The Cost of DIY Lawn Care vs TruGreen
Detail/Math/Knowledge Level: Medium
- I’m not picking on TruGreen. I am using them because everyone knows the name, and they are transparent with their pricing online too. That’s it. Don’t take it personally TG, I love all of the things you taught me when I hired and trained dominant sales teams for you. And kudos for offering transparent pricing online. Seriously.
- I’m not saying TruGreen is bad. They serve a purpose but they are essentially my competition if you think about it. I want more homeowners to DIY so I can grow my audience. So in that vein, I am trying to take market share from them.
- My primary goal, however, is to educate. In the end, some folks that read this may find they prefer to have a company like TG do their lawn, great.
Recently I’m seeing some folks say their DIY lawn care is becoming expensive. More expensive than when they had a company like TruGreen (TG) on retainer. This is an interesting perception and one I want to address.
Let’s look at the context. The primary reason DIY seems so expensive, and sometimes hiring TG doesn’t, is that with TG, they come out and spray only the exact amount of product needed that day and that is essentially all you pay for.
They shoulder the cost of buying in bulk and storing it, and you only pay for the amount of chemical used for your application - no more, no less.
Hiring A Pro - Advantages
This is one of the advantages a pro lawn service offers - convenience.
Whereas when you purchase your own products, you have to shoulder this cost. This is especially apparent in items like weed control concentrates that may last a homeowner for years. It’s not possible to purchase small enough amounts to just last 1 season, so you essentially have to make the investment for a few years, all up front.
Quick example to illustrate this point. (you know you love this math!!)
BlindSide Selective Herbicide
(one of the best all-around weed killers for warm season turf)
Product Weight: 8 oz (½ LB)
Application Rate: .23 oz/1000
Bottle Covers: 34,780 sq ft
The Math is:
8 /.23 = 34.78
This tells you that with this rate you can cover 34,780 sq ft if you are blanket spraying weed control. If you have a 7,000 sq ft lawn, then you can get almost 5 full blanket sprays from that one bottle. (34.78/7 = 4.9)
The thing is, with this product, you shouldn’t need more than 2 blanket sprays a year anyway. So this bottle would then last you more than 2 years. Make sense?
If you haven’t already, go measure your lawn!
Cost wise, you can break it down into a “per 1,000” cost and visualize it that way. So if this bottle covers 34,780 sq ft then:
Cost per 1,000: $2.96
$103/34.7 = $2.96
If you have a 7,000 sq ft lawn, then each blanket spray will cost you $20.72
This is the math/thinking that will set the basis for the rest of this guide. Learn to love it... and call your high school math teacher and thank him or her for giving you the brain skills to understand this stuff.
That said, I have an AWESOME YouTube channel where I teach this stuff every week. Here is a video on choosing weed control from the local Home Depot.
And here is another video showing you how to spray your own lawn for weeds. This DIY Lawn Care thing is not so difficult if you educate yourself!
Hiring A Pro - Disadvantages
Now, there are disadvantages to hiring a pro; primary being that you see your lawn every day so if you are DIY then you can essentially be correcting problems every day in between your regular apps. This is why a homeowner lawn should always look better than a pro lawn (in theory) because you have the advantage of observation and early detection. You have round-the-clock intel whereas the pro only knows what he sees every 5 weeks.
Additionally, DIYers tend to be more conscious of the basics such as proper, consistent mowing with sharp blades and good irrigation.
Lastly, homeowners, I know you do it: you throw down hard. You get heavy handed with your fertilizer applications because it just feels good. I tell you to apply ¾ LB/N per 1,000 but you still have that extra half a bag left and so you go ahead and throw that down too, right along the strip between you and the neighbor’s house. You shouldn't be doing that, but you do, and that is one of the reasons some DIY lawns look so dang dark - they are getting over applied.
I'm not telling you to over-apply and in fact, I think you should back it down when it comes to fertilizer (and all other things too). But the reality is, some people get carried away and their results are good -- at least in the short term.
With that, we are going to compare the cost of TruGreen service for my lawn here in Florida vs a typical DIY plan. I submitted my info on TruGreen’s website and they gave me pricing right there. I would like to commend them for having that level of convenience and transparency available to customers.
