Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Would you describe this landscaper as a hero? We would

The word “hero” is tossed around pretty freely these days. In fact, you can hardly turn on the television news program without mention of yet another hero, which is a good thing, if you give it much thought. Hero is certainly better than swindler or racketeer or fraudster or. . . well, let’s give it a rest.

I don’t know if Scot Olson, a landscaper working in Oak View, CA, feels comfortable being described as a hero, but you can bet at least one family wouldn’t hesitate to call him that, reported the Ventura Country Star.

You see, Olson was working in a yard in that city late Friday afternoon when he noticed two toddlers near a swimming pool. He told the youngsters to stay away from the pool, and, believing the toddlers were being watched by adults, he went back to work.

You guessed it. When Olson checked on the youngsters a while later, he noticed one of them floating on the surface of the pool. He broke through a picket fence and snatched the little one from the pool, yelled for help and began giving it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. A woman came and, with Olson’s help pulled the second girl from the bottom of the pool. Again, he applied resuscitation and again the toddler responded.

The newspaper reports both youngsters survived thanks to Olson. Way to go Scot Olson!! -- LM Staff

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A reasoned response to the Ontario ban

On April 22 homeowners and landscape professionals will no longer be allowed to use about 250 chemical products on their landscapes or lawns in Ontario, the most populous province in Canada. Ontario is following the lead of Quebec Province, which took a similar action earlier this decade. Other Canadian cities and provinces are considering bans of their own on chemical landscape products they feel are being used for "cosmetic purposes" only. These bans typically target residential, school, municipal and commercial properties but not golf courses. Farmers and suppliers to the country's agricultural industry are concerned the anti-pesticide movement within the country will target them next.

Below is a letter that Dean M. Stanbridge, a technical consultant to Pest Management Professional, a sister publication of Landscape Management, sent to a local newspaper in Ontario where he resides. We think he takes a reasoned position to the issue of landscape chemical use. What do you think?

Dear Editor

As a long term resident of Milton, I feel it's time to speak up and set the record straight on the new unconstitutional pesticide ban in the Province of Ontario. Before I begin, I would like to make it clear that I am not a proponent of indiscriminate use of pesticides.

To ensure credibility, I've been an international consultant to the United Nations Environmental Program for over 10 years. My research has been published in numerous countries and won several awards that include being the 2004 recipient of the World's Stratospheric Ozone Protection Award for my work on reducing harmful ozone emissions. I'm familiar with the use of pesticides throughout the world and am a regular speaker on this topic.

Although I agree that steps needed to be taken to address the use of "cosmetic" pesticides, it's a sad state of affairs when science and common sense were pushed aside by scare tactics and emotion. This ban will have far reaching consequences that include documented increases to disease and reduced public health. It's sad that extremists on both sides of this issue couldn't have come to a common ground to provide the groundwork for the support of the "judicious" use of pesticides. This would have immediately reduced the use of pesticides by over 90% and still produced the desired control and protection to public health.

I'm deeply disappointed to know that our Federal Constitution can be so easily disregarded and that an entire layer of government, including hundreds of scientists testing can be ignored by pure emotion and misinformation.

Most Canadians will never understand that Canada is one of the hardest countries in the World to grant a federal registration, its use continues to be monitored and reviewed on a regular basis. If any questionable science is unearthed, the pesticide is immediately re-reviewed and validated. In addition to the rigorous pesticide registration process, each professional applicator must be trained and licensed.
In most Provinces, they must also accumulate continuing education hours in order to maintain their license. No other Canadian industry, including doctors, requires this type of diligence to maintain its standing.

I am disturbed to find that an entire industry of this caliber can be essentially disintegrated because of hearsay and rhetoric. To put thing in perspective, I've spend the past 5 years doing a test on mine and my neighbor's properties. We've applied commonsense and kept our lawns cut longer, fertilized at key times of the season and applied spot applications of pesticides, only when required to control noxious weeds. In total, we've applied less than 12 ml of a highly regulated, approved and scientifically tested pesticide. Our lawns are the best on the street and yes I encourage my young children to play on them.

