Angie's LIST Guide to
Lawn Care & Fertilizers
Lawn care services
Most landscaping companies offer a variety of services when you hire them. The average lawn upkeep can be broken down into several jobs.
Many landscapers offer service plans that you can pay for by the year, and they'll tackle all the tasks your lawn needs completed throughout the year.
Here are some common services:
Lawn mowing: If you buy a lawn care package, check to see if it includes trimming, edging and fertilizing services. Companies typically mow lawns on a weekly basis. You should expect to pay about $50 to mow an average lawn.
Mulch: Mulch keeps your plant beds looking clean and well kept. There are various qualities of mulch, and the type you choose will change the amount you pay. There will also be a delivery fee for bringing the mulch to your home. Hardwood mulches cost about $30 per bag, while premium mulches cost about $45 per bag.
Fertilization: This service is also a common benefit of a lawn care package. Companies suggest fertilizing your lawn a few times a year to help it grow thick, but too much fertilizer can harm your lawn.
A professional will know the delicate balance. Lawn care companies calculate the cost by the square foot, and the average fertilization package costs around $200 to $300 per year.
Aeration: Typically done in the fall and spring, aeration pulls plugs of grass, thatch and soil from your lawn. These plugs leave holes that allow the lawn to breathe better. It also allows fertilizer and water easier access to the roots.
Aeration costs for a typical lawn fall in the $100 range.
Leaf removal: The biggest chore in the fall is raking leaves. Some lawn care companies also remove leaves in the fall. Leaf removal typically costs around $350 for an average home.
General maintenance: Other general maintenance tasks like picking up sticks, pulling weeds and planting new plants are other services landscapers provide.
Choosing a lawn care service
While some homeowners take great personal pleasure in caring for their beloved lawns, for others it's just a big chore that's hard to keep up with.
If you're thinking of hiring a lawn care company, here are some tips:
Get an on-site estimate: Each lawn is different, so you can't assess its needs over the phone. A qualified lawn care service should come out and inspect your lawn before offering a service package.
Avoid quick fixes: If your lawn is in distress, stay away from self-proclaimed magicians who claim to work miracles. Getting a damaged lawn back into healthy stages usually takes time.
Chemical check: If you're considering a chemical treatment to be applied to your lawn, make sure the professional you hire is certified to apply such chemicals. Many states require certification to apply lawn chemicals.
Check licensing: Make sure the company is insured, and look for someone with good recommendations from past customers. Also, be sure to check the Angie's List Licensing Tool to see if your state requires licenses for landscaping professionals.
Potential scams: Be wary of people who knock on your door soliciting business. If they ask for all the money before work is completed, consider another option. Once they have the money, they might not return to do the work.
A perfectly manicured lawn doesn't come without a lot of care and thought. Learn how to get the most from your front lawn or back yard. (Photo courtesy of Jessica W.)
Lawn care tips
If you enjoy working in the yard and don't mind weekend projects then taking care of your own lawn is perfect for you. Here are some tips for the DIY homeowner:
Change directions: Cut the lawn using different patterns. This will prevent ruts from forming and it will also encourage the grass to grow tall and straight.
Mow dry grass: Cutting wet grass isn't very effective. The grass will not cut evenly when it's wet and can clog the mower.
Sharpen the blade: Have the blade sharpened at least once a year. A dull blade rips the grass, creating an uneven look, damaging your lawn and leaving it exposed to diseases and parasites.
Overlap: It's tempting to get the most out of every pass and minimize the amount of overlap, but it's not the best technique. Overlapping every pass by three inches or more will result in a smooth and even lawn.
Tall grass is good: As grass grows taller, its roots go deeper, resulting in a healthier lawn that requires less watering. The grass will also fill in nicely, providing a great safety net against weeds. Cutting the grass too short causes stress on your lawn.
Over time, repeatedly cutting it short will result in turf that has bare spots and is highly susceptible to cold, extreme heat, pests and diseases.
