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

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

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.