Thursday, June 25, 2009

Joe says get ready for the 'blue-collar' revival

I like the name “Joe”. Everybody that I’ve known by that name has been a regular guy, hard worker, dependable, uncomplicated.

So it’s not surprising to me that a guy named Joe Lamacchia wrote a book titled Blue Collar and Proud of It.” I’m happy to report, though not surprised, that Joe is a landscaper. He owns and operates Joe Lamacchia Landscape in the Boston area.

Joe’s proud of being a blue collar guy and being a landscaper, and he writes that America is going to need a lot more blue collar types — guys and gals — once this blasted recession starts loosening up.

His message to young people is that there will be no shortage of career opportunities for people that enjoy working with their hands and are willing show up everyday with a lunch pail and eager to put in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wages.

Joe predicts that the services of trained, skilled tradespeople will be in ever greater demand as the U.S. population ages. And who do you think is going to install, maintain and repair all of the water- and energy-efficient systems that will give the green generation its complexion? You got it — the plumbers, electricians, roofers . . . and, of course the landscapers, says Joe.

Check out the Web site and let Joe know what you think. — Ron Hall

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mortgage companies not good neighbors make

My wife, Vicky, and I live on a brick street shaded by massive silver maples in a city of approximately 6,000 people in northern Ohio. Apart from the silver maples, which occasionally shed a huge limb and crush a car during a storm, peace and tranquility reign in our neighborhood of 70- to 90-year-old, wood-frame homes. Several of our neighbors use lawn service companies to maintain their properties, but most of them do their own mowing and cleanups. The lots are small, some as small as 50 X 100 ft., so there generally isn’t much to mow or maintain.

The property adjacent to our property, however, is twice the size of ours, and one of the worst eyesores in the city. The couple that lived there for more than 30 years is gone. The woman died of heart failure perhaps five years ago, and her husband suffered a stroke three years ago and was placed in the county home by his children. We miss them. They were good neighbors. Nobody has lived in the home since, and that's the heart of the problem.

Nobody apart from the neighbor on the other side of the property and myself have mowed the lawn, trimmed the shrubs or removed the weeds since then. We shared this chore for more than two years. For all practical purposes the house and property seemed to have been forgotten. Apart from a “for sale” sign placed in the front yard of the property for several months the first year of the home’s vacancy, there’s been no activity there. None. That was until this past April when a contractor showed up and informed us, the nearest neighbors, that he had been hired by a mortgage company (he wouldn’t tell us the name of the company) to maintain the property. He gave us a phone number to call if anything, such as vandalism, happened to the property.

He also informed us that his company had been contracted to mow and maintain 600 properties, most of them, we surmised from our brief conversation, wards of banks or mortgage companies.

He also informed us NOT to mow the property anymore.

“The mortgage company doesn’t want ANYONE on the property,” he said as friendly as he could.

More than six weeks later, nobody has mowed the property, that is apart from a scout leader and his son, who cut the front yard two weeks ago, an act of community service. Even they viewed mowing the back of the property, trimming overgrown hedges and cutting down the huge weeds growing alongside the property’s fence and house as more of a job than they cared to tackle.

When we called the number given to us by the contractor to report a gutter falling from the house and also the disintegrating condition of the property, we were assured both would be taken care of. The lady answering our call again warned us NOT to mow or ENTER the property. And no, she would not tell us the name of the mortgage company responsible for the home.

If you’re a contractor and you’ve read this far, share your experiences in maintaining foreclosed properties owned by banks or mortgage companies.

Has it been a profitable experience? Or a pain you know where?? — Ron Hall

Monday, June 22, 2009

There are wilder events than a turfgrass field day, but go anyway

There are more exciting ways to spend a summer day than to walk around under a hot summer sun and check out the differences among small rectangles of turfgrass at a research farm or university facility. A turfgrass field day is, well, basically a day devoted to looking at grass — and, of course, learning the best ways to keep it healthy and attractive.

OK we've established a field day won't be remembered as one of the more lively events in your life, although every field day generally serves up some other enticement – usually a barbeque or pig roast or something along those lines. Add that to the equation and a field day is always a day well spent and you'll learn more than you imagined, things that will make you a better turfgrass manager.

In the end, that's what it's all about, right?

Consider this: Your customers see you as the expert who can deliver the goods when it comes to green, healthy grass. It's a good thing that you can. Few of them know squat about turfgrass. They may understand that there are different species of turfgrass (Kentucky bluegrass, fescue and ryegrass, for example) but not much more. Because they’re essentially turfgrass illiterate they’re prone to buy seed based on price.