The one-third rule: Never cut the grass by more than a third of its height at any one time. If the grass has gotten too tall, cut it back by one-third, wait a few days and then cut it again.
Don't be stupid: Choose a mower with a safety handle that will shut down the mower when released. Never allow people to ride on the mower deck as this can result in serious injury. Wait until the blade has completely stopped spinning before going near the deck to remove clogs.
Clear the lawn: Your mower has the power to turn any rock or stick into a flying projectile that can harm nearby people. Clear the lawn of toys and other objects before cutting. Watch for objects buried in the grass as you are cutting to avoid problems.
Mow early in the day: When possible, cut the grass early in the day, as soon as the dew has dried. This will give the grass time during the day to gather fresh nutrients.
Cutting hills: When working on a hill, cut across the slope. Never go up and down the slope for safety.
Gas-powered lawn mowers are efficient but be sure you don't have the blade to low. (Photo by Jo Ellen Meyer Sharp)
Essential lawn care tools
You don't necessarily need to own all of these -- for example, a rototiller can be rented when needed -- but here's a primer on each tool and its uses.
Types: Manual reel, gas push, electric push, riding, lawn tractor, zero radius and robotic
Purpose: Used to cut grass. Lawn tractors can be utilized as a multipurpose vehicle for hauling, plowing and other outdoor lawn and gardening tasks, as well.
Maintenance: The blades on all lawn mower models must be sharpened to provide desired results and even cutting services. All mowers except for the manual reel require regular oil changes and tune-ups to ensure the engine is properly functioning.
Types: Electric, gas powered
Purpose: Cuts a trench along walkways, driveways, around flower beds and other landscaping, giving the lawn a more manicured look.
Maintenance: The motors on these pieces of equipment require regular tune-ups to ensure that they are well lubricated and operational.
Types: Gas, electric
Purpose: Provides an easier method of removing leaves and other light-weight debris from the lawn for easier clean-up. It can also be used to blow water from paved areas, rain gutters and snow from driveways.
Maintenance: Electric leaf blowers require minimal engine maintenance for tune-ups. Gas powered leaf blowers require regular tune-ups and maintenance to keep up with the demands of a two and four cycle engine.
Types: Rotary, drop and sprayer
Purpose: Used to evenly distribute fertilizer over lawn and gardening surfaces.
Maintenance: When you have finished using the fertilizer spreader you will want to spray the holding compartment out with a garden hose. It is important to ensure that excess fertilizer is not left stored with the equipment, as this can cause explosion hazards.
Types: Various shapes for different tasks.
Purpose: Used to remove leaves and debris from the lawn, under bushes, in flower beds and other areas where debris may gather
Maintenance: Spray the rake with a garden hose when you have finished using it and before storing it. If the forks for the rake are connected to the handle with a screw or rivet, you will want to inspect this prior to using it.
Type: Various shapes and sizes for different tasks.
Purpose: To remove soil, grass and other materials.
Maintenance: Spray the shovel or spade with a garden hose after using it. If the head of the shovel or spade is connected to the handle with a rivet or screw, inspect this before using the tool.
Type: Manual, gas, electric
Purpose: Used to remove dead or undesired limbs, leaves and branches from bushes, trees, flowers and other plants around the yard for a more manicured look.
Maintenance: Remove dirt and debris from the blades when not in use and prior to storing to prevent rusting or damage. Blades must be sharpened periodically for desired results.
Types: Core/plug, spike, gas-powered and manual
Purpose: Used to control the law thatch and reduce soil compaction so that water and nutrients can reach the roots of the grass within the yard.
Maintenance: When you are finished using the aerator, the spikes should be rinsed off with a garden hose and allowed to dry thoroughly if storing in a dark area. This will help to prevent rusting. Gas powered aerators will need seasonal tune-ups performed. If used often, inspections on oil, spark plugs and other components of the engine should be inspected.
