50 million Americans care for their own lawns, covering an estimated 31 million of acres of grass. This amount of lawn area could cover all of New England with 80% of this grass residing in home lawns [Ref 1]. Even with these older figures, we can draw a few basic conclusions including home owner’s account for a significantly larger figure than those who have their grass professionally maintained. We can also surmise that this is a lot grass area to care for over the growing season with potential ramifications. Furthermore, the volume of products applied by novice, well-intentioned Americans far outweighs that of licensed and insured turf care professionals. So what’s really at stake here? What’s the big deal?
There are a few important factors that should be taken into consideration when comparing the perceived financial savings as opposed to hiring a professional turf care company. First and foremost, you have the environment. With so many “do it themselves” (who I will call DITs), one can imagine a larger impact to waterways when material is unintentionally applied too close to rivers, streams, lakes, or storm drains in cities . Even though the same rules apply within a state, who is going to notice or inspect the DITs? No one I suspect would be the simple truth. Well intentioned or not, without training, field experience, and education, this huge amount of DITs simply don’t have the tools necessary to make proper decisions and apply treatments to turf with the desired results.
This is a unique problem as it relates to other fields as well such as with a plumber or electrician. A home owner can do his or her own work, with the final inspection being done by a certified, licensed agent in many cases as a final proof of quality. After all, there is an inherent safety issue with electrical work to those living within the building. Codes must be upheld and followed for reasons of safety. What would happen if this same concept applied to the turf industry? Imagine requiring a final certification or a site visit prior to applying a weed and feed to your lawn, either near a waterway or even in a city. Regardless of location, products including fertilizers can find their way into a water system when applied incorrectly, at the wrong rate or analysis. While this might seem extreme, I propose that most DIT’s do not know the majority of Federal or State legislation governing the applications of lawncare products such as herbicides, insecticides and simple fertilizers.
There is a common saying in many professions that they ‘rely on their tools in their tool box’ to get the job done right. These tools can be diversified and help each professional complete a job, whether a mechanic, physician, or lawn care company. Each business has varying degrees of education, on the job experience, and certification or licensing to attain each level of competency. I have been in the green industry for 25 years now and have seen the mistakes made by DITs, as well as by those in the industry with a lack of proper training and education. It seems like common sense that insuring a quality job is done right, with the right tools would be a top priority in any business, including the turf care industry.
I propose that regardless of what is being applied to turf to make it healthier, or to benefit the home owner’s quality of life, the treatment itself must be done to specifications and within the guidelines set forth by each body of legislature to insure our environment is kept safe for generations to come.
I find it unsettling that so many DITs have access of some of the same professional products I use in formulations readily available at their local hardware store yet without the guidance and licensing required of our business. In the end, it all comes down to numbers as cited in the opening paragraph of this blog post: the millions outweigh the professionals. This information is certainly food for thought as you prepare this winter for the upcoming spring thaw and the inevitable flurry of activity outside on your own lawn. Perhaps this is the year to explore different options, such as choosing a path that makes both your lawn green, and keeps green in your wallet, while obtaining the results you demand in a safe and eco-friendly way.
 The Lawn Institute, 1855-A Hicks Road, Rolling Meadows, IL 60008.