Thursday, December 31, 2009

2010 the 'test' year

It’s New Year’s Eve here in the frozen sticks and mud of north central Ohio. Our economy, hard hit by the decline of the U.S. steel industry in the late 20th Century, more recently took a massive bodyshot because of the downsizing of U.S. auto manufacturing. There hasn’t been much sunshine here recently, either from the sky or in the form of good employment news.

No wonder that we don’t see a lot to cheer about in terms of prospects for our local economy for 2010. We have a few more months, almost certainly longer, before things begin looking rosier again in our neck of the woods. But things will improve; they have to.

Too big to fail

Accepting things as they are, we’re optimistic about the long-term prospects of our particular region and of the United States, in general. To borrow a phrase that’s almost become a joke — our economy is “too big to fail." With one caveat, however. We’re confident our price-coordinated market economy will rebound if allowed to do so by our government. That’s a big “if” in light of the ill-conceived government policies, instituted more for political than economically sound reasons, that helped get us into this fix in the first place. Regardless, this downturn is the market’s way of shedding inefficiencies and waste that accumulated this past generation, and of allowing excess inventories to be absorbed.

In other words, it’s not a question of if we’ll heal, but when.

In fact, many regions of the United States, those not so dependent on manufacturing, continue to do reasonably well in spite of the lack of major construction caused by tight credit for consumers. The construction and job meltdowns depressing our economy these past 18 months have not affected all regions of the country with the same force. This suggests that our national recovery will return region by region and industry by industry, as well. Some regions will lag behind and some industries will shrink or disappear, of course.

Here are several larger trends continuing through 2010.

Consumer Confidence

As the recent Christmas shopping season showed, consumers are eager to resume spending. Traffic at malls and the major retailers was up from the 2008 season, and sales rose too. Not by a lot, but they rose; that's good. Even so, consumers remain wary. Yes, we’re no longer in shock as we were following the dire media warnings of a total banking collapse in the fall of 2008, but unemployment exceeding 10% nationally, persistent news of job losses and concerns over job security will continue to dampen demand for major purchases in 2010.

Real Estate

While home sales revived slightly as 2009 progressed, many of these sales were spurred by the home buyer tax credit. Also, investors and other bargain hunters snapped up foreclosures. Construction is slowly returning in some markets, but new homes and housing lots are smaller. New construction is still in the dumper, but many homeowners have decided to stay put (They can't sell their houses.) and are spending their money on improvements and renovations, both inside and on their properties.

Commercial real estate looks to be the wild card for 2010. There’s been a lot of talk about major defaults in that market, although analysts aren't being that specific yet of how this may play out, not yet. They probably don't know. The commercial market bears watching closely.

2010 the Test Year

This new year, 2010, will be the test year for the economic policies instituted in the wake of the the financial and housing meltdowns. We'll learn if the government’s expensive stimulus efforts are working or, indeed, if they will work. There’s a delayed reaction following every recessionary period. Of course, it’s our hope (as yours, we’re sure) that the delay is not too great and that any uptick is legitimate and not a teaser. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Gardens that heal the spirit if not the body



There's no need to convince me of the mind-soothing, perhaps even healing benefits of gardens. So, it's a delight to learn of an organization that is promoting exactly that. Beyond that, I'm hopeful that as more of you learn of this organization, you might consider helping spread the word.

Hope in Bloom
is a non-profit 501©3 organization that provides gardens for women and men undergoing treatment for breast cancer. The gardens come in various forms — small outside gardens, inside gardens or patio container gardens, whatever is best and most suitable for the individual undergoing treatment.

Hope in Bloom is based in Massachusetts and, to date, through the efforts of many volunteers (including landscape designers and other Green Industry pros), has provided more than 75 gardens to individuals undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

The founder of Hope in Bloom is Roberta Dehman Hershon. She started the organization in 2007 following the death via breast cancer of her longtime friend and fellow garden-lover Beverly Eisenberg in 2005.

“Beverly loved flowers and took pride in her garden. Together, we spent hours pouring over catalogs, visiting nurseries, selecting plants and digging in the dirt. When she was no longer able to garden, her friends kept her house filled with flowers. She, like so many of us, took pleasure in their quiet beauty,” writes Roberta Dehman Hershon on the website.

Hershon says she is grateful for the support of nurseries and other suppliers that have provided product at wholesale prices and of the volunteer efforts of landscape designers and others who have selflessly given of their time and talents. Even so, more than 100 individuals undergoing treatment for breast cancer are on the Hope in Bloom garden "wait list".

The need for more assistance (meaning more sponsors, donations and more volunteers) is great.

The American Cancer Society estimates that 192,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed among women and 1900 among men in 2009. More than 40,000 women and 400 men were predicted to die of breast cancer during 2009, said the Society.

"We know gardens play a part in the healing process," says Hershon from her Dedham, MA, office. "Gardens offer their own special medicine."

This is a worthy program and one that deserves the attention and support of the Green Industry. My guess is that just about all of us have been touched by cancer — if not ourselves, then a family member or friend.

To learn more about Hope in Bloom visit its website at http://hopeinbloom.org.

To learn more about the therapeutic benefits of gardens, you can also visit the website of Therapeutic Landscapes Network — http://healinglandscapes.org.
— Ron Hall

Friday, December 25, 2009

Massey Services deal attracts favorable ink

ORLANDO, FL — Massey Services Inc.’s recent acquisition of competitor Middleton Lawn & Pest Control (the company with a consumer brand characterized by grinning green frog) caught the attention of the Orlando Sentinel newspaper. An article appearing in the Dec. 22 issue of the Sentinel gives a revealing and positive account of 68-year-old Harvey Massey’s rise in the central Florida business (and political) world. Harvey Massey, of course, is the guy that founded, built and is still very active with the company.

The Sentinel pegged the deal, which closed the second week of December, at $54 million, and said that the now-combined lawn care/pest control company (1,300 employees, 1,250 trucks and annual revenues of $126 million) is the fifth largest in North America.
Link
What many in the industry probably didn’t know was that Massey Linkand his longtime former competitor Chuck Steinmetz, who built Middleton into one of the biggest regional pest control/lawn care companies in the United States, both started their careers at Orkin.

Check out the newspaper column "Big deal done, Harvey Massey plows on," by Beth Kassab.

If you're interested in the deal itself, you might want to check out a September news release from Sunair Services, "Sunair Announces Proposed Merger with Massey Services." (Middleton Pest Control, Inc., was a wholly owned subsidiary of Sunair.) — by Ron Hall

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

4th grader wows scientists with her artificial vs. natural turf research study

Which is more environmentally friend, artificial grass or living grass?

Schools and communities across the United States are debating the issue because of the growing popularity of synthetic turf on sports fields, home lawns and other areas formerly covered by turfgrass. Proponents of both point to the many “green” benefits of their respective type of grass. The stakes, environmental and financial, are high because of the tens of millions of acres of turfgrass on our home lawns, parks, sports fields, commercial and industrial properties.

So, who’s right? The synthetic crowd that pounds on the fact that their grass doesn’t need fertilizers, pesticides, mowing or water? (Although it would be foolish to install synthetic turf without a ready source of water to clean it or, in the case of sports fields, cool it.) Or the proponents of real, living grass who promote the heat-mitigating, dust-capturing, runoff-capturing benefits of real grass?

Along comes 9-year-old, 4th grade student by the name of Claire Dworsky and she nails it. With the help of research professor Adina Payton of UC Santa Cruz, she puts together an incredible research project comparing the two surfaces.

“As I soccer player and environmentalist, I looked down and I see the runoff water off the turf is murky,” Claire told KGO-TV science reporter Carolyn Johnson in a recent interview. Claire collected water samples from grass and artificial turf fields (hundreds of them from both) across San Francisco, then she and Dr. Payton analyzed the findings in the lab.

