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How do I select a lawn service?

Lawn care services are popular, but it is often difficult to decide which company to hire. Here are a series of questions you should ask a prospective lawn care service representative.

1. Will you make custom applications based on what my lawn needs and when it needs it; or will my lawn receive the same treatments as all other lawns on the firm's program? How many treatments will be made? Ideally, the firm should use soil testing to determine phosphorous, potassium and lime requirements for your lawn.

2. What kind of fertilizer will your firm use? What is the fertilizer analysis? The analysis should indicate the percent nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in the fertilizer. These are the major plant nutrients.

3. How many pounds of actual nitrogen do you apply per 1000 sq ft of lawn service area over the entire season? Nitrogen is a crucial nutrient for most plants, including lawns. Most lawns do well with between three and five pounds of actual nitrogen per 1000 sq ft each year. How much nitrogen your lawn needs, depends on whether or not you remove grass clippings, when you mow, and how often you water your lawn. Do not over-apply nitrogen or you will increase maintenance time, make the grass more susceptible to disease and contribute unduly to ground water contamination.

4. Do you use a slow-release or a fast-release fertilizer? Fast-release fertilizers give quick greening and often a flush of growth but they are quickly exhausted. Slow-release fertilizers, on the other hand, such as sulfur-coated urea, urea-formed-nitrogen and organic nitrogen release their nutrients over a longer period of time, providing continued greening. Most synthetic fertilizers are a mixture of fast and slow release components. Organic fertilizers are slow-release.

5. When will you apply the fertilizer? Lawns should not be fertilized during hot dry weather when fertilizer can actually damage the lawn. More and more lawn care professionals recommend fall fertilization or programs based on a late fall application for cool season lawns such as bluegrass and fescue. Zoysia grass lawns are best fertilized when they are actively growing in late spring and summer.

6. What kind of weed killers do you use? When and how often will you apply them? Broadleaf weed killers should be applied in mid spring and early fall, when broadleaf weeds are actively growing. Often your lawn only needs spot treatments for broadleaf weeds. Broadleaf weed killer applications made during hot dry weather are usually ineffective, as are applications made too early in the spring or too late in the fall before or after the weeds are actually growing. To be effective, a pre-emergent herbicide for controlling crabgrass needs to be applied in early spring before crabgrass seeds begin to germinate.

7. Do you apply insecticide and fungicide applications? These pesticides should be applied only on an as needed basis and spot treatments are often sufficient.

8. Is there someone on staff trained to diagnose lawn problems? People who pay for professional lawn service deserve professional help, especially when problems occur. Membership in professional organizations usually indicates professional interest and a degree of permanence.

9. Are the firm's applicators licensed and certified to make commercial pesticide applications? By law, all lawn service applicators who apply pesticides including weed killers must be licensed and certified.