Friday, December 22, 2006

Festivus Celebration

Kevin Campanella, a landscaper from Rhode Island, was featured in an article celebrating the holiday of Festivus, an anti-Christmas holiday created on Seinfeld. If you want to read about Kevin's Festivus celebration, click here.

I loved this episode, and may have to buy one of these Festivus poles.

And just in case you really want to get into the Seinfeld holiday spirit, you can make a donation in your friends' names to a real-life Human Fund. Based out of Cleveland (where Landscape Management is also based), "The Human Fund effectively supports arts education programs for under-served children," according to its Web site. Visit it here.

Happy holidays everyone.
— Mike Seuffert

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Another great snow job

Give Snow King John Allin credit. The former Erie, PA-landscape company owner and one of the forces in the formative years of the Snow & Ice Management Association doesn’t let any slush form under his feet. After founding, running (and piling up a lot of debt in the process) and unloading the national Snow Management Group, he’s become an international traveler as president of Snow Dragon, a division of huge Park Ohio Holdings, based in Cleveland, OH. We recently got a news release about Allin in Salzburg, Austria. It looks like he’s helping pull together another snow association, this one in Europe. You can bet he’ll be pushing and selling his company’s large snow-melting equipment. He knows the business and the melters fill a big hole in the industry. Beyond that, Allin is a pretty good darn salesman; he proves it again and again.

Free isn't always good

Countrywide Lawn Doctor, a UK-based landscaper is offering free franchises. It's a brilliant marketing scheme, but will it hurt the industry? The company is getting interest from numerous people, many of whom have never been in the industry. Sure it's only in the UK right now, but you be be sure if the concept takes off, it will show up in the States.

It takes more than a little business savvy to be succesful. While it's easier to win business when you're better than the competition, truly bad providers can sour people on an industry.

The franchisee does need to pony up the money for equipment, so new owners will certainly have an investment they'll want to protect. Let's hope that Countrywide supports that in every way possible.

For more about the free franchise click here.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Light up your customers like Lampoon's Griswolds

Jim and Lea Sharp, Sharp Lawns, Mooresville, IN, say the holiday decorating season keeps getting longer and longer, with some customers wanting their home decorations in place soon after Halloween.
Challenges to home decorating include high winds and homeowners that want their homes to look like the Griswolds in the movie, “National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.”
You can read about the Sharps in a nicely written article (click on headline) that appeared in a recent issue of the Martinsville, IN, “Reporter-Times” newspaper. — Ron Hall

Monday, December 04, 2006

Don't take shortcuts

Nothing could be more tragic than the loss of the child. Being responsible for that death and having to live with that knowledge for the rest of your life has got to a nearly unbearable experience. The driver of a landscaping truck ran down a 10-year-old girl was an off-duty police officer working for his family's landscaping company. What's worse, he didn't have the proper license to drive the vehicle.

For the full story click here:

Some good news

It's sometimes amazing the stories you'll see come across when you "Google" the word "landscaper." A lot of the time, the news involves the police blotter. (Like the landscaper who nearly drowned in a client's pool with his backpack blower on.) But for once, the news was good. Congratulations to Feliciano Aragon, a Melbourne, FL, landscaper from Costa Rica who just won the $9 million Florida Lotto jackpot. Check out the rest of the story here.

— Mike Seuffert

Friday, November 24, 2006

GreenCare for Troops a huge success

Reporter Tarron Lively wrote an excellent piece about Project Evergreen's GreenCare for Troops program. The article appeared on Thanksgiving day in the Washington Times newspaper.

The GreenCare for Troops program solicits landscape and lawn care companies to provide basic lawn care services to families that have loved ones in the military serving in the Middle East. Several hundred Green Industry companies have signed up and are providing free services to these families.

The article in the Times quotes Brickman spokesperson Debra Holder, the former leader of the Professional Landcare Network, and Den Gardner, who directs Project Evergreen.

Click on the headline and see the complete article. — Ron Hall

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Mowers on highways — a very bad idea

The Tampa Tribune newspaper on Friday, Nov. 17, reported that a man operating a tractor mowing unit on I-75 about 9 p.m. was the cause of a horrific accident. The paper resports he was driving the unit in the left lane of the 4-lane highway at about 25 mph (the minimum speed limit is 50 mph) causing a couple of vehicles, traveling at highway speed, to slam on their brakes to avoid striking him.

In the mayhem, a pickup truck rear-ended a car and apparently sent it careening into the path of a fuel tanker carrying about 8,000 gallons of fuel.

The tanker exploded, killing the driver of the car. The truck driver escaped his cab before his truck blew up. The explosion, fire and cleanup closed busy I-75 for four hours, reported the newspaper.

The operator of the mowing unit, apparently unhurt, was identified as an employee of a local lawn care company that had a contract to mow the grass in the median strip. He said he was looking for a turn-around so that he could continue mowing the grass in the median. At 9 p.m. in the dark?

An official for the highway department said mowing is typically done between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Click on the headline above for the article in the Tampa Tribune newspaper. — Ron Hall

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Equity hawks circling ServiceMaster?

Interesting piece in "Heard on the Street" column in the Wall Street Journal. There's speculation that investor groups are looking at the parent company of the TruGreen Companies and Terminix as a plum just ready for picking.

If you haven't heard, ServiceMaster said a couple of weeks ago that it's moving its corporate headquarters from Downers Grove, IL, (just outside of Chicago) to Memphis were all of its consumer services businesses are headquartered.

There's been a lot going on at this company that has always made a point of emphasizing its strong Christian values. That said, not even The Higher Power Above has seen fit to move its stock price to the satisfaction of investors, so there's talk of big-money snapping it up.

Hey, that reminds me of a joke (hee, hee) about the guy that month after month, year after year, whined to God about why he never wins the lottery . . . . and, of course, the answer in a thunderous voice from on high — "You gotta buy a ticket first, moron!"

Ok, so it wasn't such a hot joke.

Click on the headline for the Wall Street Journal article. Actually, I accessed it through the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. — Ron Hall

Friday, November 10, 2006

The more you stir the xxx, the worse it stinks

I can't recall my dad, Cliff, ever saying a bad word about anybody — ever. He wasn't the most ambitious guy, that's for sure. He was content to go to work everyday and work on his little farm when he could. He passed in 1997 but he's still alive in my mind, and one of his favorite sayings came to mind as I read (for the umpteenth time) the saga of the Houston landscape couple that refused to do work for a gay man.

Yes, weeks after they informed the gay man they wouldn't do work for him because it was against their Christian principles, the story gets revived by some overly ambitious Associated Press reporter. And off it goes again, being printed and reprinted in newspapers across the country. And the phone calls and hate mail start pouring in again.

Folks, get over it. It's old news. Actually, it's hardly news at all. So, the gay guy was offended; that's regretable. But there must be thousands of landscape companies in Houston eager to take his money.

Isn't it about time we quit stirring this little pile of doggie doo? It's starting to stink real bad. — Ron Hall

Organics win by a hair — recount certain

A vote can't get much closer than the one in Brunswick, ME, mandating the use of organic practices on all city-owned properties. The initial tally after Tuesday's election had the measure failing by two votes, The count was later amended with the ordinance passing by five votes - 3,906 to 3,901.
Opponents of the measure say they will seek a recount.
The ordinance is modeled after one passed by Marblehead, MA, several years ago that prohibits synthetic pesticides and biosolids processed from treated sewer sludge from being used on city parks, sports fields and gardens.
Brunswick, pop. 14,800, is home to a naval air station and Bowdoin College and is located about 25 miles northeast of Portland, Maine's largest city. — Ron Hall

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sod for the lawnless

A big attaboy to Kurt Steinke, a professor of turfgrass ecology at Texas A&M University. When it came time to dispose of a large section of Bermudagrass sod he got an "ah-haa" moment — why not donate it to Habitat for Humanity to use at some of the homes that volunteers were helping to build in the Bryan-College Station region.

As a result, 11 homes in the newly developed Angel's Gate "Habitat" development have new lawns, saving homeowners there $800 to $1,000 per lawn.

A tip of our hat to William Gravanovic of Horizon Turf for helping out too.

Click on the headline if you want to read more in the Bryan-College Station newspaper. — Ron Hall

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Vicious kangeroo or cuddly wallaby, who's right?

OK, what's the real story here?

A landscaper in Davie, FL, says while he was working in a client's back yard a big, nasty kangeroo grabbed him in a bear hug, clawed him and gave him a bite for good measure.

The "pet owner" says, hogwash! That wasn't a kangeroo at all; it was a wallaby; it's half as big as the landscaper claims it is and it had never attacked anybody before.

Click on the headline to the link to South Florida's NBC6 and read about yet another landscaping hazard — bad-tempered marsupials. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A fire storm in the gay community

Death threats. Hundreds of emails. A flood of nasty calls. An email to a man seeking a quote for a landscape project has caused an enormous backlash against a Texas landscape company.

Todd and Sabrina Farber, owners of the Houston landscape company, The Garden Guy, Inc., touched off the avalanche of vituperation when Sabrina emailed a man seeking some landscaping and told him their company couldn't do work for him because it disapproves of the gay lifestyle.

Here, reportedly, is the email she sent following an inquiry from Michael Lord about a quote to do landscaping work. It read in part: "Dear Mr. Lord, I am appreciative of your time on the phone today and glad you contacted us. I need to tell you that we cannot meet with you because we choose not to work for homosexuals. Best of luck in finding someone else to fill your landscaping needs. All my best, Sabrina."

The email, forwarded and reforwarded, ignited a flood of angry responses from people, and especially the gay community, across the country.

The Farbers have had to unlist their phone number and turn off their office phone due to the number of calls they were receiving.

Even though the couple issued an apology, they're still getting bombarded with condemnation.

Here is their apology, posted this past Friday on the company website:

"We did not refuse service with malicious intent. We do not hate homosexuals and we are sorry that we hurt [ the gay couple ]. We meant to uphold our right as a small business owner to choose who our clients are. We are humbly sorry for the hurt that it has caused." — Ron Hall

Sunday, October 22, 2006

H2B for athletes too?