In addition to sharing her findings with San Francisco officials considering whether or not to build synthetic fields in the city, she was the lead author of a poster presentation at a recent meeting of the American Geophysical Union, which drew scientists from every corner of the globe.

Click here to access the KGO-TV article and several video clips about Clair. When you get to the site, check out the boxed sidebar and click on the links to pdf of the poster she put together.

In a word — fantastic.

You go girl! — Ron Hall

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Links to two articles showing the international character of water issues

The most precious natural resource in the world isn’t oil or gold; it’s water. Life cannot be sustained without water. But, in spite of 75% of the earth being covered by water, the amount of fresh water available for human use is incredibly small. And even that minuscule amount is not distributed evenly around the globe.

The World Water Council says that more than 1.1 billion people (more than 16% of the world’s population) lack access to safe drinking water and another 2.6 billion people live in conditions that are far from sanitary because of lack of water. The World Health Organization in 2004 reported that 3900 children die every day from water borne diseases.

These numbers are expected to rise dramatically in coming decades because of population growth, urbanization and industrialization.

Click on the following headlines to access two articles that provide insight into growing international awareness and cooperation focusing on solving water scarcities.

“Israel plunges into water technology,” by Michael Barajas, Associated Press

“California taps Australia’s expertise in coping and drought,” by Janet Zimmerman, The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Great pesticide safety info that's practically free


I'm not sure I'm getting this blogging thing right. I'm not particularly witty, the issues I feel strongly enough to launch into a full-force Category 5 rant generally don't have anything to do with the landscape industry and I'm not good looking enough to charm anybody with my smiling mug.

That said, I know we all like "free," especially if it's something we should have or can use.

OK, here it is. If you buy, store and use pesticides in your business, go to the Web right now and download a copy of "Pesticide Safety Tips for the WORKPLACE and FARM," by Fred Whitford, Andrew Martin, Joe Becovitz and Arlene Blessing. The Purdue University publication is a must. Click here to download this 64-page pub.

Oops, now that I've returned to the Purdue site, I see that the download cost of the pub is $1.00. What's a buck for this kind of great info, right? — Ron Hall

Friday, December 18, 2009

Congratulations to Kelly Giard of Clean Air Lawn Care


Kelly Giard, the founder and CEO of Clean Air Lawn Care was voted as Entrepreneur Magazine's "Emerging Entrepreneur of 2009."

Clean Air Lawn Care offers customers organic lawn care, and uses quiet electric mowers and other equipment for turf and landscape care.

In 2006, Giard started Clean Air Lawn Care, Inc. out of his garage. Twenty months after franchising the business, Clean Air has 27 territories owned by 18 franchisees. Sales multiplied from just $7,000 in 2006 to more than half a million dollars in 2008. Giard is aiming at 500 locations in the next decade and expects royalty fees to double for at least the next five years, he tells "Entrepreneur."

Check out the piece about Giard by clicking here.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Who should regulate fertilizer use on lawns, states or local governments?

When most of us think of preemption in terms of turfgrass care, we think of lawn care pesticides. In the United States, preemption means that the states, and not municipalities, regulate the sale and use of pesticides. Few of us think of preemption in regards to fertilizers. But that’s becoming a bigger issue across the country, as well.

Some states maintain the sole right to regulate the sale and use of lawn fertilizers and some allow municipalities or counties to enact their own fertilizer regulations. As a result, some local governments — concerned over the effects of lawn fertilizers on water quality — are passing regulations about how much nitrogen or phosphorus can be used on residential or commercial properties. Some are even forbidding the use of fertilizers during certain times of the year.

Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli has introduced a bill (A-4193) in the State of New Jersey that creates consistent regulation for towns there looking to manage residential and commercial fertilizer applications.

Referring to the proposed legislation, Nancy Sadlon, executive director of the New Jersey Green Industry Council, wrote a letter to the editor in the Millstone (NJ) Examiner, telling why she feels a consistent statewide regulation “makes uncommonly good sense.”

Here, in part, is Nancy’s piece in the Examiner:

As the executive director of the New Jersey Green Industries Council, I have a keen professional interest in laws that impact turf management. As a New Jersey resident and homeowner, I have an equally passionate interest in the quality of New Jersey's waterways. Enacting statewide legislative standards, which contribute to the common good of New Jersey's 566 municipalities, makes uncommonly good sense for our citizens and our environment.

Regulating fertilizer so that best management practices are used is in everyone's best interest for improving the quality of New Jersey's waterways, but it must be done in the right way. In the simplest terms, fertilizer is plant food. Too much is not healthy and none is not enough. We believe the same is true for fertilizer regulation. With A-4193, municipalities have an actionable sound-science blueprint for successful fertilizer management that protects our waterways, our environment and our citizens.

A-4193 calls for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to consult with research scientists at Rutgers University Agricultural Experiment Station to identify and encourage best management practices. The rationale for supporting legislation that adequately addresses urban fertilizer contribution to non-point source nutrient loading to a water body is a perfect combination of good science and good stewardship.

Healthy lawns help control erosion, contribute to dust and noise abatement, serve as nature's best water filter, and act as a carbon sink by accumulating carbon and lessening our communities' carbon footprint. Studies conducted by universities show that proper amounts of fertilizer fed to plants does not lead to fertilizer runoff into our waterways.

Our association recently joined with regulators from the NJDEP, other industry professionals and New Jersey grassroots watershed associations in a public-private partnership, the "Healthy Lawns, Healthy Environment" initiative. In one year, through changing formulas for lawn fertilizers to reduce phosphorous, implementing best application practices and conducting educational outreach to professionals and the general public, our group effected a total annual phosphorous reduction of 1,230,332 pounds — an estimated statewide reduction of 15 percent.

A statewide model for lawn care in private and public spaces will allow us to continue the momentum of our environmental stewardship by enabling lawn care professionals to adhere to a single comprehensive set of responsible, science-based practices that have proven environmental benefits. A-4193 offers a clear, actionable blueprint for municipalities, lawn care professionals and New Jersey residents that regulates residential and commercial fertilizer application sensibly and makes uncommonly good sense. — Ron Hall

Monday, December 07, 2009

Using language that focuses on the customer

Apart from different colored trucks, many customers - property owners and property managers - don't see much difference among the landscape/lawn service providers. Similarly, customers tend to hear the same selling proposition from landscapers: "We can do it cheaper, better and/or faster."

Instead of emphasizing the "we" part of the selling proposition, put the focus on the customer. Consider using messages such as:

-- We want to help you save at least 10%.
-- Partnering with us will make your life/job easier.
-- Our services will bring you peace of mind.
-- Let us help you maximize your investment.
-- You'll love our hassle-free service.
-- We measure our success by your success.

What other phrases can we add to this list?


Friday, December 04, 2009

White House party crashers finally forced to pay their lawn care bill

It turns out the couple that crashed the White House State Dinner tried to stiff a service provider out of a $925 lawn mowing bill, but a judge in Warren County, VA, was not about to let that happen.

According to Fox News, a judge there forced Tareq Salahi to hand over his expensive Patek Phillipe watch, apparently as payment to Mike Dunbar, owner of ALA Home Improvement, for a long-overdue lawn care bill.

The dapper Tareq and his striking wife Michaele, of course, gained notoriety by successfully inviting themselves to a White House State Dinner this past week, a stunt apparently planned to get them their own reality television show. Who knows, they may get their show, after all. But, for now, the media is having a lot of fun at the couple’s expense, as evidenced by Fox News article and a video of the couple going to court that you can access by clicking here.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

National school IPM law proposed

WASHINGTON, D.C. — We don't know how likely this legislation is to be passed, and it's not clear what impact it would have on pest control, landscape and grounds maintenance operations. But it bears watching.

U.S. Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) and 14 of his colleagues put forward School Environment Protection Act of 2009 (SEPA), H.R. 4159. SEPA, if passed, would require all public schools to adopt integrated pest management (IPM) programs that emphasize non-chemical pest management strategies and only use defined least-toxic pesticides as a last resort.

