Many homeowners no longer perform the work themselves when it comes to applying fertilizer and pesticides to their lawns and landscape beds. Lawn and/or landscape companies willing to supply that service are numerous. So how can you be responsible for protecting Delaware’s water quality if your lawn and landscape care is handled by a lawn and/or landscape company? The answer is ask questions. Don’t just assume that the lawn and/or landscape care company is following the best management practices. You’ll wandtto make sure you choose a good professional company with well-trained employees that follow the latest procedures. To find a professional lawn and/or landscape company, begin by asking the following questions.
- What lawn and landscape care packages are available?
- When does the company apply fertilizer to the lawn? to the trees and shrubs?
- How much fertilizer does the company apply?
- What type of fertilizer does the company use?
- Does the company apply lime?
- Does the company apply preventive pesticides?
- Does the company have a scouting service that looks for common pest problems?
- Does the company offer other services such as core cultivation?
- Are the lawn and landscape care technicians trained?
- Do they attend professional workshops and seminars?
- Is the company bonded or insured in case problems arise?
Next, evaluate their answers. Lawn and/or landscape care companies may offer anything from a one-time fertilization to a complete package with visits throughout the growing season. If you subscribe for one fertilizer application, make sure it is done in the fall and that a slow-release fertilizer is used. If you subscribe to a complete package of visits throughout the growing season, ask what will be done at each visit. Spring and fall fertilizations are fine. Summer fertilization is not needed to maintain a healthy lawn. A minimal amount of nitrogen can be beneficial if soluble fertilizer was used in the spring and no nitrogen remains in the soil. But unless you water your lawn all summer (which is certainly not recommended from a water conservation standpoint), summer fertilization places additional stress on an already heat- and drought-stressed turf. A good lawn care company should be responsive to the weather and change scheduled fertilizations based on rainfall and temperature. Summer fertilization can also promote disease and insect problems.
- The best time to fertilize trees and shrubs is from late fall to early spring when the trees and shrubs are dormant. Again, Summer fertilization can be stressful.
- Depending on the frequency of application, the recommendation is 1/2 to 2 pounds of actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet, or 5 to 20 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer. Many different forms of fertilizer can be used. (See the NPS Fact Sheet #3 for more details.)
- Lime is also important for home lawns. The optimum pH for lawns is 6.0 to 7.0. A soil test (available through Cooperative Extension) will tell you the pH of your soil. In Delaware, our soils tend to become acid; therefore, lime should usually be applied yearly or every other year to raise the pH. If liming is not part of your lawn care contract, you must add lime to the lawn yourself.
Regularly scheduled sprays of preventive pesticides are usually not the best way to control diseases and insects. Pesticide is often wasted when there is no disease or insect present. On the other hand, perennial problems such as sycamore anthracnose, birch leafminer or crab apple scab can only be controlled with a preventive fungicide or insecticide. A professional can evaluate your landscape plants, the weather conditions and local pest populations to decide when sprays are warranted. If your lawn and/or landscape care company offers a scouting program to spot potential problems, you can save money by spraying pesticides only when they are needed.
Core cultivation is an important part of caring for a highly managed lawn. A core cultivator removes plugs of soil and places them on top of the lawn. The cores are then dispersed by rain and normal traffic. Core cultivation, once a year, will help prevent thatch build-up, compaction and the problems these conditions cause.
Your responsibilities don’t end with the hiring of a lawn and/or landscape care company. Ask the technicians what chemicals are being applied and make sure they follow the procedures you have discussed.
Lawn and landscape care companies are a wonderful convenience for the busy homeowner. Be sure you carefully evaluate and choose a professional company to get the most for your money and help in keeping Delaware’s water supply safe.
Credits: EPA, DNREC, New Castle-Kent-Sussex Conservation Districts, Delaware Nature Society, Delaware Cooperative Extension, University of Delaware.