COLUMBIA, Mo. - Homeowners should put a lot of thought in selecting the right lawn-care service, said a University of Missouri turf grass scientist.

"You should always follow some basic guidelines in choosing a lawn-care company," said Brad Fresenburg.

First, know what lawn- or landscape-care services you want. Ask several companies what services they offer and ask for client references.

Insist that a company representative visit your property to determine problems, level of maintenance and pricing. Obtain a written service agreement.

Ask if the company is licensed and insured. Don't be shy in asking for proof.

Be sure the person applying pesticides is trained and holds an applicator's license issued by the Missouri Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Pesticide Control. Make sure the company tells you what lawn-care products it plans to apply.

Other questions to ask before deciding on a service provider: Will the company provide advance notice of chemical applications in case anything needs to be moved before treatment? Does the company put up notification signs for chemical applications? How long should you stay off the lawn after treatment?

Agree on what maintenance you will need to perform, such as mowing or irrigation.

The average "do-it-yourself" homeowner spends $100 to $150 a year on basic lawn-maintenance products such as fertilizer and pesticides. These figures do not include the cost of a lawn mower, fertilizer spreader, watering equipment or labor.

A reasonable price for lawn care would range between $300 and $500 a year, depending on size of the lawn and number of applications, Fresenburg said. This estimate is based on product applications only and does not include other services such as mowing or snow removal.