A public health emergency provision allows the use of a pesticide, if warranted. In this case, notification of the pesticide application is required to be provided to all parents and guardians of students and school staff. Cleaning agents with pesticides fall under the bill's purview.

The legislation establishes a 12-member National School IPM Advisory Board that, with the help of a technical advisory panel, will develop school IPM standards and a list of allowable least-toxic pesticide products. In addition, under the language each state is required to develop its IPM plan as part of its existing state cooperative agreement with the U.S. EPA.

For a copy of H.R. 4195 click here.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Why is government meddling in the landscape business?

If you’ve been following my columns in Landscape Management magazine and these blogs you’re aware of how much local and regional governments are inserting themselves into the businesses of private industry, including the Green Industry.

Here’s yet another example — the commissioners in Lake County, FL, just passed an ordinance restricting how much St. Augustinegrass new homeowners and developers can install on their properties.

County commissioners voted to restrict the use of St. Augustinegrass sod for new developments to 60%, and are mandating the remaining 40% of landscaping be Bahiagrass or Florida native plants that require less water, reports cfnews13.com.

The commissioners said they took the action to conserve water in Lake County.
In defending this action, the commissioners, I’m sure, point to the common good. But really, what business does a government have in telling private citizens what kind of grass they can have on their lawns?

Early in my career as a journalist I covered the city and county governments in a rural Ohio county of about 30,000 people. Thirty-nine years later I still live in the same city. It’s my home. My wife, Vicky, and I raised two children here, we like our community and our neighbors and there’s a noisy little bar around the block that I can walk to that makes an incredible pizza and where I can still order a $1.50 draft beer and chat with friendly bartenders and longtime acquaintances.

While I left the newspaper game many years ago, I retain a keen interest in my community. Almost every evening the wife and I walk around our small city. What we see is discouraging — empty storefronts in what was once a vibrant downtown.

Gone since we moved here are two mid-sized department stores, two men’s stores, two shoe stores, two appliance stores, four service stations, a hardware store, a building supply company, a boat sales company and the town’s movie house. About half of the huge glass storefront windows in our downtown, once filled with goods and decorated with colorful seasonal displays, are now dark and sport “For Rent” and “For Sale” signs.

It’s pitiful sight, especially for what we’ve come to appreciate as such a secure, pleasant Midwest community.

Not that all growth in our community has been stymied. County government and the local hospital have become much, much larger these past several decades. Both employ more people than when I daily trudged the three flights of stairs at the 100-year-old country courthouse and gathered the daily news for the then-afternoon editions of our local newspaper.

This phenomenon, in particular the growth of county government, puzzles me since, as far as I can determine, the population of our region has remained essentially the same these past 30 years. Economic activity in our county — if measured by employment — has actually fallen. Admittedly, the growth in our county government, in part anyway, lies with laws passed in our state and national capitals. Even so, governments at every level are now meddling too much in private industry, in my opinion.

What I see locally seems to mirror what’s happening nationally; government and health care keep growing while small business finds it harder to grow and offer employment opportunities, and in too many cases even survive.

I’m sure the conclusion I’m drawing from this will be criticized as being too simplistic — but it appears to me that the continued growth of government, and its intrusion into private industry, is stifling small business, which is the biggest driver of economic growth in not only our communities, but our nation.

If you’ve read this far into this wordy blog, you may way to hear what Keith Truenow, a sod grower in Lake County, FL, has to say about the new law restricting the kind of grass allowed on new homes and developments. Click here for the article and a video with Keith’s take on a law that will hurt his business. — Ron Hall

Monday, November 30, 2009

Florida agency asks residents to skip a week of watering


The Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) wants residents who irrigate their lawns to “Skip a Week” of watering during the cooler months of December, January and February.

The District encompasses roughly 10,000 square miles in all or part of 16 Florida counties, serving a population of more than 5 million people.

One-half to three-quarters of an inch of water every 10–14 days is sufficient for lawns in the winter months, says SWFWMD.

Homeowners can determine when their grass needs water when:

• Grass blades are folded in half lengthwise on 30 percent of the lawn

• Grass blades are blue-gray

• Footprints remain on the lawn for several minutes after walking on it

In addition to entering the dry season, the region is experiencing the effects of a four-year drought. All 16 counties within the District are under one-day-per-week lawn watering restrictions through the end of February. SWFWMD is one of five water districts in Florida.

(Image courtesy Rain Bird)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

End of the grassy American front yard?




(Image courtesy MJIphotos)

Grass seems to be on its way to becoming the poster child for all that’s wrong with our landscapes, at least in an environmental sense. Could this growing sentiment signal the end of the grass-covered front yard?

That’s not at all far-fetched. At least in California that's the case where water use on home lawns is in policymakers' line of fire.

Much of the state has been suffering a multi-year drought and local water authorities are under orders from Sacramento to conserve water. All cities in California must pass “water efficient” landscape ordinances by year’s end, with many cities there seeking to limit the amount of water used (and wasted, they feel) on home lawns.

For example, council members in Santa Rosa, CA, a city of about 160,000 in Sonoma Country, the heart of California’s wine country, are considering a landscape ordinance that would, in effect, prohibit grass in the front yards of new subdivisions of five or more homes.

Homeowners in Santa Rosa would still be allowed to have grass in their backyards so their children have a place to play, reports the Santa Rosa (CA) Press Democrat in an article published Nov. 28.

For many Americans, including the writers of this blog, it's hard to imagine homes without soft, cool, grassy front yards.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Developers will influence green landscape choices





SAN ANTONIO, TX — On Dec. 15 the first building in The Preserve on Fredericksburg on the northwest edge of the city will be ready for occupancy, says its developers. The new upscale apartment community features the “copyrighted” Big House design by Dallas-based Humphreys & Partners Architects.

Landscapers should take note of the “Go-Green” design features of this 25-acre, 35-building development, which will offer 376 apartments. In addition to promoting the use of Energy Star-rated appliances and energy efficient windows, promoters of The Preserve are stressing its “green” landscape features. These features, as you might expect in the water-stressed Texas Hill Country, also figure heavily in the development’s landscape. They include:

— the use of indigenous Texas-native landscaping
— a “uniquely High Country” cistern water-catchment system that provides irrigation to common areas
— a visiting master gardener to instruct residents of the benefits of sustainable farming on an on-site garden

Green landscape features are becoming more popular, not only in the U.S. Southwest but across the country, for a lot of the right reasons. One of the biggest reasons is to reduce water and maintenance costs, which developers use as a selling point for prospects that don’t enjoy lawn work and may have a green consciousness.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Is it time to consider bartering?

Who among us hasn’t traded one good for another? Or exchanged services of equal value with someone else? Bartering is the oldest form of human exchange and it’s still going strong.

We know the following is a minor example of bartering but we thought it was cool nonetheless.

Two ladies in Massachusetts recently bartered their sign lettering services for landscape services, including a fall cleanup.

One of the ladies found out how much the landscaper would charge and then the ladies did the same amount in signage, magnetic, truck lettering, whatever they need. All parties seemed to be happy with the deal, reports wickedlocal.com.

We wonder if landscapers are more open to the concept of bartering in light of customers’ increasing reluctance to part with their cash in this economy?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Enrollment in PSU's World Campus, including its online turf instruction, growing like crazy

Almost 10 years ago when A. J. Turgeon Ph.D. taught Penn State’s first completely online class he had just 17 students. Today almost 10,000 students from around the country and world are taking classes from PSU’s World Campus. The World Campus now offers degrees 63 different degrees, says an article in the Centre Daily Times, Centre, PA.

Presently, Turgeon teaches three on-campus turfgrass courses and two completely online courses. He is now one of a staff of about 120 involved with PSU’s World Campus.

Did we mention that online education is growing fast?

