What to ask for from your lawn care provider

Linnea Radtke on the lawn.

Several weeks ago, my husband and I picked up our good friends Lisa and Eric and headed out for a celebration dinner at La Belle Vie in Minneapolis. Little did we know what a very large splurge the evening would be. A Minnesota hurricane rolled in just after we arrived at the restaurant and our friends’ neighbor soon called with bad news. A tree had fallen on their Prius.

Green on green violence is never pretty to witness.

Determined to enjoy good food and company anyway, we continued on with laughter and merriment until the very end of the evening when the valet greeted us with more bad news. A tree had fallen on our Prius as well. Didn’t anyone tell these trees that hybrid cars are eco-friendly?

Like many people, I consider auto repair to be a high stress situation, not just because of the cost, but also because I’m never quite sure if I really need the repairs that I’m paying for. Luckily, this was a fairly straightforward situation. The hood of our car was smashed and therefore, we replaced it. Other times, however, I’ve left repair shops miserable and confused wondering if I’ve been hoodwinked and how I would know if I had.

Choosing a lawn care service can also be a stressful decision. The Washington Conservation District frequently fields calls from area homeowners wondering who they can hire to make their lawns look good without harming wildlife or polluting nearby waterways. People also wonder if they are paying too much. Does the lawn really need to be fertilized five times per year, or would once or twice be equally effective?

In 2009, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) joined forces with Minnesota Extension, Fortin Consulting, Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association (MNLA), and lawn care experts from several private companies and public parks departments to create a Summer Turf Grass Maintenance Program. The program includes a reference manual, a full day professional training and a certification to teach lawn care providers how to get the healthiest grass with the least environmental impacts. Over 1000 people have attended these trainings and received MPCA certification during the past four years.

Unfortunately, however, the majority of private lawn care companies are still not MPCA certified and many continue to apply far more chemicals than what is recommended by the Summer Turf Grass Maintenance Program. For example, a basic lawn care package often includes five applications of fertilizer per year, whereas the recommendation is to apply 0.5-1lb of nitrogen per 1000 sq ft per year for non-irrigated lawns or 1.5-2lb per year for irrigated lawns. The recommended rates translate into roughly one application of fertilizer per year for typical lawns, 50% of which should be slow-release nitrogen, or up to three applications per year for businesses or homeowners who have built-in irrigation systems and desire very high-quality lawns. In other words, if you’re paying for five applications of fertilizer per year, you’re paying too much.

Other topics addressed in the Summer Turf Grass Maintenance Program include weed management, irrigation, mowing and aeration. All of the recommendations are research based and proven to result in healthier grass that is more resistant to drought, disease and weeds and gentler on wildlife and water resources.

This summer, as part of local efforts to protect groundwater drinking resources, as well as lakes and streams in Washington County, partners in the East Metro Water Resource Education are initiating a pilot project to promote healthy lawn care practices. We are reaching out to Homeowner’s Associations, businesses and residents that hire lawn care companies and offering a certification workshop for lawn care providers and independent contractors.

The next time you are calling up a lawn care service, use our one-page reference guide, What to ask for from your lawn care provider, to arm yourself with the information you need to avoid a potentially stressful situation: www.mnwcd.org/lawncare.php. The webpage has links and information about lawn care for do-it-yourselfers as well. The East Metro Water Resource Education Program will also be hosting a Turf Maintenance Workshop and Certification for lawn care professionals on Tuesday, July 23, 8am-2pm in Oakdale. Register on-line at http://tinyurl.com/eastmetroturf.