The arrival of warmer weather means sun, short sleeves—and that familiar hum of the lawn mower. But if you’d rather turn the lawn care duties over to someone else this year, we’ve got the dirt (ahem) on how to hire a company that best suits your needs. Whether you want regular mowing, or help with an entire overhaul of your landscaping, some basic knowledge of lawn care will help you ask the right questions to be sure you’re heading down the right path—one that is preferably neatly edged.
Lawn Care 101
While you may have pushed a mower across your yard for years, there may be some tips on lawn care that you don’t know and may help you when hiring a professional to help. For example, many people like the look of short grass, but it can encourage weeds and make the grass grow unevenly and faster, necessitating more frequent mows. If you are paying someone to cut the lawn, save money by extending the amount of time between mowings. A general guide is to never cut more than 1/3 of the length of the grass in a single mow. While many reputable landscapers do follow this guideline, homeowners often ask for shorter grass, and some companies oblige.
In addition to mowing, the other basic lawn care ritual is fertilizing. Opinions about when to fertilize, what to use, and how much is a continual topic of debate among lawn care professionals. Many say twice a year is adequate for the average lawn, but more aggressive schedules may be five times a year or more. How important is it to you to have the greenest lawn on the block? Or, is a neatly mowed landscape for your kids to play on enough to satisfy you? Another way to feed your lawn is by leaving lawn clippings in the grass, rather than bagging them. Experts say the clippings can supply half of the food that a lawn needs in a year. However, this may not be ideal for families with pets and children, so decide in advance if you’ll want the clippings left or bagged, as this will likely influence the price you pay.
Now that you know to extend the time between cuts with longer grass, and you’ve thought about bagging versus leaving your clippings, decide if fertilizing is something you want to handle yourself or if you want to hand that over, too. When you know what you want, you’re ready to bring in the experts.
Finding Your Lawn Care Service
Whenever hiring a contractor like a landscaping company to do work at your home, it’s best to start from referrals. Ask around; neighbors and friends will probably be happy to share their experiences. Plan to interview at least two or three companies to have a sense of price structures and to be sure you are getting the best deal and right fit. Once you have a list and are ready to set up appointments, make a list of questions to have on hand. One of the first things to know is whether the contractor has liability insurance. If he doesn’t, your homeowner’s policy could be at risk and you could be liable for injuries that occur on your property. You may want to know if the company owner or supervisor is a member of any professional organizations, which could indicate that they are up to date on best practices and are mindful of using the correct amounts of fertilizers and other chemicals—important for the safety of kids, pets and the environment.
A printed menu of services and prices is helpful, which, in addition to mowing and fertilizing, might include anything from mulching, leaf removal, weed control and tree pruning to landscape design. Some prices might be fixed (like mulching, based on quantity) while mowing quotes are individual based on size of lawn, obstacles (fencing, playsets, etc.) and terrain. Ask what factors into your individual quote, and find out if pre-paying at the start of the season can net you a discount; bundling services together (like mowing and fertilizing) can often lower your total costs as well.
Ask if you can expect surfaces, like walkways and driveways, to be blown clear of clippings, and if edging is included, or an extra cost. When you have written quotes in hand to compare, be sure to read the fine print: is there an automatic renewal clause? Can you subtract services at a later date without penalty? A reputable company will be happy to answer your questions. Once you’ve compared your quotes and made your decision, sit back and enjoy the sun on your face and the pleasant sounds of spring—and leave the mowing duty to someone else.
Questions to Ask When Interviewing a Lawn Care Company
- Do you have liability coverage?
- Will the same crew be doing the work every time?
- Is the mowing schedule changed around fertilizer applications?
- Are bundled services less expensive?
- Do you offer discounts for pre-paying for the season?
- Do I have to sign a contract?
- What services warrant extra charges?
- Do you subcontract any services to a third party?
- Can I add or subtract services later without penalty?