How’s this — a 37% increase of course enrollments from last year to this, reports the Centre Daily Times.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Nanotechnology coming soon in a package to you?

The agrichemical industry is driven for many reasons to develop organic pesticides posing less risk to humans and fewer adverse effects to the environment. These newer products are usually less persistent in the environment, effective at lower use rates and often targeted at specific pests.

This is a tall and expensive order. It may take the discoverer of a new molecule up to a decade to bring this new active ingredient (a.i.) to marketable products. Almost always this new pesticide is used in agriculture first. Then, depending upon the molecule’s action against specific turf & ornamental weeds or pests and its expected financial payback, it may find its way to our market.

OK, you already know this stuff, right?

What you may not realize is the importance of formulation science in the process. Developing formulations that allow a molecule to do the job it’s supposed to do in an environmentally friendly, efficient and economical way is as vital to the process as discovering the a.i. in the first place.

That’s why a recent presentation at the British Crop Production Council Congress by a gentleman by the name of Steve Rannard of IOTA NanoSolutions is so exciting.

As reported in the Farmers Weekly Interactive on Friday, Nov. 13, Rannard reported that his company has come up with a process to develop nano-dispersed formulations for organic pesticides possessing a low solubility in water. Nanotechnology is the study of the controlling of matter on an atomic and molecular scale, says Wikipedia.

Without getting too deeply into specifics (click here for the article on Farmers Weekly Interactive to learn more), the end result of the process is the formation of tiny nanocrystals of the a.i. that behave almost like a solution when mixed with water.

Why is this significant?

Nano-dispersed formulations reduce packaging waste and shipping costs, reduce the need for solvents and —this is huge — improve performance at greatly reduced use rates. At least that’s been the case in trials with “a world-leading” fungicide, Rannard claimed in the article in the Farmers Weekly Interactive.

Look for nanotechnology to make a big splash in the pesticide market within the next two or three years. — Ron Hall

Saturday, November 14, 2009

New Web site and university class to specifically teach sustainable landscaping



Dr. Marietta Loehrlein, a horticulture professor at Western Illinois University, is teaching a new class called Sustainable Landscaping Practices, in spite of the fact that there is no textbook on the topic that is appropriate for such a class.

“The technologies are developing very quickly, and our students need to learn about them before they get into the job market,” explains Loehrlein. “Getting a textbook published will take too long, our students need this information now.”

Dr. Loehrleiln has also started a Web site focusing specifically on sustainable landscaping thanks to a stipend from the WIU Foundation and Office of Sponsored Projects in 2010. You can access it here.

She says many university classrooms are equipped to access information on the Internet. Her Web site will make it easier for both instructors and students to access the information in an organized manner. Click here to access http://sustainablelandscaping.us.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Confused about sustainability in the landscape biz?— Get the book


The “Sustainable Movement” in the United States is not a passing fad. The push toward sustainability in terms of preserving our resources (and let's consider our businesses to be valuable resources) and enhancing our environment is here to stay. And it’s only going to get bigger.

If you’re uncertain about what it means to the your company (and the industry as a whole), get your hands on and read the latest Crystal Ball Report from the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET).

PLANET made the publication —“Green Industry ECOnomics: Innovating Toward a Sustainable and Profitable Future” — available for the first time at the recent Green Industry Conference in Louisville.

This 107-page publication, which features the thoughts and experiences of more than 20 experienced Green Industry and environmental professionals, will give you a great understanding of the significance of sustainability as it applies to the landcare industry. It will provides case studies and many great ideas for making your company more sustainable — both in terms of the environment and in terms of profitability.

“Green Industry ECOnomics” is just one of many publications that you’ll find invaluable in running a successful landscape/lawn service company at PLANET’s online bookstore. Click here to access the bookstore. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Water efficient landscape ordinances in all of our futures?

SAN MARCOS, CA — You could look at California’s mandate that all jurisdictions there create water efficient landscape ordinances as either more government intrusion into the private realm or another step toward the professionalism of the state’s huge and largely unregulated landscape industry?

Or both, of course.

In 2006 the California legislature passed a bill requiring all local jurisdictions within the state to come up with a landscape ordinances aimed at reducing water waste on landscapes. The legislature said the ordinances must be in effect by Jan. 1, 2010. Even after three years of drought and calls for dramatic water use reduction throughout much of the state, and especially in Southern California, many cities are just now getting down to business on the issue.

Case in point — San Marcos, a city of about 90,000 people in northern San Diego County.

Here are some of the details of an ordinance the city is considering passing yet this year to beat the Jan. 1 deadline. (They are similar in many respects to ordinances that have already been adopted or are being considered elsewhere across the state.)

— Public agencies or developers constructing new buildings with 2,500 sq. ft. or more of landscaping or renovating a landscape of that size must apply for a permit.

— Homeowners constructing new buildings having 5,000 sq. ft. or more of landscaping or renovating a landscape that size must apply for a permit.

— Existing landscaped properties bigger than one acre would be required to audit irrigation water use immediately to help the city establish a database, and submit irrigation audits to the city every five years.

— To obtain a permit, applicants would need to submit a site plan and a plant list, and calculate their maximum water allowance according to a formula.

It wasn’t clear how the new regulations, once passed, would be enforced, or what the penalties for noncompliance would be, according to an article in the San Diego Union Tribune appearing Nov. 7.

It's not a matter of if similar laws will be floated elsewhere in the United States; it's just a matter of when. — Ron Hall

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Cosmo names landscape pro one of top stud muffins in U.S.A.

Hey, one of ours made Cosmooplitan magazine’s “Hottest Bachelors of 2009” list.

Patrick McMahon, 26, a landscaper in Lake Stevens, WA, was one of 51 “hunks” to be featured in Cosmpolitan’s November issue.

Being selected came as a surprise to McMahon as his 22-year-old sister Kristen secretly nominated him this past spring. In an interview with The Daily Herald, Everett, WA, he described being selected as the sexiest bachelor in Washington State as “surreal.”

Check out the article and a couple of images of McMahon by clicking here. Or, of course, you can pick up the November issue of Cosmopolitan . . . . But, really, what red-blooded, American male landscaper is going to walk up to a check out counter with a Cosmo in his hands? That just wouldn’t be right!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

NY DEC sketches out plan for organic land care initiative

The NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) told key Green Industry leaders in that state that it is crafting an organic land care initiative to be called Green Organic Yards NY — Be Green, for short.

Mary Roy from the DEC, in an email to the leaders, wrote that Be Green will be a voluntary program with these primary goals:

— To establish a department framework for an organic land care approach and a means by which consumers can identify individuals or businesses who provide Be Green services and training.

— To develop a Department “agreement” (similar to a contract), which contains the consistent set of baseline conditions that Be Green practitioners must follow, including prohibited practices, training requirements and appropriate use of future Department Be Green service mark (logo).

—To develop a separate set of agreement conditions for Be Green training providers, including a course content outline, to which any practitioner or course provider wishing to participate in the Be Green initiative must adhere.

The DEC will be sending out a set of draft materials later this year and will be holding a meeting with an “outreach initial group” in the early part of 2010, according to an email Mary Roy sent to a group of Green Industry leaders.

After the Department completes development of Be Green, it would be officially launched sometime in 2010, the email said.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Holiday tipping — what's lawn care's experience?

My lovely wife, Vicky, was a waitress at a popular steak house for more than 30 years. We counted on her tips, combined with my modest salary as a journalist, to keep the home fires burning.

Now that the children are grown, married and gone, she no longer has to serve tables at the steak house. Enough is enough, right? She now spends her time taking care of our home, gardening and practicing her faith. We no longer count on tips to stay above water.

All of this came to mind in reading a recent Consumer Reports (CR) news story that said fewer people tipped during the 2008 holidays than in previous years. CR, basing its projections on surveys this past January and another in October, projects that service providers can expect even less in the way of tips this holiday season.

