Maintaining an attractive, healthy lawn can be a time consuming job. Many people choose to forego this work and hire a professional lawn care company to help maintain their lawn. But, selecting a lawn care service that best suits your needs takes a little effort. This brochure suggests some questions you can ask to help you make your choice.
The first step in selecting a lawn care service is to decide what you want from your lawn. It is possible to maintain a perfectly manicured, virtually pest-free lawn but getting it is not as easy as it seems. Setting realistic goals for your lawn will enable you to take an environmentally sensible approach to lawn care.
Once you have thought about what you want, contact a few companies to discuss their services. You can start by asking questions like the ones below.
Choosing the Service That's Right for You
Is the company certified/licensed? Are the pesticide applicators certified?
In Nova Scotia individuals or companies who apply commercial or restricted class pesticides must be certified by the provincial government. All applicators must follow the Nova Scotia Pesticide Regulations and any additional operating terms & conditions under their Business Operators Certificate.
Is the company affiliated with any professional lawn care or professional turf & landscape organization?
Professional organizations keep their members informed about new developments in their industry. Many offer annual conferences, workshops and continuing education sessions to update their members on new technology in areas such as safety, pest management and turf culture.
What types of services does the company offer?
Lawn care companies offer a wide range of services including fertilizer application, liming, core aeration, over-seeding, mowing, trimming, weed control and insect control. These services can be purchased individually or combined in a lawn care program. A number of companies also offer "pesticide-free" programs and "organic" programs that are based on the use of organic fertilizers.
Does the company use an integrated pest management approach?
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) uses a combination of strategies to manage pest problems. An IPM program for a home lawn starts with preventing pest damage by using healthy lawn care practices such as proper fertilizing, mowing, watering and liming. The lawn is periodically inspected for the presence of pests such as weeds and insects. Pesticides may be used in an IPM program but only when inspection of the lawn reveals that there is a problem. If pesticides are used, they should only be applied to the area of the lawn which is being affected by the pest.
If I purchase a lawn care program that includes pesticide applications, how does the company determine when (and if) the treatments will be applied?
If you plan to have any pesticide applications included in your lawn care program request that pesticides are used as part of an IPM program. Do not purchase programs that include annual pre-scheduled pesticide treatments. These treatments are designed to prevent pest damage and usually occur whether or not the pest in question is actually present in the lawn at levels that require control. Its also a good idea to negotiate pest control services separately from your basic lawn care service contract. This way you don't purchase a service you may not need.
How will the pesticide treatments be applied?
If a pest problem is occurring in one small area of the lawn there is no need to treat the entire lawn with pesticides. Ask the company to treat only the areas of the lawn that are affected by the pest problem. This type of pesticide application is called spot-treating.
What if I'd prefer not to have pesticides used on my lawn?
Concern over the use of chemical pesticides in home lawns and gardens has caused many home owners to look for non-chemical ways to keep their yards looking good. Some lawn care companies offer "pesticide-free" lawn care programs and "organic" lawn care programs.
What is an "organic" lawn care program?
Usually when a company offers an "organic" lawn care program they are referring to a pesticide-free program in which organic fertilizers, soil amendments and cultural practices, such as core aeration, top-dressing and overseeding are used to help keep the lawn healthy and prevent pest damage. While these methods will go along way to reducing weeds in the lawn - weeds may occasionally build up to levels that are unacceptable to the home owner and they will have to be pulled by hand.
I've seen lawn care programs being advertised as "environmentally friendly". What does this mean?
The use of terms such as "environmentally friendly" and "environmentally responsible" in reference to lawn care is not regulated. It is the responsibility of the consumer to determine if products and services that are being offered support this claim. If any of these terms are used by your lawn care company you should ask them what they mean.
Is there any difference between "organic fertilizers", "organic-based fertilizers" and "natural" fertilizers?
These similar sounding terms actually mean quite different things. The use of all of these terms is regulated under the Federal Fertilizers Act.
- Natural materials that have been directly mined from mineral deposits and have only been subjected to physical processes such as crushing or drying (e.g. limestone, rock phosphate).
- Only products that are solely derived from partially decomposed remains of plants or animals may be described as "organic". Commercially available organic fertilizers are made from materials such as composts, sewage sludge, sea weed, fish meal, feather meal, bone and blood meal, and animal manures.
- Any fertilizer which contains at least 15% organic matter may be described as "organic-based".
Which is the better choice for the environment, organic fertilizers or synthetic fertilizers?
When applied correctly, both types of fertilizers present a minimal risk to the environment. But, applied incorrectly, both have the potential to adversely affect water quality. Organic fertilizers are made from animal and plant by-products which would otherwise become waste materials. By using organic fertilizers you are helping to divert a useful resource from the waste stream.
Synthetic fertilizers are available in both slow release and fast release forms. Fast release fertilizers provide nitrogen to the plants all at once. This can produce a quick green-up of the lawn, but any nitrogen that is not used by the plant can be leached from the soil and may become a source of pollution in ground water. Slow release fertilizers release nitrogen more slowly at a rate the plant can use. Because the nitrogen is released slowly it is less likely to leach from the soil.
Working with Your Lawn Care Company
If you have selected a lawn care program that includes pesticides here are a few additional things you may want to consider.
If I do use a service that includes pesticides what can I do to minimize the risks to myself, my neighbours and my family?
The best way to limit your risk from pesticides is to limit your exposure. You can do this by staying away from the areas being treated while the pesticides are being applied. Once the application has been completed you should stay off the treated area until the product has completely dried or better yet, for 24 hours following the pesticide application. Remember to keep children and pets off the treated area.
Be a good neighbour and notify other property owners in your neighbourhood that your lawn or garden may be treated with pesticides. A small percentage of the population is allergic or very sensitive to pesticides and they may need to be out of the area for a period of time when the products are applied. You should notify them well in advance that you intend to apply pesticides on your property.
How can I find out when pesticides will be applied?
Upon request, most lawn care professionals will provide information on when pesticides will be applied to your lawn. If you ask, most companies are also willing to notify your neighbours before a pesticide application is made.
When the Lawn Care company puts a sign on my lawn is that just advertising? Do I have to leave it there?
The sign is actually a notice to advise people that pesticides have been applied to your lawn. By law, if pesticides have been applied to your property you must leave the sign in place for 24 hours. After 24 hours have elapsed the sign should be removed.