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Greater Houston and South Texas

Educational Consumer Tips

Lawn & Plant Care Professional - How to Select a

Author: Better Business Bureau
Published:

Lawn and plant care is generally separated into four categories: landscaping, lawn maintenance, interior plant maintenance, and sprinkler systems. Before selecting a company, evaluate your needs. Some companies specialize in one area, while others offer a variety of services.
LANDSCAPING- landscaping companies design landscapes for designated areas, select the appropriate plants than provide and install the plants.
LAWN MAINTENANCE- Services available with most landscaping and lawn care companies include mowing, edging, weeding of flower beds, treating for insect disease, weed control, trimming of shrubs, irrigation systems checks, and fertilizing.
INTERIOR PLANT MAINTENANCE- most indoor plant maintenance companies offer such services as design, watering, fertilizing, pruning, trimming, insect and disease control, and cleaning. Some companies lease indoor plants, including blooming plants, with decorative containers.
SPRINKLER SYSTEMS- Services provided by sprinkler system companies include design installation, and general maintenance and repair. The company working on your irrigation system should be licensed by the State of Texas.
If you're planning on calling an indoor or outdoor landscaping company to look at your property, give you ideas that you will later do yourself, don't expect to get their ideas for free.
Some companies charge for a service call to protect them from this practice, and most charge for landscape design on paper. After the initial visit, the contractor will assess what work needs to be done and give you a free cost estimate. If you want more detail, a fee may be charged for additional design ideas of rough sketches. Usually, if the company gets the job, all fees for the design will be credited toward the final cost of the job.
After you have determined what services you will need, you should begin the process of selecting a company. Four reliable sources for finding names of companies are:
* Friends, neighbors, other business.
* Community & Home Owners Associations.
* The BBB.
* Professional Business Associations.
The BBB does not recommend or approve companies. We do however; have reports on many companies, some of which participate in the BBB's Customer Care Program.
Through this program, businesses have taken a pledge to deal with customers fairly and, in the unlikely event there is a problem, to settle it or use BBB Arbitration.
When talking with lawn and plant care companies, ask for pictures of other indoor or outdoor landscapes they have installed or maintained. Better yet, ask for the location of other jobs the companies have done. You may be able to visit these locations to get a first-hand view of the quality of their work.
Before taking any bids, you should provide the companies with the scope of work. This includes defining the area to be worked on and what you want installed.
When getting bids don't compare apples with oranges. Make sure that each company has included the same services. If you don't the best price may not result in the best job. Also, be sure that each company breaks the cost down in the same way (per visit, month, year, etc.).
Here is a list of steps to follow as you talk with companies to find out about their prices for performing work on you home, business, or commercial property:
1. Do the companies you are considering have a business address and telephone number? Check to see if the companies are listed in the current telephone directory in your area. This will tell you if the companies have been in business for about one year or more.
2. Make sure that you understand what is included in the price and what is not included. Don't be afraid to ask questions.
3. Always get receipts for any money paid. If full payment is made in cash, be sure to obtain written verification of payment from the company with a list of labor and material charges covered by the payment.
4. Be certain that the quantity, size and the types of plants to be used are stated in the contract and in the plans.
5. Is the guarantee or warranty disclosed? Is the entire job under warranty or only certain plants and materials? Is labor included in the guarantee? But remember a guarantee is only as good as the company that gives it.
6. Does the company provide liability and workman's compensation insurance to protect you in the event of an accident on the job? Insist on a certificate of insurance from the company's insurance agent.
7. Does the contract provide for a completion date? Be certain that the contract contains all topics discussed and promises made.
8. Ask the company for a list of customer references. Contact the references to learn what their experiences were before, during and after the work was done.
9. Before paying any money, check references. If you are about to spend a great deal of money to improve your lawn, it is entirely reasonable that you should have an attorney review any contract or agreement before signing your name.
10. Remember to get copies of anything you sign, including the contract and competition certificate.