The poor, poor Mudbugs. They lost their first hockey game of the year because their 11 H2B players hadn't gotten their visas yet.

Did I read that right? Mudbugs? Hockey player?. H2B visas?

You bet, it says so right on the sports page of Oct. 21 issue of The Oklahoman newspaper.

It says that the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs were whipped by the Oklahoma team 5-3 because the Blazers managed to get visas for their five H2B players and the Mudbugs were without the services of their 11 H2B players.

As almost all of you know, the H2B is a federal program that allows U.S. business owners to employ seasonal immigrant labor when no domestic workers are available.

What? There's a shortage of hockey players in the United States?

Well, I guess now we know. — Ron Hall

Saturday, October 21, 2006

A better way to say "no"

KPRC Channel 2 on its website reported Friday that the Garden Guy, Inc., a Houston-area landscape company emailed a Mr. Lord and told him they couldn't do work for him because he is gay. The owners of the company have some really strong feelings on the subject.

In light of the resulting controversy you can bet they'd wished they'd turned down Mr. Lord's request, which is their right, without getting into the gay thing?

The email has stirred up a lot of controversy with some folks calling for a boycott of the business.

Click on the headline above to see how NOT to respond to a request for service. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Alas, poor Yorick!

Maybe it's because Halloween is coming. In the past week, a couple of different landscapers have found themselves in the news for grisly discoveries.

In Bethlaham, Pa., a landscaper dug up a skull while working in a garden area. According to the local Morning Call newspaper, "Police said an employee of Tall Timbers Nursery in South Whitehall Township was working in the garden on Monday when he found the skull. He thought the mud-caked item was the remains of an animal and set it aside. On Tuesday, a nursery employee took a closer look at the item and thought it was a human skull and called police, said Trex Satkowski, one of the owners of Tall Timbers Nursery.

''Never, in my 20 years of landscaping, had I ever seen a human skull,'' Satkowski said. ''It was pretty freaky.'''

In that case, police believe there was no foul play involved.

That wasn't the case in Montville, N.J. According to a story in The Record, "A landscaper discovered the decomposed body on Thursday morning while dumping leaves behind an industrial building off Chapin Road in the Pine Brook section of the township. The body was clothed and wrapped in plastic sheeting."

If this is going to keep happening, landscapers may start being cross-trained as crime scene investigators.
— Mike Seuffert

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Right number, wrong street

I'll bet this happens more often than anybody cares to admit — a lawn technician servicing the wrong property. It can be an expensive mistake, but in the following case the homeowner got a kick out of it.

Dolly Curtis, who lives in Easton, CT, got $538 worth of free lawn service this past week when a technician mistakenly aerated the lawn around her house.

"It looked like a bunch of moles had a fraternity party on my lawn," she told the Connecticut Post newspaper.

The lawn service was meant for a home with the same street number but on Flat Rock Drive, which is just around the block from Dolly's house on Flat Rock Road. Who is the wise guy who why gave two streets in the same neighborhood almost identical names? — Ron Hall

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Noodle Incident

Sometimes, things are funnier or more interesting when left to the imagination. Bill Watterson used this idea frequently in my all time favorite comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. Every once in a while, one of the characters, most likely Hobbes, would refer to "The Noodle Incident," involving Calvin. Watterson never explained what the incident was, but left it to the reader's mind to fill in the blank.

That came to mind this week when I read about a California landscaper who, as a protest against the local government, posted a giant sign on the walls of his greenhouse insulting a local councilwoman "in words not fit to print," according to the San Diego Union Tribune.

You can check the story out here. Now if you happen to live in the area, or know what the sign says, please don't tell me. I prefer to leave it to my imagination.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Outsourcing is for big fat sissies

Rave ***** (f5-stars)

Unless you live and love the Great Lakes region of the the United States like I do you can't appreciate what I learned this past week. I learned that the Ariens Company, rather than outsourcing to China for a lot of the hard goods it uses to build its lawn and garden products, including its commercial mowers, relies on local domestic suppliers. It can do this, in part, because it's becoming more and more efficient. The company credits its all-out war on waste — time, effort, materials, whatever. Lean is the word at Ariens.

For the past seven years, management of the privately-owned company, under the leadership of Dan Ariens, has been systematically scrutinizing every system and process within the company, squeezing out waste wherever it finds it. The company's waste search-and-eliminate mentality allows it to maintain mutally beneficial relationships with ldomestic suppler/partners —companies that can stamp on their products "Made in the U.S.A."

Certainly, quality control and Ariens' sense of loyalty to the tiny community of Brillion, WI, (The company's been a part of the community for almost a century and Dan Ariens went to high school there) figure into the relationship Ariens keeps with surrounding suppliers.

As I walk the streets of my pleasant city on Lake Erie in northern Ohio and see all empty downtown store windows, I think about the hundreds of jobs that have left our community (about the same size as Brillion, WI) in the past 20 years, and what it means to the local school, merchants, everybody, in fact . . . and I wish we had someone like Ariens with the business acumen and guts to go "lean" and keep our jobs. (A big thank you to JP Horizons) — Ron Hall

Monday, October 02, 2006

Back off moron, you're risking my life!

Rant *** (three stars)

I've gotten fond of living. Living is a good thing. You know flowers, sunshine, friends, family . . . all that stuff.

Getting squashed on the the grill of some big truck, like the white Ford 250 pulling a trailer of landscape gear that was riding the bumper of my puny Eagle Summit on I-90 tonight. — that's a bad thing.

Hey moron it wasn't enough that you were bump drafting me at 65 mph in the curb lane, but you were yakkin' on a cell phone to boot.

You know who you are. Cut it out!!! — Ron Hall

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

120 bans in place — but who's counting, huh?

Check off picturesque Comox, British Columbia, as the latest Canadian community to ban the use of synthetic pesticides for lawn care, the 120th community in Canada to do so. As usual, opponents of commercial lawn care pounded on the alleged risk associated with using special chemicals for purely aesthetic reasons. Comox is a seaside city of about 12,000 people on the east coast of Vancouver Island. Anti-lawn care forces are now aiming at other small communities in the beautiful Comox Valley. Look for the councillors in the nearby towns of Courtenay and Cumberland to feel the heat from the vocal anti-pesticide coalition — Chances are they will become numbers 121 and 122. — Ron Hall

Friday, September 22, 2006

Anti-Lawncare D Day approaches

November is the projected kickoff launch of "The Year of the Safe Lawn" aimed at alerting the American public to the potential environmental harmn caused by tradtional lawn care products. The campaign is being spearheaded by HGTV host Paul Tukey and is planning to address the issues of pesticides, water and fossil fuel use on turfgrass.

The effort is being undertaken by a coalitiion of for-profit businesses and non-profit organizations, which have begun raining money for a big promotional campaign during 2007. Although I couldn't find it on the web site (, a "Safe Lawns" Conference is reportedly being planned for March 2007. And you know what the group will be looking for — lots and lots of press. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Take your office on the road

In the landscaping business, you spend most of your day away from the office, either on the job or on the road. With that in mind, Ford is making it easier to do office duties right from your truck.

Check out this article from the Detroit Free Press on a new portable computer system that links into your F-Series trucks, allowing you to "place online orders, calculate and print bids and modify blueprints from the cab of their pickups."

It sounded pretty useful to me. Then again, Ford is also laying off about 1/3 of its workforce, so it is hard ot say anything nice about them at this moment. What do think?

— Mike Seuffert

Monday, September 18, 2006

Time to reduce the number of huge flying rats

Beautiful to see in the sky, unwanted destructive guests that don't know when to leave on our grounds.

Take heart fellow grounds pros; a new rule issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services this past August, and that subsequently has become law, takes aim at the exploding populations of “resident” Canada geese.

The law allows states to let:

- Senior communities plagued with resident geese destroy nests and eggs without federal permits,
- Private and public airports to take birds without federal permits for safety issues,
- County and local governments in coordination with state officials, take birds that are a public health threat to reservoirs, athletic fields, parks and public beaches,
- States eases existing hunting restrictins in the Atlantic Flyway region (includes entire area edast of Mississippi River), including allowing a summer season in August.
The plan is to reduce the existing population estimated at 1.3 million birds to 650,000.
“This day has been a long time in coming,” said U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton (R-NJ), vice chairman of the Fisheries Conservation and Wildlife Subcommittee.

We say Amen to that. — LM Staff

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Did you start out like this?

A big rave for this young man.

Josh Boersma really knows how to "run" a business. When the 18-year-old seniort at Ankeny High School near Des Moines, IA, leaves school at noon he puts on his business owner hat (Boersma Lawn Care) and spends several hours mowing or fertilizing several of his 13 accounts.

Then it's off to cross country practice, which typically lasts until the sun sets.

Josh figures he works 18-25 hours weekly at his lawn care business. He says he's undecided about making lawn care a career, not just yet anyway. More likely, he'll study business or accounting at a university, he says.

By the way, Josh is the best cross country runner at this school and working hard to compete at the state meet.

Click on the headline for a nice article about Josh in the Des Moines Register newspaper. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Reflections on 9/11

I think we will always remember where we were on Sept. 11, 2001. On this five-year anniversary of the attacks, let's take a few moments to remember all the heroes — from the NYPD and FD, to the passengers aboard United 93 — who gave their lives that day.

Here's a column I wrote for Landscape Management on how I remember that fateful day. — Mike Seuffert

Friday, September 08, 2006

Chainsaw murderer spooks landscapers?

People referred to him as "Crazy Chris," and if what he's accused of doing is true, crazy falls just a click or two short of describing this whacko.

Christian C. Nielsen, 31, (aka Crazy Chris), a cook at an inn near Newry, ME, is accused of killing and dismembering, with a chain saw, three people and killing and burning another at the Black Bear Bed & Breakfast. The killings are believed to have taken place over several days.