(This is probably true for many contractors as well. How else do we explain the quantities of seed sold in “contractor’s mixes”? These are usually mixtures of several species of less-expensive, common varieties that don’t perform to the level of newer varieties that have been bred for characteristics such as pest resistance or drought tolerance.)

Remember this: With turfgrass seed you get what you pay for.

A lot goes into today's improved turfgrasses. Developing, producing and marketing high-performance varieties is lengthy, expensive and often frustrating. It typically takes 14 years to go from initial variety concept to bulk seed production.

Plan on attending or sending some of your best technicians to the next turf field day in your region or state. Most universities with turf programs offer them. Most take place in mid-summer when the turfgrass is taking a nap and lawn care activities have slowed. — The LM Staff

Why 'the forgotten man' matters today

The generation of the Great Depression has faded away, and so too has the political ranker of that era. Few individuals remain of that era who came to regard Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, in all of its manifestations, as the grand mechanism that pulled the nation of out the depths of economic despair.

On the opposite end of the political spectrum were those who decried FDR’s efforts as an unnecessary and dangerous expansion of the authority and reach of the federal government into and at the expensive of the private sector.

Who was right? In the hindsight of history, the easiest call to make is that they were both right and they were both wrong.

In light of what’s often being described as our worst economic disaster since The Great Depression, I decided to learn what I can of that era and, hopefully, get some sense of what to expect in terms of a recovery, especially since there seems to be similarities, not to draw too fine a comparison of the eras or causes.

The most obvious similarity, of course, is the ascendancy of a Democratic President and Congress bent on massive government intervention into the private sector. This following an unpopular Republican administration.

If you’re interested in gaining a better perspective of the role of government during an economic crisis, and you want ammunition to buttress your biases one way or the other, I suggest the book “The Forgotten Man: A New History of The Great Depression,” by Amity Shales.

It’s an excellent starting point for understanding how FDR and his New Dealers expanded the size and power of the federal government in an attempt to force the economy into recovery, a recovery, that in spite of massive and often experimental government efforts didn’t materialize until America’s entry into WWII.

So, to get back to central question, who is “the forgotten man,” listed in the book's title?

Is the common man, the wage earner or the unemployed where much of the New Deal’s efforts were and today’s economic reforms are directed?

Or is the forgotten man the business owner, whether of that era or this? The producer of goods and services? The generator of jobs and the cornerstone of America’s successful market economy?

In the end this the heart of the question, whether it was posed during the New Deal era or in regards to today’s ambitious efforts to expand government into previously unimaginable sectors of the private sector.

OK, what did I get out of Amity Shale's book, admitting that one book or point of view is merely a start?

While some of the results arising from the New Deal (the implementation of social security and many of the public works projects, in particular) can be counted as positive results of FDR and his administration's efforts, nevertheless I'm even more concerned that our U.S. economy (and our society in general) cannot sustain itself if the business owner, i.e. the employer becomes “the forgotten man” to a government bent on over-regulation and wealth redistribution. — Ron Hall

Saturday, June 20, 2009

He's a lean, green, mobile landscaping machine

If you’re a young owner or just starting your landscaping business you might want to follow the example of Columbus, OH-area company owner Tim Chiles, the 36-year-old founder of two-year-old Structural Gardens LLC.

This guy is one lean, green, mobile landscaping machine that uses the latest communication and computer technology to do business on the fly. Chiles carries a laptop computer in his service vehicle. He doesn’t even have to leave his truck, or perhaps he’ll stop at a coffee shop or other location with wireless access to whip out a design or proposal. He probably knows every WiFi spot in his service area.

“There is just a huge productivity increase,” Chiles, a certified landscape professional, told Business First of Columbus recently.

Is it working for Chiles? You bet it is. His fledging company has grown by more than 100% this season, generating revenues north of $250,000, even in this crappy economy, reports the magazine.

Here’s a valuable tip for you, check out Tyler Whitaker’s InfoTech column in each issue of Landscape Management magazine. Whitaker, the industry’s premiere “technologist” offers valuable information about time and money-saving technologies in every issue of the magazine.

