Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Snazzier new wheels for UK TruGreen franchisees

TruGreen supports a lively and growing network of franchises in the United Kingdom. The Servicemaster company recently unveiled a new look on the lawn care company's service vans.

Head of Marketing Hannah Banfield has been responsible for the new livery: “We wanted a look that instantly said what TruGreen is all about. Our franchisees spend their days looking after the UK’s lawns and our vans are now an instant reflection of who they are and what they do. Judging from the response we've had so far from customers as well as staff, the new look is working well.” — LM Staff

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Landscape disguise worked . . . kinda

What to you get when you combine a former star athlete, a landscaper’s uniform, Craigslist, an inner tube and DNA in a single caper?

. . . How about 6 years in a federal prison?

That’s what Anthony J. Curcio, Lake Stevens, WA, is facing after his arrest and conviction for the September 2008 robbery of a Brinks armored car. It could be straight out of the pages of The Onion. But, no, not even they can think something like this up.

Click here to read how Curcio, dressed as a landscaper, almost pulled off one of the most creative robberies you will ever read about. — LM Staff

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Pesticide-free park movement grows in the Pacific Northwest

EUGENE, OR — This past Thursday, July 23, members of the Northwest Coalition Neighbors for Alternative to Pesticides (NCAP) and other like-minded people celebrated the grand opening of Rosetta Park here, the latest pesticide-free park in the Pacific Northwest.

The pesticide-free movement continues to gain strength and supporters, especially on parks and public properties in the Pacific Northwest. There are believed to be about 80 pesticide-free parks there.

Click here for a map showing the location of pesticide-free parks in Oregon and Washington. — Ron Hall

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A simpler type of green roof and miniature gardens

Not every green roof is an engineering marvel. Here's a simple and quaint green roof at the Mulberry Creek Herb Farm in Huron, OH. It features too many varieties of sedum and other smallish, drought-resistant plants to mention here. The herb farm, operated by Karen and Mark Langan, specializes in certified organic herbs and offers one of the largest selections of miniature perennials in the United States.

Miniature perennials are becoming extremely popular with consumers, especially when they're displayed in small, decorative planters or pots. Many homeowners are now setting aside small areas of their landscapes and designing miniature gardens using these plants, which come in a surprising variety of shapes and colors. With few exceptions, they're hardy and survive even the northern Ohio winters.

If you're ever in north central Ohio or traveling to the Cedar Point amusement park (America's Roller Coast) in nearby Sandusky, OH, you might want to check out the unique, tiny ornamental plants at the farm, including its growing collection of bonsai, garden railroad and its several whimsical "faery" gardens. Each June the farm has an "HerbFair" that draws several thousand visitors. The festival is a celebration of flowers, herbs, music, arts and crafts. All things Irish were featured at this year's Fair. The theme for the 2010 Fair is Japan. — Ron Hall

Friday, July 24, 2009

Texas couple uses only rainwater for daily needs, including landscape irrigation

If you want to learn how to catch rainwater at your home to supply your daily needs, including watering your landscape, you might want to talk to Texas resident John Kight, a retired engineer. Better yet, attend one of his seminars, starting next month.

Kight is qualified to talk on the subject of rainwater catchment. He and his wife Mary Evelyn live in a 3,500-sq.-ft. home that uses captured rainwater for all their water needs, all. Kight designed the system for approximately $14,500, according to a July 15 article in the Hill Country Times. The system is comprised of six 5,000-gal. and three 1,5550-gal. above-ground poly tanks and can store 34,650 gallons of water.

The newspaper reports that gravity drives most of the system, but a pump delivers the water into the house where it goes through several filters — first a 5-micron cloth filter, then a 3-micron charcoal filter — before it passes through an ultraviolet light system to kill harmful bacteria. At that point it can used for cooking, drinking and bathing.
The newspaper article says that the couple has enough water stored to last them a year in spite of the area’s lingering drought.

It’s our guess that more than a few people in the Texas Hill Country will be in attendance. Kight is offering the seminars Aug. 8, Sept. 12 and Oct. 17 at the Cibolo Nature Center in Boerne, TX, which is located about 22 miles north of San Antonio. That part of Texas is suffering a horrendous drought, and severe watering restrictions are in place throughout the region. Lawn watering in Boerne is allowed just one day a week.

