Advertisements for lawn services are everywhere right now. They can vary from the slick card in the mail to a hand-scrawled note on a bulletin board. How do you find a good one?
Start by asking neighbors and friends who they use and what kind of services the company offers. Look around your neighborhood for particularly good looking yards and ask the homeowners who they use.
Once you have a few suggestions, interview each company until you find one you are comfortable with. Ask for references and go visit some of their customers. Ask specific questions about what they apply, how often and how they make the decision to make a specific application. Are they willing to work with you to do certain tasks or is it a one-size-fits-all approach? Do they mix their fertilizer applications with weed applications, or do they fertilize and then spot treat for weeds? Will they check for the presence of insects before spraying and, if they don’t see any, not spray? How do they coordinate spray applications with lawn mowing schedules?
Make sure your service is bonded and insured. Each spray application crew must have at least one person licensed by the state to apply the chemicals. In Washington it is by the Washington Department of Agriculture and in Idaho by the Idaho Department of Agriculture. Ask to see their registration card or certificates. If they are going to do tree work, insist on someone who is certified by the International Arboriculture Society (ISA). Resist taking the lowest bidder for any garden work. Quality work does cost a fair price.
Fertilizing: Washington State University recommends fertilizing lawns about four times a year; around May 1, late June, mid-September and late October to early November with a slow-release fertilizer that feeds the lawn in measured amounts. Grass is growing actively at these times and will quickly pick up the fertilizer. Excess fertilizer just runs off into the groundwater.
Weed Spraying: Weeds must be sprayed when they are actively growing and respective to the sprays to get good control. This means that your spray service needs to pay attention to the growth cycles and hit them when the sprays really work. Most of our common lawn weeds are active by mid- to late May and again in September when the weather cools. Crab grass, clover and oxalis require a pre-emergent treatment late March to early April and again in late summer.
Insect Spraying: A good spray company should scout your plants for insects before they spray. Applications should be made based on the actual presence of bugs and whether their life cycle is at a vulnerable point. If they don’t find any bugs or it’s not the right time to spray, will they delay or cancel an application? You shouldn’t be paying for the stuff coming out of the sprayer; you should be paying for their knowledge of when to use it.