To further that perspective, the average vehicle leaks approximately 1 liter of an unknown mix of oils, gas, antifreeze and other liquids per year. the combination of these fluids are neither tested, regulated or registered and, no, I would never permit my children to play in or around any ditch or ground water anywhere near a road or parking lot.

Before we condemn a highly regulated industry, let's take a good look at our own backyards or in this case our driveways.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Outsourcing and edibles: trends or fads?

You're fired, You're hired: A Fayette, GA, newspaper reports that growing, modern Peachtree City, located just southeast of Atlanta, just signed a one-year contract with TruGreen Landcare of Stone Mountain for about $256,206 for this year to do the landscape maintenance, pick up litter and perform "other duties" for the city. The contract can be extended for one-year terms in 2010 and 2011. The contract includes quotes for individual services so if the city needs to adjust the schedule for mowing and landscaping, it can be done, according to the report in \"The Citizen."

The city recently fired 23 workers, subsequently hiring back several, to get a handle on a projected $3.5-million budget shortfall in next year's budget.

A trend? Definitely. Cities are more and more likely to outsource landscape maintenance and related services to contractors, assuming the contractors are efficient enough to provide the service the city desires, turn an acceptable profit and still save the city money. No disrepect to municipal workers, but my gut feeling is that well-run, profit-driven landscape companies have better systems than cities to get these tasks done efficiently.

Another likely factor in outsourcing is that cities facing budget woes see hiring outside contractors as a way to get out from under the burden of paying benefits to their employees, something that many contractors don't provide hourly workers. That said, I can't speak to whether that's the case or not with of TruGreen Landcare of Stone Mountain as I don't know.

The newspaper reported that Peachtree City expects to save more than $900,000 by letting its city workers go and outsourcing the work they had been performing.

Something to chew on: In an unrelated news flash, but something that we've been referring to occasionally on this blog, Maria Shriver, California's first lady, announced plans for an edible garden on the grounds of the state Capitol.

California chef Alice Waters, who teamed with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom to plant a vegetable garden outside city hall last summer, will help build the garden in May.

The nation's first lady Michelle Obama joined school children last week to plant a produce and herb garden on the White House grounds.

We'll keep an eye on the phenomenon of edible gardens to see if it has legs or is merely a fad. - Ron Hall

Thursday, March 19, 2009

An Obama garden would make edibles huge

It looks like the Obamas are going to be gardening at the White House, so break out your hoes and rakes, and dust off your straw hats because edible gardens look like the next big thing.

In the April issue of Oprah Winfrey’s “O” magazine, Michelle Obama indicates that the First Family is putting in an organic garden. “We want to use it as a point of education, to talk about health and how delicious it is to eat fresh food, and how you can take that food and make it part of a healthy diet,” she tells Winfrey.

Q.) Are vegetable gardens something that landscapers can work into their services?

A.) Yes, but isn't this something that farmers do?

(OK, so I’m having a bit of fun with this. I’ve earned the right after spending much of my childhood working on family truck farms.)

Seriously though, what’s to keep landscapers from incorporating edibles into the landscapes of customers that want them? Many edible plants are attractive, and who doesn’t appreciate fresh produce? Some customers, I’m certain, would jump at the prospect of having colorful and tasty herbs, vegetables or dwarf fruit trees located in the appropriate locations of their landscapes.

Should the First Family go ahead and put in an organic garden at the White House look for a huge uptick in consumers’ demand for homegrown fresh herbs and vegetables.

Imagine this, in addition to showing off that new outdoor kitchen, complete with chrome barbeque grill, wet bar and natural gas fireplace that you installed for them, your customers could be walking their guests to a corner of their property to brag up their prize-winning tomatoes, too. Thanks to you, of course. — Ron Hall

Friday, March 13, 2009

LEED for residential; a green rebuild project

Only portions of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program apply to services that the Green Industry performs, but it’s going to greatly impact the industry, especially once the Sustainable Sites Initiative dealing with landscaping practices are folded into it. You can expect that in another three years or so. The process is a lengthy one, and rightly so in light of the profound influence it will have on the Green Industry. Google Sustainable Sites and you'll see how ambitious it is.

To get a taste of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), and learn about a fascinating green building project in northern Florida, click on the headline for a short and informative video of a fascinating residential project — the green rebuild of a north Florida home that was destroyed in Aug. 2008 by Tropical Storm Fay.

