Monday, March 29, 2010

Obama appoints CropLife America exec to key ag post

WASHINGTON D.C. — President Obama this past weekend appointed Dr. Islam Siddiqui to be chief agricultural negotiator in the office of the U.S. trade representative.

Siddiqui’s nomination was held up in the Senate and was opposed by a coalition of more than 80 environmental, small-farm, and consumer groups, citing Siddiqui’s close ties to the agrochemical industry as vice president of science and regulatory affairs at CropLife America, and as a registered lobbyist for the pesticide industry from 2001-2003.

Most everybody in the professional landcare industry is familiar with Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (RISE), which lobbies for and supports the speciality chemical segment of the agrochemical industry. RISE was formed in 1991 by what was then known as the American Crop Protection Association, later to become CropLife.

Ironically, prior to the 2008 election, RISE was concerned about the possibility of Democrats taking over the White House and Congress.

Friday, March 26, 2010

RSVP to Rain Bird's Smithsonian Water Summit

WASHINGTON, D.C. — If you live in or around our nation’s capital and are interested in water issues — the broader perspective — consider attending Rain Bird’s Intelligent Use of Water Summit: “State of the Union”, set for Thursday, April 15.

There is room for 500 guests at the Summit that will take place from 10 a.m. to noon, April 15, in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History on Constitution Avenue.

The panelists are:

Doug Bennett, Conservation Manager, Southern Nevada Water Authority
Paul Goble, Public Works Director, City of Indian Wells, CA
Karen Guz, Conservation Director, San Antonio Water System
Elizabeth Hurt, Community Outreach and Education Coordinator, Inland Empire Utilities Agency, CA
Mark Risse, University of Georgia, on behalf of Conserve Water Georgia
Karla Wilson, Sustainability Consultant, on behalf of Missouri Department of Natural Resources and Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District

Brief presentations from each panelist will be followed by a Q&A session with the audience.

To reserve your place at the Intelligent Use of Water Summit, RSVP by April 1 to or 520/878-2426.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Webinars, like going to college but better

Landscape Management’s next Landscape Contractor Business School Webinar is Thursday, March 25, 11 a.m. EST. It's the third in a continuing series. This one features well-known business consultant Phil Harwood, Pro-Motion Consulting, who will share great information on landscape services in this incredibly competitive service environment — specifically how to determine which services to promote and which to abandon.

Webinars. Wow. I love them.

This morning, over several cups of coffee at a local Burger King, I listened to a 60-minute discussion on the use of alternative fuels in lawn mowers and other landscape maintenance equipment. It was incredibly informative — like going to a college class, but better. The discussion involved three knowledgeable panelists. Even though it took place weeks ago, I retrieved the information because the event's sponsor archived the entire audio/visual of the event on its Web site. I'll be passing on what I've learned soon. I promise you it'll open your eyes to great new opportunities to save money and offer greener services to your customers.

I listen to three or four webinars each week. I think they’re a great use of my precious time. (Everyone's time is precious, right? Once it skips by, there’s no retrieving it. It's gone, gone, gone.)

I’m not suggesting you spend every day dialing into every webinar related to your business that comes along. That's part of my job, which I love, learning what the best folks are doing and sharing it as efficiently as I can with you. But, I'm confident that if you check out our Landscape Contractor Business School webinars you will consider them time well spent.

And yes, if you miss the live presentations, access the archived presentations on our website. We post them all a week or so following the live events.

Like you, I want to keep learning. I’m grateful for people like Phil Harwood and the panelists I listened to via my laptop this morning that generously share what they know via webinars . . . which I can access over coffee as the sun comes up at my local Burger King. Or when I have the time to relax and learn. — Ron Hall

Monday, March 15, 2010

PLANET's Day of Service: Do something your community will appreciate

The Professional Landcare Network’s (PLANET) Day of Service, set for April 22, 2010, is going to be huge. More than 1,000 landscaper company owners and their employees from across the United States and Canada have already selected projects and are gathering the necessary supplies and readying their teams. Many more are expected to join the movement as April 22, the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, approaches.

