- By Rose Kennedy For the AJC
The “Agony and the Ecstasy” may be a literary classic, but it's also an on-point description of owning a house with a lawn. Yes, it offers a wonderful play space for the kids and a respite from the workaday world for the adults. But when the heat climbs and the brown spots start showing and the lawn guy who signed up in cooler months starts ghosting you, your lawn can turn into real burden.
It doesn't have to be that way, though. If you select lawn care professionals carefully and follow up with the respect that will keep them around, a lush green lawn can be yours− even in August.
Set the standard
According to Sue Silva of Arbor-Nomics, you should think of keeping your grass green the same way you think of having a healthy smile. "Your dentist provides regular care along with advice on preventing problems and warning signs to watch for. In between visits, you floss, brush and follow recommendations for any special care. You want that same kind of relationship with your lawn service. Regular weed killer treatments and fertilization alone won't guarantee a yard you're proud of and enjoy being in. For best results, you need to work with someone who is knowledgeable in what they do and can explain what you need to do."
Avoid the over-the-phone estimator. You'll never get anywhere with a company or individual who can't be bothered to see your lawn and answer your questions before discussing money.
Ask about later. Potential hires should be able to tell you about their refund policy and how their work is guaranteed. Make sure to get it in writing.
Find someone who understands fertilizer. According to Reader's Digest landscaping experts, many bigger lawn companies recommend too much fertilizer. You can save money and possibly avoid health risks if you look for a company or independent contractor who will employ a fertilizer with time-releasing water-insoluble nitrogen and use it only twice a year on a steady schedule.
Consider several options. It's not just price that will vary depending on who does your lawn. You'll also encounter different ways of billing, bundling services and establishing a fee schedule for everything from buying seedlings to paying electronically. Home Advisor recommended speaking to at least three or four lawn care providers before settling on one.
Check their mowing standard. According to LawnStarter, one simple question will weed out low-quality lawn care providers: "How often do you sharpen your blades?" Dull blades make grass look tattered and brown on top. Ask them how many mowing hours they go through before changing or sharpening blades. The answer should be no more than 10 hours. Popular Mechanics adds that a home owner or a professional will get the greenest lawn by letting the clippings fall while mowing. It's also important never to mow unless there's rain in the short-term forecast.
Get personal. "When it comes to the techs themselves, the fewer the better – at least in terms of who treats your property," Silva noted. "You're better served by having the same dedicated technician or tech team visit after visit. That way they get to really know your yard and can stay on top of any problem areas."
Get references. The lawn care industry is tricky, according to LawnStarter, which operates franchises in the Georgia area, because the industry is decentralized. "While Yelp reviews don't provide the whole story (usually only really positive and really negative experiences are written about), it does provide a good glimpse at what you're getting into. In addition, ask your neighbors which company they use and what they think of them." If you expect immediate service and are willing to pay for the privilege, you might want to consider a company that employs an office manager or owner-manager who can respond promptly.
Look for a business license and insurance. Sure, there are high-quality contractors who don't have multiple certifications, but most homeowners want a firm with a business license and proper insurance, so you won't be liable for injuries or damages, Katherine Hutt, a spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau, told MarketWatch.
You're part of the equation, too.
When it comes to hiring the most reliable and competent lawn care professionals - particularly the little guy businesses - you're in competition with other homeowners and renters. Think of it like trying to hold onto a really good babysitter. Sure, you're already paying for lawn care, maybe a king's ransom if you've opted for the manicured lawn approach, but if you want your lawn to be the first serviced by an independent contractor when everyone needs mowing at the same time, being nice goes a long way.
Clear the yard before the mowers arrive. Be sure to pick up toys and dog poop and all the other things that can get in the way of the highly qualified professional you hired to mow your lawn.
Put the pets up ahead of time. Instead of inadvertently wasting a lawn care pro's time (or risking having to pay for a return visit), develop a routine that involves securing all your indoor and outdoor pets out of harm's way on mowing day.
Keep the kids off the clock. It's crucial not to waste a landscaper or mower's time. "We know your kids want to help," one professional told Reader's Digest, "but they're just making our job take longer."
Offer a cold drink. A cold beverage goes a long way when the temperature starts climbing. If you're not going to be home, set out a cooler with a note.