Apples to oranges:

Every year we get many new potential clients asking “How much does lawn care cost?” Easy enough question but the answers are not so easy. In reality, there are MANY different variables between not only the property itself, but the company that’s doing the work as well.

The truth is you can pay anywhere from $1- to $5,000,000 (yes, 5mil, I’ll get to that later). At the end of this article I’ll go through some hard numbers of actual clients we have.

Let’s look at a few things that go into how much a lawn care service will charge.

Size of lawn

Amount of services

Quality/Type of services

Company characteristics

Size of lawn

Far and away, this is going to be the biggest decider in what your lawn program is going to cost. A service such as lawn care is going to have set costs such as materials and labor for a certain service. Any company worth a grain of salt will know EXACTLY how much there applications actually cost in materials. That cost is typically measured in square footage. Some newer companies eyeball a property and go off of “big, small, medium.” Big No-No. The other end of this is that companies will intentionally use wrong property sizes to give cheaper pricing.

For instance, without saying names, I’ll use a huge national company as an example . Like clockwork, each year we will get calls wondering about pricing from people who have used them, 95% of the time we are more expensive AND our measurements of your property are higher. Why? Sales. Some salesmen will measure a lawn much smaller to give the customer a lower price because they get commision from them. Why is that bad for you? Next years price increase! How many times have you looked at your cable bill to find that good good price went up 50% this year? Same idea.

Amount of services

When someone calls in asking for pricing, I love to hear “how much does your PROGRAM cost”. Number of services is right up there with the size of the lawn. 2 lawn applications? 3? 5? 8? Is an aeration included? What about grub control? It VERY important you look at the whole program and not just what 1 of the services or applications costs. For example:

Customer A receives 3 turf applications from a company and pays $150/year for their lawn “program”.

Customer B receives our basic program, which is 5 applications and an organic aeration/soil feeding. They may pay $350/ year for their lawn program.

The difference is customer B is essentially getting double the # of visits to your lawn and more then just fertilizing. Can you guess which lawn is going to perform better?

Number of services does not always mean what you think however. While one company may be doing 5 fertilizer/ weed control applications with another Co. doing 8, does your lawn really need 8? If your in MN, and we are talking about ONLY fertilizer and weed control, the answer is 100% no. This is a little sales tactic that some companies may use…”We do 8 applications while they only do 4, or 5, or 3”. Really other co.? If you look deeper you may actually find they are doing what we do in 5 applications only charging for 8. While we may include weed control with multiple applications, they have a seperate visit for it, same with fertilizer. Why? More visits means more $$! No beuno. We’ve found that with the fertilizing/weed control end of things, 5 visits throughout the year is the sweet spot.

Quality of services


“Better ingredients, better pizza”

Papa John’s slogan “Better ingredients, better pizza” is 100% right. When it comes to lawn care material cost is one of the bigger factors that goes into our pricing. Using low amounts of fertilizer, along with quick release, is one of the easy ways for a company to save money on materials. The only problem is you will see subpar results. Which, as a customer, you never want. Using more expensive, slow release fertilizer at the correct rates will cost more but provide a much better end result.

Company characteristics

Let’s say 2 companies are applying the exact same products, on the same square footage with the same # of services. One company is 15% more expensive. Why?

Reputation- Is the company “Tried and true”? Do they have great reviews from the community? If a company has a VERY good reputation, they may be able to charge a little bit more. Chances are, if you sign up with a highly reviewed or referred company, they are going to do everything in there power to make sure things are to your liking, like offering a guarantee of sorts.

Time in business- A company that has been around a long time, such as FERTILAWN (40 years!), has seen all kinds of things and gained all kinds of experiences. What products work, don’t work, and even worst, products that can cause damage to the environment. For example, Imprelis was toted as this wonderful new herbicide that was eco-friendly and did not pose risks to animals. This was very short-lived as it was found to cause groundwater seepage and tied to massive amounts of evergreen damage. Needless to say Dupont, the chemical company, faced tons of lawsuits over this.

My point is that we never even THOUGHT about using this product. We’ve seen many different products come and go and until something has been truly proven, we won’t look into it. That EXPERIENCE, is part of what you are paying for with long standing companies.

Knowing their prices- Sometimes you’ll be tempted by new companies offering low prices. Why are they so low? Do they know exactly how much each services costs them and what they need to charge to make a profit? (Yes PROFIT is not a bad word! It is what keeps companies around!) Will they go out of business mid season because they didn’t know these costs and just thought “Low prices= more customers, more customers=more $$”? This is a bad mindset, really bad. We know our costs and know what it takes for us to stay around for another 40 years.

Employee pay- Labor is a big cost for companies but how does that affect you? Let’s say we (these are truly off the cuff #’s) pay our technicians an average of $20/hour and a different Co. is paying $15/hour. Assuming company culture/benefits is the same for both, which employee do you think is going to stick around longer? Employee turnover is huge, as a customer you WANT the same employees that know your lawn year after year, right?