More than 2,000 landscape company employees and volunteers, many of them youngsters, selflessly gave of their time and sweat during last year’s PLANET Day of Service, the inaugural year of the event. They completed 285 projects. It’s impossible to calculate the amount of goodwill they generated within their communities.

Pick out a worthwhile project that you, your team and your friends can do to improve your community and be a part of this great event.

Here is the website for learning more about the Day of Service where you can the details and register:

And, while we’re on the subject, let’s recognize the PLANET Earth Day sponsors (at least to this point).

Lead sponsors: Agrium Advanced Technologies; American Profit Recovery; JOHN DEERE; Lawns by Yorkshire, Inc.; Shindaiwa

Other sponsors listed on the PLANET Website: Corona - Tools for a Lifetime; Duke's Landscape Management, Inc.; Ewing; Farmside Landscape & Design Inc.; The Greenwood Group, LLC; Grosh's Lawn Service; HighGrove Partners; Hoedown Gardening & Landscaping, Inc.; Include Software; Kichler Lighting; LawnAmerica; LebanonTurf; Nature’s Select; Nufarm Turf & Ornamental; PBI/Gordon Corporation; Premier Turf and Landscaping Inc.; Project EverGreen’s GreenCare for Troops; Schiller Grounds Care, Inc.; Sebert Landscaping Company; Second Nature Lawn Care; STIHL Inc.; Terracare Associates; Turf Appeal Inc.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Slinging 'green' mud

TruGreen, with more than 2.5 million clients and 250 branches, recently announced that it’s the “exclusive U.S. organic and sustainable lawn and landscape care sponsor” of Earth Day Network and that it will participate in Earth Day Network’s Earth Day event on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on April 25.

The announcement drew strong comments from anti-pesticide campaigner Paul Tukey. “It’s all sickening, misleading and yet another example of an unfortunate sellout. Can the consumers see through this? Let’s hope so,” Tukey posted on his

Tukey, in just four short years, has emerged as a white knight leading the charge to slay what he and people in activist organizations see as the irresponsible, pesticide-using lawn care empire. As such, he travels the United States and Canada bashing the lawn care industry for its chemical use (pesticides and synthetic fertilizers) and promoting his book ("The Organic Lawn Care Manuel”), his documentary film (“A Chemical Reaction”) and the Connecticut-based lawn service franchise he co-founded.

Tukey, on his website, writes he once operated his own landscape company and used the same chemical herbicides that most companies use. But he claims they made him ill and a doctor advised him to quit using them, which he did. This revelation, like Saul on the road to Damascus, led to his conversion, only in this case to organic gardening. Building on the communication skills he acquired earning a journalism degree from the University of Maine and his experience as a newspaper reporter he’s attracted an enormous amount of positive press with his anti-pesticide activities and developed what appears to be a nice cottage industry for himself.

But back to TruGreen’s “greener” posture.

“Homeowners want to get the most out of their lawns, but often lack the time and expertise to create a lawn they can truly enjoy,” said President and COO Stephen M. Donly in the recent release. “At TruGreen, we’re not only partnering with homeowners to create a healthy, green lawn that’s easy to care for, but we’re also helping them do so responsibly.”

As part of its collaboration with Earth Day Network, TruGreen is also helping elementary and middle schools green up this year, the release said. Supporting Earth Day Network’s green schools project, TruGreen will help America’s youth enjoy green spaces, learn about the relationship between healthy turf and a healthy environment, and create gardens and landscapes.

The press release went on to encourage readers to call 888/901-LAWN to talk to TruGreen green specialists “to provide assistance in creating an organic, healthy, green lawn.”

(Hey, might as well round up some leads, right?)

Opined Tukey on his blog: “Earth Day is selling out to ChemLawn, the world’s largest lawn care company — and therefore the world’s largest purveyor of poisons around homes, schools and daycare centers.” — Ron Hall

Oh, I also came across the following article "Memphis' ServiceMaster on 'green' road with hybrid vehicles," Memphis Commercial Appeal, March 13.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Plan to “Respectfully Rehabilitate” National Mall Moves Forward

From the ASLA's "The Dirt"

The National Capitol Planning Commission (NCPC) has given its preliminary consent for the National Park Service’s preferred alternative plan for the National Mall, a “comprehensive framework plan” that has undergone a rigorous process of public comment. According to the Park Service, the $700 million plan has received thousands of comments to date. Nancy Witherell, historic preservation lead for the NCPC, argued that the National Park Service’s plan offers “respectful rehabilitation.”