For the more advanced among you, there are some variables here that I do not know. Those variables will make this test slightly not apple-to-apple. Those being:
- I don’t know what rates TG puts down fert (pounds on the ground, mostly nitrogen) and how many of their apps are strictly weed control spot sprays vs full on fert apps. I also don’t know how many pre-emergent apps they make or what product they use and rates.
- I’m in a summer fert blackout zone and I’m not confident their online system knows that. I’m not even sure it would matter anyway. That being said, we are moving forward as if I am NOT in a blackout zone and can throw’er down full fert early and often as I want.
- They have chinch bug control in there and maybe that would make up some of the summer apps, but also, it could be that I’m just paying for “peace of mind” here and that they won’t apply anything for chinch unless they see them. For my DIY plan comparison, we are spraying and praying no matter what.
With this in mind, let’s build and cost out a very basic DIY lawn program that would work for my lawn here in Florida, but really, could work for any lawn. It’s also not the same as my more custom Hybrid Organic warm season lawn plan.
The plan in this free guide is primarily designed to cost compare in a general sense. However, there is a video that goes along with this ebook on my channel and it will throw more light on things for you for sure. If you are looking for a real, season-long plan, I do encourage you to pick up either my warm season or cool season guide at the store.
With TruGreen’s options, I chose the TruHealth program with no aeration and lime. Just give me the fert, weed control and some insect stuff and I’m pretty good here in Florida.
Now, the prices I got from Trugreen were based on them guessing I have 7000 sq ft. I actually have 10K but to keep all the math consistent here, we are going to pretend my lawn is 7000 sq ft. (Measure your own lawn if you have not already. Learn your land!)
In their program, TG will perform 10 services per year and the cost is $645 if I do “pay as you go” with auto-billing on my credit card. Here again, I commend TG for offering this auto-pay feature. Convenience is one of their advantages over their smaller competitors. Making the transaction process frictionless is extremely important. Even with me just submitting info for intel here, I’ve been impressed by the user experience on their website and subsequent email follow-ups. Kudos TG team.
Point here of clarification: With TruGreen, I know I’m getting 10 service visits at a cost of $64.50 each. I know those applications will consist of some combination of:
- Weed control (pre- or post-emergent)
- Chinch bug prevention or control
Keep in mind that you don’t get ALL of those with every application. Some apps may have only fertilizer. Another one may just be a zone spray for weeds and an inspection. Still yet again, another app might have full fert, pre-emergent and insect control, all mixed together. We just don’t know, so keep that in mind once again when you compare.
By the way: this is yet another advantage TG has - they can “tank mix” several products together and get them down very quickly (and cheaply) if they know blanket sprays are warranted. Having truck-mounted spray units is an advantage for sure.
So when I build my DIY plan below, I’m going to use these same parameters - where we will sometimes perform multiple apps on the same day. Let’s get after it:
Milorganite Organic Nitrogen (we love Milo)
Product Weight: 36 lbs
Cost Per Bag: $12.00 (you can get it much cheaper but this is what I pay here)
Application Rate: 10lbs/1000 (delivers .6LB/N per 1,000 sq ft)
Bag Covers: 3,600 sq ft
Cost Per 1,000: $3.33
Bags Needed for 7,000 Sq Ft: 1.94 for each application
(just use 2 bags and you’re good, make the math easy - watch this for math fun)
App Cost: $24.00
# of Apps per Year: 7
This is a nicely aggressive amount of nitrogen for a warm season lawn. It will deliver 4.2LBs nitrogen per 1000 for the year. I’m pretty sure most universities recommend a little less than that for St Augustinegrass. It would work good for fescue and KBG too if you wanted to be super nutty. EIther way, with 7 of these applications per year, your annual fertilizer cost on a 7,000 sq ft lawn is: $168.00
Post-Emergent Selective Weed Control: (warm season turf only)
Product Weight: 8 oz (½ LB)
Application Rate: .23 oz/1000
Bottle Covers: 34,780 sq ft
Cost per 1,000: $2.96
Blanket Spray App Cost 7,000 sq ft lawn: $20.72
I’m going to be generous and say you need the equivalent of 2 full blanket apps this year. It could be a combination of a full blanket app and then multiple zone apps for certain targets like nutsedge.