According to the CR report, here are the most common professions receiving holiday tips — hairdresser (36%), manicurist (33%), newspaper carrier (30%), barber (26%), pet-care provider (26%), child’s teacher (20%), mail carrier (13%), lawn-care crew (18%) and garbage collector (6%).

What caught our eye was the statistic that 18% of respondents said they tipped their “lawn-care crew.” Sounds a bit high to me.

If you’re a lawn care or landscape service provider and usually receive tips (or even cards or small gifts) from customers during the holiday season let us know. — Ron Hall

Sunday, November 01, 2009

NLRB confirms landscape professionals' role as green roof experts

Yes, times are tough for construction workers, and roofers are looking for work, just like just about everybody else in the building trades. But Chicago roofers won’t be horning in on the green roof business, not significantly anyway.

On Sept. 30 the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled in favor of the landscape industry and essentially against a chapter of Chicago roofers union that had attempted to get a piece of the green roof business in the Second City.

A chapter of the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers complained earlier in 2009 that it is qualified and should be allowed to install green roofs, especially those systems characterized by pre-planted trays of greenery. At the heart of its complaint was work being done by Moore Landscapes, Inc., Northbrook, IL, at Roosevelt Collection, a loft and retail development with a projected 80,000 sq. ft. of green roofs.

Moore Landscapes, in a hearing this past July, said it had completed 20 green roofs since 2002. In all, landscape contractors have completed more than 100 green roofs in the Chicagoland this past decade.

The NLRB ruled that roofers could only perform limited portions of a green roof installation, according to the article in the Chicago Tribune. — Ron Hall

At right, green roof garden installed at the Chicago City Hall in 2000. The garden consists of 20,000 plants of more than 100 species, including shrubs, vines and two trees.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Young talent is eager to bring sustainability into the industry


Many of us in the landscape industry are grappling with the concept of sustainability, something that I've been researching and attempting to understand for more than a year.

The more I learn about sustainability as it relates to the landscape/lawn service trade the more I'm convinced that we have to embrace it from an environmentally responsible AND a business standpoint.

That was one of the dominant themes at PLANET's Green Industry Conference (GIC) in Louisville this past week. Lots of presenters at GIC have been sharing information on the topic. Their messages all start with the same introduction, at least when it comes to the "green" portion of sustainability -- it's not a passing fad.

Tim Schauwecker, program coordinator at Mississippi State's excellent Landscape Management program, reinforced just that point. Tim was the moderator at one of the 80 or so round tables at the Thursday morning Breakfast of Champions event at PLANET's GIC. Me and four other contractors spent more than an hour learning about what's coming down the road in terms of sustainability, spending much of our time getting up to speed with LEED and the Sustainable Sites Initiative that the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the U.S. Botanic Garden are preparing for its eventual incorporation into LEED.

LEED is program run by the U.S. Green Building Council to make buildings more energy efficient, healthy for occupants and friendly to the environment. It is having a huge impact on the construction trades.

SSI may have an equally large impact on the landscape/lawn service industry, once SSI gets paired with LEED. Keep your eyes on its progress.

But, back to Tim and what's going on with his program. He says that the 70 or so students he has contact with at MSU in Starkville, MS, are on top of this sustainability issue like gnats on a ripe peach. Learning the "green" way of providing products and services is becoming a bigger piece of their educational experience, he says.

This leads me to wonder that as they (and students from other progressive horticulture and landscape programs), start their careers within our companies and/or create their own companies, how much farther they will drive this issue of sustainability, within our industry, especially its environmental components.

There is a lot of bright, ambitious young students in these programs. What impact is this educated but inexperienced talent having on your companies?

-- Ron Hall

Friday, October 23, 2009

Addressing the 'hydro-illogic' cycle

Dr. James Beard, professor emeritus Texas A&M University and a world-famous turfgrass expert, wryly refers to “the hydro-illogic cycle” when discussing the water needs of lawns, sports fields, golf course and other properties.

“When there’s a drought, authorities go into a panic and start saying ‘we have to do something.' When it starts to rain again the panic passes and they say ‘oh well, we really don’t have to do anything.’ That’s the hydro-illogic cycle,” says Beard.

The hydro-illogic cycle, of course, is quite different from the hydrologic circle (or cycle).

Well-known to anyone who studies water, the hydrologic cycle refers to the process where fresh water is continually recycled, being dumped onto the earth as rain or snow and returning to the atmosphere as water vapor from the oceans and the earth’s land masses. The process is repeated over and over again, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, eon after eon.

In other words, when we use the term water scarcity we’re usually referring to a regional lack of fresh water, not water in total, which covers three quarters of the earth’s surface. The amount of fresh water by comparison is tiny, just 2.5% of the total. More startling yet is the amount of fresh water available to sustain our societies, less than 1% of world’s supply of fresh water. Most fresh water is locked up in ice at the poles, in glaciers, in soil moisture and in very deep aquifers.

But even this tiny amount of available fresh water would be sufficient to sustain our needs if it was captured and distributed and used efficiently. This of course starts with using what we already have more efficiently, the least expensive source of “new” fresh water.

Beyond that, lack of reservoirs, the need for additional distribution (including infrastructure badly in need of replacement) and too little reuse of the water we already have are at the core of our regional water shortages

Says Beard, there is no reason for water to be scare, particularly in the eastern United States that gets enough precipitation (even if it is unpredictable) to sustain forests of trees, which research has shown require far more water than turfgrass, he adds.

Will the water hydro-illogic cycle be repeated in north Georgia and into the Carolinas, a region that suffered one of its worst droughts on record in 2007-2008. That drought caused billions of dollars in lost revenues in agriculture, the Green Industry and other water-dependent businesses.

The region is predicted to remain one of the fastest growing in the nation for the next 30 years and the region will almost certainly be revisited by droughts.

Now that the rain has returned to this region and its flush with water, will policymakers there put new sources of fresh water on the legislative backburner?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

These H2B 'facts' are way out of line

Can this be true — that 98% of legal, seasonal H2B guest workers are paid wages lower than the prevailing wage reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics?

Or that 64% of the cases the DOL-certified wage fell below 75% of the mean hourly wage?

A Washington D.C. “think tank” known as the Economic Policy Institute reported in 2008 that it is true. The EPI said it gathered these findings from 15 states, which it listed at the end of a short article.

In our opinion, the EPI has to offer a lot more explanation of how it came up with these numbers before they’re taken as credible. Unfortunately, once they’re reported they're taken as fact and are freely shared.

For example, the 98% statistic turned up in an Oct. 21 article in the Los Angeles Times. The statistic jumped out at us because our personal experiences in visiting with landscape companies and documenting their H2B workers have been the opposite — that employers desirous of keeping these valuable workers pay them the prevailing wage in their particular regions. And as these workers gain skills and experience more than the prevailing wage.

With the U.S. economy at near full employment from the late 1990s until just a few years ago, just about every landscape company owner with H2B workers told us the same thing— they couldn’t find able-bodied U.S. workers willing to show up every day to do routine landscape work, such as mowing, trimming and installing hardscapes . . . even at prevailing wages, which are admittedly lower than union scale but in line with other service industries.

Our experiences visiting and meeting with landscape company owners and, indeed, many of their seasonal guest workers puts to the lie the claim — an exaggeration that makes it absurd on the surface— that 98% of legal, seasonal H2B guest workers are paid wages lower than the prevailing wage.

Statistics like this are often picked up and passed on as fact. Coupled with today’s bleak employment picture, which has savaged job prospects for U.S. workers and guest workers alike, it's unlikely that the present administration or Congress will look at guest worker programs favorably when they get around (if they ever do) to an immigration overhaul. — Ron Hall

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Reicher going to Nebraska; Purdue seeking new turf extension specialist

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN — Purdue University is looking for a Turfgrass Extension Specialist. The position becomes available July 1, 2010. Dr. Zac Reicher, who presently holds that post, announced this past summer that he is leaving Purdue after 21 years there (17 as Extension Specialist) to take a position with Extension at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Reicher said in a recent Purdue enewsletter that he took the position because his wife accepted a position at the University of Nebraska as Director of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning in the School of Architecture.