Witherell outlined the major components of the Park Service’s new framework plan:

1) Improve resource conditions: This will establish a new “standard quality” across the National Mall, including standards for maintenance and care. Some areas of the Mall are irrigated; others aren’t. There are high levels of use (some 30 million visitors per year), so plans must address both high-usage and low-usage areas in stages.

2) Prepare Mall for intensive use: The National Mall must accommodate First Amendment marches, demonstrations, and celebrations. Some see the current placement of the reflecting pool as an obstacle in these events. “The reflecting pool currently disperses crowds. For some, it’s a barrier. There are also no bathrooms nearby.” Across the Mall’s long grass panels, “we examined the damage and found that short events aren’t bad, the mall can recover. However, multi-day events requiring the use of tents, generators, can do lasting damage to the turf.”

3) Provide desired experiences: This includes entertainment, social experiences, educational events. The plan includes replacing the Sylvan Theatre with a more flexible event space. The east pond in Constitution Gardens will also be turned into a destination — like the “National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden.” The model is the “pleasure gardens of Europe.” Parts of this component of the plan include moving the Lockkeeper’s house further into the landscape (away from the road), and adding in more benches and sitting areas. Additionally, soils will be re-engineered in spots so they are more resilient for sports.

4) Address user capacity:
The National Park Service hopes to expand bike plans throughout the National Mall so cyclists’ needs can be better met. Provide for physical needs, conveniences, and enjoyment: Food service is currently dispersed throughout the Mall. Restrooms will be linked to some food kiosks to the north of the National Air & Space Museum. New way-finding and signage programs, including clearer signs at the entrance of the Mall Metro station, will be developed.

5) Provide for physical needs, conveniences, and enjoyment:
Food service is currently dispersed throughout the Mall. Restrooms will be linked to some food kiosks to the north of the National Air & Space Museum. New way-finding and signage programs, including clearer signs at the entrance of the Mall Metro station, will be developed.

6) Proposed Projects: The plan calls for a range of new projects, including:
* Re-development of the reflecting pool in Union Square: An international design competition will help generate proposals for the Capitol reflecting pool. The new plan may “retain water, but also make use of hardscape. Perhaps the water is transformable — there could be still / active water elements?”
* New restroom facilities, particularly for the Union Square area.
* New space for event trailers so they are kept off the main grass panels.
* Replacing the Sylvan Theatre with a new multi-use facility.
* Bike rentals / bike storage infrastructure and expanded paths.
* Separate bike and pedestrian paths.
* Canoe / kayak parking along the waterfront.
* Conservation Zoning Plans: There will be clear areas prioritized as conservation zones. People will be directed out of those areas.
* Implementation of 2003 OLIN replanting scheme for the Washington Monument grounds: Plans will finally move forward and incorporate the site design for the new National Museum for African American History.
* Improved circulation: The transportation system will be designed more like public transit, using “optional interpretation, so we can plug-in options.” More bus through-lanes, including access for the D.C. Circulator, will be included, and tour buses will drop off groups in select locations, and then be asked to move off the Mall. ”We are also considering parking meters on the Mall to raise revenue and encourage increased public transit access to the Mall.”
* Sustainable Resource Management: HOK and other leading sustainability consultants are sampling turf soil and grasses to determine the best way to make the grounds more sustainable and resilient and protect vegetation. The Sustainable Sites Initiative was highlighted as a critical tool for ensuring the Mall’s future sustainability.

Nancy Somerville, Honorary ASLA, CEO of ASLA, was first up to speak in the public comments component of the hearing. Somerville said ASLA fully supports the National Park Service’s preferred alternative plan, and added that there “hasn’t been a renovation of the mall in 30 years. It’s fallen into disrepair despite the involvement of the best designers and the work of the park service.”

