Photo Courtesy of: PC – My Shots@Photography
Being in the “green business,” I get a lot of questions from friends and family about the pros and cons of lawn services over a Do-It-Yourself program. There is a lot of satisfaction to be gained in building your lawn up yourself, and for many people (myself included), puttering around in the yard is both an enjoyable hobby and a stress reliever. For those of you considering a lawn service for the next chapter in your life I would like to share with you my “insiders perspective” about what the strengths and weaknesses of the lawn care industry are, and give you some pointers on things to look for when choosing one for yourself. I will preface this post by saying that I am not employed by any lawn care service, and have no interest in recommending any one service by name. If you are considering a lawn service I want to give you the right questions to ask to help you find a company that will save you time, money, and environmental impact, all while building a beautiful and healthy lawn.
Find the Right Price for a Lawn Service
The best thing to do when looking for a good price is to bring no fewer than three companies out to meet you. Mix a few smaller, local companies in with the big corporations like the Valley Crest’s, TruGreen’s, and Scotts. For homeowners, the “little guys” often provide not only the best price (without excessive overhead prices for the corporation) but they also tend to provide better customer service. Make list of the services that you are looking for, and stick to it when creating a plan with your prospective contractors. If all you want from a contractor is a bi-yearly Grub (Beetle larva) Control added to your lawn, then stick with that plan for the first year’s contract, and allow yourself time to see the results before you consider extra options. Don’t rule anyone out until you have several prices to compare, and shop around for what works best for you!
Here’s something else to consider: having a lawn service provider can actually be more economical, and better for the environment than a total do-it-yourself approach. Many people find that they can actually save money by paying someone else to buy and apply products to their yard a few times a year instead of buying and storing large bags of chemicals, and their distribution tools. The average American homeowner actually loses money through the expired, or moisture damaged chemicals they may be storing in their sheds and garages. Much of the lawn enhancers we buy as homeowners get dumped into landfills with the rest of the spring cleaning before the full bag has been used, instead of being safely disposed of, or used in a timely manner.
Lawn care companies provide the correct application ratio’s of the products designed to target the problems of the lawn without the threat of over application, and run-off into the local water supply. Large companies also benefit from the latest research and development products that allow them to test out more eco-friendly, and efficient chemicals and tools before they are available on the mass market.
It’s a Trade-Off: If you are considering a lawn service, take an inventory of what you own, and how often you buy a new type of lawn enhancer, or specific plant food (ie: Roses, or Rhododendron and Camellia). Once you come to a price, factor in any value you would place on expert advice to diagnose a problem, and direct “face-time” you may have with lawn technicians to trouble-shoot a specific area of your yard. Use all of these factors to determine what you are comfortable budgeting in for a lawn service, and then compare the bids from your contractors.
Most lawn care companies, whether they are a huge corporation or a couple guys with a trailer, can provide a wide variety of services for you from mowing and pruning, to fertilizing, and pest control. As a customer, you can build your own services with whatever package or services meet your needs. The most popular use homeowners have for a land care service is the fertilization package that includes visits for weed control.
What really makes a difference is the availability of a technician to talk with you about concerns you have in your yard. Not every company will have technicians available with a degree or specialized training in turf care, but any “face-time” with a technician can guarantee that your questions will be answered (either at that time or in a follow up call), and can provide you with valuable knowledge about your yard, and it’s challenges and strengths, that you might have never known otherwise.
Questions to ask are: Who can I call if I have a question? Who will be working on my lawn, and can they be scheduled for times when I am home? Will the technician be available to answer the questions I have about my lawn? What training have technicians had in turf care, pest identification, and methods for pest control? How often will I be able to schedule appointments for the service I want? What eco-friendly services and products do you provide? Do you offer a la carte services without a regularly scheduled lawn program?
The national lawncare chains strength is in their ability to blitz your lawn quickly and efficiently with whatever needs to be done, at almost any time in a 9-5pm window. The weakness of these companies is that the technicians often are not looking to spot any potential problems while they are at your house, and their workmanship can sometimes be sloppy. These technicians often receive a lot of pressure to complete a large number of lawns per day in a very short amount of time – this is how large companies pay for their overhead. Work completion with large chains mostly happens when a homeowner is away at work, providing little to no time for questions and answers, and no accountability. Depending on the company and the location, you as a homeowner can recieve exemplary service, but there is always a risk with this option that your lawn will be treated as “just another number,” and the workmanship may reflect that. The “little guy” as a small business is a localized operation, who’s business model is based more on their homeowner business than on any commercial business. These people, whether part-timers, or a full-time business, provide a solid customer service base as a means of holding on to their customer, and earning word-of-mouth recognition and recomendation. This provider is much more likely to have the time and desire to trouble-shoot issues in your yard, and to spend quality time answering your questions. The small business may however be harder to schedule, since they are working with less staff on their payroll.
Bottom Line: The large companies are run on a business model that favors the amount of revenue that can be earned from a stable commercial contract over the more unstable homeowner market, and may not provide you with the best possible customer service or price, but their scheduling availability and job completion rate will be excellent. The small business model of the local lawncare company depends on your repeated use of them to remain afloat, and they will work hard to keep your business. The small business will provide excellent overall customer service, and your best bet for a lower overall cost, but they may be harder to schedule, and have fewer products and services to offer.
Aside from asking about the calandar scheduling of fertilizers, mowing, and weed and pest control, ask what environmentally friendly options are available to meet your needs. I highly recommend asking about a provider’s “Integrated Pest Management Program” (IPM). The healthiest lawn and garden is built on healthy plant stock, and a balance of pests, and pollinators for optimum plant health and reproduction. A well balanced population of carnivorous insects, pollinators, and “feeder insects,” will provide an environment where insects monitor and control each other’s numbers so you don’t have to! The theory behind IPM is to work more naturally with the insect populations, and to protect your plants from undesirable bug infestations in ways that won’t wipe out, or deter all local insects in general. IPM is not the end to pesticide as we know it, it simply provides more options that can provide you with “greener” solutions for protecting your yard and the investment you have made in it. IPM programs can provide you with products like insecticidal soaps and oils that will control the unwanted pests by killing them, or simply deterring them from their desired location, and often recommends spot treating your problem areas instead of a major “broadcasting” of a pesticide in areas that are not effected. Keep in mind that the complete blanket coverage of pesticides to your lawn and garden can be one of the causes of a “boom” in one type of insect population later, as a product loses potency in between applications, and an insect breeds in the absence of a natural predator.
Bottom Line: Ask providers if they provide an IPM program with their service plan, and ask questions about the options available, so that you can make an educated decisions about your yard’s long-term health. Find solutions that work well for you, and your goals for your yard.