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How to Choose a Landscaping Company

Why should you care about the practices of your landscape company?

Your lawn and landscape is probably important to you, both for its beauty and as a place to relax. Green spaces can help keep our air and water clean. But depending on how your yard is cared for, it may pose a risk to the health of your family, local wild life, and the environment.

When you hire someone to design, install or maintain your yard, it’s worth asking if they will help keep your yard and our Northwest environment healthy.
Pesticides may not be good for you and your kids. Children can be at high risk from pesticide exposure, especially if toxic chemicals are used on your lawn and in your garden. In a science journal review of 98 health studies related to the use of weed and bug killers, half the studies found an increased cancer risk.

Pesticides and quick-release fertilizers may damage your lawn and landscape. Healthy lawns and landscapes grow on healthy soil. Earthworms and other soil organisms keep the soil healthy. By moving through the soil, they allow air and water to penetrate, and they help reduce diseases, insects and weeds. Overuse of pesticides and quick-release fertilizers can kill these beneficial organisms, making your yard more dependent on chemicals.

Pesticides and lawn fertilizers are harming local lakes and aquatic life. Rainwater can wash bug and weed killers from our lawns into streams or lakes. Scientists are worried about the effects of these chemicals on birds and fish, including the threatened Chinook salmon. Quick-release fertilizers apply a quick and heavy dose of nutrients to the lawn, and are more likely to wash off into local lakes. The fertilizers feed algae that choke out fish and other water dwellers.

Lawn and garden watering make up more than 40% of our summer water use. That’s when supplies are lowest and when salmon, wildlife and people need it most. It’s also when rates are highest. Much of this water is wasted through overwatering-a practice that invites lawn disease.

What questions should you ask a potential landscape contractor?

Get facts about the company’s knowledge, experience and philosophy before hiring someone to design, install and maintain your yard.

1. Does the company offer an organic program or an environmentally sensitive program?
Ask for details. How does this option differ from their chemically-based option?

2. How does the company evaluate soil?
Do they suggest a soil test? Do they take a core sample? Good soil is the basis of a healthy landscape.

3. Does the company suggest enriching the organic content of the soil?
Organic matter, such as compost or mulch, will help your plants stay healthy by providing the fuel and microbial activity necessary for plant growth. Applied as mulch, it will also help keep weed populations down.

4. What fertilizers does the company use?
Fertilizers with high nitrogen or high phosphorus formulations , such as 30-0-0 or 20-20-20, contain too much nitrogen (the first number) or phosphorus (the second number). Excess can wash off into local streams and lakes, causing algae blooms and decreasing oxygen supplies in lakes, harming fish and other aquatic life.

5.What is the company’s philosophy about water management?
They should address site drainage, water quality and water use. Good watering practices, such as drip
irrigation and soaker hoses, retain soil moisture, minimize water use and ensure water reaches the plant
roots. Understanding soil type is important to know how often and how deep to water your plants.

6.How will the company approach a pest problem?
—What do they know about Integrated Pest Management? IPM begins by preventing pest problems through landscape design and maintenance, then seeks to “manage” pests rather than “control” them. It is neither possible nor desirable to eliminate pests from a landscape. IPM uses a range of methods to manage pests, including cultural, physical, mechanical and biological, with chemical controls used as a last resort.

—Do they look for causes as well as solutions to pest problems? Sometimes pest problems can be caused by planting the wrong plant in the wrong place, or by not doing what is needed to keep the plant healthy.

—What alternatives to pesticides do they use? A range of methods can keep pest populations down to a level where damage is minimal or tolerable.

—Do they pull weeds by hand? Hand pulling weeds may be practical, particularly if the plants and lawn are kept healthy through other means.

—How do they decide what pesticides will be applied? Do they consider potential health and environmental impacts of chemicals? Ask them for information about pesticides they are considering applying.

—How much do they know about insects, weeds and diseases? The correct identification, and knowledge of the life cycle of the pest, may determine how effective pest management methods are.

—Do they spray on a regular basis, or do they monitor the yard regularly to see what the lawn and landscape might need? IPM uses regular monitoring to see if pests have exceeded your tolerance threshold.

7.What other credentials does the company have?
—How many years of experience does the company and its staff have? Hands-on experience is invaluable,
especially experience with our Northwest climate and soil.

—What education does the company’s staff have? They may have degrees from community colleges, vocational schools or universities. Ask for additional training in IPM, insects, soil, etc.

—Is the company affiliated with a landscape association?

—Are they certified? Both WALP and WSNLA have certification programs. WALP has a new Advanced
Endorsement in Advanced Horticultural Management that provides certification in environmentally friendly lawn care.

—What references can they provide?
Check references to ensure the company is reliable, professional and experienced.