A beautiful lawn can be both appealing and environmentally friendly, but it can take a lot of work and be a tricky project to do yourself. Caring for a yard under the best of circumstances can still be challenging; extended periods of extreme weather, dull lawnmower blades, bugs, pests, and heavy foot traffic can all lead to a lawn that needs extra care.
Lawn care generally falls into three categories: landscaping, lawn maintenance, and sprinkler systems. Before selecting a business, evaluate your needs. Some businesses specialize in one area, while others offer a variety of services.
LANDSCAPING: Landscaping businesses design landscapes for designated areas, select the appropriate plants, and provide and install the plants.
LAWN MAINTENANCE: Services generally include mowing, edging, weeding of flower beds, treating for insect disease, weed control, trimming of shrubs, irrigation systems checks, and fertilizing.
SPRINKLER SYSTEMS/IRRIGATION: Services provided by sprinkler system businesses include design installation and general maintenance and repair. Check with your state or province to see if there are special licenses required to do this work.
There are many things that your lawn might need depending on the season. This can include pH testing, aerating the soil, fertilization, filling in bald spots, trimming back overgrowth, and planting seasonal flowers and plants. While many consumers choose to make lawn maintenance a do-it-yourself project, there are those that prefer to leave it to the professionals. Hiring a landscape contractor or lawn maintenance service gives homeowners the professional help they need.
The BBB offers the following tips when considering hiring a lawn care professional:
- Research and gather information. Once you have decided what services you need and your budget, get recommendations from friends and neighbors with lawns you admire.You can search for a business’s BBB Business Profile at BBB.org to get free information on their history of complaints, read customer reviews, and see if they are a BBB Accredited Business. You can get a list of BBB accredited lawn maintenance companies.
- Ask for a lawn inspection. Services that quote a price without seeing your lawn cannot be sure what your lawn might need. Businesses will sometimes charge you to discuss specific landscaping ideas to protect themselves against clients who want to get their ideas and implement them themselves. If you contract with the business, they will often credit you back for the initial fee.
- Have a clear scope of work before asking for estimates. This includes defining the area to be worked on and what you want done. When getting bids, don’t compare apples with oranges. Make sure that each business has included the same services. Also, be sure that each business breaks the cost down in the same way (per visit, month, year, etc…).
- Ask for references and pictures of other jobs they installed or maintained. If possible, visit these locations to get a first-hand view of the quality of their work. Ask the references about their experiences before, during and after the work was done.
- Get specifics on prices and be clear on what services are included. Are you paying for a specific project or ongoing maintenance? Do you pay by the mow or by the month? Many businesses allow you to pay after each treatment and may offer a discount if you pay the annual cost up front. What happens if it rains the day someone is supposed to come mow your lawn? Does mowing include edging? Who bags and disposes of the clippings and other refuse? Find out what happens if you have a problem between contracts. Will the service calls be free or is there a charge? If you are maintaining the landscaping yourself, ask for detailed instructions and be prepared to follow them.
- Check to see if the lawn care provider needs a license to work in your area. In particular, they may need a license to apply pesticides. Does the business provide liability and workman’s compensation insurance to protect you in the event of an accident on the job? Ask for a certificate of insurance from the business’s insurance agent.
- Look for membership in a professional organization. A service’s membership in one or more professional lawn care associations and active participation in the local community is a positive sign. Professional organizations, such as the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) keep members informed on new developments in pest control methods, safety, training, research and regulation. Most associations have a code of ethics for members to follow. Affiliation with a professional group is one indication that a company strives for quality in its work.
- Get everything in writing and read all agreements and contracts carefully. Make sure the contract contains all topics discussed and promises made. Document the duration and expected results of the lawn care service. Some consumers are unaware that contracts can be open-ended, meaning they renew until the client specifically terminates. A consumer reported to the BBB in the summer of 2018 that “I never agreed to any White Grub control in addition to my regular lawn service, nor did they leave me a message saying anything about this. Instead, I just got billed for it. I called and they said that the service this year is the same as the service last year.” Ensure you understand how that works and how you can cancel. The contract should list the quantity, size, and types of plants and other materials. Look for guarantees and refund policies. Some services may offer a guarantee of performance. Others may offer refunds if they fail to meet your expectations. Get copies of anything you sign.
- Ask about timing and safety. Will the work be done while you are home or away? Are there safety precautions you need to take during or after the work? If pesticides are being used, do you need to protect your family or pets? Is the timing of the application good for the weather conditions? A consumer reported to BBB in 2019 that “[…] the last herbicide had been applied when the weather was too hot (85 degrees or above) and that it burned the grass.”
- Get receipts for any money paid.It’s better to pay by check or credit card, but if you make full payment in cash, be sure to obtain written verification from the business with a list of labor and material charges covered by the payment.