, clearly communicate what is desired and find a company that will work with you to reach your goals. Understand what the company will do, all materials to be used, and what the price includes.
Lawn service customer or "do-it-yourselfer" find out recommended lawn practices for our area as well as answers to frequently asked questions. Check out: http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/lawntalk/ ; stop by UI Extension office 801 North Country Fair Drive Champaign,give us a call at 217-333-7672 or contact your local county UI Extension office.