A lot of companies offer "organic" programs for lawn and landscape care. I have listened to a lot of cynics say that all of them sneak prohibited chemicals onto the landscape to deliver results (because, according to them, organic can't work.)

Is it possible to verify that my "organic" landscaper isn't sneaking synthetic fertilizers and/or pesticides onto my property?

How is a homeowner supposed to know if this is the case? Are there soil tests that can be done? If so, who would do them?

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    odd - I've never heard anyone say that, actually, and mostly the homeowner might actually be in at the time - or needs organic only because they suffer symptoms from other products, so I guess a resurgence of symptoms might trigger suspicion. And why would anyone use an organic operator if they didn't believe in organics anyway? You know about organic gardening, given you're a certified organic operator, so the methods used would give it away as much as anything for some jobs. The prevalence of labs in the USA probably means soil samples could be tested quite easily - not so easy in the UK. – Bamboo Jul 13 '15 at 14:51
  • @Bamboo I'm often involved in evaluating the team in place on a property. There are only a few dedicated "organic" landscape companies in the area, but plenty of companies that offer both. The thing is that it costs more to get the same results organically, so some guys cheat. I've been on a number of properties that were purportedly maintained organically, but that had 0% weed cover and electric greenup way early in the spring. Then there's telltale signs of the use of herbicides in beds - leaf curling on bayberries or other shrubs and the like. It would be nice to have some tests to verify. – That Idiot Jul 13 '15 at 15:24
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    Zero percent weed cover is achievable by physical means - not easy, but can be done, its how I do it. Maybe you should contact the laboratories available in your area and ask them directly if there are tests. – Bamboo Jul 13 '15 at 15:34
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    @Bamboo - hand removal is how our "trusted" service providers do it, too. And I agree that it is achievable. But there should be signs - like small areas with seed/compost mix put down to cover openings. But to the lay person it would be difficult to know if someone is using something they weren't supposed to be using. – That Idiot Jul 13 '15 at 15:46
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    I would never go for ZERO weeds...my goodness!! No such thing. Not by hand or 'organic' or even in a terrarium!! Poor weeds. They get such bad publicity, grins!! If weeds aren't growing somewhere I'd worry about the health of the entire landscape. Seriously. Once per week hand pulling is no big deal especially if one hammers the baby weeds. I think most maintenance crews ARE AFRAID to pull anything!! They don't know the difference between weed and perennial!! Educated crews are essential for a service program... – stormy Aug 15 '15 at 20:07

Any good maintenance company either leaves a 'report' explaining any chemical treatments (organic or synthetic) for the homeowner or places flags with explanations as to treatment. If your company is not doing this it is entirely proper to ask them to do so, and retroactive as well! If you are using 'Organic' you should never see FAST changes. There are synthetic fertilizer formulations that can approximate organic chemicals in the rate of release...extended release. Fast change is never good for plants.

Organics should not be more expensive. For 4 fertilizations per season (normal) with synthetic fast release, only 2 are necessary with organic. (Ask for or insist on Dr. Earth's Lawn Fertilizer or SIMILAR...amazing difference)!! Please remember chemicals are chemicals. Understand the difference before making this black and white...bad or good. If you are paying for 'Organic' you should be getting verification of what the crews do each and every visit! Even without asking for Organic, you should know every treatment, chemical applied!!

A lot of people think fertilizer as a pesticide. Nope. ALL gardens us humans grow will need fertilizer. All. We've disrupted any natural cycle so we can't expect to 'go natural' without failing. Now pesticides/herbicides are different. They are meant to KILL. Specific, non-specific, leaching, short life, long life, LD50...and on and on. To kill anything in the landscape you'd better be prepared for ramifications. Killing always, always causes problems! It is never a solution! You HAVE to be educated and licensed. If the individual doing the application has none, then there HAS to be a supervisor that has a special license to be supervising laborers.

You can demand that your company produces evidence of licensing. Any company using chemicals HAS to have a Pesticide Applicator license!! And if they have this they know they are to give notice of what they've used and where. This is a big deal!!

Using any pesticide/herbicide is akin to putting a bandage on an problem that could/should have been prevented in the first place!! Even not on an 'Organic' contract this is first and foremost the basis of a knowledgeable, licensed and reputable company.

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    I agree with everything in this answer, but I think there should be some clarification about the statement that "organics should not be more expensive." My experience has been that organics IS more expensive to achieve visual results that are achievable conventionally. A fertilizer program could balance out since you'd be doing fewer apps, but the cost of hand weeding several hours a week will outweigh the cost of a broadleaf herbicide or preemergent. – That Idiot Aug 14 '15 at 12:46
  • Now if the client is willing to back away from their urgent need to have fairway-like lawns, then it can really get cheaper - especially after a few years spent making sure the soil and its microbiology are as healthful and healthy as possible. Cultural practices can go a long way toward healthy turf. – That Idiot Aug 14 '15 at 12:48
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    I am the LAZIEST and CHEAPEST gardener in the world. I kid you not. Even doing commercial maintenace I never used fertilizer that included herbicide. It was spot spray AT THE MOST. Truly, mowing on high at 3" length got the grass so healthy it was able to outcompete the established weeds. Training the grass to develop deep roots and then only watering once per week deeply also killed off weeds and inhibited any weed seeds which were shaded by 3" of lush grass. Aeration once a year, sharp mower blades and organic fertilizer created LUSH healthy lawns. – stormy Aug 15 '15 at 18:42
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    Under my supervision, I reduced our costs and was able to raise our fees. Everyone in neighborhoods wanted their lawns and landscapes to look alike. I always did 'organic' but refuse to use that term. Organic in my thinking is just being educated and experienced. I made sure my clients understood how to take over when they felt enough confidence to do so. I raised our fees to include 'Gro-Co' mulch for beds, pH testing, aeration and professional pruning as part of their package. We ALWAYS left a maintenance report and flagged for any treatment. Communication was critical... – stormy Aug 15 '15 at 18:53

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