With the price of gas soaring ever higher these days, it just keeps getting more and more expensive to maintain your lawn throughout the growing season, even if you do it yourself. When the summer swelter catches up with you and you’re ready to hire someone else to do it, you may find yourself adding sticker shock to your heat stroke! Before you sign on the lowest bidder or the kid down the street, though, keep in mind that you get what you pay for, especially when it comes to landscaping. Just like everyone else, landscaping companies have overhead expenses which include equipment, gas and labor, of course, but also licensing and insurance. These last two, though extremely important, are vastly under-rated by consumers. With that in mind, here are a few things that you’ll want to consider as you look for someone to care for your yard.
1. Is the person who applies the chemicals licensed by your state’s department of agriculture and does the company have a business pesticide license as well? While in the landscaping business you can always get it done cheaper by contracting with someone who’s new or with your next-door neighbor’s teenage son, there’s a reason most reputable companies are licensed by your state’s department of agriculture. Improper use of chemicals and fertilizers can lead to a lot of problems and your yard is just the starting point for these. Toxic runoff into storm drains, chemicals that drift and harm plants downwind or the killing of beneficial insects, animals or pets, no doubt all by accident, are just a few of the more common accidents. Applicators must pass a (rather difficult) test that minimizes the chance that they will cause these sorts of problems and a good landscaping company will have licenses both for its business and for the person that actually applies the chemicals to your grass, trees or shrubs. Furthermore, since companies that apply for a license are required to prove on an annual basis that they have current liability insurance, being sure your lawn care company is licensed will let you know that they are insured for their pesticide applications, too, meaning that any expensive accidents will go on their tab, not yours.
2. Do they have liability insurance for the services they offer other than pesticide application? For example, if you hire them to care for the grounds surrounding an office building and one of the things they will be responsible for is the snow removal, you’ll want to make absolutely certain that they are insured. When it comes to snow and ice, it’s just a matter of time before someone slips and falls in your parking lot. Hopefully, you won’t get sued, but make sure you’ve got all your bases covered just in case. You’ll also want to be certain that they carry worker’s compensation insurance, as operating the heavy equipment necessary to maintain the grass can be dangerous and is a strain on the back as well. It is important to keep in mind that if there is no insurance policy in place, you can be sued for the errors of your landscaping company, even by employees of that company!
3. Do you know what fertilizers and pesticides they’re applying? How toxic are they? What will be their long-term effects? Are they harmful to the environment? Licensed companies operating within the law are required to provide you with chemical-specific information each time they apply something to your yard. You can research the chemical yourself and see if it’s really something you want in your yard. If you can’t find the chemical on the internet, try calling your local extension agent.
4. Are they over-tending your yard just to fleece you? It’s very easy to do and there are several popular tricks for going about it.
The first of these tricks is to charge you extra for picking up the grass clippings. It became fashionable recently for people to maintain a neat yard by picking up the clippings, however, regularly mowed grass will add beneficial nutrients back into the soil as the clippings decompose. Furthermore, because it is time-consuming, labor-intensive and gobbles up valuable space on the truck, it would be a prohibitively expensive service for most customers. Established landscaping companies seldom offer this service, except by special request, and certainly aren’t going to force it on you.
Another common fleecing tactic is over-fertilizing to keep the yard growing strong. Over-fertilizing a lawn in this manner is not only unethical, it is dangerous to your grass. In the event of a drought, a heavily fertilized lawn is going to “starve” much more quickly than a lawn that was a little more in tune with the weather in the first place. Some landscaping companies will also continue to mow during a drought when the grass really isn’t growing. This will also damage your lawn.
Over-treating with herbicides or pesticides is also very common. For many of the bigger companies, a single weed in your yard is a stain on their reputation for the whole world to see, so they blast your grass all year with so many chemicals that it’s a wonder your child doesn’t get skin burns from playing in it. Though everyone seems to want a perfect lawn, it is extremely bad for the environment. Ask yourself if you can tolerate a somewhat less-than-perfect lawn, then find a contractor who will work with you and talk to you before applying chemicals. This will help save your local streams and will put a few more dollars back in your wallet, too.
Inexperienced lawn care companies may also be unintentionally bilking you out of a few extra dollars by using granular combinations on your yard that are designed to kill the bugs and fertilize at the same time. Though this seems like an easy fix, insect have to be targeted at specific times in their life cycle when they are present (it is extremely difficult to kill an insect that migrated away last week) and vulnerable. Treating with one of these two-in-one products, though it may fertilize the grass, seldom will do much about your insect problem and as such, can be a real waste of money.
5. Are they responsible? If you have a problem, does your service return your call and fix it? Does the owner or manager check in with you from time to time? Throughout the season, as the weather changes from one extreme to another and different species of insect or fungi reach their annual population peaks, the needs of your lawn and landscape will fluctuate. Some landscaping companies simply send people out to mow once a week and that’s about it. A landscaper who is actually taking care of your yard will personally show up from time to time to inspect your grass, plants and trees, then will keep you posted on any foreseeable issues. If it seems to you that your landscaping company doesn’t care about you, they probably don’t.
Opting out of caring for your own lawn is a practical decision for many people. After all, when you put in a hard week at work, you hardly want to spend your Saturday sweating it out in the yard just to keep up with the Joneses! Most landscapers are truly nice people who very much enjoy their work and aren’t looking to take advantage of you. Using the tips above will help you get to know them and their service better and will ensure that you both work together to achieve what’s best for your yard… and your pocketbook.