For more information about Kight’s seminars, call the Cibolo Nature Center in Boerne at 830/249-4616 or visit

You may want to download the third edition of the Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting (2005), as well. It has lots of useful information and points out the good points and the challenges in rainwater capture. — LM Staff

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Chicago restaurant features first certified organic rooftop farm

Green roofs — roofs with an impermeable surface covered with a special soil mix and nurturing live plants — offer the following benefits:

— add insulation to the roof, saving energy and reducing heating & air conditioning costs,
— reduce stormwater runoff
— reduce air pollution
— mitigate glare and noise
— lessen the urban heat-island effect
— capture carbon dioxide
— attract wildlife such as birds and butterflies

Now with the creation of Chicago’s 1st certified organic rooftop farm, let’s add food production to the above list. Uncommon Ground on Devon in Chicago isn’t your typical cookie-cutter neighborhood restaurant, not with 640 sq. ft. of soil on its roof and a certified-organic crop of garden vegetables and flowers for the restaurant.

Beyond that, the property at 1401 W. Devon, which was purchased in 2007 and converted to the restaurant, is essentially “green” throughout. To view a detailed account of the sustainable components built into the restaurant or to get directions to see for yourself check out its Website.

The green roof movement — which now encompasses gardens, meadows, playgrounds and nature preserves — has progressed beyond a trend and is now worldwide. Public and commercial buildings in Portland, OR, and, especially, Chicago are leading the way in the United States.

Green roofs for homes next? Why not? Green roofs provide another opportunity for the Green Industry to improve the environment. — LM Staff

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Flow of immigrants from Mexico down sharply

The flow of immigrants from Mexico to the United States has declined sharply since mid-decade, but there is no evidence of an increase during this period in the number of Mexican-born migrants returning home from the U.S., according to a new analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center of government data from both countries.

The Mexican-born population in the U.S., which had been growing earlier in the decade, was 11.5 million in early 2009. That figure is not significantly different from the 11.6 million Mexican immigrants in 2008 or the 11.2 million in 2007.
The current recession has had a harsh impact on employment of Latino immigrants, raising the question of whether an increased number of Mexican-born residents are choosing to return home. This new Hispanic Center analysis finds no support for that hypothesis in government data from the United States or Mexico.

Mexico is by far the leading country of origin for U.S. immigrants, accounting for a third (32%) of all foreign-born residents and two-thirds (66%) of Hispanic immigrants. The U.S. is the destination for nearly all people who leave Mexico, and about one-in-ten people born there currently lives in the U.S.

Data from population surveys taken in the U.S. and Mexico indicate that in recent years there has been a large flow of migrants back to Mexico, but the size of the annual return flow appears to be stable since 2006. Mexico’s National Survey of Employment and Occupation estimates that 433,000 Mexican migrants returned home from Feb. 2008 to Feb. 2009. For the same period in 2007-2008, 440,000 did, compared with an estimated 479,000 from Feb. 2006 to Feb. 2007.

As for immigration to the U.S. from Mexico, data from several sources attest to recent substantial decreases in the number of new arrivals.

The inflow began to diminish in mid-2006, and has continued to do so through early 2009, according to an analysis of the latest available population surveys from both countries. This finding is reinforced by data from the U.S. Border Patrol showing that apprehensions of Mexicans attempting to cross illegally into the United States decreased by a third between 2006 and 2008.

Immigration flows from Mexico, like those from other countries, surged in the late 1990s. Immigration flows dropped by 2002 before beginning to grow again in 2004. But the slowdown in immigration after 2006 was such that by 2008, flows were down at least 40% from mid-decade. The change was driven largely by unauthorized immigrants; flows of legal permanent residents have been steady this decade.

The recent downturn in immigration from Mexico has been steep—a conclusion based on data from multiple sources. The evidence on emigration is not as clear-cut, but appears to point to a stable outflow to Mexico. It remains to be seen whether either trend points to a fundamental change in U.S.-Mexico immigration patterns or is a short-term response to heightened border enforcement, the weakened U.S. economy or other forces.