“I am what’s considered a ‘spousal hire’ in university speak, which means if the school wants one person bad enough, they’ll make room for their spouse if qualified,” Reicher wrote in the newsletter.

Reicher said the he's excited to be joining the strong turf team in Nebraska but has mixed feelings about leaving central Indiana.

“The turf staff and administration at Purdue, the Midwest Regional Turf Foundation and the entire Turf Industry have been very, very good to me,” wrote Reicher. “On the other hand, Nebraska offers the chance to start over, tackle new opportunities and hopefully build on an already strong program undergoing significant changes with retirements.”

If you’re interested in the Purdue job and you have a Ph.D. degree in Crop Science, Agronomy, Horticulture, Plant Ecology or related disciplines, you might want to contact Dr. Cale Bieglow at cbigelow@purdue.edu or Dr. Herb Ohm at hohm@purdue.edu.

For more information about Purdue Agronomy and the Turf Science Program, visit the Web site here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sustainable Sites accepting applications for pilot projects Nov. 5

The Sustainable Sites Initiative will accept applications for pilot projects starting Nov. 5 and closing Feb. 15, 2010, in conjunction with the release of the next report and new rating system, called The Sustainable Sites Initiative: Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009.

Any type of designed landscape is eligible to participate, ranging from academic and corporate campuses, parks and recreation areas, transportation corridors to single residences so long as the total size exceeds 2,000 square feet. Fees for participating in the pilot project process may run from $500 to $5,000 depending on project budget (Note, limited scholarships will be available). Approximately 75 to 150 projects will take part in testing the first national rating system for sustainable landscapes.

The Sustainable Sites Initiative is a partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the U.S. Botanic Garden and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Until now, design and construction rating systems included little recognition for benefits of sustainable landscape and site design. Landscapes can clean water, reduce pollution and restore habitats, all while providing significant economic benefits to land owners and municipalities. The U.S. Green Building Council, a stakeholder in the Initiative, anticipates incorporating the Sustainable Sites guidelines and performance benchmarks into future iterations of its LEED Green Building Rating System.

Visit the Sustainable Sites Web site on Nov. 5th for the online pilot project application. For email updates on Sustainable Sites, click here.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Big plans for turning Philly greener

PHILADELPHIA — This city has proposed tackling its combined-sewer overflow problems with a $1.6 billion, 20-year plan that would use rain gardens, green roofs, thousands of additional trees, rain-harvesting barrels and porous pavement, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported September 27.

Environmental experts and federal regulators are reviewing the 3,369-page plan put forth by the Philadelphia Water Department.

The green capture plan is being hailed as one of the most ambitious ideas to reduce combined sewer overflows and increase “green” living of a major metropolitan area. According to the plan, runoff is reduced, diverted or filtered by layers of soil and plant root systems. The Inquirer reported, “Some areas would temporarily store runoff until the stress of the storm on the combined sewer system is reduced and the water can then be treated in the sewer treatment plants.”

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Landscaping to soothe our harried souls...can you dig it?

Landscape professionals increase their competence and marketability by gaining the knowledge and experience to earn industry certifications. National organizations provide certification opportunities as do many state associations.

Here’s a new one on us. It’s called Project NatureConnect (PNC), which is headquartered in beautiful Friday Harbor, in Washington State’s San Juan Islands. It’s not a certification program as much as an educational/learning program.

“Landscapers learn holistic gardening techniques that include teaching their clients how to use nature – connecting activities to create personal healing garden designs and therapeutic backyard landscapes that increase wellness and spirit, says the PNC.

Program Director Dr. Michael J. Cohen has published landscape studies at the PNC Web site that show that pictures of peaceful relaxing landscapes evoke calm and tranquility in most individuals. . . Better yet, the real thing — beautiful landscapes that reconnect people to nature.

“At Project NatureConnect, to become therapists, landscapers learn online, how to use and teach as many as 147 nature-reconnection activities. They use them to help their clients discover special attractions in nature that peacefully fulfill their natural senses: plants, flowers, scents, sounds, etc.,” says a release from the PNC.

The PNC offers online training, job, Masters or Ph.D. degree programs at its Institute of Global Education. According to the release, it “enables our psyche to walk nature's path to socially and environmentally responsible relationships, stress reduction and sustainable livelihoods.”

Hey, I can dig it . . . to resurrect a phrase I haven’t used since my Nehru jacket days. — Ron Hall

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Tiltometer encourages safer mowing

The Tiltometer sounds like something you might find at a neighborhood carnival, but it’s no amusement park thrill ride. In fact, the Tiltometer’s purpose is to keep mower operators safe. Glendale Grounds Management, based in Leeds, West Yorkshire, England, uses it and other safety innovations to prevent workplace injuries.

Designed by Glendale engineer Angus Lindsay and built by machinist Gavin Blair, this simple device allows mower operators to experience what a particular angled slope would actually feel like, reports the UK trade journal Horticulture Week. So, what exactly is a Tiltometer? It consists of a mower seat on a frame that can be jacked up to varying angles. It’s that simple. Glendale is also working with a manufacturer to produce an “inclinometer” to be installed on its commercial mowers.

Why is this important? Each year more than 80,000 people in the United States are injured in mowing accidents. Some of the most serious, including deaths, occur when mowing on steep hills or embankments, which leads me to remind you of the STARS (Safety Training Achieves Remarkable Success) program offered by the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET). If you're in the landscape business and you're not participating, you should be. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

U.S. EPA moving toward disclosing identities of pesticide inert ingredients

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Environmental Protection Agency is moving forward with a plan to disclose the identities of all inert ingredients in pesticides including those that are potentially hazardous. The EPA says the increased transparency will assist consumers and users of pesticides in making informed decisions and will better protect public health and the environment. Pesticide manufacturers typically disclose their inert ingredients only to EPA. Currently, EPA evaluates the safety of all active and inert ingredients in a product’s formulation when determining whether the pesticide should be registered.

The Agency anticipates publishing its proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register within the next few months. In it, EPA will discuss ideas for greater disclosure of inert ingredient identities, including inerts associated with various hazards, as well as inerts in general. EPA believes one way of discouraging the use of the more hazardous inert ingredients in pesticide formulations is by making their identities public. In addition to pursuing regulatory action for inert disclosure, EPA is considering encouraging voluntary initiatives to achieve this broader disclosure.

On Sept. 30, EPA responded to two petitions (one by Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, and a second by certain State Attorneys General), that identified more than 350 inert pesticide ingredients as hazardous. The petitioners asked EPA to require these inert ingredients be identified on the labels of products that include them in their formulations.

See also the U.S. EPA's Oct. 1 release: EPA Opens Transparency Window into Pesticide Registration Decisions

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Congratulations to David J. Frank for 50 years of service


GERMANTOWN - David J. Frank celebrated 50 years in the landscaping business by inviting everyone to his party at his place this past Friday. Frank used the occasion to hold a blood drive and a collection day for a food pantry and Condella's Coats for Kids.

Click here for a 2-minute video from Fox 6 featuring the party.

Congratulations from Landscape Management magazine David J. Frank for a half-century of service.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Canada's anti-pesticide crusade marches on

Calgary, a city of about a million people in southern Alberta Province, has been holding public hearings to determine whether it should ban “the cosmetic use” of common lawn care chemicals there.

The meetings have been drawing dozens of local citizens. The discussions have been heated with anti-pesticide proponents pushing for the ban and people involved in the lawn service industry arguing against it.

Calgary’s city council is expected to make a decision on the ban sometime yet this fall.