We're betting that even Tim Chiles, as hip as he is to using technology to keep on top of things, might learn some neat stuff from Whitaker who is constantly finding ways to increase productivity using cutting-edge technology. — The LM Staff, shamelessly promoting one of magazine's sharpest and the industry's most valuable resources.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Avoiding a tall fescue feud on a farm in North Carolina

Which is the better turftype tall fescue cultivar — Tarheel II or Wolfpack II?

An innocent enough question, given that the question surfaced at a turfgrass field day.

But this wasn’t just any field day; this was the Scotts Professsional Seed/Pure-Seed Testing, Inc., Field Day in Rolesville, NC, which is within easy driving distance of both North Carolina State University (NCSU) and the University of North Carolina (UNC).

You see where we’re going with this, right?

The person asking the question (and he asked it with a sly grin on his face) was Dr. Charles “Charlie” Peacock, Professor of Crop Science at NCSU. He was one of several turfies respresenting the Wolfpack at the field day. For the record, there didn’t appear to be any Tar Heels standing among the 100 or so attendees checking out the test plots containing Wolfpack II, Tarheel II and several dozen other tall fescue varieties.

Peacock's question was directed at Dr. Melodee Fraser, who was hired to start the research farm 18 years ago and has led the breeding effort there ever since.

Sensing danger, Melodee wasn’t about to pick favorites considering the intense rivalry between the neighboring universities. Here answer: both varieties show significant improvement over previous varieties, particularly in their resistance to brown patch disease.

In the end, who can blame Melodee, who has devoted much of her adult life to developing the cultivars (along with many other improved grasses) for not publicly picking one of her “babies” over the other?

— by Ron Hall, who neglected (yet again) to wear a hat to a field day and suffered another sunburn on the top of his hair-deprived head.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Artificial turf offers landscapers a nice opportunity

If you’re in the landscaping business and looking for a new revenue opportunity, take a couple of minutes to investigate adding synthetic turf installations to your service mix. If you’re unfamiliar with the product, we suggest you visit the Website for the Association of Synthetic Turf Installers. It has an incredible amount of information on it that is helpful to contractors.

Artificial turf, for sports fields and for home and commercial properties seems to be immune to the lingering U.S. recession. Installations continue to climb at a brisk double-digit annual rate. More and more landscape contractors are offering installations.

Nowhere has this been more evident than regions of the country with expensive water or with watering restrictions, especially for homeowners and commercial property owners in the U.S. Southwest. Some water agencies there are even offering property owners financial incentives for taking out turfgrass and installing synthetic turf, as much as $1 a sq. ft.

Water agencies are targeting what they feel is wasted water. They claim that as much as 60% of the water that property owner use goes to outdoor irrigation. The majority of that is wasted, they say. Synthetic turf does not require irrigation, they reason, so it makes sense to encourage people to install fake grass to save water.

With or without cash incentives, synthetic turf is especially popular on properties where it’s very difficult to grow grass, for backyard putting greens and for dog runs, which homeowners appreciate because their dogs do not wear out the grass in their yards and get muddy.

Synthetic turf marketers stress the savings that artificial turf offers over turfgrass — the savings in water use, fertilizers, pest controls and maintenance costs because, obviously, you don’t have to mow synthetic turf. These are legitimate savings. But artificial turf requires maintenance, mostly sweeping, cleaning and, in some cases, sanitation. Who wouldn’t clean up the waste left by dogs on what is essentially an outdoor, weatherproof carpet?

Artificial turf is not inexpensive. The cost of a professional installation can vary from $6 to more than $20 a sq. ft., depending upon factors such as the prep work needed to lay the poly grass, property size and layout. The presence of small, odd-shaped areas within a landscape would increase the cost because of the extra time required to cut and fit the turf onto them.

Here’s a quick look at artificial turf versus natural turf on a home landscape:

Artificial Turf

— substantially higher initial cost to install
— lower ongoing maintenance costs
— 10-15 year life with minimal maintenance
— much hotter on sunny days
— while some communities offer cash incentives to install it, it is not allowed in some communities or HOAs
— does not provide a natural filter for runoff
— eventually will have to be disposed of

Natural Turfgrass

— lower initial cost
— higher maintenance costs
— often requires irrigation
— provides a cooling effect, reduces urban heat buildup
— a proven bio-filter and cleanser for stormwater runoff
— sequesters carbon, releases oxygen

Again, here's the website for the Association of Synthetic Grass Installers — — Ron Hall

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Can this remote-control mower break into the commercial market?