KNOW WHAT YOU WANT FROM A LAWN SERVICE: Lawn care companies provide many services, including mowing, maintenance, aeration, seeding, landscaping, fertilization, pest control applications, and tree care.
FIND OUT WHICH COMPANIES PROVIDE SERVICE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD: Ask your neighbors or friends for a recommendation.
ASK FOR A LAWN INSPECTION AND A FREE ESTIMATE FOR SERVICE: Services that quote a price without seeing your lawn cannot be sure what your lawn might need.
ASK ABOUT THE PRICE SYSTEM AND WHAT SERVICES ARE INCLUDED: Lawn services may offer a yearly contract or a simple verbal agreement giving the customer the right to discontinue service at any time. Find out what happens if you have a problem between contracts. Will the service calls be free or is there a charge?
CONSIDER ANNUAL COSTS VS. COST PER APPLICATION: Many companies allow you to pay after each treatment and may offer a discount if you pay the annual cost up front.
GET A WRITTEN AGREEMENT ABOUT COSTS AND SERVICES BEFORE YOU PAY: Document the duration and expected results of the lawn care service.
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.
MAKE SURE THE SERVICE IS LICENSED TO APPLY LAWN CARE PRODUCTS AS REQUIRED BY STATE LAW: Check with your state Department of Agriculture or Environmental Department for details.
LOOK FOR PROFESSIONAL MEMBERSHIP: 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 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 A BUSINESS AND COMPLAINT REPORT: For further information on the company's service record, contact your local BBB.

Seeding
A well-maintained lawn and landscape can add 5 to 7 percent to a property’s value. Not only beautiful, it reduces noise pollution, has a cooling effect during the hot seasons, and prevents soil erosion. Growing a lush, green lawn, however, may not always seem easy. Weeds, brown spots and diseases may appear to be the only things that want to thrive in your yard. Whatever type of lawn you want to grow, knowing the following growing techniques helps you establish a healthy, hearty lawn.

When planting grass seed, either to grow grass over an entire yard or simply fill bare patches in a thriving lawn, follow these basic guidelines:

  • SOIL PREPARATION: Soil testing for proper pH levels of about 6.5 to 7.0 is the first step. Proper pH balance lets grass absorb needed nutrients and fertilizer. Next, the soil must be tilled by raking, plowing, disking or by using a rotary tiller. The ideal seedbed is composed of pea to marble-sized soil particles that create a good, protective lodging place for seeds.
  • TOP SOIL IF NEEDED: Add top soil only if it’s needed to fill low areas. Top soil that is trucked in often contains large amounts of weed seeds, including some weeds that cannot be selectively controlled. So it’s usually best to work with the soil you already have.
  • LEVEL AREA: After tilling and removing any large clods, the area should be leveled. This leveling can usually be done using a garden rake and/or other garden tools.
  • SAME DAY SEED & FERTILIZING: Grass seed can be spread by a drop or rotary spreader, using settings shown on the seed package. Fertilizer should be applied on the surface in addition to that tilled into the soil.
  • COVER SEEDAND MULCH: Place grass seed on the surface and lightly rake soil over the seed. Small seed should be very close to the surface. Larger seed can emerge from depths of 0.5 to 1 inch. Where irrigation is absent, straw or wood fiber mulch can be used to improve grass growing success. Be aware that straw may contain weed seeds.
  • WATERING: Watering is crucial. Keep the seedbed constantly moist to start germination. Water often, rather than deeply. Only the top inch of soil needs to be kept moist. Once germination starts, keep the area moist until the seedlings are well established.
  • EARLY MAINTENANCE: Begin mowing as soon as the seedlings are about 3 inches tall. Do not mow when soil is so wet that the mower may damage young plants. If weed seeds that were in the soil start to grow, do not use a weed killer until the young grass plants have been mowed three times.

General Watering
Consistency and deep watering are two basics of a good lawn program.

  • REGULAR SCHEDULE: Irregular watering can be harmful. It might train the roots to grow too close to the surface, leaving them more vulnerable to the scorching sun. It can also push the grass plants in and out of dormancy, forcing them to use up stored nutrients too quickly.
  • DAY VS. NIGHT: Watering at night spreads diseases which thrive in damp, dark environments. Daytime watering allows the sun and wind to dry the blades of grass while their roots are irrigated. As a rule, a sprinkler with a 5/8-inch hose left in one place for one hour each week will give grass all the water it needs. If you choose not to water, the grass will go dormant and turn brown during very hot summer periods. The grass has not died; it is just using its natural defenses against heat and drought. The grass should turn green again with sufficient moisture.

Mowing
The way you mow your lawn has a significant effect on its health.