Enough talk, how much will my lawn care cost?

I could go on and on about how different company characteristics make a difference, but I’m guessing you just want some cold hard numbers by now.. Amirite?!

Johnny New-Homeowner wants the bear minimum program, he’s got a smaller Richfield lawn. He’s going to be paying roughly $210/ season for Turf Applications. Will he see an improvement? Absolutely. Will his lawn look the best it could? Most likely not!

Ms. Jesse Newport wants the whole schabang. “Fertilawn, I want my lawn to look the BEST it can” No problem Ms. Newport. Her yard is a medium sized Bloomington lawn that is very weedy and thin, she also had grub damage last year. She’ll be paying $850/ season and be getting 5 applications along with an aeration/overseed, spring grub treatment and organic aeration/soil conditioner. Come next spring, her lawn and soil will make huge improvements.

How about a middle ground customer? Let’s say Thommy Newport, Jesse’s brother, saw her lawn and wants something similar but may not need the whole schabang. Thommy lives in Bloomington as well and has a lawn the same size. I’d recommend he goes with our 5 lawn treatments along with an organic aeration/soil conditioner. He’s going to be paying $440/ season. I’m NOT going to push him to do a bunch of stuff he doesn’t need but AM going to let him know that grubs have been a huge issue around here and that we need to keep an eye on it.

Last scenario. Let’s say our president has heard about FERTILAWN and wants us to take care of the Whitehouses’ Lawn. No Problem. Without even measuring anything, I’m going to charge him $5,000,000 for the season. Why? Because I’m going to fly out there every week to make sure that thing is looking pristine. Seriously though, Mr. President, give me a call at 952.884.7331. Let’s get that lawn up to par.

For some people, having a thick, green lawn is something that just happens. This is few and far between as most people are going to have to do a little bit of work to get the same results. Seriously, we have some customers that their grass just grows, and grows, and grows, all summer long , with minimal weeds. Doesn’t matter if it has been a dry summer with minimal rain or wet and mild. It just grows like a sod farm. If this is you, congratulations, you have officially made me jealous. This is like hitting the jackpot in terms of turf. How does this happen though? Well it all starts with the…

SOIL 
I’ll try and keep this as straight forward as possible when it comes to soil textures as that could be a completely different topic with tons of technical mumbo-jumbo. Soils come in all different shapes and sizes but there are 3 main textures: Sand, Silt, and Clay. There are actually more types but I’ll be using Sand and Clay in my examples as these are on the opposite ends of the spectrum. I should also note that your soil will be a combination of these, it’s pretty rare to have a 100% clay, sand or silt soil.

Clay Soils
Classified as having very small particles, clay soils have a very high CEC (Cation Exchange Capacity). This simply means they have a better capacity to hold nutrients. They also hold water extremely well, suffer from being easily compacted and typically take longer to warm up in spring time. When these are dry they feel like concrete, they are extremely hard and will typically crack.

Sandy Soils
Classified as having the largest particles of any soil type, Sandy soils are sometimes called hungry as they will typically require greater amounts of nutrients and H20 due to leaching and runoff. Leaching simply means they don’t hold nutrients well, when it rains those nutrients are more prone to washing through the soil. Compared to clay, these soils are a dream to actually work with as they are much lighter.

 

How do you know what type of soil you have? Chances are if you have done ANY digging, you will know if you have clay.  A heavy % clay soil is AWEFUL to plant in. Absolutely horrible. If it’s too dry you’ll feel like your trying to break through concrete. If it’s too wet, it will just create a sticky mess, best to wait it out and let it dry a bit. If your still not sure if you have a heavy clay soil, do the ribbon test. Basically, take a moistened bit of soil and rub it between your thumb and pointer. (kinda like your doing a the money gesture) The idea is to create a ribbon. The longer the ribbon, the more clay you have. Anything over 2″ would be considered clayey.

The good news 

There is some light at the end of the tunnel. If your willing to put the work in, clay soils can actually be an awesome soil to grow plants and grass in. The biggest benefit to having clay is its capacity to hold and amazing amount of nutrients and water. While you can use many of these tips for your landscape and garden, the rest of this article will be aimed toward the turf.

Organic matter, Mother Earths great equalizer

Unless you plan to completely overhaul your soil/yard, you need to start thinking about how you can incorporate more organic matter into your soil. Organic matter can be compost, lawn clippings, leaves, or even organic fertilizer. Simply put, its almost anything carbon based the will biotically  deteriorate/degrade over time. Biotically meaning the soil organisms will break it down. Maybe not so simple I guess. Basically they will amend your soil over time and act as a medium to increase your drainage while keeping its water and nutrient hold capacity.