There is no single direct measure of immigrant arrivals. One particular challenge in measuring the influx of Mexicans is that most Mexican immigrants are unauthorized, including 80% to 85% of Mexicans who have been in the U.S. for less than a decade. As for departures, the U.S. does not track emigration, so any U.S. data can be obtained only indirectly. This analysis draws its conclusions from three data sources.

For the full Pew Hispanic Center Report click here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rain Gardening in the South

Written by North Carolina State University horticulturalists Helen Kraus and Anne Spafford, "Rain Gardening in the South", provides great information on the wise use our most precious resource—water. Rain gardens maximize rainwater, enhance the landscape, and promote good environmental stewardship.

Runoff contributes significantly to polluting our waterways. The rain garden, which functions as a miniature reservoir and filtration system, offers an effective, visually pleasing solution that dramatically reduces toxic runoff, resulting in cleaner rivers, lakes, and oceans.

The authors define the rain garden as “a garden slightly sunken below grade designed to capture rainfall, store that water to nurture the garden plants, and cleanse runoff, thus removing pollution.”

Ironically, rain gardens are more drought-tolerant than conventional gardens. Because of their plant selection and ability to store water, rain gardens flourish during dry spells, as well as rainy seasons, making them particularly conducive to the South.

“Water-wise gardeners are conscious of both the need to limit their water use and the need to minimize runoff, thereby dramatically reducing water pollution,” write Kraus and Spafford. “Not only are rain gardens extremely effective in addressing water and pollution issues, they are gorgeous.”

"Rain Gardening in the South" addresses the specific environmental circumstances of southern gardens, such as climate issues, plant selection, and soil types. It details step-by-step instruction on constructing a garden, from the design stage to post-planting maintenance, including plant lists and troubleshooting tips.

Published by Eno Publishers, in Hillsborough, NC. Rain Gardening in the South, illustrated, four-color, soft-cover, 144pages. Retail price $19.95. ISBN: 978-0-9820771-0-8. — LM Staff

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Where's the groundswell for organic lawn care?

James Young, president of Spring-Green Lawn Care Corp., based in Plainfield, IL, says the company offers “organic” lawn care service in addition to the traditional chemical service, but relatively few customers are opting for the supposedly more environmentally friendly organic service.

In a July 20 interview with reporter Steve Hendershot of the Crain’s Chicago Business, Young said that only about 1,500 of the company’s more than 100,000 customers take the organic service. He says price is one reason why it’s not more popular. The organic service costs 10% to 15% more than traditional service. Also, the organic lawns tend to have more weeds, the reason why homeowners select a professional service in the first place.

In spite of low demand for the organic service, Young told the magazine his company is committed to “move in this direction.”

All organic or mostly organic?

Over the past 25 years, we’ve met and interviewed more than a few lawn care business owners that promote and offer “organic” lawn care services. Some eschew the use of synthetic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers altogether. Many, however, seem to have “mostly” organic programs. For example, some will treat specific areas of a property with “natural” products (perhaps where pets are kept or kids play) and use a traditional chemical program on other more visible areas, perhaps a property's front yard. And some, under some circumstances, will get customers' approval to use synthetic pesticides, usually herbicides but sometimes insecticides, to rid properties of specific weed or insect problems.

Most markets have at least one actively promoted “organic” lawn care service provider. These companies provide a welcome alternative to customers willing to pay a premium for what they perceive to be a safer, more environmentally acceptable service. But demand for these services remains marginal in most U.S. markets, as least compared to traditional service. And evidence suggests, apart from some progressive U.S. regions, it isn’t significantly growing in spite of media reports heralding the new “green” era that we’re supposedly entering.

Results and price rule

The majority of professional lawn care services customers in the United States (a large majority) look at two things in regards to the lawn care program they select — 1.) results in terms of a green, weed-free lawn and 2.) price. If these two factors are satisfactory to them, they’re satisfied. We can only surmise from this that they see the service as being essentially safe and not harmful to the environment .

. . . At least presently that's the case.

