Lawn services must keep records of fertilizing and soil testing

Backyard Q&A

In The Garden

March 13, 2005|By Jon Traunfeld and Ellen Nibali | Jon Traunfeld and Ellen Nibali,Special to the Sun

I'm thinking of hiring a lawn service to get rid of weeds and establish a healthier lawn, but I'm concerned that they may over-apply chemicals and add to water quality problems. Are they required by law to test soil and apply by those standards? Are some better than others at protecting the environment? If so, who?

The Maryland Department of Agriculture regulates the commercial application of fertilizer on home property. Commercial companies are required to maintain records of their fertilizer practices and perform a soil test within one year of beginning service and again every three years. We do not make recommendations for commercial lawn care companies.

You should interview companies to determine their practices. You can use our publications as a frame of reference, especially those on fertilizing and weed prevention, which give our recommendations for home lawn care. Some examples: fertilize with 2 1/2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet in the fall, not spring; use grub control only if you had a serious infestation the previous year (not just a few random grubs).

We recently purchased a home. We have a number of large trees and various shrubs. Someone told me that there might be a county arborist or similar person who would come out and identify them for us, so we can properly care for them.

The Home and Garden Information Center provides a telephone hot line and Web site that can answer any horticultural or pest control question in Maryland. We can usually identify plants over the phone or Web site. Digital photos can also be sent using the Web site. However, we aren't staffed to do site visits.

If your county's University of Maryland Cooperative Extension office has a Master Gardening program, volunteers may help you. Or consider becoming Master Gardeners yourselves. Also, many books will help you to identify your plants. Finally, if you're really stumped, take a sample of the plant, when it's leafed out, to a local nursery or Master Gardener plant clinic for identification.

I am thinking of replacing the dead plum tree in my front yard with a dogwood, but I'm worried about that disease that killed so many. What do you think?

Don't be afraid to plant dogwoods. Our Eastern dogwood is a great native plant with four-season interest: spring bloom, good foliage, fall color, rare horizontal branching, and red berries. Its fruit is an important food source for songbirds. Select one of the new varieties bred to resist anthracnose and powdery mildew fungal disease. Some are hybrids with Kousa dogwood, a Chinese type.

Because dogwoods are forest understory trees, they are happiest with some shade (though full shade may encourage fungal disease). Many dogwoods that succumbed to anthracnose were planted in unhappy conditions: dry and hot. Mulch your dogwood, keeping mulch off the trunk, and be sure it receives sufficient moisture during the first two to three years after planting, to become well established.


1. Begin fertilizing houseplants again once you notice new growth.

2. An even mixture of green, high-nitrogen and brown, high-carbon materials is necessary for rapid composting. Grass clippings from early spring mowing can be mixed with leaves stockpiled over the winter to start a spring compost pile.

Jon Traunfeld, regional specialist, and Ellen Nibali, horticulture consultant, work at the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center. The center offers Maryland residents free gardening information and answers to plant and pest questions. Call its hot line at 800-342-2507 (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.) or e-mail questions to (You can also download or order publications and diagnose plant problems online.)

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