aryland is committed to reducing nutrient pollu-
tion in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. The
Water Quality Improvement Act of 1998 requires
farmers to follow nutrient management plans designed to
protect waterways from excess fertilizers and animal wastes.
Fertilizers and the Lawn care companies and commercial landscapers are
also required by this law to apply fertilizers in accordance
Chesapeake Bay with the most recent Maryland Cooperative Extension
recommendations. These firms are required to periodically
test the soil and keep specific records of their fertilizer
he Chesapeake Bay has been called a
T “national treasure.” Its natural
beauty, recreational opportunities and
abundance of plant and wildlife have inspired
use. Nutrient management requirements may place
restrictions on the amount of fertilizer that can be applied
to a residential property.
and attracted presidents, foreign dignitaries, The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) reviews
writers, fishermen, sailors and just about the fertilizer application records of commercial lawn care
anyone who has ever visited its shorelines. companies, as well as other commercial non-agricultural
nutrient applicators to ensure that nutrients are being
In recent decades, however, the Bay has fallen applied properly. MDA provides training and follow up
to companies that are not in compliance in order to help
victim to its own popularity. About 16
them improve their management programs. MDA is also
million people now live in the Chesapeake
authorized to issue penalties, if necessary, to companies
Bay’s watershed—a figure that has more than that do not comply with the law.
doubled since World War II. As Maryland
becomes increasingly urbanized and farmland How to choose a
gives way to townhouse developments and
gated communities, all citizens are being Lawn Care Service
asked to join farmers and other land
managers in protecting the Bay from excess
fertilizers coming off the land. Research has
Nutrient Management Program
50 Harry S.Truman Parkway
Annapolis, Maryland 21401
Maryland Cooperative Extension
Home and Garden
shown that fertilizers designed to make our
crops healthy and our lawns green can find
for You . . .and the
their way into our waterways where they
trigger reactions that rob the water of
oxygen, threaten aquatic life, and endanger
the long term health of the Chesapeake Bay. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., Governor Lewis R. Riley, Secretary
Michael S. Steele, Lt. Governor John R. Brooks, D.V.M., Deputy Secretary
Narrow the Field—
Consumer Protection Tips
all several firms and ask to have information
C on their fertilizer and pest control programs
sent to you.
• Ask neighbors for recommendations. Satisfied
customers are the best indicator of a good company,
particularly if your neighbor has a longstanding relation-
ship with the company. • Ask what happens if you have a problem
between applications. Will an additional service
• Get at least three estimates. Make sure that all
call be free, or will you be charged?
companies are bidding on similar services. Don’t be afraid
to ask for only the services that you want. Get in writing • Ask for advance notice. Lawn care companies
which services are optional and which are included. should always provide homeowners with advance
notice of pesticide applications so that lawn furniture
• Don’t let cost be the sole determining factor. High
Selecting a quality fertilizer, seed and other products will inevitably cost
more, but in the long run are worth the added investment.
and toys can be removed.The firm should place a
chemical application sign on your property after
treatment and tell you how long to stay off the lawn.
Lawn Care Company • Ask the company to measure your lawn before
providing an estimate. Cost is usually based on the size of
• Do your homework. Make sure the firm and its
personnel are licensed and certified by the Maryland
your lawn. This measurement is also needed to ensure that
Department of Agriculture (MDA) Pesticide Regulation
ertilizer applied to a healthy lawn at recommended fertilizer is applied at the proper rate for your property.
rates will not pose a threat to water quality. In fact, Section. Trained personnel are issued MDA identifica-
• Ask if the service is automatically renewed each year. tion cards and the business license number must be
most lawns benefit from annual fertilizer treatments Are there penalties if you cancel your service agreement? on the service vehicle. Call 410-841-5710 or visit
to encourage dense growth and increased resistance to
• Identify environmentally sensitive areas. Tell your www.mda.state.md.us to search a database of licensed
pests and drought. Thick, healthy lawns absorb rainwater
lawn care provider not to fertilize areas next to wetlands companies and certified pesticide applicators.
runoff and help keep soil and other pollutants from reaching or streams.
storm drains, local streams and other pathways to the Bay.
