Cranky Man’s Lawn Epistles ’12: Beware the lure of Big Green lawn $$$!

Those words were the advertised motto of the Syms discount clothing empire, which enjoyed much success before falling into bankruptcy in 2011.  
I always allude to that banner whenever considering a significant purchase and whenever I look for consumer services.  It also bodes as great advice for the average Joe Shmoe who works hard each week of the growing season to render the outside of their home clean and beautiful. 
This is important to keep in mind because, although your local lawn and garden center can be a cornucopia of seasonal advice, they are also in the business of maximizing their profit margin.  And they LOVE the lawn & garden OCD types.  Of course, as a die-hard advocate for a robust economy,  I support and welcome their efforts.  I just want them doing so from everyone else’s pocket, not mine.  So with that in mind, I offer you the following advice and precautionary tales.
Precautionary Tale #1:  For years I frequented a local outlet for a National fertilizer company; but after several corporate buy-outs and name changes they closed shop.  I found another local, small business lawn and garden center which I now use.  But a friend mentioned that the old place had re-opened under new ownership, so I went to check it out.
They had a huge inventory of fertilizer products and all the toys and accouterments with which lawn junkies love to play.  They also had an advisory pamphlet on a proper season-long program for lawn care.  But when I reviewed it, I noticed that they recommended SEVEN lawn treatments a year!  
This stuck me as odd, because I do five myself and that’s only when I observe an uptick in Japanese beetle activity.  And this hasn’t been the case for about three years now. 
When I reviewed their recommended program, they listed TWO treatments for BOTH crabgrass and grub control.  Yet I knew from experience that if you time the applications properly, one treatment is sufficient.  CA-CHING! Estimated Savings: $160 (assuming I skip the grub treatment when not necessary and one crabgrass application due to the judicious application of one)
  • I try to support local small businesses whenever possible.  But when it comes to annual flowers for the home’s landscaping, you cannot go wrong buying flowers in bulk from large chains like Lowe’s, Home Depot, Wal*Mart, etc.  I have always found small specialty garden stores to have excellent flowers; but the prices very high.  Supporting the local economy is admirable, so long as it does not excessively strain the household budget!
  • I have never used a commercial lawn fertilizing service to keep my lawn healthy and good-looking.  Frankly, the serviced lawns do look great, but I can’t imagine the guy on the truck paid to spray your lawn per a pre-defined schedule really pays attention – or cares – about how your lawn looks before he sprays those chemicals on it.  That being said, I can’t suggest that doing it yourself is actually cheaper, as I have never checked on how much a lawn service would cost.  So I provide a link to a Fact Sheet put together by the Ohio State University Horticultural and Crop Sciences for your benefit.

Precautionary Tale #2:  My current lawn fertilizer supplier stocks a high quality spread of lawn fertilizers and treatments.  But I have found that they never carry a granular weed-control product.  That’s granular as in a product with the consistency of course sand.  Instead, they carry only a pellet-type dissoluble, time release product. 

A weed control product of a sand-like quality will cling to active weeds when the lawn is wet.  This clinging allows the chemical to be absorbed directly into the weeds.  A time-released product will work fine, but takes longer.

When I asked what treatment they recommended for active weed control, they suggested a LIQUID weed product.  I wondered why, because a liquid product is more difficult to apply – in my opinion – assuming you have the necessary equipment to do so.  When I mentioned this, they advised that they also rent the equipment needed to apply the weed control product.  (This also goes for the milky spore treatments many lawn centers recommend.  To me, ensuring a even application of the liquid treatment seems way too difficult.)

CA-CHING!  Or so I thought …

But when I asked for pricing on a liquid-based product plus the equipment needed to apply it ($5 per hour), the cost is comparable to a two-bag application of a dry weed control.  The obvious question to me is whether the added effort of applying a wet weed product overcomes the ease of applying a dry one.  You’ll have to figure that one out for yourself.

  • The Cecily Tynan Factor:  Those in the Philadelphia area will recognize the reference.  The objective here is to pay attention to your weather forecast when planning to apply all fertilizers and in deciding whether watering the lawn is necessary.  Some fertilizers – like pre-emergents and grub treatments require the product be “watered in” to maximize effectiveness.  Other applications require a LACK OF RAIN (weed control for active weed problems) to work.  Also when the weather gets hot, watching the local weather for potential rain and even a good thunderstorm would preempt the need to drag out the hose and up your household water bill.
  • I covered lime applications for lawns in my last Lawn Epistle.  And although lime is not an expensive lawn product, the need to apply lime is often overstated for those lawn aficionados with already healthy lawns. 

The point to all of this is that you should get to “know your lawn” to know what it needs and what it does not.  Then you need to research your treatment options and decide what works best for you.  Lawn care can be an expensive proposition.  But you can render it as economical as possible – like any other needed product or service – by doing your homework and seeking the best solutions at affordable prices. 

Either way the idea is to keep that lawn clean, green and healthy when the weather is at its best, so your lawn can withstand the tests of summer.

Good luck, and I’m always here for any questions.

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