We’re not blessed (or cursed) with the ability to see into the future, but if we had to lay down a wager on this one, our tenspot would be on a Calgary ban on the use of these chemical lawn controls.

If you’ve been following this blog you know that cities (and several provinces) in Canada have been on a pesticide banning binge — responding to the wishes of well-organized, well-funded and aggressive activist groups. The anti-pesticide crowd couches its crusade as a public health campaign, disregarding the country's regulatory system that has tested and approved these products for use.

Lawmakers, either for political reasons or fearful of being perceived by their constituents as being unresponsive to their well-being, accept the anti-pesticide safety allegations without critical examination. — Ron Hall

“Pesticide bylaw draws a crowd,” cbc.ca, Sept. 24, 2009

“Alberta bans weed and feed products,” cbc.ca, Nov. 13, 2008

“N.S. municipalities want cosmetic pesticide ban,”
cbc.ca, Sept. 28, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

Regarding turfgrass — let's get our facts straight first

The City of Boerne is a progressive little city (about 7,000 people) in the middle of beautiful Hill Country in central Texas. . . Well, actually, its leaders might be a bit too progressive.

This past week, in a 3-2 vote, its city council shot down a proposal to allow St. Augustinegrass to be used in the city. A previous city council in Boerne had banned that particular species of lawn grass in new lawns in 2004 because it claimed St. Augustine required too much water.

Texas has a serious problem in terms of its future water supplies so the concern by the local lawmakers with protecting the water that they already have is certainly laudable.

What’s not so certain, however, is council’s knowledge of turfgrass or its water needs. As anyone who is familiar with turfgrass knows, it’s not turf’s fault that water is wasted on it; it’s the fault of the person irrigating the turfgrass.

Proof of this lies literally on Boerne’s doorstep. Several years ago, with funding by the San Antonio Water System and Texas Turfgrass Producers, turfgrass researchers Dr. David Chalmers and Dr. Kurt Steinke, Texas A&M University, conducted a 2-year turfgrass drought tolerance study at the new Irrigation Technology Center in San Antonio, which isn’t that far from Boerne.

The researchers (Dr. Steinke has since accepted a position at Michigan State University.) got some fascinating and heartening insights into the ability of turfgrass to survive lack of rain and to recover when it returns. The study consisted of subjecting 25 lawn grasses (including St. Augustine) to 60-day drought conditions using a one-of-its-kind rainout shelter.

In a nutshell, what the study discovered was that turfgrass is a lot tougher (at least when it comes to surviving lack of water) than most people realize. They also discovered that it survived much better when it had been established on native soils than when it was established in a 4-in. layer of topsoil.

No disrespect to the City of Boerne, which sounds like a delightful place, or its well-meaning lawmakers, but before they consider legislation targeting turfgrass, including St. Augustine, they might give a look to the final report of the “60-Day Turf Drought Recovery Project,” at the ITC Web site here. —Ron Hall

Friday, September 25, 2009

Is this the best irrigation catch can in the world?


If you do irrigation audits you can toss your tuna cans into the recycle bin. Texas AgriLife Extension Service engineers claim they have the best designed irrigation catch can in the world — The Aggie Catch Can.

"This design change is significant as it greatly reduces splash-out during sprinkler testing, thereby improving the accuracy of tests to measure the efficiency and application rates of irrigation systems," said Dr. Guy Fipps, AgriLife Extension engineer and designer of the new catch can.

In theory, monitoring irrigation applications is simple, Fipps said. One simply puts out containers and runs the irrigation system for a specified amount of time. Everything from tuna cans to cups are used, but the results must be converted to inches of water applied over the area. Rulers or graduated cylinders and calculators are needed for the process, and the chance for error by non-professionals is high.

The Aggie Catch Can, however, is cone-shaped and has graduated markings in both inches and millimeters.

"Unlike tuna cans, catch volumes may be read directly without the need for rulers or graduated cylinders," Fipps said.

Other advantages to the can are that its cone shape allows it to be easily stackable with other units. Also, it comes with a stainless steel stand that is staked in the ground.

"This means it can be used on uneven or sloped sites," Fipps said.

The irrigation catch can is now available through the AgriLife online bookstore. at http://agrilifebookstore.org. A set of 12 cans with stands costs $54 plus shipping. At the bookstore, search for item number SP-368.

With water and energy costs being what they are today, irrigators can quickly pay for the cost of the cans by properly calibrating their systems, Fipps said. Also, reducing over-irrigation is vital to preserving the state's resources.

"As about 40% of municipal water use is for landscape irrigation, conserving water in landscapes is important if Texas is to be able to meet its future water demand," said Fipps, who is also the director of the Texas Irrigation Technology Center.

The Aggie Irrigation Catch Can was developed with support from the Rio Grande Basin Initiative.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Guidelines to sustainability


The Professional Landcare Network is ready to release a major publication dealing with sustainability as it applies to the landscape industry. "Green Industry ECOnomics: Innovating toward a sustainable and profitable future," is the title of the publication — Crystal Ball #29. It will be released soon. Get it. Read it.

Meanwhile, here's an interesting case study from Dallas highlighting some of the same principles explained in the PLANET pub:

Residential Architects Stephen B. Chambers Inc., an architectural firm that specializes in modern and traditional residential design, remodeling, and historic renovation, recently completed a home here using many of the principles of sustainable design. Particular attention was paid to efficient use of space and the conservation of energy, water and other natural resources on the site.

“The client’s primary goal in the design of this new home was to downsize to a single-level, low-maintenance, high-efficiency home,” says Chambers. “Protecting the environment, and conserving the site’s natural resources also were important elements. As we progressed through the design process, we carefully studied how to create a Modern Texan design that integrates with nature and provides a habitat for migratory birds and butterflies.

The residence was built to provide food and water for wildlife by providing animals with food and water. This in no way impedes the experience of the garden; it is designed to allow man and animal to co-exist without hindering each other. We also created cover for wildlife, where animals can hide from people and predators alike. Places are provided for wildlife to build nests and have their young. Special attention was paid to landscaping to further make the residence a real certified wildlife habitat.

Another unique feature of this home is a 1,650-gal. galvanized steel cistern in the front yard that serves a real purpose in providing supplementary landscape irrigation by collecting rainwater from the roof. Symbolically, it reminds us of how important water is as a resource.

Steve remembers that his mother, who was raised in Nebraska during the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s, used white porcelain bowls in the 1950’s in Dallas to collect rainwater from the roof downspouts to wash her hair. “Somehow, in just a few generations,” Steve says, “we have forgotten what a scarce commodity fresh water can be and that a real effort is necessary to intelligently conserve it and other natural resources in our environment. This can be done by specifying many of the recycled, recyclable, renewable, and short-growth products that are now available to architects and designers.”

Other sustainable features of the home are: open cell foam insulation, galvanized steel roofing, stone quarried within 300 miles of Dallas, pine end grain block flooring, deep overhangs and loggia, high-efficiency appliances and ceiling fans, high-performance windows and doors, high-efficiency air conditioning, low-flow plumbing fixtures, drip irrigation system, minimal water use landscaping, low maintenance grasses and no lawn.

Stephen B. Chambers Inc. hopes to offer homeowners with solutions to integrate their homes with local nature and preserve water so that even when living in our homes we can contribute to a sustainable world. — LM Edit Team

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Connecting water quality, nutrients and turfgrass


An almost-forgotten acquaintance turned up again this summer. None of us were happy about it. We started seeing way too much of this old “pal” in my neighborhood. Now we’re wondering why.

What I’m talking about is algae. It is seemingly everywhere in the waters of the western basin of Lake Erie. I have lived within eyesight of this most southern of the Great Lakes practically my whole life. I’ve been around long enough to remember similar lake conditions in the 1960s. It wasn’t pretty then; it’s not a pretty sight now.

Actually, I had almost forgotten about the mats of gelatinous material floating in our harbors and huge patches of the lake glowing pea green. At least to the extent I saw them late this summer.