Two young landscapers — Ryan Wheeler, 22, and his half brother Ian, 18— are believed to be the last people to have seen some of the victims alive and also to have an encounter with Crazy Chris before his arrest. Dead are the 64-year-old innkeeper, her daughter, 35, and two guests, a female, 43, and a male, 50. It was Maine's worst homicide in 14 years, said police

 “I was weed-whacking right next to the house and he (Crazy Chris) was coming in and out and walking all around. All of the sudden, I happened to look up and he jumped me right there,” Ryan Wheeler was quoted in the Boston Herald newspaper. “He was less than three feet from me. I jumped and I was like, ‘Whoa. You jumped me.’ And he said, ‘What? When I was looking at you from the window?’

For all the grizzly details, click on the headline and follow up with these links:

Monday, September 04, 2006

Elvis has left the house, but ServiceMaster is moving in

ServiceMaster, parent company of TruGreen ChemLawn, TruGreen Landscare and Terminix, is moving the 120 managers and executives remaining in its longtime headquarters in Downers Grove, IL, (a Chicago suburb) to Memphis.

And why not? It's principle operating divisions, including about 2,000 employees, are already based there. Did we mention ServiceMaster's new chairman and CEO, J. Patrick Spainhour, recently purchased a home in the Memphis area? It's expected to make the announcement of the move in October. — Ron Hall

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Knotty knotweed dilemma

Council members on Bainbridge Island, WA, said that chemical pest controls were verbotin on public properties . . .That was until a week or so ago.

Because the island was being swallowed by knotweed, they softened their stance somewhat and approved the use of the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup). Knotweed is a nasty non-native invasive weed that is so aggressive that it's even crowding out other nasty non-native invasive weeds on the island, which is located in the Puget Sound near Seattle.

The lawmakers directed that the herbicide be injected into the stems of individual knotweed plants, and are seeking volunteers to help with the project.“It'll take a lot of work,” commented one city official. I guess you could call that an understatement considering that knotweed (several varieties) is growing just about everywhere on the island. The weed is in the buckwheat family and looks an awful lot like bamboo. - Ron Hall

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

What the hell is RSS?

When readers visit LM's Web page they can submit a question via e-mail and those questions are routed to me. The other day I got a good one: "I see a line on your page that tells me to click on it for an RSS link. What the hell is RSS?"

RSS, a digital-universe term for Really Simple Syndication, is a cool, painless way for you to get news headlines from just about any news source your heart desires (we hope of course that your heart really desires Landscape Management). It's a direct pipeline -- We post news on the Web site and those headlines get automatically refreshed on your Google or Yahoo Web page. They don't come to your e-mail inbox, you don't need to enter a password. It's all there. Seamless.

Here's how it works: Editors at LM update articles on our Web page every day. Most of the time here, it's our trusty Associate Editor and Web Guru Mike Seuffert who toils online.

You set up an RSS link once that links our articles to your personal Web page on Google or Yahoo (more on this in a second). Then, every time you jump on the Internet and this page opens, the latest, greatest LM headlines are right there. You didn't have to open an e-mail, you didn't have to lift a finger or even hit "refresh." Genius.

To get started: Go to Yahoo or Google and follow links from their home pages to create a personalized page. Block out about 20 minutes to get this done. When you're finished, set this new My Yahoo! or personalized Google page as your home page. That way it'll be right there every time you log on.

The browser will direct you through the process of creating your page. You'll get to pick from some basic news sources that all work on the RSS feed method, like CNN, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, Reuters Business, you name it. When you're done you will have a personal Web page that automatically gives you the latest headlines from whatever news sources you picked (you can fit as many as you want on there), plus any other custom element you might like, such as a weather report, blogs or daily comics.

Then come on back to and click that RSS link. It'll walk you through adding our headlines to your new, personalized Web page. Do this for any other news source you want that supports the RSS technology. The result: All the news headlines on the topics you want from the sources you like are in one place.
— Stephanie Ricca

Monday, August 28, 2006

ServiceMaster hdqtrs relocating to Memphis?

Could ServiceMaster (NYSE-SVM) be moving its headquarters from its longtime location in Downers Grove, IL, to this vibrant mid-South city? That's more than a possibility, reports the Memphis Commercial Appea, quoting a city councilman there.

ServiceMaster is the parent company of TruGreen ChemLawn, TruGreen Landcare, Terminix, American Home Shield among others. It employs 170 in its Chicago-area headquarters, while its Memphis location already numbers more than 2,000 employs.

ServiceMaster is staying mum on the matter.

Click the headline to be directed to reporter Amos Makiís article in the Commercial Appeal. — Ron Hall

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Hazardous-duty pay warranted

The biggest hazard to a landscape worker on the job?

1. Big machinery with whirring blades?
2. Relentless exposure to the sun and heat?
3. Robbers, lunatics and morons?

If you answered #3 you're right.

This past week alone landscape worker Tereso Vasquex Gonzalez was shot in the back and killed as he tried to walk away from a robbery attempt near Charleston, SC, Juan Patino was mowing a property in Richardson, TX, when somebody stopped their SUV and fired a shot that struck him in the arm and then sped off, and (this guy definitely needs some serious anger management or jail time, preferably the later) a 26-year-old man attacked Eric Torres, 23, with a baseball bat because he didn't like the way Torres was cutting the grass on a Jacksonville, FL, property. He hit the landscaper several times in the back, the head and the arm with the bat before another landscape worker, hammer in hand, intervened. — Ron Hall

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Would you turn these morons in?

A good friend, the owner of a nice lawn care company in Texas, called me the other day with a lot of bad news. In addition to telling me about a mutual friend being diagnosed with a serious ailment, he said one of his techs was treating a lawn and looked over to an adjacent property and saw a black lab that had apparently died of the heat and lack of water. The unfortunate animal had wrapped it's chain around a pole where it expired.

In a separate incident recently a Philadelphia landscaper made a surprising discovery, a row of flower pots on Germantown Avenue, each containing a nice healthy marijuana plant.

In both instances authorities were notified? Would you have reacted similarly? — Ron Hall

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The real champion please speak up

The 2-year extension of the H2B seasonal immigrant guest worker program expires Sept. 30. And everybody - I mean everybody - is strangely quiet about getting a new extension signed into law.

Ok, so I'll give it a shot. I'm saying 50-50 that a new 2- or 3-year extension of the so-called Save Our Small and Seasonal Business Act will be passed. If so, it will almost certainly ride on the back of an appropriations bill. . .

The Act widens the pool of seasonal immigrant workers for U.S. employers by allowing workers who have received H2B visas any of the previous three years to get them again, which is a good thing for the landscape industry, which employs lots of cheap labor.

This past spring it seemed that anybody with a connection to the Act that Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D - MD) brought before Congress was chirping like crazy, either seeking industry support for the measure or, more accurately, positioning themselves (or their organization) as the Act's true champions.

Three groups are working for passage of the Act, but how cooperatively is anybody's guess in light of the ongoing silence - the Washington D.C.-area-based Don Mooers/Hank Lavery faction, the Federation of Employers and Workers of America (a non-profit that has as its president one of the biggest and most assuredly for-profit H2B labor processors in the business) and the Professional Landcare Network.

Assuming the Act finally passes, who will send out the news release claiming to be the industry's champion in assuring a continuing stream of guest workers? — Ron Hall

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Lawn care's founder a woman?

Elizabeth Senske, 87, died last week. Who's Elizabeth Senske you ask? She, along with Bill her husband of 65 years, founded what may have been the first professional lawn spray company in the United States. In 1947, shortly afer moving to Spokane, WA, the couple began Senske Lawn & Tree Company.

In the 1950s she and Bill took the state pesticide licensing test and she became the first woman in the state to become a licensed applicator although, as it turned out, she never had the pleasure of treating a property. Bill handled those chores while she handled the shop — keeping the books, answering customers questions and staying in touch with Washington State University on technical matters and updates.

Several decades ago the couple sold the business to Chris, one of their five children. Chris Senske was an active board member of Professional Lawn Care Association of America (PLCAA) in the 1990s.

Hopefully the link for the informative article about Elizabeth Senske that appeared in the Spokane Review newspaper is still alive. Click on the headline for the article. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

It's time to cut the crap

Dog poop. I hate dog poop. I hate walking a dog - in this case my son's 14-year-old beagle, Sparky - and having to pick up its poop. My son Jason, who wouldn't part with Sparky for a new GMC pickup, is living in an apartrment while he works in our area this sxummer. The landlord doesn't allow pets in his apartment, so we agreed to board the dog until Jason and Sparky return to their Florida home in October.
Hurray up October!
It's not that the wife, Vicky, and I don't like Sparky, we do. He's a good dog, although outrageously lazy, sometimes grumpy and, given the opportunity, will do those gross things that dogs do. But we dread the walks with Sparky who, instead of doing his business, in an alley or at a vacant lot, can always be counted on to squat on a pristine lawn, either on a busy street corner or, worse yet, while the homeowners are dining or relaxing on their front porch.
Then it's time to whip out the BP, the term the wife now uses, thinking it sounds a lot nicer than poopy bag.
After much experimentation with different pickup techniques, I realized that simple is best when performing this task. So I use Kroger shopping bags for PBs, the plastic variety of course. They're small enough to stick in your pocket when you leave the house, and you can easily tie a knot in them once you've picked up the prize.
Well, not only do I hate picking the stuff up, I hate it when other people don't, which leads me the American Pet Products Association's claim that 40% of all dog owners do not pick up after them. And since there are 74 million dogs in the United States, that's a lot of crap, which is kind of scary. For example, the City of Austin Watershed Protection and Development Review says that about 1,327 lbs. of dog waste end up in its Town Lake watershed area every day.
OK, so where am I going with all of this?
Now, you can fight back and have some fun too. Check out the Web site by clicking on the headline of this article and you'll see something that might make a great giveaway to those special customers whose properties get bombarded (you know what I mean) from time to time.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Turn down the flame . . . please

It's official. The average temperature for the continental United States from January through June 2006 was the warmest first half of any year since records betan in 1895, say scientists at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, NC. June was the second warmest on record.

