Choosing a garden service

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Growing a beautiful green lawn takes time and energy on a continual basis. These days, some people prefer hiring lawn care services to take over a large part of the effort.

Lawn care contractors perform some of the time-consuming and complicated tasks of lawn maintenance. These may include analyzing, fertilizing, and seeding the soil; controlling and killing weeds and pests; and caring for trees and shrubs.

How do you choose a lawn care service?

If you decide you want to hire a lawn care service, you may want to consider the following suggestions.

Talk with others in your neighbourhood who have used lawn care services. Find out which companies have done a good job and why.

Talk with representatives from several lawn care firms and get estimates. The lowest estimate may not necessarily provide all the services you need.

Remember that each lawn is different and that your lawn does not necessarily need the same treatment as your neighbour's. Some companies may offer a free lawn analysis. Make sure you are getting "custom" service for your lawn.

Even the best lawns have weeds and pests. Ask to see evidence of specific and real problems before you agree to any treatment.

Check to see if the company is legally qualified to undertake the work.  UK legislation requires operatives to have special training and qualifications - such as PA1 PA6 for spraying lawns,  or for those who apply pesticides to lawns.  Also ask what specific lawn care training the employees have.  Several years experience as a green-keeper at a club may be an appropriate answer - backed by copies of green-keeping certificates - i.e. NVQ II.

Ask for copies of relevant certificates and insurance to cover you in the event of any accidents.  Your insurer will no doubt want to know what steps you've take to engage a legitimate contractor - it is always handy to have copies of these on file. 

Ask if the company belongs to a professional association. This memberships may help keep members better trained and informed - through continuous professional development courses etc.

What should you look for in your contract?

If you select a lawn care service, you should have a written and signed agreement.

  1. Read any contract carefully. Know what specific services and lawn problems are covered and what are not.
  2. See if there are extra charges for special services, such as fertilizing, disease control, or reseeding.
  3. Find out if the work is guaranteed. If it is, get the guarantee (or warranty) in writing. Know what the guarantee includes and excludes, and how long it lasts. For example, if you believe a seeding job produced little improvement, will the company come back and reseed for free during the same growing season?
  4. Know how long the services will be performed. Must you renew annually or is service scheduled perpetually? What are the costs of renewal and how much might they increase?  Many lawn care service contracts require written notice to cancel. Find out how you can cancel the contract you are considering.

If pesticide treatment is offered, what should you look for?

Lawn care companies often provide pest, disease, and weed control services. This usually means the company will use a pesticide on your lawn.

Pesticides are chemicals used to destroy different kinds of lawn pests. For example, insecticides are used to kill bugs; herbicides kill weeds.

Lawn care companies generally maintain that the kind and strength of the pesticides they use are safe.  Before you agree to pesticide treatment for your lawn, you may want to consider the following information.

  1. Although pesticides can kill unwanted weeds and bugs, the treatment also may destroy the organisms that create a healthy soil for your lawn. Some people feel that a lawn that is overtreated will become dependent on chemicals to thrive.
  2. If pesticides are going to be used on your lawn, find out what specific lawn problems are being addressed.
  3. Get the name of the pesticide in writing. Ask to see the label and read it carefully before any pesticide is applied to your lawn.
  4. Find out about the harmful characteristics of the pesticide, especially to those most vulnerable to its effects: young children, pregnant women, older people, and household pets.
  5. Inquire about the availability of less harmful compounds.
  6. Inquire carefully about the training of anyone who applies the pesticide to your lawn. UK legislation requires operatives to have special training and qualifications - such as PA1 PA6 for spraying
  7. Find out what you need to do during the pesticide treatment -- and for how long. Should you stay indoors, keep your windows closed, bring in your outdoor lawn furniture and children's toys? How long should you stay off treated areas?
  8. Make sure pesticides are not applied in windy weather (over 10 miles an hour). This will prevent their spreading to other areas.
  9. Ask for alternatives to pesticide applications. Many companies now offer a more "organic" and less chemical approach to lawn care.
  10. Ask about ecological effects, including danger to non-target species and the possibility of groundwater contamination.

What are alternatives to pesticide controls?

Good-looking lawns may take a year or more of care to get that way. Although you may choose to use chemical applications to quickly improve the appearance of your lawn, you also may want to consider longer-term approaches to lawn care that do not include pesticides.

One such approach is called "integrated pest management." Basically, this involves planting several kinds of disease resistant grasses, properly conditioning your soil, and using new low-toxicity pest control materials.

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Qualified Garden Landscaping and Landscape Gardener covering Lancashire Bury Bolton and Rossendale.

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