As we approach spring, many homeowners are exploring the pros and cons of DIY vs. professional lawn care. DIY lawn care can save you money, but it can also be a time suck and even pose a hazard to a homeowner’s community if done improperly. DIY vs. professional lawn care is a complicated decision, so PPLM wants to offer some helpful information.
We’ve all had those moments of blind self assurity when, seeing our hard earned cash flow down the drain on a seemingly simple service, we think, “Why am I paying someone to do for me what I could just do for myself?” For me, it has been a recurrent voyage into the DIY sphere only to come out, more often than not, newly appreciative of the true professionals as well as a little embarrassed by my failure. Whether it’s been cutting my own bangs, waxing my own eyebrows, replacing my car’s tail light, or even replacing kitchen tile, I’ve occasionally ended up with passable results and an improved skill set, but I have also ended up with a missing eyebrow and a hole in the floor. You have to have a realistic understanding of your own limitations and expectations to be able to know whether a DIY effort is going to end well.
Before I go any further, let me make it clear that I fully support anyone who wants to diversify their talents and learn how to do something for themselves. That is an awesome thing, but in a lot of fields, it does come with a certain level of responsibility. Some DIY ventures would be better served if they came with a “don’t try this at home” label until some serious education took place. The branch of lawn care that focuses on soil fertility, turf health, and weed and pest management is one such field, and DIY vs. professional lawn care should be considered carefully.
For as long as the cultivated American lawn has been in existence, DIY lawn care has been a primary way for homeowners to save some money, get some exercise, and have some well deserved personal time. A great staple of our country’s culture, the desire for an immaculate lawn is ingrained in us from Fourth of July cookout memories to almost every TV commercial that runs during the summer. A beautiful lawn tells friends and neighbors that you as a homeowner have your life so well in order that you even have the time and money to master nature itself. Plus, it’s just really nice to look at! And if you’re able to create that amazing lawn yourself, is there anything worth being more proud of?
With the competitive spirit that surrounds the suburban lawns of America comes a thriving industry of professional lawn care services as well as an array of DIY friendly fertilizers, herbicides, and more. An ever growing number of people are publishing written and visual material to educate a diverse and growing crowd of lawn care enthusiasts. For many homeowners, lawn care is moving from being a chore to more of a hobby, which means that specialty DIY products are becoming more popular, and lawn care professionals are feeling a new sort of pressure to make some room on the lawn for the homeowner to be involved.
To many professionals, especially ones with a small, community focused business, this involvement can be great. Homeowner involvement in a lawn means there is a greater chance of noticing and addressing possible fungal or grub related disease as well as aggressive weeds more quickly. Additionally, a homeowner that is educated on turf management will have a better understanding of the investment they’re making in lawn care, making communication between them and their professional applicator easier. However, the proverb “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” can be a hard truth in the lawn care world.
A more and more popular soap box for many professional applicators is the dangers of misinformation circulating the “pop lawn care” community of DIY YouTube and social media channels. For the most part, these resources that encourage homeowners to take control of their lawn are careful to preach to their viewers the importance of following the label guidelines when applying fertilizer and herbicides. Despite this good intention, the growing popularity of these social media outlets brings thousands of diverse opinions to the public table, making ignorant and sometimes dangerous advice contagious between homeowners and difficult to distinguish from legitimate information.
DIY vs. professional lawn care is a fairly unique debate because of the significant imbalance between its regulation and the external damage it can cause. Those opposed to the idea of building government regulation of homeowners applying pesticides and fertilizers to their personal properties argue that you wouldn’t regulate their ability to paint their house, so why worry about the lawn? The problem with this mindset is simple. If I choose to paint my house by myself and mess up, the only consequences of my DIY failure are on me. My paint isn’t going to pour off my house and into my neighbor’s yard or the creek running through the backyard (unless it turns into something like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but with paint, and what a sight that would be).
