The times are making people ask more questions about lawn service companies, says Dennis Patton, a horticulturist with Kansas State University Research and Extension in Johnson County.
"I've never had so many calls about service contracts. Some people are looking for ways to cut this year's expenses. Others want to reduce their chemical footprint on the environment," Patton says.
Here's Patton's advice:
1. Find out what's in each recommended application, and what it's for.
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2. Consider your region's potential pests and your lawn's past problems.
There are Web sites with descriptions and photos that can help. "A Diagnostic Guide for Troubleshooting Kansas Lawn Problems" covers central U.S. disease and insect pests at www.ksuturf.com. Click on "Publications/Resources," then "For Homeowners."
"Common Weed Seedlings of the North Central States" is at http://fieldcrop.msu.edu. Click on "Management," then "Weeds."
3. Decide whether you're ready to accept more risk and/or to tolerate a less-than-perfect lawn.
"In practical terms, for example, if you had white-grub problems last year, you probably should treat for them again this year. If you have a sunny yard — which raises your odds for getting grubs — applying a control might not be a bad idea. If neither of those things is true for your lawn, though, you could think about skipping that kind of 'insurance' application," Patton said.
As an example for seeing how committed you are to change, Patton uses nutgrass as a test case. Homeowners don't have access to an herbicide that would be most effective on nutgrass. Only a lawn-care company can take care of it chemically. If you wanted to get rid of it yourself, you could remove a small clump by hand, but you'd have to repeat the pulling over several years. "The plants finally weaken and die out," Patton says.
As far as fertilizing goes, tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass must have fertilizer in September for lawn health, Patton says. Another shot in November can be helpful, too. But unless you plan to water your lawn regularly through the summer, fescue and bluegrass don't have to be fertilized in spring and summer. —Annie Calovich