This of course could change but not so much as a result of the companies that promote and deliver organic services who generally rely upon marketing rather than political action in seeking competitive advantages in their markets.

The threat to traditional lawn care in the United States, will come, has it always has, from individuals and organizations pooling resources and initiating well-organized campaigns directed against the use of synthetic pesticides and, in some cases, synthetic fertilizers. Generally these efforts start locally aimed at attracting positive publicity and generating public support. If these efforts gain traction and attract supporters and funds, the next step is to pressure local or regional lawmakers to bend to their will. While property owners may appreciate the results they get from lawn care companies, it's not often that they join with service providers to vigorously defend the use of the products that deliver these results.

Canada serves as an example of what can happen. Three Canadian provinces — Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick — have essentially banned the use of traditional lawn care products absent of any groundswell of support by the public for their lawn care service providers.

While it might be prudent for lawn care companies, including big companies such as TruGreen (Natural Nutrient Program) and Spring Green, to offer organic services, they realize that more than 90% of U.S. lawn care customers want green weed-free lawns at a reasonable price, and see traditional chemical services in a positive, non-threatening light — at least that’s been the history of lawn care and remains the case across the United States market. — Ron Hall

Thursday, July 16, 2009

NOFA's Organic Lawn & Turf Course adds NJ stop Aug. 18

One of the aims of NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association), headquartered in Stevenson, CT, is to spread the word about organic growing methods and discourage the use of synthetic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Its members — which include include farmers, homeowners, grounds professionals and land care professionals — stress the importance of soil health and landscape diversity.

NOFA has traditionally confined its educational efforts to New England. On Aug. 18 it will move a bit further south by offering one of its three, one-day Organic Lawn & Turf Courses at Duke Farms, Hillsborough, NJ.

The other two are set for Aug. 07 at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, (in conjunction with the NOFA Mass Summer Conference) and Aug. 20 at Manchester Community College, Manchester, CT.

To learn more about the NOFA events or to register, click here. — Ron Hall

Vote for one of our own in Emerging Entrepreneur contest

Here’s a chance to help one of our own receive positive national recognition. Kelly Giard, founder of Clean Air Lawn Care, is one of five finalists in the Emerging Entrepreneur contest sponsored by Entrepreneur magazine. The winner will be determined by votes on the Entrepreneur Web site.

I chatted with Giard at some length this past winter and was impressed with his environmentally friendly approach to lawn maintenance. He and his creative young team, based in Fort Collins, CO, are creating a nationwide network of companies dedicated to using biodiesel and battery-powered lawn maintenance equipment (charged with solar power).

Yes, his idea might have been a bit ahead of available technology when he started his company a couple of years ago, but recent introductions of battery-powered riding mowers by several major manufacturers suggest that Clean Air Lawn Care has a bigger and brighter future ahead of it.

To learn about Giard and his company, click here.

To see a video of Kelly and to vote for him, visit the Entrepreneur Web site here. — Ron Hall

Monday, July 13, 2009

Garden tours offer great ideas and nice surprises

Steve Tusen is a neighbor I didn’t know, not until this past Sunday that is. Steve’s Garden Railroad was one of 10 local gardens selected this year’s Garden Tour & Tea in our small city of Port Clinton on Lake Erie's south shore in Northwest Ohio.

My wife Vicky’s garden was one of the 10 selected for the Tour hosted by the local public arts council. This is the second year the council selected her garden. She was honored and she enjoys sharing her garden with friends and other visitors. But she also loves to visit other gardens. So when she, as part of the Tour, saw Steve’s Railroad Garden she hurried back to get me, knowing my love for electric trains.

Living just blocks from our home, Steve has quietly put together an incredible Railroad Garden, complete with miniature, hearty plant material. Over the years he has trained and assembled a collection of more than 50 bonsai trees and shrubs, many of which have been incorporated into his backyard, G-scale, electric train layout. While he takes the train and its rolling stock in for the winter, he leaves the track, which is brass, and the plant material in place. Both survive northern Ohio’s bitter winters nicely, he says.