The average Jun.-June temperature for the contilguuous United States was 51.8 F. or 3.4 F above the 20th century average. Five states (Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Missoouri) experienced record warmth for the period. No state was near, or cooler, than average.

NOAA also reports that in June, 45% of the contiguuous U.S. was in moderate-to-extreme drought.

For the record — today in Cleveland, OH, (where I am writing this) the temperature is expected to top 95 F., tomorrow 97 F. I can hardly wait to climb into my car this afternoon after it's been sitting on a bubbling blacktop driveway all day. — Ron Hall

Friday, July 28, 2006

The most dangerous thing of all

More than 40,000 people in the U.S. die annually as the result of automobile accidents, yet many us accept bad and aggressive driving like it's a God-given right to endanger not only ourselves but anybody unlikely enough to get in our way.

Traveling our highways is dangerous business for sure, but who would think that you could get run over while operating a riding mower?

Leonardo Torres, 37, a crew leader for EnviroScapes in Nashville, TN, was struck and killed while mowing the grounds at an apartment complex recently. The operator of the car, a 53-year-old female, suffered minor injuries and is suspected of driving while on medication, according to news reports.

Torres worked for the Nashville company for five years. He leaves behind a wife and four children. — Ron Hall

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Hazards of landscaping — grenades, lightning

Along with the usual hazards of the job (heat, working with whirring blades and big equipment, low-hanging branches) comes the hazard of digging up a live gernade with the pin pulled. A 23-year-old landscaper, digging outside a building housing an architecture firm in Elm Grove, WI, turned up the gernade, which was buried under about three inches of dirt.

A munitions expert says the gernade was one made after the Vietnam War. A bomb squad took the gernade to a safe place and detonated it, according to reports.

And while we're on the subject of hazards, the Times Ledger newspaper in Queens, NY, reports that a 36-year-old landscaper was struck by lightning in Glen Oaks, NY, July 20 as he was getting off of his mower. Å witness said he was thrown three or four feet from the mower. The landscaper, badly injured and missing several fingers in the mishap, was rushed to a local hospital, the newspaper reports. — Ron Hall

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Time to clone Fogarty?

This year's Renewal and Remembrance service project was huge, almost 300 volunteers working in Arlington National and Congressional Cemeteries in Washington D.C. Workers flooded in from just about every Green Industry service sector — landscapers, lawn care folks, irrigation pros, arborists., and lots of their family members, too. Every year more wives and sons and daughters show up to help out.

This was the 10th year for the event, sponsored by the Professional Landcare Network. The first year there were barely enough volunteers to make a softball team, but Phil Fogarty, the energetic lawn care company owner from Cleveland, OH, has never slowed down in his commitment to the one day event. I believe he's served as chairman/organizer of the event from the beginning.

This year the volunteers caught a break. The temperatures "only" climbed to the high 80s although there was plenty of humidity for everyone.

Apart from the usual equipment breakdowns (nothing major) and misplaced pallets of material, the work went smoothly.

Every year the volunteers take on more and more work at the cemeteries. This year, in addition to their usual tasks of liming and fertilizing the turfgrass, crews also braced and cabled some of the larger trees in the cemeteries and others planted what appeared to be 40 or 50 new trees donated by various suppliers and nurseries.

If the event gets any bigger, PLANET will have to clone Fogarty. It's going to take at least two of him to manage the big production.

One last comment, the presentation by ANLA's Bob Dolibois to get the workers in the right frame of mind before embarking on the day was pretty darn special. If I can get a copy from him I will post it here.  — Ron Hall

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

They want their MTV . . .erhh, make that pesticides

Now that Canada's Quebec Province has all but made the possession and use of lawn chemicals a capital offense (ok, so I'm exaggerating a bit), homeowners there have been heading to nearby Ontario Province to stock up on bug and weed killers. Government officials say there's no way to combat this heinous activity, and they're worried that stockpiles of what Quebec as has branded as lawn WMDs will fall into the hands of the wrong people — people that like attractive lawns and gardens. Now this is news —law-breaking lawn lovers are making desperate shopping forays into Ontario lawn & garden stores. — Ron Hall

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Seed prices going up

If buy perennial ryegrass or turf-type tall fescue seed, expect to pay more this year, as much as 20% more for perennial rye and the price of tall fescue is expected to be about 15% higher. Demand for seed was high this past spring and this year's crops are average, reports TMI Times, the weekly newsletter coming from Turf Merchants in the heart if Oregon's seed production region in the Willamette Valley. — Ron Hall

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Time to shrink your routes?

Bombs. Rockets. Air strikes. There's nothing more predictable than people killing each other in the Middle East. With the price of a barrel of crude oil topping $78 in reaction to the escalating violence, who isn't expecting the price of gasoline and diesel to break the $3-per-gallon barrier.

If you would have asked me a couple of years ago how Joe Citizen would react to $3 a gallon gasoline, I would have bet the farm they would have kicked up quite a huge fuss. . .then cut back on driving.


And wrong.

Even so, higher fuel costs are squeezing everybody, and the smart folks with lawn care and landscape maintenance businesses are weeding out unprofitable clients, including those that require too much drive time to service.

Brian Leu, who runs Perfection Lawn Management, near Wichita, KS, says it costs him $115 every two days to fuel his truck and mower. He has 30 clients but says he's shrinking his routes to stay profitable.

Read more about Brian by clicking on the headline above. -- Ron Hall

Friday, July 14, 2006

The LM 100 — Tell us what you really think

We get so many phone calls and e-mails about our annual LM 100 list. Some are good, some are bad and some are downright ugly. Seems there are some sharp opinions out there about the benchmarks that make a company a "good" company. We're not taking sides. Trust us, we know first hand that revenue is not the only indicator of a good company, and that plenty of giant companies aren't great, while plenty of smaller companies could use a boost.

But our list is popular. We get more positive comments than negative ones, which is a good message to us that the list needs to be here. But smaller companies, keep an eye on LM's pages: We've got lots of special articles planned just for you.

In the meantime, check out this year's list at and let us know your side of the matter by posting a comment here on our blog.
--Stephanie Ricca

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Landscaper says "yabba dabba do"

Carey Dix, owner of Dix Landscaping, Jupiter, FL, was reunited with his 10-foot statue of Yogi Bear this past week. It seems that someone "borrowed" Yogi for a beer party on a nearby sandbar over the July 4th holiday weekend. Yogi, who had standing outside Dix's business with a "Welcome to Jupiter" sign in one hand and an American flag in the other, mysteriously turned up at a local marina a week after he disappeared.

The returning Yogi sported a couple of new holes and contained six empty beer bottles., reported a local newspaper. — Ron Hall

Friday, July 07, 2006

Some good press for David J. Frank

David J. Frank jumped into the Green Industry as a 10-year-old with a gardening service on the east side of Milwaukee. In 1973 he moved his operation a short drive west to Germantown where property was less expensive. Good move David Frank. Thirty three years later he's running a $25 million landscape company and developing a 140-acre parcel of land in Washington County, WI. A plant nursery takes up 110 acres, and he's also putting up a new 12,000 sq. ft. storage facility and a 2,000 sq. ft. carpentry shop.

Frank says he's been successful because of the great people that stayed with his operation.

Greater Milwaukee Today picked up a nice article about Frank that appeared in the West Bend Daily newspaper on July 6. Click on the headline to read the article or you cut and paste the following Web site for the same article. Whichever is easier for you. — Ron Hall

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Post 4th exciting news

The fireworks are over, the barbeque grill is getting a much needed rest and the recycle container is filled with beer bottles (empty of course).

Here's some news that will keep the July 4th weekend excitement going.

(OK, maybe that's a bit over the top. But maybe you can use this next bit of information to win a bar bet, assuming the guy on the stool next to yours doesn't punch you in the eye for being a wise guy or something.)

Did you know that Minnesota is the fourth leading producer of turfgrass seed. The State has its own "grass belt" that extends across two counties — Lake of the Woods and Roseau. Minnesota's 22,000 acres produced 5.4 million lbs. of Kentucky bluegrass seed in 2002. In recent years farmers have increased production of perennial ryegrass seed, as well.

Only the states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho produce for seed, reported the Duluth Superior News.

See what you miss when you ignore this blog. — Ron Hall

Monday, July 03, 2006

Hey, what's up with Mikulski's amendment?

Please, somebody speak up and let us know what's going on with the 3-year extension to the Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act.

U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) introduced the extension to Congress this past February and everybody got excited. In fact, many of us drafted letters and sent emails to Washington D.C., as the Senate yammered about immigration reform through most of April.

The extension, as far as we can determine, remains a part of the Senate's version of the immigration reform bill, which is about as likely as get through the House and approved as I am of winning the Mega Millions lottery.

Mikulski, indeed the entire group that was pushing for the extension that would allow returning H-2B workers not to be counted against the annual cap of 66,000 visas, is too quiet on the issue. I guess they're figuring everybody in the landscape business is too busy right now to notice.

Hey folks, if something doesn't happen with Mikulski's extension (the act she sponsored several years ago to expand the number of H-2 workers expires Sept. 30), a lot of landscape company owners are going to be SOL come next spring.

Somebody speak up and tell us everything is cool with the extension and that you've got a plan and that something is going to happen with it before Sept. 30. Why so mum? — Ron Hall

Thursday, June 22, 2006

GIE-OPEI Trade Show merger a done deal

This year's Green Industry Expo, the landscape trade show founded in 1990, will be the last GIE. At least as we've come to know it over the past 16 years. The GIE started as a collaborative effort among three, and then two associations - the Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS), the Professional Lawn Care Network (PLCAA) and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA). PLCAA and ALCA merged in 2005 to form the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET).

The legacy associations built their educational programs around the trade show.

This year's GIE will be held in Columbus, OH, the first week of November. The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute's EXPO, an annual event in Louisville, KY, takes place a month earlier.

We reported in October '05 that folks from PGMS and PLANET were strolling the show floor and outdoor exhibits at the OPEI Expo 2005, mostly an equipment trade show. It was the first time most of them had ever set foot at the Expo. They were scoping out an impending marriage.