"Those of us in the green community here in North Florida, we've been waiting for a couple to come along and have the vision to spend the extra time, spend the money take the time to do a true green project and this is an awesome project," said Kevin Songer, engineering manager and green consultant in Jacksonville, FL. This will be the first LEED-certified Platinum residence in Florida.

Clicking on headline will take you a site devoted to following the progress of this fascinating  LEED home project.  — Ron Hall

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Force of Nature zeros in on Ontario pesticide ban

The Ontario pesticide ban is scheduled to take effect in April. About 250 products are being taken away from residential lawn care. A rather remarkable e-newsletter, called Force of Nature, being written by  William H. Gathercole, a long-time Green Industry trainer, instructor and columnist, offers a wealth of information on the ban, plus some fascinating personal commentary.

He says the opinions in the e-newsletter don’t reflect those of everyone in the Green Space Industry, or, on occasion, even his own associates. In fact, he admits that he and his team may sometimes be “irreverent or fearless” with their commentary, which is somewhat of an understatement. The enewsletter is unlike anything of its kind that shows up in my email.

Gathercole says that he’s been accused of being anti–environment, but he considers himself a Green Industry advocate, which, he points out, hasn’t stopped him from criticizing the industry on occasion — when he deems that it deserves criticism.

Gathercole, who holds a horticulture degree from the University of Guelph and another pure and applied science degree from McGill University, is a frequent contributor to Canada's TURF & Recreation Magazine.

He says he’s been following “environmental terrorism” for more than a quarter of century. Now he’s writing about it.

Stay up to date on the Ontario pesticide issue via his “Force of Nature” e-newsletter by dropping him an email at force.of.de.nature@gmail.com    — Ron Hall

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Save a tree, save your business

In these tough economic times, the tree care industry is facing a puzzling reality: the decline of business from budget-conscious clients and a rise in infestations of new, invasive pests that threaten trees from municipalities to residential communities. Insects like mountain pine beetle, emerald ash borer, hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) and ficus whitefly have devastated trees in several regions of the U.S. However, clients often do not consider tree removal costs and loss of property value when assessing the economics of treating infested trees.

Tree removal in urban settings can be very expensive. For the past several years, I have worked closely with several key arborists including Will Blozan (Appalachian Arborists, Asheville, NC) on control of hemlock woolly adelgid in North Carolina. Will has estimated that costs associated with removal of hemlock trees killed by HWA are 10 to 40 times greater than treatment of trees with a systemic insecticide. The same is true for many other invasive pests. Explaining this reality up front to your customers can give them a better understanding of the value in treating — and ultimately saving — a beloved, fully grown tree.

For many large trees, a soil or trunk applied systemic insecticide is the only viable option for saving the tree from an invasive pest. Unfortunately, many clients do not contact arborists until after trees are already severely infested. In these instances, a rapid acting product like dinotefuran is required. Dinotefuran, the active ingredient in Safari Insecticide, is taken up into trees within one to three weeks, and can reduce the likelihood that customers will be faced with the prospect of costly tree removal.

So when discussing tree care options with your clients, it is important to make sure they understand that left untreated, some pest infestations will result in expensive tree removal and loss of property value. By doing so, you can improve your business and at the same time help your clients save money in the long run.

Joe Chamberlin, Ph.D.
Field Development Manager - Southeast
Valent Professional Products

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Trade in your mowers for goats?

If this trend catches on you might want to consider trading in your zero-turns. You won’t need so many employees either, other than a veterinarian and some experienced shepherds, which is going to make for some very curious want ads — not to mention job interviews.

The city of San Jose, CA, is using goats and sheep to control the weeds and vegetation at the San Jose/Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant and other sites in and around the city, about 400 acres in all. This is the third year the city has brought in the animals, which apparently do a good job of keeping vegetation in check and ridding city property of nasty weeds, such as thistle and poison ivy.

In February the city brought in 600 animals, and expected to “employ” at least that many more as the season progressed, maybe as many as 100 goats and 1,000 sheep.

The animals come from Living Systems Land Management, San Francisco, but they don’t come cheap. The process reportedly costs about $87 an acre, reports the local CBS affiliate.