  • MOWING HEIGHT: Grass generally performs best when mowed at one of the higher settings on your mower—especially in hot summer weather. The mower blade should be kept sharp, and you should not cut off more than 1/3 of the length of the grass blades in a single mowing.
  • MOWING FREQUENCY: Once a week is usually sufficient. In spring, when grass is growing more rapidly, mowing twice a week may sometimes be necessary to avoid removing more than 1/3 the length of the grass blades.
  • GRASS CLIPPINGS: Grass cycling—leaving clippings on the lawn after mowing—allows nutrients to return to the soil. Light clippings can decompose rapidly, nourishing the soil as they decay. Heavy clippings, however, can sometimes, smother grass, so using a mulching mower in such cases is recommended.

Fertilizing
Nutrients lawns need are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). The amount of nitrogen to apply may vary from region to region and turf type, but is normally about four to seven pounds per 1000 square feet a year. Whatever the amount, it should be carefully applied at intervals over the course of the growing season. If the applications are incorrect, extra shoots of grass will grow too quickly, leading to a buildup of thatch.

Different specialists' opinions may vary as to the exact ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to use. Generally, however, you should fertilize seasonally in the following ways:

  • SPRING: A fertilizer with a ratio of about 4-1-2 parts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium will help the grass begin the summer growing season.
  • EARLY SUMMER: Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium should be mixed at about a 3-1-2 ratio.
  • FALL: Although the blades of grass are beginning to slow in growth, a fertilizer with higher nitrogen and potassium, at a ratio of 3-1-3, will encourage healthy root growth, ensuring strong turf the following year.

Be careful and follow the label directions: too much fertilizer can burn your turf.

Use of Pest Control
If a pest or weed problem is killing the grass, or causing significant damage, some people apply pesticides. There are many on the market—either insecticides, herbicides or fungicides—to control insects, weeds and diseases respectively. It is very important to properly identify the pest and be sure that an appropriate lawn product is used.

Be sure to purchase a product targeted to the particular problem you want to resolve. Determine whether or not the product needs to be watered into the soil.

Improper and indiscriminate spraying of insecticides, herbicides or fungicides could do more harm than good. Turf grass is crawling with life, most of it barely noticeable. Everything living in your grass should ideally create a natural balance which gives grass the right environment to grow.

Herbicides, the most commonly used pesticides, must be used carefully, because they can damage or kill ornamental plants or shrubs if you miss your target.

Identify the weed and the most effective time in its growing season to treat it. You must know the exact size of your lawn in square feet so you can purchase and apply the right quantity of pesticide.

Mix only the amount of pesticides you need. Any excess mixtures of small amounts of pesticides can be applied over the same site of the original application. Store any left-over products in their original containers and away from children or pets. If you are mixing products, follow the label directions. Do not add a little extra—and never use the concentrated product. Wash carefully with soap and water if any spills on your skin.

Hiring of a Lawn Service

  • KNOW WHAT YOU WANT FROM A LAWN SERVICE: Lawn care companies provide many services, including mowing, maintenance, aeration, seeding, landscaping, fertilization, pest control applications, and tree care.
  • FIND OUT WHICH COMPANIES PROVIDE SERVICE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD: Ask your neighbors or friends for a recommendation.
  • ASK FOR A LAWN INSPECTION AND A FREE ESTIMATE FOR SERVICE: Services that quote a price without seeing your lawn cannot be sure what your lawn might need.
  • ASK ABOUT THE PRICE SYSTEM AND WHAT SERVICES ARE INCLUDED: Lawn services may offer a yearly contract or a simple verbal agreement giving the customer the right to discontinue service at any time. Find out what happens if you have a problem between contracts. Will the service calls be free or is there a charge?
  • CONSIDER ANNUAL COSTS VS. COST PER APPLICATION: Many companies allow you to pay after each treatment and may offer a discount if you pay the annual cost up front.
  • GET A WRITTEN AGREEMENT ABOUT COSTS AND SERVICES BEFORE YOU PAY: Document the duration and expected results of the lawn care service.
  • 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.
  • MAKE SURE THE SERVICE IS LICENSED TO APPLY LAWN CARE PRODUCTS AS REQUIRED BY STATE LAW: Check with your state Department of Agriculture or Environmental Department for details.
  • LOOK FOR PROFESSIONAL MEMBERSHIP: 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 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 A BUSINESS AND COMPLAINT REPORT: For further information on the company's service record, contact your local Better Business Bureau.