While the GIE has always been touted as "the national" trade show for the Green Industry, it rarely strayed west of St. Louis. Other factors that made the decision easier to make were the expanded and renovated facilities at the Louisville Convention Center and the huge outdoor demo area at the Center. Two years ago the OPEI moved the date of its Expo from the blistering heat and humidity of July to October, just a couple of weeks earlier than the GIE.

The EXPO has, for all of its 24-year history, been a dealer show and an iron show.

It will be interesting to see how the major suppliers of chemical products -fertilizers, pest controls, etc. - embrace the merged trade show in L'ville. - Ron Hall

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Talk about a hot foot

Some of the methods that Mark Hecker used to kill weeds at the pesticide-free park in Lawrence, KS, have included a machine known as a Flamer that burns weeds in the cracks of sidewalks and a horticultural vinegar. The Flamer discolored the concrete, which stayed hot for another 15 or so minutes. The vinegar killed the tops of the weeds, but they returned in a couple of weeks, he said.

Hecker, the parks and recreation superintendent there, says you don't need pesticides to maintain a nice, green city park — not if you can muster a lot of old-fashioned elbow grease. Hecker's department has been maintaining one of the city's nicer parks without pesticides thanks to a lot of hand-weeding by employees and park volunteers.

It's not likely the program will expand much unless a lot more volunteers step forward, though.

"With just doing the one park, it hasn't been that difficult to juggle our staff around and get done what we need to do," he was quoted in the local newspaper. "But it would be a much bigger concern if you did it systemwide."

In this case that would mean 52 city parks, requiring perhaps hiring four additional crews of three people each. The crews would also need trucks and equipment. And, of course, there's the matter of weed control in 200 landscaped flower beds located in parks throughout the city.

At least from this corner it would seem that the parks budget AND the environment come out losers if the city implimented a pesticide-free approach in all of its parks. In other words — more workers, more trucks, more energy used, more vehicle emissions, etc.

Click on the headline or visit for the article in the Lawrence Journal-World at — Ron Hall

Friday, June 16, 2006

Big Box mishandles pesticides; pays big fine

The Home Depot will pay a $425,000 fine and is changing the way it handles pesticides and fertilizers after being cited by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, reported the Hartford Courant newspaper. The penalty includes a civil penalty of $99,000 and $326,000 that will go to a fund to educate other retailers in Connecticut about the proper handling and storage of hazardous materials.

The home retailing giant says it's changing the way it handles pesticides and fertilizers. To find out more, click on the headline of this article or visit the Courant's Web site at,0,118447.story?coll=hc-headlines-business. — Ron Hall

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A really nice gesture

The Airforce Times magazine carried a recent article about Project Evergreen's "GreenCare for Troops — Serving You While You Serve Us" program, which began May 22. In the program, lawn care companies provide free services to families of service members who deploy to the Middle East.

Katherine Brandenburg of Swanson Russell in Lincoln, NB, has been doing a great job of getting the word out. Nice going Katherine.

More than 1,000 lawn care companies signed up within the first month. (That number reflects branch locations of national companies, too.) So far about 100 families are taking advantage of the offer. You can bet the number will grow as word gets out. The magazine provided a link to the Project Evergreen Web site — www.projectevergreen — where companies and families can sign up. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

O.J. and seed field days

Can it be 12 years and a day since the bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were found in the courtyard of Nicole's condo in Brentwood. The murders initiated one of the most bizarre chapters in U.S. legal history, the O.J. Simpson trial.

It doesn't seem that long ago (6/17/94 to be exact) that colleague Bob Mierow and I were driving down I-5 in Oregon on our way to turfgrass field trials when the radio in Bob's old Volvo crackled with a second-by-second account of O.J., in a Ford Bronco driven by friend A.C. Cowlings, being tailed by dozens of police. The chase that unfolded in slow motion and ended in O.J.'s arrest, even to this day seems almost surreal.

I recall that afternoon, and watching the entire episode rebroadcast on network television later that evening, whenever the turfseed companies in the Pacific Northwest invite us for a June visit.

If you're interested in refreshing your memory of that strange O.J. experience, visit or click on the headline above. — Ron Hall

Friday, June 09, 2006

Wow, this is brazen

Even with security at maximum level because of a visit by President Bush earlier this week, someone drove off with landscaper Lee Helmberger's pickup and trailer, which contained three mowers and other maintenance equipment. And they did it in broad daylight, reports the the Omaha, NB, NBC affiliate, Channel 6.

Helmberger told Channel 6 that he parked the truck and trailer at the Lewis & Clark Landing at the riverfront and when he returned they were gone. He says they were taken between 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. at a time when the area that was being patrolled by Secret Service and police preparing for George W.'s arrival. — Ron Hall

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Florida city 'certifying' lawn service companies

Environmental stewardship is becoming a huge issue in the landscape industry. It will grow. All of us are going to have to realize this. Yes, I know that what we do enhances the urban environments that receive our services. But we live within a bigger world than just the lawns we treat or the properties we mow. That's the one we must protect (and be recognized for protecting) while we provide our services.

With that said . . . the Florida Gulf Coast city of Naples passed a law Wednesday, June 7. The council there agreed that all professional landscape companies providing services within city limits there to have at least one supervisor and at least 10 percent of their workers certified by the city by Sept. 30, 2007. The measure also requires companies that work as contractors for the city certify at least 10 percent of their workers within six months of entering into a contract with Naples, and certify at least 50 percent of their workers within a year of that date, reports the Naples Daily News newspaper.

Six hours of study on a range of subjects, including the effect of chemicals in the environment, proper plant selection, etc. will be required to earn a city certification, which can be renewed annually by taking more courses, says the newspaper.

The purpose of the law is to reduce the amount of pesticides and fertilizers that end up in ditches and canals that flow into Naples Bay and into the Gulf of Mexico.

This program sounds reasonable even with the modest administrative fee attached to it.

To see the Naples Daily News article visit — Ron Hall

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

It's been dry in merry old England

One government agency in England recently said that, per head, there is more water in some parts of Sudan than there is in London. Parts of England are suffering through their driest 18 months in a 70-year spell. Water restrictions have popped up all over the country, with many gardeners forbidden from turning on their garden hoses, a huge inconvenience for flower-loving Brits.

Not all the news resulting from the drought bad, however. Sales of drought-tolerant plants and rain catchment systems are brisk. And well drillers are as busy as they want to be.

The last time it was this dry for this long in England was 1932-1934, but the island nation didn't get much rain in 1976 either, reported The Christian Science Monitor in a recent article. — Ron Hall

Monday, June 05, 2006

Just how many would show up?

Some big numbers are being thrown around about how many legal immigrants might be coming to the United States and becoming red-blooded Americans (just like the rest of us) if the Senate's immigration bill (S. 2611) becomes law.

Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, says that if the bill became law we could expect 50 to 60 million new legal immigrants to the United States over the next 20 years. He says if the bill hadn't been amended in its final hours of debate as many as 103 million could have been allowed.

There are too many "ifs" in this equation to start counting now though.

Chances that the House, which has a bill of its own, will adopt the "guest worker" provisions in the Senate bill are less than slim. But something's going to happen in regards to immigration reform someday; you can bet on that. But it will be after the midterm elections. This Congress isn't going to do a darn thing that might rile constituents until after the dust of the election clears.

Meanwhile, members of the Utah National Guard, on George W.'s orders, headed to the U.S. Mexican border to start building fences, installing lights and whatever else is necessary to keep illegals from heading into the desert on their way to U.S. jobs and earning Yankee dollars. Today, the temperature is expected to be between 105 and 110 degrees F. in the southern Arizona desert. — Ron Hall

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Vicious baby groundhog attacks landscaper

An English springer spaniel named Wanda saved a female landscaper from a painful ordeal the last week of May. According to a report in the Weston Forum (CT) newspaper, the landscaper (unnamed in the article) was working in the backyard of a client's property when she felt scratching on the back of one of her pant legs. Looking down she saw an immature groundhog clinging to and trying to nibble on her leg. The landscaper screamed and Wanda, napping nearby, sprang up, leaped on the woodchuck and shook it to death.

Tests confirmed the groundhog had rabbies. The landscaper got a rabies booster shot and Wanda was confined to the family home for 45 days to make sure she hadn't contracted the disease in her defense of the landscaper.

Read all the gory details at, — Ron Hall

Friday, May 26, 2006

Got a job you wouldn't do?

In a refreshingly lighthearted look at the current comprehensive immigration reform debate, Santa Monica Mirror writer Steve Stajich writes a column this week on "Jobs This American Won't Do." It's funny, not political, and it'll make you mentally create your own list of "thanks, but no thanks" jobs. Mashed potato scooper? Thanks, but uh ... no.

Check it out here, from the Santa Monica Mirror, May 25-31, 2006, edition.

--Stephanie Ricca, managing editor

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Tragedy shows even long-timers need safety reminders

Two recent incidents involving landscape workers underscore the continuing need for safety reminders. This is true even among veteran landscapers.

Jesus Samaguey, 55, died when the mower he was operating in Dublin, CA, started sliding on wet grass on a steep incline and turned over on him just before noon May 17. The incident is under investigation by California Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

In Riverdale, NJ, Joseph Schwarz, miraculously survived after being jolted and receiving burns to his head, hands and stomach after coming in contact with a power line. Schwartz, an experienced arborist, was in an elevated bucket trimming branches when the top of his head struck the power line. Witnesses said they saw three flashes of electricity pass through his body before Schwarz slumped over unconscious in the bucket, according reports in the local press. — Ron Hall

Friday, May 19, 2006

We're not there yet but . . .

We have the means to reduce illegal immigration using technology. Already some folks are talking about bio-metric identification cards. There are even more sophisticated ways to track things, including people.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is here. Most of us don't know much about it. As we learn more about it we will be astonished and, perhaps, frightened by the many ways it will be used.