Outsourcing and expectations

Grounds workers for the Seminole County School Board may have to start looking for new jobs if the school board in this northeast Florida county goes through with its plan to outsource its grounds maintenance, reports the Orlando Sentinel the other day.

Not unexpectedly, these same 26 grounds workers aren’t very happy, and have appealed to their union for help.

The school board says it’s facing a $64-million cut in state funding. It reportedly spends $867,000 annually on the salaries and benefits of the grounds workers who maintain 70 sites within the school district.

The school board is accepting bids for grounds maintenance until the end of March. Thirty-six companies had expressed interest by the end of the first week of March.

It will be interesting to see how much the school board can save by outsourcing grounds maintenance. Or, what kind of service it can get if it goes the low-bid route. — Ron Hall

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Here's a neat idea — a "Staycation"

Here's a great marketing idea from Bruce Allentuck, Allentuck Landscaping Co., Clarksburg, MD, and Mike McShane at Plantique in Allentown, PA — a "staycation." Bruce emailed the following to his customer recently. He says he got some of it from Mike McShane's blog.

How about the following for a neat message:

From rising airfares and gasoline prices, to the hassle and stress of travel itself, there are a number of factors driving the ideal vacation spot closer to home.

In fact, many homeowners are opting to create a vacation spot in their own backyard. Dubbed a "staycation," this at-home retreat is characterized by finding rest, relaxation and the amenities of a vacation in the comfort of one's home.

Vacations often lead to visions of sitting on a beautiful patio or deck, drinking a glass of lemonade and enjoying beautiful scenery or landscape. Another vision is spending time with family, playing games and enjoying a few good meals. Whether vacationers opt for tranquility or activity, it can be achieved with a staycation.
Just like a vacation, a staycation requires some preparation. Here are some items to consider prior to the time off:

—Establish the official staycation timeline: To avoid falling into the daily routine around the house, create a start and end date to the staycation so it is a true vacation.

—Brighten the landscape: A freshly mowed lawn and flowers in bloom brighten any backyard. Plant a variety of flowers, update the landscape and incorporate a waterfall, fountain or focal point.

—Create an outdoor living room or kitchen: Extending outdoor living is one of the latest trends. And there's no better time to have the new outdoor living room ready in time for enjoyable summer weather. By adding an awning or canopy over a deck or patio, the living space is versatile in a variety of weather conditions. A grill, cozy furniture, speakers and ambient lighting can also compliment the area.

—Stock up on games: From bocce ball and croquet to badminton and horseshoes, there are plenty of backyard games well-suited for family and friends. A game of cards or board games also make for more low-key activities.

— Find a good book: Grab a few good reads - a newly released book, a classic tale and a few favorite magazines.

—Plan a luau: Just because a flight to Hawaii is out of the picture for now, it doesn't mean a luau can't take place. Grab all the essentials - leis, tiki torches, pineapple, mango, a roast and Hawaiian music. Preparing for the evening ahead of time allows for easy implementation and enjoyment during the staycation.

I'm into the luau idea. We'll try a luau (without the roasted pig and grass skirts) once our neighborhood on the shores of Lake Erie thaws. — Ron Hall

Monday, March 02, 2009

Creative ways to keep going in this recession

These extraordinary times call for creative thinking. And maybe partnering with folks you never thought about partnering with before.

Today, I read an article about two formerly competing remodeling companies on Long Island, NY, sharing the same showroom and parking spaces, saving the one company more than $3,000 a month in rent and utilities. Both companies are having down years and were looking for ways to stay in business. The payback for the company supplying the showroom is that it gets to access the other’s dealer discount for cabinetry, and probably some other favors, which weren't mentioned in the article.

Also mentioned in the article, which appeared in Newsday, is a networking group known as “Go-To-Group," nearly a dozen different businesses that cater to household needs. The group includes a real estate agent, caterer, painter, interior designer, website developer, florist and landscaper. These service-related businesses exchange client lists and referrals, and, of course, enjoy much reduced marketing costs.

Although it wasn’t mentioned in the article, what would keep landscape and lawn service companies from sharing employees, at least during the period of the economic downturn? Of course, it would require trust on the part both companies, and extra scheduling and tracking, but why not? — Ron Hall