A variety of electric or gas-powered tools can help you keep lawn weeds at bay. (Photo by Eldon Lindsay)
Weedeaters and trimmers:
Type: Electric, battery-powered and gasoline
Purpose: Removes grass and weeds in areas that are hard to reach with the lawn mower. These areas include around trees, under bushes and against buildings and walkways.
Maintenance: The strings on weed eaters need to be changed or refilled. Spark plugs must be checked. Most models require you to oil the motors properly, as well as the rotating mechanism for the string at the bottom.
Purpose: Acts as an aerator between dirt pathways and in between landscaped areas or vegetation.
Maintenance: Spray the blade of the grubbing hoe with a garden hose to remove dirt and debris. The blade must be periodically sharpened.
Purpose: To trim hard to reach grass patches, dead leaves and small branches from bushes and flowers.
Maintenance: Blades need to be periodically sharpened.
Type: Manual, gas, electric
Purpose: Similar to an aerator, except that the rototiller is able to work through harder surfaces and in a larger patterned area. Rototillers are generally used in gardening areas and flower beds at the beginning of planting season.
Maintenance: Blades should be sprayed off with a gardening hose to remove excessive dirt and debris. Blades often need to be sharpened. Tune-ups must be performed on the motors to ensure they are operating properly.
Lawn fertilizer and chemicals
Maintenance is vitally important to proper lawn care. This includes proper mowing but also includes watering and fertilizing.
Watering the grass is especially important in dry climates where there may be several weeks without rain. This allows the grass to maintain a proper growth rate and reduces the risk of grass killing diseases.
Fertilizing is worthwhile in any climate but a necessity when the soil lacks nutrients. The most important ingredient in fertilizer is nitrogen which is vital for the continued growth of thick and healthy grass that can spring back into shape after being crushed by something that has run over it.
Higher nitrogen is essential for maintaining grass that is already established.
Pesticides can be essential to preventing infestations and disease but should be used with great caution. Some pesticides are very harsh on a lawn and can cause as much new damage as it prevents in old damage.
All pesticides should be checked for natural ingredients which should take preference over harsher chemical based pesticides.
READ MORE: Synthetic Vs. Organic Lawn Fertilizers
Lawn abuse is common, especially among families with pets. Everyone wants to enjoy their lawn but must be careful not to put too much pressure on the grass to stay healthy and get constantly trampled. Pets also cause issues because their urine actually burns the grass and can cause yellow discoloration.
Even if every step above is followed, some lawns will manage to get diseased. Brown patch disease is treated the same way it is prevented, with proper watering. It can also be treated by reducing the amount of nitrogen in the ground.
There are many diseases that can affect a lawn including fairy rings, red thatch, and dollar spots. Most can be treated by returning to proper maintenance habits but if the disease is not resolved after a week of proper maintenance, it may be necessary to call in a professional.
Common types of grass
Given the expansive land area of the United States, homeowners in different regions will experience varying climates and growing conditions that may challenge the type of grass they can grow in their yards.
In the north, where the growing seasons are short and the climates extreme, certain varieties of grass will thrive. In the south, where the soil may be clay or sandy with mild winters and long hot summers, those same grasses may not do as well. A lawn care specialist can help determine which type will thrive on your lawn.
Cool weather grasses:
Bentgrass: This type of grass tolerates close mowing, but does not tolerate hot, dry weather or cold winters. The variety is better for golf courses, since it is low maintenance, can withstand droughts and tolerates high traffic. Unfortunately, it does require constant mowing.
Kentucky bluegrass: The most popular of the cool season grasses, Kentucky bluegrass spreads well and fills in bare spots. Bluegrass goes dormant in hot, dry weather and during the winter, but performs poorly in extreme shade. Be sure to water regularly and fertilize often to keep this grass healthy.
Rough bluegrass: This type of grass does well in cool moist conditions, performs well in lower temperatures and responds well to fertilization and irrigation. Unfortunately, it is highly susceptible to insects and diseases.