A lawn care service is a popular alternative for busy
homeowners who want someone else to care for their
lawn. However, the wide array of services offered by lawn
care companies and landscapers can be overwhelming. As
an educated consumer, you want to choose a lawn care
service that embraces environmentally sound management e
practices. A little comparison shopping before signing on
the dotted line will go a long way toward that end. Her
are some important guidelines to follow to ensure both an
attractive lawn and a healthy environment.
Ask the Right Questions—Interview Prospective Companies
nce you have narrowed your list of potential lawn care services, it’s time to begin the
interview process.Ask to meet with a company representative in your home to answer
questions and diagnose problems. Learn as much as you can about each firm’s fertilizer
program before committing. Here are some key questions to ask.
• Will the company develop a customized lawn Applying fertilizers during periods of prolonged heat and and vice versa. Maintaining the proper pH level is
care program for your property? Make sure the drought, or when the ground is frozen, increases the extremely important to your lawn. Soil pH that is too
firm will develop a customized lawn care plan for your potential for runoff. high or too low inhibits the ability of the grass to absorb
needs, rather than a blanket approach utilizing standard fertilizer and increases the likelihood that unused nutrients
• Are slow-release nitrogen sources available? Nitrogen
amounts of fertilizer and pesticides. Companies that will leach into groundwater. Due to natural biological
(N) is a major ingredient in most fertilizers. It promotes
collectively fertilize 10 or more acres of land (regardless processes, Maryland soils can become more acidic over
grass shoot growth and leafy top growth. Nitrogen is avail-
of individual lot size) are required by law to develop a time.Turf grows best in soil that is slightly acidic; however,
able in two forms: slow release (also called water insoluble
customized fertilizer application program for their problems may start to occur if the pH falls below 5.4.
N or controlled-release N) and quick release (soluble). Slow
customers. Therefore, periodic applications of lime are often necessary
release nitrogen provides more uniform plant growth over a
in order to raise the pH. Some companies apply a mainte-
• Will the company test the soil to determine longer period of time, with less chance of injury to the grass
nance level of lime each year as part of their standard
existing nutrient levels? Lawn care companies that and a reduced potential for leaching and impacting water
program. Others recommend a lime application based on
apply fertilizers to 10 or more acres of land (regardless quality. Quick release nitrogen promotes rapid grass growth
soil test results. Find out what you’re getting.
of individual lot size) are also required by law to perform and dark green color; however, this form is more likely to
soil tests. Soil testing takes the guesswork out of how leach through the soil. Quick release fertilizers should be • Does the firm use Integrated Pest
much fertilizer to apply. It is the single most important way avoided when the grass is not growing actively and on lawns Management (IPM)? Most lawn care services
to ensure that your lawn is not over-fertilized and that nutri- that are prone to runoff or leaching. Ask your lawn care offer a variety of weed and pest control programs.
ents applied to your lawn are used by plants and not lost to service about the availability of slow release nitrogen. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) uses a range of
the environment. Soil tests should be repeated every three management strategies to control weeds and insects
• Do I have a choice of liquid or granular fertilizer?
years. Determine the frequency of testing and the related only when they reach threatening levels. Frequent
Liquid and granular fertilizers work equally well in
charge. Ask for a copy of the soil test results. pest monitoring is required.
promoting a healthy lawn. Slow release nitrogen can be
• When should my lawn be fertilized? Fertilizer applied in granular or liquid form. • Who will perform the work? Ask about employ-
applications should be made when the grass is actively ees. How are they trained? Do they attend continuing
• Will fertilizer be applied when heavy rain is fore-
growing. Ask your lawn care service to follow these education classes or receive refresher training on a
cast? Ask your lawn care service not to fertilize if heavy
guidelines: regular basis?