RFID tags consist of a flat antenna and an embedded chip that can be as small as a grain of sand. The tags work in conjunction with a reader that emits radio waves as it searches for tags. Once the tag is within reading distance (it varies but can be as far away as 40 feet or more), it picks up the unique information on the tag.

The technology is, in a sense, this generation’s version of a bar code, but more sophisticated and intrusive. And with the ability to deliver a lot more unique information.

To date, RFID is tracking pallets of goods as they’re shipped around the world, and even individual items within retail stores. But the technology is not confined to hard goods. Club goers in some European cities are embracing subcutaneous chips, which allow them to party to their hearts’ content without the need of carrying a wallet or purse. Apparently their identification, which is matched to the club record of their credit card informaiton, can be pulled from the chip. Pets are getting the chip too. If Fido wanders off, all a dog warden has to do is pass a reader over him to find out where he belongs.

Is implanting humans with RFID— guest workers, tourists, felons, sex offenders, whatever — a good idea? The idea scares me to death. But the technology to track people is here . . . and you can bet somebody somewhere is considering implementing it in some form. — Ron Hall

Why all the crime?

You've heard me mention Google alerts before: The system at where you can set up news alerts on specific topics to be delivered to your e-mail inbox every day. One of my key words is "landscaper" and in the last few weeks, every Google alert for that topic has returned a list of headlines from news sources all over the country large and small linking landscapers with one crime after another: petty theft, welching out of contracts, you name it.

"News" often means "bad news," and we hear a lot about why mainstream TV news shows don't play enough of the good news. Is this a similar situation? I can count on one hand the number of "good" landscaper stories that have come across my Google alert wire in the past few weeks. Makes me think that it wouldn't hurt to spend a little time spreading the good news about your own company in your local papers.
--Stephanie Ricca

Monday, May 15, 2006

Goofy journalism — you be the judge

This morning's Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper carried a front page article with these "facts" (among others) regarding lawn care.

7 million — approximate number of birds that die each year as a result of lawn-care pesticides

17 million — gallons of gasoline spilled by Americans every summer in the process of refueling their lawn mowers, leaf blowers and other gardening equipment, "or about 50 percent more oil than marred the Alaskan coast during the notorious Exxon Valdez disaster."

Who actually goes out and counts dead birds and then figures out what kills them? As for the number of gallons of gasoline being spilled, who's wasting gasoline at today's prices? This newspaper article reads like something you would see on a tabloid as you're waiting to pay for your bread and milk at the grocery checkout.

The reporter Michael K. McIntyre culled the "facts" came from a recent book by a Ted Steinberg, an environmental historian at Case Western Reserve University here in Cleveland. Steinberg's been getting a lot of positive press with his book that bashes America's so-called "obsession" with lawns.

Don't know what it is about a pretty green lawn that sets some people off. Criticizing and condemning lawns and lawn care seems to have become an obsession with them. — Ron Hall

Saturday, May 13, 2006

TruGreen invades the UK

TruGreen is now in UK in a big way with 60 lawn care franchises and many more on the way. There are an estimated 20 million gardens in the UK, but lawns there are much smaller than lawns in the United States. The TG franchise owners use small vans to deliver their lawn care services. The model for the franchise owners is to move from owner/operator to four or five service delivery techs and vans. TruGreen, a division of ServiceMaster, began selling lawn care franchises in the UK in 2003, and is making eager lawn pros from many different backgrounds. They pay about 25,000 pounds (which is about $50,000 or $55,000 U.S. dollars I think) to get their franchise and training.

Another big lawn care franchise operation in the UK is a company called Green Thumb. I'll fill you in about them as I find out more. — Ron Hall

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Stupid mower tricks

About 80,000 people suffer lawn mower-related injuries annually in the United States. The most common types are objects being flung out by the blades and stiking somebody, serious cuts, sliced off toes, etc.

A buddy of mine, back about 15 years ago, while maintaining an apartment complex, backed a riding mower over his two-year-old son. I read a nice article about the kid a few years ago when he was a high schooler, how he had discarded his prosthetic leg and become a pretty good interscholastic swimmer. No kidding. Bet he would have been a lot better swimmer had his dad been more careful.

I can't tell you how often I see dads mowing their lawns with a tiny junior or sis on their laps. Makes me shiver to think about what could happen. Also reminds me when I allowed my three-year-old son to climb aboard the new pony my dad, his grandfather, had just gotten him. Whammo, off it went, right into a busy street with my son clinging to its back.

What was I thinking?

That's the point — I wasn't thinking. This brings me to a recent article in the local newspaper about another braniac on a mower. It seems a guy in small Vermilion, OH, after having a few too many beers, hopped aboard his landlord's riding mower and headed to the drugstore about a mile away. When the police nabbed him and charged him with OVI, operating a vehicle under the influence, he responded: "If I knew that was the law, I would have walked."

Judges in Ohio interpret the word "vehicle" to mean just about anything with wheels on it, including roller blades and skateboards.

But even if you didn't have a beer buzz on, isn't a riding mower a strange way to get to a drug store? The pros know that a mower is a money-making tool and not a toy or a vehicle, but even they sometimes get careless. When they do, sometimes they pay dearly. — Ron Hall

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

We didn't make this up

The folks in London, Ontario, Canada, have been in a furious debate concening the use of lawn care chemicals. Some people want to ban their use and many people do not. Caught in the middle is the city council. This same scenario has played ou all over Canada these past few years and just when you thought you had heard about every reason there could be for banning lawn care chemicals somebody comes up with another.

Louis Guillette, a zoologist and an associate dean at the University of Florida, said that he wouldn't use pesticides on his lawn because studies have shown that animals, including humans, suffer unwanted affects to their reproductive organs when exposed to environmental contaminants such as pesticides. One of the affects is decreased penis size. Guillette made this and more detailed comments on the subject during a recent speaking engaggement at the University of Western Ontario, which is in London. — Ron Hall

Check it out: "Pesticides may affect penis size," The London Free Press, April 29, 2006

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Hillary our next Prez?

Just got back from an event in Washington D.C. sponsored by BASF The Chemical Company. A nice affair that featured Charlie Cook, editor and publisher of "The Cook Political Report" as a dinner speaker. Charlie's as quick as a whip and he gets a devilish delight in reporting on the whispers in the corridors and the backroom plotting in our nation's capital. With his cherubic animated face and his middle-age spread putting a decided southern dip in his beltline, he's a sight to behold when he gets on a roll, pulling out papers left and right and referring to this poll and that survey and whatever else he can pluck out of the swirling, ever-changing D.C. scene.

But enough of this, here's what he had to say about the mid-term congressional elections that approach:

The "Macro View" is that the Democrats could pull a "'94 Gingrich" loooking atthe President's pathetic popularity rating and the public's general dissatisfaction with a lot of things, from the Iraq war to the price of gasoline.

The "Micro View" is that to gain a majority in either the Senate of the House, the Democrats are going to have to "run the table" on the five or six vulnerable Republicans up for re-election and the several dozen Republican House members that want to keep getting their great government perks.

In other words, as Charlie says, "I have no idea."

Now for Hillary. Yes, she's the most recognizable Democrat on the national statge right now and the only other Democrats mentioned as serious candidates are Kerry and Gore. "Been there, done that, got the tee-shirt," says Charlie
But it's a long way until 2008.

As for the Republicans, John McCain looks like the frontrunner but by 2009 he will be 72 years old. Condi Rice, somebody asked? Nope, says Charlie, she says she will NOT run. In any event, it will be a hard row to hoe for any RRepublican candidate in light of President Bush's falling approval ratings and the fact that it's mightly tough for the same party to win a presidential election after holding the presidency for two terms. Only been done once in the 50-plus years since WWII, says Charlie.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Those pesky pesky pesticides

Here's a news flash that both stuns and enlightens — Chemists at the Colorado School of Mines recently announced that they discovered pesticides in tobacco smoke. Apparently the pesticides got there because farmers use them to grow tobacco. The big news, at least from the chemists' point of view is that this is the first time they have been detected in tobacco smoke. They used electron monochromator mass spectrometry to discover trace amounts of flumetralin, endocrine, pendimethalin and trifluralin.

There you go. If you needed another reason to quit smoking, apart from lung cancer or heart disease that is, now you've got it.

Or, as Rose Annadanna says. . . "if it ain't one thing, it's another." (gosh, I thought Gilda Radner was swell) — Ron Hall

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

This book means 'business'

“Business Principles of Landscape Contracting” is a practical book on the “business” of running a landscape company. It's a "must have" for young managers or owners that are relatively new to running their own show since its focus is on business and systems and not on the technical details of how to install or maintain landscapes. Author Dr. Steven M. Cohan delivers business principles and examples in an easy to comprehend style, and shares the credit for the much of the information with fellow academics and successful landscape professionals who contributed case studies and reviewed drafts of the work.

Cohan is on the faculty of the University of Maryland’s Natural Resource Sciences and Landscape Architecture Department and uses this book, a text, to help prepare his students for the real world of landscape contracting. Why should they have this book all to themselves? It has too much practical information to keep in a classroom.

This book published by Pearson Prentice Hall, is available from the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET) Web site Click on the bookstore and type in the title. Cost is $85 for PLANET members and $100 for non-members. — Ron Hall

Friday, April 14, 2006

Unionized guest workers? You betcha!

Global Horizons, a big labor recruiter based in Los Angeles, signed an agreement with the United Farm Workers of America to improve wages, benefits and working conditions for the H-2A seasonal ag guest workers it brings into the United States. This is believed to be the first agreement of its kind involving a guest worker program. There are important differences between the H-2A (ag) and H-2B (seasonal non-ag labor) guest workers programs, but the significance of the agreement shouldn't be lost on non-ag labor recruiters or the contractors that use their services. Click on the headline above and read more about the Global Horizons deal. Or check out the AP article in a Houston newspaper at — Ron Hall

Fake grass has fascinating history

Remember AstroTurf? Of course, you do. In fact, the trade name became so well known that an entire generation used it to describe synthetic turf in general. Well AstroTurf is back. In fact, it probably never went away but you don't hear it mentioned often because of the more aggressive marketing by other synthetic turf providers.