Labor is the single largest expense for landscape companies. In these economically challenged times when everybody is looking for every efficiency, a remote-control mower that would reduce labor costs would be very attractive to some owners. To this point, in spite of some interesting tries, nobody's been able to come up with a unit that appeals to commercial cutters.

John Wright, owner of Southern RobotX, is the latest entrepreneur to give it a try. He says his hybrid remote control SRX22T commercial mower reduces fuel consumption by 40% and increase productivity for lawn care professionals.

Wright, a distributor of remote control mowers based in New Albany, MS, says that lawn care professionals typically use a bunch of men equipped with 2-stroke weed eaters to maintain slopes over 30 degrees. They are now able to maintain slopes up to 70 degrees with one man and a SRX22T hybrid remote control lawn mower. The hybrid power system on these mowers also keeps the battery charged, he says.

For more information on hybrid remote control lawn mowers, visit

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

This physician makes house calls . . . . but with a mower

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Emergency room doctor Nathan Arnold makes house calls.

But he won’t be bringing a little black satchel of pills and ointments. He’ll be showing up in a pickup truck sporting a solar panel on its cab and a trailer carrying a battery-powered lawn mower.

Arnold is a franchisee of Clean Air Lawn Care, an environmentally focused landscape service started by a Kelly Giard and a handful of other sharp young people in Fort Collins, CO, four years ago. It offers mowing and trimming with rechargeable battery-powered equipment and organic lawn care services.

You might wonder why a doctor would get into lawn care, as we did when we read the article in The Grand Rapids Press.

“I just feel good about doing it,” he told reporter Garret Ellison of the newspaper.

Obviously, he also thinks he sees a potentially profitable business opportunity, this in spite of Michigan’s economy, one of the hardest hit in the nation.

Checking the Clean Air Lawn Care Web site we see that the idea is growing with new franchise locations in Illinois, North Carolina, Texas and several in the Inner Mountain West and the Pacific Northwest.

By the way, Arnold just charges $40 for a house call . . . meaning mowing a standard-sized lawn. — The LM Staff

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Bahamas starts its own landscape association

NASSAU, THE BAHAMAS — The Bahamas Landscape Association (BLA) launched this spring. As of the end of May more than 50 individual and company members had signed up.

The BLA has partnered with the Florida Nursery Growers Landscape Association and is in discussions with The Bahamas Ministry of Education to acquire funding to provide professional certification to its members. The first “Certified Horticultural Professional” program is being offered to its members online.

The BLA sees certification as very important in creating standards in the Green Industry and providing training to industry members. — The LM Staff

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Mississippi landscaper gives away a house

Not all the news you read in the newspapers or see on television makes you want to jump off a tall building. Every once in you see something in the news that makes you appreciate the goodness in people. Here’s one of those stories.

Richard Drummond, who runs Landscaping Logistics, in Biloxi, MS, knows what it’s like to lose a house to a disaster. Hurricane Katrina wiped out his home a couple of years ago.

So, when he learned that a long-time sheriff’s deputy in his area had lost his home in a recent fire and was living with relatives, Drummond offered to give him a house. This week a moving truck is picking up the 3-bedroom house and moving it to the property of the 75-year-old fire victim and former sheriff’s deputy, Glennis Pops Rayburn.

Drummond said he intended to sell the house, which he didn’t need anymore, to make room to expand his landscaping business. That was when he learned that Rayburn had been burned out of his.

"I had something that I didn't need anymore. And here was a man who has a great need for it," Drummond told reporter Brad Kessie of WLOX ABC 13 in Biloxi, MS.

Click here to see the WLOX video interview with Drummond.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Anti-pesticide documentary gets premiere

Paul Tukey's film, Hudson: A Chemical Reaction, premiered in Hudson, Monday night. Hudson is the small town in Quebec Province that set off the chain reaction that has resulted in the banning of lawn care chemicals in Quebec and Ontario provinces.

The film chronicles how Hudson, rallying behind a determined local dermatologist, battled the lawn care industry in court and, receiving a favorable Supreme Court decision in 2001, banned lawn care chemicals.

In the last several years, Tukey has emerged as organic lawn care’s most vocal and recognizable proponent, crafting his organic message into what appears to be a pretty nifty cottage industry. On his website he describes himself as “magazine publisher, best-selling author, public speaker and 2006 Gardening Communicator of the Year.”

In light of his new movie, he’ll need to update it to include filmmaker, too. — Ron Hall