Clients’ 10 biggest lawn care gripes

September 1, 2003 -  By

By: Mila Pearce

As the IPM homeowner specialist for the University of Georgia, I talk to an inquisitive public each day. Many times, I’m called for second opinions and used as a sounding board for public skepticism that, too often, is directed toward the lawn service industry.

Occasionally, a homeowner will contact my office screaming that their lawn service just killed the most beautiful lawn in the neighborhood. Others will call and whisper something about the lawn care provider spraying an unknown chemical on their property. Sometimes when I go out, perhaps to a restaurant, I’ll run into a homeowner acquaintance who just priced lawn care products at the local garden store and asks why the lawn service charges three times the amount to apply the same products that they can buy for themselves.

Why are some homeowners so skeptical about their lawn care provider? Why do they believe their lawn has an undiscovered and dreaded disease? The problem can be summed up best in an hour show on Oprah entitled, “Why doesn’t my lawn service talk to me anymore?”

It’s easy for companies to overextend themselves and not leave time to explain the ecology of a typical yard to most clients who don’t realize the diverse ecosystem of microbes and climate within a turf canopy. Often, companies take on new business without doing a history check, and this creates the beginning of the end for client trust. As a result, clients are forced into blind faith and, if disease ever occurs, that blind faith quickly turns into condemnation.

Below are the most common questions I receive about the lawn service industry and how I respond. Hopefully, this will help your company maintain or gain your clients’ trust by answering the questions before they ask.

1. Is my lawn service provider making my turf disease problem worse?

A good company knows the characteristics of a specific lawn including variety, soil composition, microclimates and proper nutrient levels. It knows that different grasses have different nutrient needs and, depending on the soil type, how the grass uptakes fertilizer. This knowledge allows it to program the amount of fertilizer and water if a disease is present. For example, if a bermudagrass lawn has been diagnosed with dollar spot (sclerotinia homoeocarpa), the caregiver knows to use enough nitrogen to sustain a moderate shoot growth rate and reduce excessive water stress.

2. Should a lawn service ask about previous disease problems in my lawn?

A company should always find out as much information as possible when treating a lawn. Knowledge of previous disease is just one of many factors influencing your lawn. The age, soil pH, even other plants that may be allopathic also influence the resilience of turfgrass. This information allows the company to select a care regimen tailored specifically for a lawn. For instance, if a lawn has a history of brown patch (rhizoctonia spp.), the company would decrease the amount of nitrogen and increase the mowing height.

3. I have disease every year and my neighbor’s lawn is spotless. Why?

Every yard is different and has its own microclimate, including distinctive turf canopies. Diseases like some varieties of turfgrass better than others, and diseases prefer certain climates over others. For example, if your zoysia lawn is shady and low-lying with clay soil, you’ll always battle brown patch (Rhizoctonia spp.). Rhizoctonia love wet, humid conditions, especially on zoysiagrass. Centipede usually does well under dry conditions with sandy soils, but if the neighborhood kids meet on your front lawn for a game of soccer, you’re going to run into problems.

4. Are repeated sprays necessary, or is that just more money?

Most chemicals aren’t curatives. They’re used in accompaniment with correct cultural practices to reduce the spread of a disease. If a disease is severe or a weather pattern is unrelenting, several sprays every 10 to 21 days may be appropriate.

5. How do I know my lawn service provider is fertilizing correctly?

Companies should know recommended nutrient rates not only for your grass variety but also for your soil type. This, coupled with previous disease information, the time of the year and overall lawn environment, will indicate the proper fertilizer rates. Companies will often do a soil sample to rule out any nutrient deficiencies or toxicities as a problem. Again, if you suspect disease or know that a brown patch always appears in the same area year after year, let the company know in advance.

6. Should I believe my lawn service about disease, or should I always request an official disease diagnosis from a lab?

Experienced employees of companies become well-versed with diseases. Patterns and symptoms help identify diseases and, if caught early enough, a precautionary spray may be beneficial. Of course, the only sure way to identify a specific disease is to look at it microscopically, which may or may not be at an official diagnostic lab. Talk to your lawn company personnel; ask how they identify pathogens, and the procedure used to manage them.

7. My lawn company blames my brown lawn on the weather. Is that an excuse?

Unusual weather patterns will contribute to disease severity. A company can spray a thousand dollars worth of chemicals, but if it rains for weeks, there will always be disease. Likewise, if there are periods of drought, normally weak pathogens such as Curvularia will attack your grass.

8. Why are sprays so expensive, yet so cheap at the garden store?

The chemicals available to homeowners are usually a weaker concentration They are often premixed, and the containers or application methods are substandard. There’s no way to ensure correct amounts and coverage. Commercial pesticides can be from 50 percent to 99 percent active ingredient. This enables them to customize the concentration as a label allows. A company will have sprayers with specific nozzles for optimum coverage calibrated to avoid phytotoxicities. Companies also have the ability to tank mix with other restricted-use chemicals.

9. Will chemicals used on my lawn hurt my pets?

All chemical applicators are trained and must pass a test before they receive a commercial pesticide license. Training consists of chemical safety for people and pets. If there’s any chance your pets could be injured, the company should notify you.

10. Why does my lawn service waste sprays on dead grass in the winter?

Hopefully, your grass is dormant and not dead. Many diseases survive the winter in debris as saprophytes. As a result, they can quickly overtake grass in the spring before it ever has a chance to green up. Sprays in the winter may suppress the disease enough to allow your lawn to get a head start. This is especially true if you’ve been fighting disease the previous summer.

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