Somerville argued that restoring adequate funding and creating a true vision for the Mall were critical to its future sustainability. “Repairs shouldn’t be piecemeal. There needs to be a commitment to sustainability, and soil and turf issues need to be addressed.” Additionally, there must be close cooperation among all the government organizations involved. “Planning can’t be done in isolation.” She promoted the redesign of the Union Square area and its connection with the reflecting pool, calling for an international design competition to generate new proposals.

The comments period on the preferred alternative National Mall plan is open until March 18, 2010. Send your ideas to the National Park Service.

For the complete article from the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) click here.

Image credit: National Park Service National Mall Preferred Plan. Conservation Zones Map

Monday, March 08, 2010

Quick, informative refresher on preemergent herbicides

The North Carolina State University Turffiles website is an excellent source for information regarding turfgrass best management practices, especially for turfgrass and grounds pros working in turfgrass transition zone or the Mid-South.

If you feel you need a refresher on preemergent herbicide use for summer annual weed control in turfgrass, click here for an informative quick read from NSCU turfgrass experts Travis Gannon and Dr. Fred Yelverton.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Excellent resource for helpful hiring tips

Several years ago we attended an event hosted by Bayer Environmental Science (“Healthy Lawns, Healthy Business”). One of the presenters at the event was Mel Kleiman, CSP. His suggestions (do’s and don’ts) about interviewing and hiring only the best employees impressed us.

We look forward to Kleiman’s periodic “Helpful Hiring Tips.” Here’s tip #49, which we thought appropriate given that everybody in the Green Industry is gearing up for another busy season, and some of you still need to add some good people to your teams.

1 It's harder to attract and hire STAR employees today because STARs, even if unhappy, aren't looking for new jobs. They are just going to stick it out until the economy gets better and they feel more secure about making a change.

2 While many companies have had layoffs, no one is letting their best people go.

3 It is harder to identify STAR employees today because the huge increase in the quantity of applicants does not equal quality. The haystack has just gotten a lot bigger which makes the STARs that much harder to find.

4 In these turbulent times, employers need all the STAR's they can get just to survive - and, more importantly, to position themselves to thrive when the turnaround comes.

5 Recent surveys report that over 90% of employees are satisfied with their jobs, but only because those employed are happy to have any job at all. The same survey reports that over 70% of employees will look for a new job as soon as the economy improves.

6 Desperate people do desperate things and today's applicants and employees are desperate. They falsify employment documents and stretch the truth in interviews. Once hired, many sue, file complaints, and have accidents.

7 When it comes to hiring, there's 10 times more data on how to look like a winning applicant than on how to hire a winner. Hiring managers need the newest strategies and tools to take back the upper hand.

8 The good news is that employee turnover is down. The bad news is that employee engagement and motivation are down too.

9 The most profitable customers you have are those who keep coming back. What brings them back is the quality of the products and services delivered by your hourly employees. That's why the most important decision a manager makes every day is whom they let in the door to take care of the customers.

10 A University of Chicago study showed that a hiring decision based on an interview is only 8% better than flipping a coin. No business can long survive with those odds.

If you feel this type of information is useful to you, you might want to check out Kleiman’s blog at

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

What would it mean to lose our native plants?

Sometimes you have to travel 300 miles to appreciate what you have at your doorstep. That’s what I rediscovered as I attended and spoke at the Midwest Ecological Landscape Association (MELA) at the Chicago Botanic Garden Feb. 25.

Eager to tour the 385-acre garden located in Glencoe, an established, well-to-do suburb just north of Chicago, I arrived early the afternoon prior to the start of the MELA Conference. Twenty-six unique gardens delight visitors on and around the islands created more than 35 years ago on the property. But who tours gardens in late February? Well, I guess I do.

As I suspected, a landscape doesn’t have to be in full bloom to be beautiful, especially one the scale of the Chicago Botanic Garden wrapped as it was in a blanket of fresh white snow from the previous evening. Best of all, my wife, Vicky, and I had it to ourselves.

But this isn’t about the larger garden in all of its soft, sculpted winter beauty; it’s about a special exhibition in the Regenstein Center, one of the buildings there. The Regenstein, where the MELA Conference took place the following day, is housing an exhibit of watercolors and drawings of rare and endangered native plants. The exhibit, available for viewing through April 4, is entitled “Losing Paradise, Endangered Plants Here and Around the World.”

