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

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Water — who will get it?

Every so often someone floats the idea (no pun intended) to send water from the Great Lakes to the arid Southwest. I'm not sure just how serious these discussions ever get, but just the suggestion always get an immediate reaction from state and regional politicos. They say "no way."

How likely is Great Lakes water to end up in bathtubs of Phoenix and Las Vegas? Probably not that likely, at least not in this generation. Apart from the cost of moving the water (and cost is probably the big issue as it always is), the Great Lakes are controlled by joint U.S./Canadian commission.

If the Southwest can't expect a significant new source of fresh water, what's going to do as its population continues to swell? Well, it would seem that it would have to do the best it can with the water that it has.

Could it be that some of us will be looking at our water bills the same way we look at our home heating bills and the gas pump when we fill up. In horror. — Ron Hall