Steve worked for 36 years at a nearby auto parts manufacturing facility until it closed suddenly about 3 years ago. Soon thereafter he took his skills and love for horticulture (Steve is a Master Gardener) to the Mulberry Creek Herb Farm in nearby Huron, OH. Mulberry Creek Herb Farm specializes in producing and selling certified organic herbs and miniature perennials.

He says he has been creating bonsai for about 17 years and he began building his backyard garden railroad about 13 years ago. Each year he produces more bonsai and also adds to the detail of his railroad, which is one of the biggest secrets in our small city, although Steve in a genial, generous kind of guy, and freely shares what he’s learned, both the good and the not so good, in creating miniature plants and also building an outdoor model railroad.

Even if you’re a professional landscaper (and especially if you’re a professional landscaper), don’t pass up an opportunity to tour local gardens or talk with local gardeners. My guess is that you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you see and learn. — Ron Hall

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Mow higher for healthier grass and healthier environment

Why is it that people, including some professional cutters, keep mowing lawns so short?

Travel through just about any neighborhood and you will see turfgrass on most properties mowed to within a half inch of its life.

Yes, pros that mow by the calendar (billing so many cuts per season) are sometimes at fault, but homeowners are mostly to blame. For some reason (We happen to think it's a kind of therapy for many) they crank up their mowers once a week regardless of the height or health of the grass. They don’t realize that if they let their grass grow another inch higher they would have better looking lawns with fewer weeds in their yards. Beyond that they would be doing their pocketbooks and the environment a big favor.

The U.S. EPA says that Americans spend more than 3 billion hours annually using lawn and garden equipment, and that a gasoline-powered push mower emits as much hourly pollution as 11 cars and a riding mower emits as much hourly pollution as 34 cars

The U.S. EPA and lawn & garden manufacturers are working to address the question of emissions. Beyond looking to technology and installing catalytic converters on mowers, the best way to reduce emissions is to mow turfgrass only when it needs mowing, and not according to a calendar.

Follow these 3 easy tips and you will save time, reduce emissions and have healthier turf with fewer weeds:

— Never cut more than one-third of the turfgrass at a time
— Keep your mower blades sharp
— Set your mower high

Here are the recommended heights for the various species of turfgrass (consider a higher cut during periods of dry weather):

Fine-leaf fescues — 2 in. to 3 in.
Turf-type tall fescues — 2 in. to 3 in.
Perennial ryegrass — 2 in. to 3 in.
Kentucky bluegrass — 2 in. to 3 in.
Zoysiagrass — 1.5 in. to 2 in.
Buffalograss — 2 in. to 3 in.
Common Bermudagrass — 1 in. to 2 in.
Hybrid Bermudagrass — .75 in. to 1.5 in.
Centipedegrass — 1 in. to 2 in.
St. Augustinegrass — 2 in. to 3 in.

Try mowing a bit higher, if for no other reason, than as an experiment. We think you will be very happy with the way your property or properties look after a while.

The LM Staff

Saturday, July 04, 2009

We're doing better than far anyway

For $3,300 you can buy a report from Packaged Facts telling you that the lawn and garden industry is cranking along relatively well in this sick economy, especially compared to other industries. OK, so the landscape/lawn service industry is not going gang-busters like it was in the 1990s and earlier this decade. To my knowledge, nobody in the industry has yet had to slink to Washington D.C., hat in hand, begging for a handout, right?

That said, here are some interesting tidbits — read into them what you want — culled from an online article by Media Post Publications:

— the lawn and garden market now stands at $24.12 billion, a decline of -0.1% this past year.

— spending on lawn care has been dropping since 2004 when total sales rose 4.9%. the '05 sales rise was 3.6%, with 1.6% in '06 and a half of a percent in '07 and '08.

— lawn treatment services (fert/pest controls) are expected to decline 1% to 2% the next three years then rebound slightly.

The biggest positive in the article was the growth of the "organic" segment of the industry that until recently was growing at a double-digit rate. This year it's expected to post 5% growth and reach about $485 million in sales.

For a more industry-focused view of the landscape/lawn service industry, read the '09 State of the Industry report in the June issue of Landscape Management magazine, almost certainly the source for some of the data used in the $3,300 report.) — Ronnie Hall