Either way, over the course of the year, you will spray 14,000 sq ft with Blindside. It’s a professional weed control and it will get pretty much anything you could face in a St Augustine lawn. Remember, we will have a strong pre-emergent game here too.
With this in mind, your annual cost for broadleaf weed control is: $41.44
NOTE: this article is a little older, I am nowdays recommending Celsius Herbicide for warm season turf. It's a little easier on St Aug and Centipede. Also, I found a great weed control for warm season turf at my local Home Depot, video here.)
Cool Season Turf - I have a complete guide for you too - tells you what weed control to get, and where to get it, easy.
Pre-Emergent Herbicide Granule -prodiamine.
Annual Cost: $37.10
(2 spring applications assumed)
Pennant Magnum Liquid Concentrate - recommended mostly for South Florida warm season turf.
Product Volume: 128 oz / 3,785 ml
Application Rate: 28 ml / 1000 sq ft
Bottle Covers: 135,178 sq ft
Cost per 1,000: $1.65
Blanket Spray App Cost 7,000 sq ft lawn: $11.55
# of Apps per Year: 1
The Pennant Magnum seems expensive, it’s $224 for a 128oz jug. But keep in mind, we only need milliliters here to mix. There are 3,785 ml in that jug. We only do one app of this per year. It’s designed to suppress nutsedge but also works great on signalgrass, sand bur, and grabgrass too.
Annual Cost: $11.55
Chinch Bug Control:
Bayer Advanced Complete Insect Killer (hose end)
The good thing about this product is that you can first off, get it at any Home Depot, Lowe’s, Ace or Menards. Secondly, hose end sprayers like this are no fuss and easy to use. It’s also pretty damn fun to go out and spray and pray like a fireman on his first structure fire. Hose management is key!
This Bayer product is also easy to store if you have leftover. But most of all, it is going to do a lot more than just kill chinch bugs. The two actives in here (Imidacloprid and Beta-cyfluthrin) work in tandem to prevent grubs and even suppress mole crickets. They will also kill mosquitos in the lawn and can be used as perimeter pest control around your house. It’s a good combo and cheap. For our purposes here, we are using this on our 7,000 sq ft lawn just like the other products.
Product Volume: 32 oz
Cost: $10 (this is what they cost at my local Ace Hardware)
Bottle Covers: 5,334 sq ft
Cost per 1,000: $1.88
Blanket Spray App Cost 7,000 sq ft lawn: $13.16
# of Apps per Year: 2
# Bottles Needed per Year: 2.6
Just get 3 bottles and you will have some leftover. This is what you can use for your perimeter pest control through your landscapes beds and foundation.
Annual Cost to Control Mostly All Insects: $26.32
Are you still with me here? That is a lot of heavy math and boy or boy is it exciting! Remember, repetition is the key to learning so go back up there and work that math yourself until you understand it. There is no need to be a victim of your lawn care strategy any longer. It’s your money, spend it wisely! Let’s review:
Final Cost for DIYer:
7,000 sq ft lawn.
Granular Fertilizer: $168.00
Post-Emergent Selective Weed Control: $41.44
Pre-Emergent Weed Control: $37.10 + $11.55 = $48.65
Chinch Bug Control: $26.32
TruGreen Plan Cost: $645.53
So there you go. As you can see, there are significant savings to the DIYer, but you do have to sometimes invest in more than you need for a single season. Also, keep in mind, this plan is very simple and doesn’t include any fungicides that may be needed throughout the year. It also doesn’t include any joo-joo like the RGS/Humic products or our new hopped up liquid fertilizer, Greene Punch 18-0-1 that contains the RGS and Humics with a powerful, fast greening nitrogen. All in a fun-to-spray-and-pray liquid concentrate form. How’s that for the ending pitch?
I hope you’ve learned something here today my friends. That’s really what these guides are all about - getting you to think in different terms so your lawn strategy is always evolving.
I’ll see you in the lawn.