As we walked the exhibit, marveling at the incredible precision and beauty of the drawings and watercolors of the plants, I wondered aloud (and a bit exasperated) why one of my favorite plants, the Lakeside daisy, wasn’t also featured.

The Lakeside daisy (Hymenoxys herbacea) is among the rarest of flowering plants in the United States and gets its name from the community near my home (Lakeside, OH) where it grows on 19 acres of old limestone quarried land. Apparently, several other tiny colonies of the species can be found, one in Michigan and the other in Ontario, Canada. Even so, we claim the tough little survivor as uniquely ours. Early each May we celebrate the appearance of its tiny yellow blossoms and give the plant its own special day, our Lakeside Daisy Day.

As it turned out, my impatience was unjustified. I had just to turn a corner to discover an incredible watercolor of the Lakeside daisy by artist Dianne McElwain. Indeed, we discovered that our own Lakeside daisy was the star of the exhibition. Its image graced posters promoting the exhibition at several locations within the Chicago Botanic Garden. Imagine our pride. Here it was, an attractive but otherwise unremarkable plant that a casual and careless observer might, on an afternoon’s walk along the quarry property near our home, disregard as insignificant, being featured in one of the nation’s most stunning botanic gardens.

The sight of beautiful watercolor got me to wondering: what is the significance of this smallish, clump-forming, herbaceous perennial? Who can say? All that I can say for certain is that once it’s habitat is altered or destroyed, and once it’s gone — it could be gone forever. Not that that’s likely to happen, not now anyway. Our Lakeside daisy has been recognized and appreciated, and its habitat is being protected.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case for hundreds of other native plant species. Dr. Jerry Wilhelm, who spoke at the MELA Conference the next day, told the overflow audience of 200-plus attendees in the modern Regenstein Center auditorium. With more than a little passion and regret in his voice, he shared that more than a third of the plant species native to Illinois prior to settlement by Europeans has either disappeared or are threatened with extinction.

That may not seem like a big deal to those of us in the landscape industry, who make our living designing and installing gardens according to our typical plants lists, building retaining walls, laying pavers, or mowing properties. But to Dr. Wilhelm, principle botanist/ecologist with Conservation Design Forum, Elmhurst, IL, it’s an unfolding tragedy that we’re all likely to regret once we realize the significance of what’s taking place through careless land planning and development.

Listening to Dr. Wilhem, it occurred to me that as the sustainable movement gains importance (and it will), and the realization grows that we must design, install and maintain landscapes capable of thriving within specific, local environmental regions with fewer inputs of resources, such as water and chemical products, the loss of valuable native species may come back to haunt us. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Interested in propane power? Hurry, catch this Webcast

If you are curious or interested in propane-powered commercial lawn equipment or service vehicles click here and register for the Propane Engine Fuel Summit.

Don’t mess around, the Summit takes place Wednesday and Thursday, March 3-4, near Washington D.C., but you don’t have to travel there to find out what’s going on.

The event is taking place at the internet TV studies of TV Worldwide and you can follow it live via a webcast. Again, you can access the link here to register here. Or you can go to

We don't know exactly what to expect but we're guessing that this Summit could turn out to be an eye-opener for anyone wanting to learn more about propane-powered lawn maintenance equipment.

The Commercial Mowing segment of the program takes place Wednesday, March 3, about 3 p.m. There will be a series of short presentations by:

Greg Lyman, Golf Course Superintendents Association of America
Warren Evans, Dixie Chopper
Bill Baltzer, Ferris
Allen Baird, Cub Cadet
Bernardo Herzer, CEO, Lehr Industries
Lutz Hahn, president, Envirogard

That segment of the 2-day program, will be hosted by James McNew of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute. Again, it's slated to start at 3 p.m. or shortly thereafter.

To learn about the real-life experiences of a successful lawn service company owner, catch the webcast presentation by Eric Hansen, Competitive Lawn Service, Downers Grove, IL, at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 4. Hansen will also be a part of a panel discussion at 2 p.m. on Thursday. Hansen, whose company uses propane-powered production equipment, is the only landscape professional speaking at the event.

(Apologies for the late notice; we just learned of it ourselves.) — Ron Hall