As winter approaches, it is time to think about spring lawn care

(Consumer Reports) - Did the mowing, trimming, weeding, blowing and raking of summer yard work do you in? Are you thinking about hiring a service to do it all? Now is the time to shop for next year's lawn care.

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Darryel Pratt hired a local lawn care business to take care of cutting his grass, tending to flower beds and keeping weeds under control. That's not what he got.

"We found out on the spring that they took out more than just the weeds, they took the flowers out as well. It was just a bad job," Pratt said.

Dan Wroclawski of Consumer Reports says the calendar is on your side when it comes to choosing or changing your lawn care service.

"Fall is a great time to start assessing these services. You know, you've just been through the spring and summer - you know what you've had to deal with your lawn," Wroclawski said.

Before you commit to spending hundreds of dollars a month CR says take a look around your yard so you have an idea about what you actually need from your lawn care service.

It's a good idea to ask friends and neighbors for recommendations and references and be sure to ask potential companies the following questions:

"Do they have formal training or formal education in what they're doing? Are they licensed if that's a requirement in your state. A very easy thing you can do is actually go on line. A lot of states have databases and you can look up if they are legitimate. The last thing I would do is ask them are they involved in any professional organizations. That'll give you a good idea of how serious they are about their trade."

A reputable lawn care company can give your lawn a 'health checkup' and create a customized plan for your property.

"Make sure they're testing the soil, they're checking its acidity, they're looking at your plants, to make sure they are healthy, they're in the right places for the right growing conditions," Wroclawski said.

And get multiple bids detailing the recommended services specifically for your lawn and how much each service will cost.

Another reason autumn is a great time to consider a lawn care service - you can audition a company for fall cleanup and if you like them, keep them on board for spring and summer.

Looking to take on your lawn yourself? You'll pay more outright but over time investing in a top-performing lawn tractor will save you money.

Consumer Reports recommends the John Deere E-160 for $2,300. It offers even cutting; excellent predicted reliability and Consumer Reports surveys find its owners are extremely satisfied.