Amending an EXISTING lawn
Here are a few things you can do for your existing turf to increase its organic matter:

Leave your grass clippings
I recommend that EVERYONE does this, no matter what kind of soil you have

Mulch your leaves
Instead of bagging you leaves, mulch em’. Every week during the fall season, mow the lawn and mulch those leaves. Sometimes you may need to mow a couple times throughout the week if theres some heavy tree cover. Please note there are times when there’s just too many leaves and you will HAVE to bag them as to not suffocate your lawn.

Use an Organic Fertilizer
I am certainly not a 100% organic or go home kind of guy, but they definitely can help with a heavy soil. They will promote activity of those soil organisms and increase the amount of organic matter in your soil just like leaves or grass clippings. Remember, an Organic Fertilizer could be anything from Bone Meal to Milorganite. (This is what we use) It should also be noted that an Organic Fertilizer will be lower in actual nutrients and slower releasing meaning you’ll likely have to put in on multiple times throughout the growing season.

Topdress your lawn with a nice compost/topsoil mix
A VERY good way to start amending your soil is to add a very thin layer (around ¼”) of compost or 50/50 mix on top of your lawn. There are actual machines that can do this, but if your lawn is smaller, grab a wheelbarrow and start spreading! Around here we have a supplier that has a very very nice 50% topsoil, 50% compost mix that works great.

Aerate your lawn
I love aeration. The idea behind amending the soil is to get those amendments deeper into rootzone of the soil over time.  Just doing the things I listed above will absolutely help, but adding aeration will drastically increase the depth and time it takes for those amendments to get into the rootzone. It will also help relieve compaction that clay has such a hard time with. Aeration does a lot for your lawn, read more about it HERE.

Putting it all together 

Here is what I would recommend doing for someone willing to put in some work to amend their existing turf. It does take a long time to completely amend your soil. This is not a one time thing but a complete change of routine for your lawn. Doing this year after year will help your clay soil drastically and give you a much stronger and healthier lawn.

  1. Start using an organic fertilizer throughout the season. We use Milorganite and apply it 5 times throughout the year.
  2. During the summer, start mowing  tall (it will help with keeping your soil cooler along with many other benefits) and keep the lawn clippings on the lawn.
  3. Make sure you water your lawn and keep it from drying out. A bone dry clay soil is going to be rock hard and not allow water/nutrients to get into the rootzone
  4. When the temperature start to get cooler but before the leaves start dropping, start by aerating your lawn, followed by an over-seeding of appropriate seed type and apply an organic fertilizer. Afterwords spread a thin layer (¼”) of compost or 50/50 mix on top of your lawn.
  5. During the fall start mulching your leaves. Remember, you may need to bag some of your leaves to prevent your lawn from becoming suffocated. If your new seed is starting to pop up, be extra careful not to damage it.

Remember, this is something you need to be doing EVERY year. You simply CANNOT expect to do this one year and have an outstanding lawn the next. Yes, you will start to see improvements during that first year but that’s not what we are after. What we are after is a long term change in the actual soil and that takes time. Follow these steps and after a couple years your WILL have a much healthier, thicker, greener lawn.

One thing I should probably go through is what you should absolutely not be doing:

  • Add sand to clay
    But wait, wouldn’t adding the opposite of clay create an awesome soil? No, It won’t. You will however create a VERY nice concrete like soil. Seriously, don’t do it.
  • Smother your lawn with leaves
    Mulching them is great. Mulching too many at once is not. If you have a thick layer of Bur Oak leaves that’s 6″ deep. Don’t even try to mulch them. Instead you should be mulching it more often as to not allow for them to pile up. Or bag some of them. Trees such as the Silver Maple typically have leaves that can, quite literally, be turned into dust. Even large amounts are great for mulching.
  • Add wood chips to the lawn
    Not sure why anyone would actually try this, but don’t. Wood chips actually pull nitrogen out of the surrounding soil when they decompose. Ever notice that grass grown on top of an old tree that was chipped out will start nice and green but quickly fade to lime green? It’s the wood chips underneath that grass.
  • Allow your clay soil to dry out
    Once they become dry they will be extremely hard. This means water and nutrients will literally not percolate down into the soil. Keep them moist throughout the heat and you won’t have any issues.
  • Mow your lawn short
    The higher you cut your grass, the more shade it will provide to the soil. That means it will stay cooler and require less water. Remember dry soil= rock hard soil.

 

 

Read More

This time of the year can be quite hectic for both customers and Lawn Care businesses. You’re looking forward to starting the spring off right, getting projects and contractors in order, while businesses are ramping up for our busy season. Hopefully this mini series can help you choose between us and other lawn care contractors while also giving you some insights on how you can choose other contractors for around your house. 

Read More

This time of the year can be quite hectic for both customers and Lawn Care businesses. You’re looking forward to starting the spring off right, getting projects and contractors in order, while businesses are ramping up for our busy season. Hopefully this mini series can help you choose between us and other lawn care contractors while also giving you some insights on how you can choose other contractors for around your house. 

Read More