DIY turf management is very different. The overuse of nitrogen and phosphorus during fertilizer treatments results in buildup of excess nutrients that cannot be absorbed by the lawn, resulting in these elements to runoff and leach into local ponds, creeks, and rivers to which the local community is exposed. These products eventually work their way into major ecosystems and are proven to contribute greatly to algal blooms and serious environmental disruption. The same risk of lateral contamination exists with pest control products and herbicides; the misuse of these materials that are complex and often volatile has been known to not only pose serious toxicity risks to those with whom they come in contact, but also to the plant and animal life on neighboring properties.
Don’t get me wrong- the misuse and overuse of these products occurs with both professionals and DIY homeowners. However, the federal and state regulations placed on lawn care professionals to maintain a license with continuing education requirements, to track and report their product use, and to be held accountable for spills, drift, and misuse is vast compared to the almost nonexistent regulation seen, let alone upheld, for private use. As a result, when we discuss the decision homeowners have to make between DIY vs. professional lawn care, we must first and foremost consider whether or not the homeowner is prepared to invest in their personal education on the facets of proper turf management and product use, and to then follow the guidelines set for the wellbeing of their community.
By the time that a homeowner educates themselves on the protocol set for their area and the proper use, timing, and application rates of the products they’re using, it is safe to say that the majority of potential DIYers have fallen off the wagon. In an ideal world, these homeowners who have realized that their personal limitations and expectations don’t align will promptly call a licensed lawn care company and get set up on a professional program. For the few who see the gravity of the responsibilities that come with proper turf management and take every measure to respect that and treat their lawn correctly, there are a few more gaps between DIY vs. professional lawn care that may end up posing a problem.
First, professional turf management companies will almost always have access to and make use of high tech equipment and machinery that is out of the realm of affordability for the average homeowner. These resources make a great difference in reducing the risk of human error when applying products to a lawn thanks to their more accurate calibration and resulting consistency. Second, a professional has similarly greater access to a strong network of other professionals in the industry that serve as excellent resources for unusual situations in a lawn. Despite the growing number of forums and social media platforms that serve as a resource for DIY lawn care efforts, homeowners are generally on their own to address unexpected issues like fungus, grubs, or strange weeds that may befall their lawn. Third, as a result of these resources, a good professional lawn care company is likely to offer a guarantee on their work, providing a much appreciated safety net for a homeowner that they aren’t able to give themselves when applying DIY.
Fourth and finally, at the end of the day, the biggest reason that many homeowners set down their DIY lawn care hats and hand it over to a professional is simply because the savings in cost aren’t worth the upfront cost and the cost in personal time. Yes, that’s right, most DIY turf management programs are going to be less expensive than a professional program, usually by a few hundred dollars a year. This cost difference is most often attributed to the cost of professional labor and the cost of the high quality equipment the company is using. However, the burden of both of those factors falls on the homeowner when they take on DIY lawn care. Most of the time, the costs of establishing your DIY lawn care setup with equipment and products will make the first year for a DIYer equal to or greater than the cost of hiring a professional, and this can be impractical for many families. The real eye opener takes place later on when the homeowner finds out just how much time has to be spent on the lawn rather than with their family or on other hobbies. This becomes a matter of considering how much you personally value your time and how much you enjoy the process of actually applying these lawn treatments. It’s a different balance for everyone, but it is often the deciding factor when the novelty and excitement of DIY lawn care wears off and a professional is brought in.
DIY vs. professional lawn care is a personal decision for every homeowner, but the first consideration should always be how feasible in actually is for the homeowner to treat their lawn properly. Inappropriate use of fertilizer and pesticides is a burden to every community and must be understood with deference by anyone handling and applying these materials, DIY and professional alike. If a homeowner has the appropriate understanding of and respect for the responsibility they have to treat their lawn properly, they may still find that the personal cost is not worth the effort after all. In any of these situations, a local, licensed, and well reputed lawn care company is the best ally in achieving your lawn care goals. However, for the rare person who is conservatively and responsibly managing their lawn on their own, is achieving success, and is loving every minute of it… a DIY lawn truly looks great on you!
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