For many years, following the ban on the use of phosphorus in detergents and the passage of the Clean Water Act, the actions taken to restore the Lake’s health (more accurately slow its decline) seemed to be having their intended effect. Most of the algae disappeared and the lake's water cleared. Many of us felt the lake was on the mend. But, when the algae erupted in such quantities again this summer, we became less sure. The lake's health appears to be regressing to conditions we hadn't seen in decades.

What does this have to do with the Green Industry? In my opinion, plenty.

The presence of algae in such quantities in Lake Erie involves three issues key to our industry — water quality, nutrient management and the role of turfgrass. The need for the first of the three is obvious. Questions surrounding the other two are gaining traction in the popular press and with lawmakers. That they’ll eventually become bigger here is an almost certainty as evidenced by rules in Minnesota and many regions of Michigan in recent years banning the use of phosphorus fertilizers on home lawns and commercial properties except where soil tests indicate a phosphorus deficiency or when establishing new turfgrass.

("County could ban urban phosphorus," Battle Creek Enquirer)

How much does modern lawn care practices contribute to the nutrient loading of streams, bays and lakes, in particular to my Lake Erie? Speaking for my small region of the Great Lakes, mostly rural northwest Ohio, my best guess is very little, at least compared to other sources of nutrients and pollutants.

To understand why the lake, especially the western basin, is so loaded with nutrients consider the geography of its watershed. A huge swath of low, fertile northwest Ohio and, to a lesser extent, northeast Indiana drains into the lake via the Maumee River, the largest river by volume emptying into the Great Lakes. Its brownish, silt-laden waters flow into Lake Erie at Toledo, Ohio. Several other usually slow-moving rivers that meander through farmland contribute to the load in this relatively shallow (average depth 30 ft.) part of the lake, as well.

Northwest Ohio, with the exception of Toledo, is mostly farmland, covered with thousands of acres of corn and soybean. Prior to settlement in the 19th Century, a goodly portion of this region of Ohio, called by early settlers The Great Black Swamp, was freshwater marshland. By the early 20th Century, farmers — many of them German immigrants — had drained the marshes, erected dikes and began turning and planting these rich, heavy soils.

Today less than 10% of the original marshlands, protected and managed by the feds and the state, remain

Nutrients also enter the lake via the Detroit River, which flows into the lake after passing between Detroit and Windsor, Canada. And, sometimes forgotten, at least by U.S. residents, are the thousands of acres of farmland abutting Lake Erie on the Canadian side of the lake.

Recognizing this, you have to wonder how much of the lake’s nutrient overload comes from turfgrass, in particular the practices used to keep it green and healthy. Do the practices we use to maintain turfgrass get more of the blame than they deserve when it comes to discussions about the health of our rivers, bays and lakes?

That varies somewhat from region to region and is dependent upon predominant land use patterns, but generally the practices that are used to grow and maintain healthy turfgrass do get more attention and blame than they deserve in discussions of water quality.

Yes, when we don’t follow best practices in our maintenance and fertility programs, we can and almost certainly do contribute to unsightly, costly and environmentally harmful effects to our water supplies. These best practices, of course, involve the intelligent use of turfgrass fertilizers. Obviously, we can't allow our chemical lawn care products, including fertilizers, to enter our waterways.

But looking at one specific example, my end of Lake Erie (the example I know most intimately), the contributions of healthy turfgrass to our environment, indeed to the health of Lake Erie, would seem to far outweigh any criticisms aimed at it as a contributor to the water quality and algae problem.

Wouldn't more and wider strips of turfgrass better protect our waterways from the runoff from our farms and along our roadways? Wouldn't larger areas of healthy turfgrass in our urban communities be preferable to pavement, asphalt and other impervious surfaces that allow runoff and all manner of pollutants into our streams, rivers and lakes?

While there have been more than a few research studies that have documented the role of turfgrass in slowing runoff and capturing pollutants, I'm wondering what scientific evidence there is that the procedures and products used in lawn care contribute to our nation's water woes. To date I haven't seen it. But if it's available, I would certainly share it on this blog. — Ron Hall

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tracking the M&A activity

You might think that with the economy being in the dumper the past 18 months or so that M&A deals in the landscape/lawn service industry would be kaput — wrong. Mergers and acquisition activity has been slow but far from dead.

Once the economy starts picking up steam, look for things to really get interesting. We're hearing that lots of 50-something owners in the landscape/lawn service arena are ready to cash out ..... for the right price, of course.

“Green Industry Merger & Acquisition News,” a nicely crafted email newsletter that arrives once every six weeks, tracks M&A's in the industry. We look forward to getting it because it provides a tidy recap of recently done deals. It is put out by an outfit known as The Principium Group, headquartered in Cordova, TN, which specializes in mergers and acquisitions in the landscape/lawn service industry. — LM Edit Staff

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

From the high seas to the lawn next door

Sea captain Bernardo Jorge Herzer, who logged more than 40,000 nautical miles on the high seas, hit a home run with the development of patented, hand-held landscape maintenance equipment powered with propane canisters.

His young company, Lehr Inc., is getting incredible press and earning accolades from environmental groups for his propane-powered blowers and trimmers.

Check out the 5-minute interview featuring Herzer on Fox media, by clicking here. Unfortunately, the interview is too short to find out what Herzer and his company plans to roll out next in the way of propane-powered landscape equipment. We’ll ask him at the upcoming GIE+EXPO 2009, Oct. 29-31, in Louisville, KY. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Machine vs. man in evaluating turfgrass — machine more efficient


STILLWATER, OK—To measure turfgrass performance, professionals have traditionally relied on trained human evaluators who provide visual assessments of turf quality. But human evaluators require training and may be distracted by many factors that can affect accuracy and consistency of the assessments. New optical sensing technology has recently been introduced to measure the reflectance from turf canopies to determine turfgrass growth, wear tolerance, herbicide tolerance, and fertility.

A new study published in HortTechnology (to access the study, click here) assessed a handheld optical sensor (GreenSeeker) for evaluating overall turfgrass quality in three turf species over two growing seasons. The research team of Gregory E. Bell, Dennis L. Martin, Kyungjoon Koh, and Holly R. Han from Oklahoma State University compared the combined time required for visual evaluation and data entry with the time required for the same functions using the handheld optical sensor.

The study was conducted at the Oklahoma State University Turfgrass Research Center in Stillwater. Visual quality ratings and sensor ratings were collected on schedules prescribed by the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program for the 2002 bermudagrass (Cynodon spp.), 2002 buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides), and 2002 zoysiagrass (Zoysia spp.) studies in 2003 and 2004.

The GreenSeeker handheld sensor used in the study incorporated a sensor head, a telescoping tube, a PDA, and a control box. A single sensor was mounted to a telescoping pole that comprised the primary structure of the handheld. A rechargeable battery rested on the opposite end of the pole to provide power and counterbalance the weight of the sensor. The entire unit weighed approximately 11 pounds and was suspended from an adjustable shoulder strap.

The researchers concluded that use of the sensor reduced the time required to complete data collection and data entry by 58% compared with human visual evaluation. "The GreenSeeker was relatively inexpensive and required less total combined time for data collection and entry than visual evaluation. The handheld sensor was very stable and did not require routine maintenance, update, and recalibration. It provided a consistent, objective evaluation of overall turfgrass quality", stated Bell.

Training personnel to use the handheld sensor, including data entry, took less than one hour; training a visual evaluator can require several days, and evaluators can take months to become proficient.

The researchers added that although the sensor has distinct advantages, there are still reasons to include the human element in turfgrass assessment. Bell noted that "the handheld optical sensor alone cannot provide necessary information about turfgrass texture or density that can be effectively determined by human evaluators. However, it does provide a consistent measure of reflectance that is primarily affected by a combination of turfgrass color and percent live cover."