That said, check out the following Web site to get the fascinating history of this product. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I wonder what would happen if . . .

I wonder what would happen if I sneaked into, say, southern France (I've heard that's a swell place to live) and I started marching around the streets, waving an American flag and demanding that the government there not only allow me to stay, but provide me with health care and other social services but in a language that I can understand, English, not French?

What do you think? — Ron Hall

Saturday, April 08, 2006

U.S., Mexico, Canada — one big country?

Ultra-conservative Joseph Farah, founder and editor WorldNetDaily, claims there are 20 to 30 million "illegals" in the United States and that the Council on Foreign Relations has a plan to merge the United States, Mexico and Canada within the decade. He says President Bush's efforts to get a Guest Worker program in place are steps in this direction. He says a lot of the immigration fuss, including the big pro-immigrant marches and demonstrations that coincided with the recent Senate debate on immigration reform are being set up by "globalists". Sounds nutty but here's the link anyway. — Ron Hall

Friday, April 07, 2006

OK, here's the deal with immigration reform

How did things get so out of control with this immigration mess? It didn't happen overnight that's for sure. It didn't happen by accident either. It happened for a reason. Or maybe many reasons, most of them being political and economic.

So, what do do? Actually, the better question is what CAN we do? Realistically that is.

Sending all the illegals back to where they came from is nonsensical. It can't be done. No reason to bicker about this. They're here, and they're going to stay here. The only option that makes sense is to allow them to blend into society.

Strengthen the borders? That's a no-brainer too. Nations have borders and they have laws. They have to enforce both. Simple.

Expand and maintain guest worker programs? Wish we didn't need them, but we do. We need the high-tech brain power that's coming from places like India's incredible technical schools and we need the manpower from Mexico and Central American ranchos.

Monitor these programs closely and penalize employers who break the law, especially in regards to hiring illegals? You bet. Once we get workable guest worker programs that require foreigners to return to their home countries and families, there's no reason to hire illegals. — Ron Hall

Monday, April 03, 2006

Immigration not just a landscapers' issue

If you haven't seen it yet, this week's edition of the satirical news Web site The Onion had its own take on the national immigration debate taking place. — Mike Seuffert

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Home gardening interest falling

The National Gardening Association has been tracking the lawn and garden market for more than 25 years, and is not happy with the trends it's seen lately. The garden business has essentially stalled over the last two years.

The NGA says that three of four households in the United States (80 million households) have participated in one or more types of indoor and outdoor do-it-yourself lawn and garden activities annually for the last five years, that number has shown a decline in two of the last three years. Fewer than half of all households (48%) did their own lawn care last year, and even fewer have a flower garden (36%) or a vegetable garden (22%). Those are the lowest numbers the NGA has seen in the last five years. It seems that for most people today, if an activity doesn’t come with a remote control or a keyboard, they’re not really interested, said the NGA.

Three years ago sales for all types of lawn and garden products – green goods, including plants or trees, shrubs, seeds, and bulbs; hard goods lines such as outdoor power equipment and tools; bagged goods like fertilizer and soils; and lawn and garden packaged goods – totaled $39.6 billion. Last year sales for these same lawn and garden product categories totaled $36.8 billion. That’s a decrease of only 7%, but it’s happened during the hottest housing market the country has seen in more than a decade. You would think that lawn and garden sales would benefit from the recent real estate boom, but they haven’t. About 80% of households in the United States are single-family homes with a yard, and for most people their home is their single largest investment. It seems odd that, on an annual basis, most people spend far more than twice as much on gasoline than they do to maintain their quality of life at home and improve their real estate equity by investing in their lawns and landscapes.

Most people spend less than 1% of their annual household income each year on their lawns and gardens. Last year the nationwide average spent on lawn and garden activities was $449, which was down from $457 the previous year and $466 the year before that. Whether your annual household income is $50,000 (which is about the median household income in the United States) or $100,000, almost no one in this country spends more than 1% of their annual income on their lawns and gardens.

The National Gardening Association is an organization dedicated to building and strengthening the connection between people, plants, and the environment. In a nutshell, we are about changing peoples’ attitudes toward gardening. Much of our work is focused on helping children experience gardening as an enjoyable, hands-on learning medium; a key element for health and wellness; and a fun and rewarding activity, among other benefits. An argument could be made that the downward trend in the lawn and garden industry is a reflection of the growing gap in the people-plant connection.

To learn more about the NGA visit the Web site

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Control the border, pay more?

"People have dual interests," says Jared Bernstein, an economist speaking about the immigration reform debate now before Congress. "Ask them, do you want your lawn to be mowed as cheaply as possible? They'll say yes. Ask if they want to control the border. They'll say yes. Ask them if controlling the borders means they're willing to pay more for lawn care, they'll say how much? And that's what we're going to find out."

Thursday, March 30, 2006

So it's not your job. So what!

The other day as I'm getting on the bus at the Park & Ride and hoping like all get out that nobody gets on the back seat so that I can take a nap on the way to the office (more room back there) I look over at the nice motels across the way from the bus stop and see a landscape crew getting ready to get it going. There's four or five workmen and a guy walking around looking at the tree islands (I'm thinking crew leader), and there's a pile of dark mulch (must have been four feet high) and a mini loader on a trailer. These guys are ready to go. It's a beautiful morning. Life is as it should be.

Coming back on the bus to the Park & Ride late that afternoon (oh yea, nice nap on the way back) I see a much smaller pile of mulch and every tree has a nice fresh ring of mulch around it. But, what's this? Paper wrappers, soda cans and a couple of plastic bags laying in a small ditch just a step or two from the trees.

Hey guys, pick up the debris. I know that's not your job, but your work sure would look a lot nicer if you took a minute or two to police the area when you finished with the day's mulching. Think about it. Wouldn't the maintenance guy at the motels put in a nice word for you if you gave him a little love by picking up the crap. Who cares who left it around your job site? — Ron Hall

Fuel costs squeezing us real bad

There's only one law that can never be broken, other than by silly government intervention that is. And that law is the law of supply and demand. It's so simple to understand, so vital to our capitalistic system and now so painful as gasoline prices bumped up over $2.75 a gallon today.

Friends, can $3-a-gallon gasoline be far behind? I think not. The summer driving season will soon be upon us and the oil companies are rubbing their hands in gleeful anticipation.

Higher fuel prices mean that everything that's manufactured or moved will cost more. In other words, EVERYTHING will cost more. Our surveys have told us that fuel costs of landscape and lawn service companies make up a relatively small percentage of their total costs. But with gasoline and diesel selling for more than double their prices just a few short years ago, fuel costs are definitely going to chew into that bottom line for companies that, for whatever reason can't or won't, raise their prices or find a way to deliver more revenue-producing service or product at each stop.

Keep following this blog — we're going to find out what you folks are doing about these high fuel costs. — Ron Hall

Monday, March 20, 2006

Hey Mr. Lawn Historian, lighten' up

A friend forwarded me a news release announcing the publication of a new book by Ted Steinberg, an historian at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH. The name of the book is "American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn." Mr. Steinberg is not a big fan of lawn care. Let me repeat that. Mr. Steinberg is not a big fan of lawn care.

In the book Steinberg takes aim at lawn care for polluting the atmosphere (lawn mower emissions), alienating people from their own yards and (never heard this one before) becoming a symbol of Cold War anti-communist sentiments. Now really, doesn't that seem like a bit of a stretch? — Ron Hall

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Quit your peeing and moaning

Spent a couple of days in Monterrey, Mexico, a week ago and you won't hear any whining about work from this corner, not as long as the memories of what I saw there remain strong. And what I saw were hundreds of Mexican workers lining up at the U.S. consulate there, waiting and hoping to get visas to work in the United States. Hey friends, people from elsewhere in the world, and especially Latin America, are leaving family and friends to get a crack at $8-an-hour jobs.

OK, so who can live in the United States with an $8-an-hour job? Not many of us, that's for sure. But a day doesn't go by that I don't see some young fellow on a street corner with a cup in his hand panhandling passerbys. Then again, maybe he's making more than $8 an hour with that cup in his hand. Who knows?

I read somewhere that successful people get to be successful by doing jobs that other people don't want to do, which reminds me of the Roto Rooter guy in our town. He's one of the happiest and most pleasant people I know, and he's a hard worker too. We all have to be more like the Roto Rooter guy, meaning we better be get down and dig into our jobs (no pun intended) and quit our peeing and moaning about how tough we've got it. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Pesticides in streams all the rage

The U.S. Geological Survey released a study this past Friday saying that pesticides have been found in almost all the nation's rivers and streams, and newspapers from coast to coast have been reporting like it's a big deal. It's not. But you wouldn't know it from the headlines. Here's a couple.

"Pesticides permeate U.S. waters" — Newark (NJ) Star Ledger (permeate?)

"Pesticides foul U.S. streams, fish" — The State, Columbia, SC

"Most U.S. rivers polluted by pesticides" — Xinhua, China (no kidding)

Yes, pesticides were found in U.S. streams and rivers, but not in concentrations likely to affect people or affect drinking water supplies. The USGS report makes that very clear.

I'm not big fan of pesticides and I wish we didn't have to rely upon them so much for our food and fiber. But with 6 billion people on this planet and another couple of billion more added to the total within the decade, we'll have to rely more and more upon chemistry and bioengineering to keep everyone fed.  — Ron Hall

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Here's more powerful ammo for you

We all know that well-designed, well-maintained landscapes provide incredible paybacks to property owners in lots of different ways. Or we think we know that. Or we give the impression that we know that. Or, at least that's what we tell ourselves and our customers.

. . . But do we really know that?

A sharp guy by the name of Timothee Sallin, who works in his family's big Cherry Lake Tree Farm in Florida, has gathered a lot of the studies that show the real value of good landscaping and he put them on a Web site. If you want some positive data on what good landscapes mean for property owners and communities (or if you have information or data to share with him), check out — Ron Hall

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Want a great turf talking point? Go here!

