As a homeowner, you probably like the challenge and the cost-savings of handling many of your own lawn and landscaping projects. For example, cutting your grass weekly is a home maintenance task that most DIYers can successfully complete.
However, there are other scenarios in which homeowners are taking matters into their own hands – with disastrous results. These are some of the lawn and landscaping projects you should leave to the pros.
Testing the soil before planting
This is a project that can be done DIY with an at-home soil tester, but our experts don’t recommend it. “Bringing a soil sample to your local county extension service offers the most detailed information on soil pH levels – acidity and alkalinity – as well as potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus levels,” according to Keven Shanks, manager of retailer training at Scotts Miracle-Gro.
It’s important to test the soil, especially if you’re planting a vegetable garden, because different types of plants prefer different types of soil. “Plants like asparagus, onions, garlic, cucumbers and tomatoes prefer acidic soil (pH 5.8-6.5), which tends to dominate in wet climates,” Shanks explains. On the other hand, plants like Brussel sprouts, turnips, cabbage and mustard like a more alkaline soil (pH 6.0-7.5) that Shanks says is typically found in dry areas.
Aerating the lawn
Aerating can be a DIY project, but you’ll need to rent and transport an aerator. So, what is aerating? “It is the process of removing plugs from the turf area using a core aerator, thereby creating an artificial system of large pores,” Shanks explains. And it’s important because it allows air, water and nutrients to reach the roots. “Aeration alleviates problems with soil compaction and/or thatch,” Shanks says.
This is a task to complete on a yearly basis. However, renting and maneuvering the specialized equipment isn’t the only DIY issue.
“Many homeowners also have underground infrastructure, including septic, pet fencing and/or irrigation,” according to Dr. Brad DeBels, director of operations at Weed Man Lawn Care. This means it’s possible to damage the infrastructure. However, according to DeBels, professionals know how to avoid this – and if any damage occurs, they’re responsible for the repair cost.
Planning and installing a permanent in-ground irrigation system
If you’re comfortable undertaking building projects, you may be able to plan and install a watering system. “You should be familiar with plumbing, electricity, and local building codes, and be willing to take the time to research and design the system well,” Shanks says. This will also entail digging trenches. However, he says it’s the paper and pencil process that usually trips up DIYers.
“Irrigation specialists are by far best equipped to design and install an irrigation system that waters both completely and efficiently,” Shanks advises. “Find a specialist who has been certified by a professional group, such as the Irrigation Society of America, to ensure you’re getting good advice.” And if you have a large lawn, it includes significant elevation changes, or has very poor drainage, Shanks says you should definitely consult a professional irrigation designer.
Brad Unruh, director of new product development for Hustler Turf Equipment, agrees that DIYers should just call in the pros. “This is an involved project, and professionals have the correct equipment to make it a lot less painful and disruptive to your current landscape,” he says. “It’s important that your irrigation system has the correct coverage to ensure everything works like it’s supposed to, which will ultimately benefit your future landscaping plans.”
You might consider yourself quite handy around the house with a can of bug spray, but landscape pesticides are a little different. And DeBels recommends leaving these pesticide treatments to the professionals. “Highly-effective weed, insect and fungus control can be very dependent on how and when you apply off-the-shelf products, making it difficult to achieve maximum effectiveness,” he explains.
And if you have a full-time job and a life, you’re just randomly applying treatments when you think about it. However, DeBels explains that professionals have spent a significant amount of time perfecting application rates and timing, and don’t forget – they’re actually trained and licensed. “This leads to the most effective control of pests, while limiting pesticide resistance and optimizing environmental safety,” he says.
Most troubleshooting projects
“When your lawn begins to get patchy, weeds take over, or your soil becomes compacted, it can be difficult to reset the yard to a healthy state,” Sherrington says. “At these times, it is more important than ever to ensure your lawn is properly aerated, the soil’s PH levels are up to par, and weed control is added to the correct areas.” And if done incorrectly, he says these procedures can have disastrous effects on a yard.
“For example, overapplying nitrogen can result in burning a lawn overnight,” Sherrington reveals. He says it can also be confusing trying to purchase the right product, store it correctly, and apply it properly. “That is why we recommend homeowners call in experts to test their soil, handle products and take the necessary steps to maintain their lawn and quickly get it to a thriving state,” Sherrington explains.
Skill level makes a difference
While many of these lawn and landscaping projects are best left to the pros, sometimes, the answer is dependent on the homeowner’s skill level. For example, Unruh does believe that homeowners can fertilize grass and spray weeds – but they are best done with some knowledge.
He says you should know what you’re spraying, how it affects the foliage, and what it is intended to kill or enhance. “Also, I recommend becoming familiar with the plants, trees, bushes and grass on your property to know which types of fertilizer would be best and when to use them.” He suggests visiting your local nursery or garden store if you need help. And don’t forget that your lawn isn’t just eye candy. Turfgrass lawns have environmental and health benefits.