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

To learn more about the therapeutic benefits of gardens, you can also visit the website of Therapeutic Landscapes Network —
— 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.
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

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