If you're in the lawn care business, you gotta check out the following URL. It is DYE-NO-MITE information!

You can thank me later. — Ron Hall

Fee, Fi, Foe . . . Dumb

Here's a doozie. Tell me what you think.

The city of Lake Forest, IL, recently came up with the idea of charging fees to all landscapers that work in the city — $600 for a Class 3 license, $300 for a Class 2 license and $200 for a Class 1 license. Apparently the weight of the vehicles the landscaper uses in his trade determines which class the landscaper falls into. But that's not all. Landscapers would also have to pay per vehicle. You guessed it, the same goofy weight thing — $3,000 per Class 3 vehicle, $2,000 per Class 2 license and $1,000 per Class 1 license.

The reason for the fees? The city says it wants to protect residents against dirtball landscapers. Well, that's laudable.

At a public hearing on the proposed ordinance in late February, the Pioneer Press newspaper reported that about 50 landscapers showed up. They reportedly didn't squawk so much concerning the fee part of the legislation — it was the amount!

Judging by the reception this money grab got, it's not likely that it will see the light of day.

— Ron Hall

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

. . .and while we're in Florida

I saw the following scenario play out years earlier in Southern California. A lot of the people that work there, especially people working in low-paying service industry jobs, can't afford to live there. Many employers, including landscape company owners, count on their south-of-the-border workers to serve their customers. These workers (yes, they're legal) leave their homes at a ridiculously early hour, say 4 a.m, so they can get through customs and arrive at the job at a reasonable hour.

Now the same thing is happening in south Florida, in particular the Keys and in Collier County in the southwest corner of the state. In the Keys where the supply of housing is finite and demand is incredibly high, prices for property have gone through the roof. Hourly workers commute as much as 3 hours a day (one way) to get to their jobs. A similar labor situation is developing in Florida's southwest Gulf Coast, although not as dramatically.

Naples, once a quaint little town on the edge of the Everglades is now boomtown, albiet still with a lot of charm. Ft. Myers, Bonita Springs, that whole area is going real estate nuts. Even Immokolee where lots of the workers live is in for a big housing shock when a new college is finished near there.

Adios, little mom-and-pop motels and trailer parks. Hola, condos, gated communities and mega mansions.

Some folks are predicting that housing prices in south Florida will plateau or even fall, but don't count on it. Not even hurricanes — a not uncommon occurance in these parts — can discourage new buyers. Every week Baby Boomers with cash from selling their homes up north swallow up mortgages big enough to choke a mule, apparently figuring the kids can do quite well without an inheritance.

(Why or why didn't I pull the trigger on that neat 3-bedroom ranch on the canal in Cape Coral five years ago?) — Ron Hall

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Tall grass means big, big fine

A guy in the south Florida village of Wellington got hammered with a $6,500 fine for letting the grass in a lot he owns grow too tall. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper reports that the stay-at-home dad had hired a contractor to cut the grass once a month, but the contractor didn't show up in December and the grass grew to 12 inches tall. Even after the contractor took the blame for the uncut lawn, the village wouldn't toss out or reduce the fine.

A village inspector wrote up the citation this past Dec. 13 and piled on a $250-a-day penalty until the property owner finally complied on Jan. 8.

The property owner, seeking relief from the stiff fine, claims he wasn't notified of the problem until he received a letter dated Dec. 29. Too bad, says the village, pointing out that this was the second time he had been cited for the same problem.

Almost hate to contemplate what the village might do to this guy if he ever gets a third violation. — Ron Hall

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Turf war lines lawyers' pockets

You've got to wonder how things get to such a sorry state. What I'm referring to is a lawsuit and a resulting countersuit involving a homeowners association in Tampa, FL, and one of the resident homeowners. It seems the homeowner wasn't maintaining his lawn. Or at least not to the satisfaction of the HOA board, which took it upon itself to have the homeowner's lawn replaced in 2002, and to bill him $2,212 for sod and labor.

The homeowner claims that his lawn was no worse than anybody else's in the deed-restricted community. Oh contrar, says the HOA board. The yard was brown and weed infested.

You guessed it. The homeowner told the HOA to take its bill and shove it. The HOA responded by placing a lien on his house. Then the real fun begins. The two sides arm themselves with lawyers and for the past four years the legal fur has been flying.

To date the two parties, through their counsel, have generated motions heard by five county judges. Finally an end to the disagreement may be near. Mercifully, the case is set to come before a jury soon.

The way I see it, you've got two big losers here, the HOA and the homeowner. But I bet their attorneys are smiling. The two combatant parties have churned more than $100,000 in attorney fees — all of this over a simple residential lawn.

The search for intelligent life on planet Earth continues. — Ron Hall

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Time to do it again

Hey friends, it's that time again — time to let your U.S. representatives and senators know what you think about the H-2B Seasonal Guest Worker program.

On Tuesday, Feb. 14, Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Judd Gregg (R-NH) and other senators introduced legislation to extend the Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act through 2009. The bill would extend the repeat worker exemption from the H-2B cap through fiscal 2009 (Sept. 31, '09). The same legislation (HR 4740) was introduced in the House yesterdday by Rep. Gilchrist (R-MD), Delahunt (D-MA), Bass (R-NH) and Ortiz (D-TX).

The passage of the Act in 2005 allowed the landscape industry access to seasonal immigrant workers when it looked like they would be shut out thanks to the H-2B''s federally mandated cap of 66,000 worker visas.

I know how some of you feel about immigration, any form of immigration. And I understand where you're coming from. Nations have borders and the borders are there for a reason. Yes, it's a damned shame that we've got the immigration mess that we've got. But don't blame the guest worker programs. Judged in comparison to other government run programs, this one is a slam dunk succes.

Let your lawmakers know that you support the guest worker programs and get the Act extended for two more years. — Ron Hall

Monday, February 13, 2006

Golf & flowers

Just got back from the Golf Industry Show (GIS) in Atlanta, the biggest Green Industry trade show in the United States. This year's event was held in Atlanta. Actually, Atlanta was the third choice for the sponsoring organizations. The Show was supposed to be in New Orleans, but a hurricane took care of that. Then it was moved to Houston. Ditto, this time Hurricane Rita.

As it turned out, Atlanta was an excellent choice. A lot of folks came to Atlanta expecting the worst — low attendance, grumbling by sponsors and suppliers. Whammo, I don't mean to sound like a Pollyanna, but the Show was as busy as could be. Another plus, at least for me, was that the GIS was taking place on one side of the huge World Congress Center. On the other side of the massive convention hall the Southeastern Flower Show was underway.

So, after spending two days pounding the floor of the GIS, I took a morning off and cruised the beautiful gardens at the Flower Show. Of special interest were the efforts of a dozen or so Atlanta area landscape companies. Thousands of people were oohing and aahing at the wonderful gardens they had constructed there. Everyone, it seems, is ready for spring to get here. It will arrive in Atlanta weeks before it gets to Cleveland where I returned after my trip to Atlanta. — Ron Hall

Friday, February 10, 2006

It's easy bein' green

This morning I received a link as part of my Google Alerts (topic for another blog post entirely) about an upcoming event sponsored by the Ecological Landscaping Association. I hadn't heard of this group so I checked out their Web site ( The group is committed to sustainable landscaping and golf course management for professionals and homeowners, and I was happily surprised to see what looks like a well-organized, large group of professionals involved.

Their upcoming event, rhw 2006 Winter Conference and Eco-Marketplace, held in Massachusetts (the group seems to have a lot of New England members) offers CEUs and speakers on topics ranging from practical management of invasive plants to beneficial insects.

I'm interested in this part of the business because I think it's where we're headed as an industry. Integrated pest management (IPM) has definitely become more mainstream, with contractors and manufacturers alike supporting those ideas.

But I'm also interested in it because it offers another approach, another style, to your line of work. Everybody's always talking about differentiating, offering new, better services or approaches--this might be an interesting way to do it.

--Stephanie Ricca

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A sensible editorial

Cudos to the Brandon Sun newspaper. On Monday, Feb. 6, an editorial writer at that newspaper pointed out the folly of attempting to ban pesticides on private property. A committee within this city of 40,000 in western Manitoba, Canada, has been kicking around the issue for about a year. The editorial said that a city law, even a compromise measure hammered out by ban supporters and professional applicators, is unwanted and unneeded.
Check it out at — Ron Hall

Monday, February 06, 2006

New landscape service?

Maybe he felt he wasn't making enough money on clients' properties. Or maybe he just needed something to keep himself busy on his lunch break. In any event, a 35-year-old landscaper working on Oahu in Hawaii, has been charged with attempted burglary after he was nabbed trying to crawl through the glass louvers of a customer's home. Authorities there have been keeping an eye on him for some time, according to newspaper reports. They believe he may be responsible for many of the 85 burglaries that have plagued the area . His cash-only bail was set at $40,000. (That's a lot of lawns to mow.) — Ron Hall

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Texas could use a good slushin'

We got an awful snow here this weekend along the south shore of rambuctous Lake Erie, not awful in the sense that there was a lot of it; heck it barely covers the ground. It was awful in that it was a wet, heavy snow; actually what we got is better described as a prolonged slushing. Not enough actual snow covered the ground to excite the snowplow guys or make them any significant cash.

Meanwhile many regions of Texas are as dry as dust, which is exactly what’s happening to the soils in Leon County, in east Texas, for example. The good soil is drying up and blowing away, the grass is long gone and many farmers are bringing in hay from elsewhere to feed their livestock. When things get this bad, landscape and lawn care are generally near the bottom of public officials’ lists of concerns.

This is one big drought, not as big as the whopper that held Texas in its grips through much of the mid 1950s and, at least so far, not as devastating as the one in 1996. But it’s headed that way.

Some of little towns and the cities that draw water from the Edwards Aquifer are under severe water restrictions who no immediate relieve in sight. That’s in central Texas. Further north, the bustling Dallas/Ft. Worth region needs some water too.

If this drought continues, the landscape and lawn service companies could be in for a long and hot season. And one that will likely fall far short of they had budgeted for. — Ron Hall