Red fescue: This grass flourishes in cool shaded sites such as camps, resorts and cabins. It requires little in the way of water, fertilization or mowing.
Annual ryegrass: Mostly used as forage for animals, ryegrass can be used as a mix with other grasses to provide the dominate grass with more thickness and density.
Perennial ryegrass: Best for moist and cool environments, and where temperatures are not extreme. When used in the south, it has the highest maintenance requirement. Mowing, watering, fertilization and pest management is required for health.
If you want a lush, green lawn each summer then it's smart to determine what type of grass grows best in your region of the country. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Warm weather grasses:
Bahia: Resistant to drought, disease and insects, Bahia also survives in sand or clay. Predominately used along coastal areas in Florida, Bahia grass needs to be frequently mowed during hot weather.
Bermuda: Drought resistant, yet adaptable to various soils, Bermuda grass is used frequently for lawns in the south. It is also used for athletic fields, parks and golf courses. It does not flourish in the shade, but it can handle large amounts of traffic.
Centipede: This grass is slow growing, but it is ideal for lawns since it is low maintenance and does not require much fertilization or mowing.
Saint Augustine: Very popular in the Southern United States, Saint Augustine is good for coastal regions. However, it performs poorly in cold climates and does not tolerate high traffic well.
Zoysia: Extremely drought tolerant, Zoysia is deep rooted, does well on sandy seashores and handles traffic well.
Native plants: When using plants that naturally grow in your area, you will find that they are usually drought resistant and give a variation in appearance from grass. Moreover, native plants are easily integrated with landscaping projects. Clover and moss are among the variety of plants used to cover lawns.
Artificial turf: Made of recycled materials including used tires, artificial lawns require no water, fertilization, weed killer or mowing. This choice is good for places where plant growth can be difficult.
Stone: Stone or gravel provides the owner with a variety of colors and sizes. Planning and intense labor is needed to establish the stone lawn, but once in place, it just needs to be hosed down, and sprayed with weed killer on occasion. If you live in an area where grass won't grow or don't have it in your existing landscape, consider using pea gravel as a pet-friendly surface. A small, loose, rounded, pebbly stone, pea gravel can be raked easily to remove pet and plant debris.
Cedar bark mulch: Mulch is a good alternative for homes needing a grass alternative, as it also comes in a variety of sizes and does not heat up as gravel does.
Colorful fall leaves end up on your lawn and turn into a seasonal chore. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Leaf removal options
For DIY leaf removal, there are a few different tools that you should have on hand. Most of what you need will be determined by how big your yard is and how many trees you have dumping leaves onto it, but there are some general necessities that you'll need no matter what.
A heavy-duty rake, some gloves and a strong back are generally all you need for a small yard.
For larger yards, you will need some sort of powered leaf-collection tools if you plan on getting your lawn finished in a reasonable time frame. This can be anything from powered sweepers to leaf-blowers, and they are absolutely necessary if you don't want to spend your entire weekend getting rid of leaves.
Next, you need something to haul the leaves with. This can be anything from a truck to a wheel-barrow, with a truck being more preferable.
Finally, disposal is an aspect of yard cleaning that people don't always seem to take into consideration. Once you clean up all the leaves, you'll need to get rid of them. Some people simply use the “lawn waste” pickup provided by their garbage company.
A leaf removal company can help homeowners maintain a leaf-free lawn. There are a few key benefits that a leaf removal company can provide to you that simply aren't available to DIY leaf collection enthusiasts. They have the right equipment and the manpower to get the job done efficiently and quickly.
There are a few different things that you can do to help ensure that you don't get bombarded by too many leaves in the fall.
Most obviously, you could replace your landscaping with evergreens, eliminating the problem entirely. Next, you can have the branches trimmed so only enough of the tree remains to remain attractive.
While some of these are more difficult than others, they will all result in lower numbers of leaves hitting your yard.