rain is predicted. Heavy rainfall may cause nutrients to
Warm Season Grasses – (zoysia grass and Bermuda leach through the soil or wash off the lawn and into storm • How often is equipment calibrated? Fertilizer
grass) These grasses stay green throughout the summer drains. Nutrient losses will be minimized if slow release sprayers and spreaders should be calibrated regularly
and turn brown early in the fall. They should be fertilized (water insoluble) nitrogen is used. in order to ensure that nutrients are being applied to
in the early summer when they are growing most actively. your lawn at the proper rate. As a rule, the more
• Is the technician trained to keep fertilizer off hard
frequently equipment is calibrated, the more accurate
Cool Season Grasses – (tall fescue, bluegrass, fine surfaces? Granular fertilizer applied to sidewalks or
the fertilizer application.
fescue, and perennial ryegrass) These grasses grow driveways can easily wash into storm drains, local streams
best in cool weather. Shoots grow actively in the spring. and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. Ask if the firm’s • Is the firm a member of a turf related
Top growth slows in the fall, but root growth continues. spreaders are equipped with edge guards. If not, ask the professional organization? Professional organiza-
Because Maryland weather is variable, these grasses may technician to sweep or blow excess fertilizer off hard tions such as the Maryland Turfgrass Council provide
show growth at any time of the year. Most of the total surfaces and onto the lawn. ongoing training opportunities for their members.
fertilizer applied during the year should be applied in the They also update members on new products, equip-
• Will lime be applied? Soil pH is a measurement of a soil’s
fall to help the grass recover from summer stresses. ment, regulations and safety issues.
acidity or alkalinity.The lower the pH, the more acidic the soil
Maintenance Place a can on the
lawn during irrigation. • Aerate your soil. Water, air and nutrients needed
When one inch of by grass roots cannot penetrate soils that are
here are many things homeowners can do to maintain
water is collected, compressed or compacted due to heavy foot traffic
and enhance the health and beauty of lawns while limit-
you can turn off the or high clay content. Lawns should be core aerated
ing environmental impacts. Here are a few suggestions:
sprinkler. periodically to reduce compaction and allow grass
• Mow to the right height. Mowing lawns to the roots to strengthen and grow. You can rent a sod
proper height can reduce weed problems by as much as • Keep lawnmower blades sharp. Have your lawn- coring tool or motorized aerator or ask your lawn
80 percent. Low and infrequent mowing can damage mower blade sharpened each spring. A dull blade can care specialist to provide this service.
your lawn, as well. Make certain that no more than damage grass and increase the likelihood of disease.
• Recycle grass clippings. Grass clippings supply free
Woodberry, 2nd bullet has been updated
1/3 of the grass blade is removed after each mowing.
• Water wisely. Many species of turf grass naturally fertilizer and will not cause thatch problems, as long
• Mowing guide. go dormant during the hot, dry summer months. It is as the grass is not allowed to get too long before
Kentucky Bluegrass 21?2 - 3 in not necessary to water grass that has gone dormant. If mowing. If grass clippings are routinely left on the
Tall Fescue 2?
2 - 31? in
2 you must water your lawn, (and watering of grass is not lawn for two years or longer, you may be able to
Perennial Rye 21?2 - 3 in prohibited because of drought conditions), do so early in lower nitrogen fertilizer applications by 25 percent or
Fine Fescue 2?
2 - 31? in
2 the day using a sprinkler. As a rule, water less often for more. Keep grass clippings and other lawn debris out
Bermuda Grass 1
?2 - 1 inch longer lengths of time. Avoid frequent, light watering—it of street gutters and storm drains where they can
?2 - 1 inch promotes shallow root growth and encourages weeds. leach nutrients into Bay pathways as they decompose.
Choose a Lawn Care Service That’s Right for You… the Chesapeake Bay