Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Is this a challenging econonmy?

I certainly can't say that we have not been impacted by the down-turn in the economy. We have been both by customers who have had to suspend their service until they find employment again and by those customers who have trimmed back on the amount of service they receive as they look to tighten their personal budgets. Many would find this disheartening and would become discouraged. Maybe it's my entrepreneurial spirit that doesn't accept 'no' as an answer that keeps me pushing forward and seeing this period of time a wonderful opportunity.

There are many homeowners who want to hire a professional landscape company for a project or some assistance with their maintenance but don't know where to turn. We have heard more stories this year from homeowners about bad experiences with so called "landscapers" that turned out to be little more than a couple of guys with a lawn mower and wheelbarrow. We have heard time and again how they hired a particular person or company and had hoped for the best and ultimately were disappointed by the experience and outcome.

Some have told me this spring that they thought they could save money by hiring the one or two guy outfit, even though they knew they were taking a risk. They decided afterwards that professionalism does matter and it often saves them time, money and unnecessary frustration.

When I'm on sales calls I am always looking for ways to help the customer maximize their budget and get the best value. I will even recommend that the small guy be brought in at certain points based on the owner's needs and priorities. I learned a long time ago where we fit well into the equation and where we should defer to someone else. We are not interested in doing anything for anybody, but rather serving our customers where we know we can provide results and value.

I'm proud of our team this spring - they are working long hours to make sure that our current customers are pleased with the service they are receiving. They are also working hard to develop and build new relationships in the neighborhoods where we already work.

I am excited every time I am able to give one of our current customers a $50 service credit on their account as a result of their referral. Not only does it tell me that they are happy enough with our service that they would refer us to a friend or neighbor, but it is also good for the customer because they have saved on their landscape cost. Our referral program has introduced us to many people and I'm thankful for these new relationships.

Tough economic times many will ask? Not for us - I reply, it's an exciting and rewarding time to be in business. It's fundamentals really. Listen to your customer, offer them options, provide consultation, deliver on your promises and follow through. We're certainly not batting 100% this spring, but we're working hard to make sure that each person gets what they need.

Thank you to our customers for making this a great spring and an inspiring time to be in business.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Will your lawn survive the summer heat?

Here are some tips for growing and keeping a healthy lawn.

Mowing tips

  1. Mow the grass tall, at least 3 inches, but 3 ½”. The taller the better. Longer leaf blades collect more sunlight for increased photosynthesis, which is how the plant creates food for itself. More food means more energy and stronger grass plants and healthier roots. Tall grass shades the soil, keeping it cooler and minimizes sunlight that weed seeds need to germinate.
  2. Cut shady lawn areas less frequently, allowing the grass to grow taller so it can capture more sunlight.
  3. Sharpen your lawn mower blade before summer heat, and again in late summer for best results, or any time you run over sticks or rocks.
  4. Change the direction of travel with each mowing to help stand the grass up.
  5. Mulch the grass clippings back into the lawn. Rake out clumps of clippings. Clippings are more than 80% water and they will return nutrients and water to the lawn. Clippings do not contribute to the build of thatch.

Watering tips

  1. Measure the amount of water your sprinkler delivers by setting out some cake or pin pans. Measure the water collected in the tins on a level surface after ½ hour to determine how much total time is required to deliver one inch of water each week.
  2. Supplement rain fall as needed to make sure your lawn receives at least one inch of water per week.
  3. Break up the watering into several sessions, watering for as long as possible without allowing the water to puddle. When puddles form the soil is saturated and can not absorb any more water and water is being wasted. If you have watered less than one inch you will need to water again.

Other tips

  1. Clean up leaves, sticks and other plant litter before mowing. Plant litter and debris may contribute to excessive thatch build up and should not be left on the lawn. Mowing over sticks and other debris will dull your mower blades more quickly.
  2. Do not leave hoses, children’s swimming pools or other items on the lawn for an extended period of time. Hot plastic items will heat up and bake the lawn creating dead spots.
  3. Fertilize the lawn with either traditional or organic products to deliver the equivalent of four pounds of nitrogen per thousand square feet for the season. Break up the fertilizer into four or five applications. Reduce the amount of fertilizer you apply in shady lawn areas by half or two-thirds.
  4. Avoid aerating and de-thatching the lawn when dry and hot. Wait until cooler temperatures return this fall, or if you must do it now then water the lawn thoroughly.

It is easier to keep a lawn green and healthy than it is to make a lawn green and healthy. Follow these tips to avoid having to repair or renovate your lawn this fall.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Top five healthy lawn building activities this spring!

Ahh yes, springtime - lush lawns and gorgeous gardens. Your spring clean up is a vital first step to good lawn health. Removing all of the leaves, sticks, nuts and other debris out of the lawn will help the grass to breathe. Once you've raked over the yard take the next steps to build a healthy lawn which is the best defense against pest related problems and will reduce the need for pesticides.

Top five healthy lawn building activities this spring:

  1. Aeration: Lawn aeration is the mechanical process of removing soil cores from the lawn. The holes open up the soil and allow the roots to get more oxygen and make fertilizing, watering and other lawn applications more effective. Aerating helps to build stronger roots making your lawn more drought and pest resistant. You can aerate from mid-April to late May when the soil is moist.

  2. De-thatching: Some thatch is good, but more than ½” of thatch diminishes the effectiveness of watering and lawn applications. Most heavy lawn renovations involve extensive work to remove or aggressively managing thatch. De-thatch or verti-cut your lawn to remove some of this thatch on a regular basis and your lawn will be grateful. You may need to spot seed afterwards so de-thatching earlier if possible by end of April will give your new seed a chance to germinate and grow in before summertime heat arrives.

  3. Fertilizing: Nutrients are essential for lawn health. There are organic or traditional fertilizer products that will deliver the proper amount of nutrients to your lawn. Consistent application of fertilizer in the right amount is critical to the long term health of the grass. Get your first application of product down early, before the forsythia blooms drop. Plan on four to five applications through the season, timed generally about five to eight weeks apart with the major holidays. Your second application falls on Memorial Day, third around Independence Day, fourth on or about Labor Day and your fifth and last application prior to Thanksgiving. The products will change based on the application and the current weather – so consult with a professional service provider or someone knowledgeable at the local garden center.

  4. Add Organics: Build soil health by applying or top dressing your lawn with organic material. Products like Milorganite, leaf compost and SweetPeet are all good ways to get organic material into the lawn. Organics will help to break down thatch and will improve the soil composition and structure and ultimately improve the health of the soil by creating a better environment for microbial activity which is vital to the health of your lawn.

  5. Spot seed: Thin or bare areas should be spot seeded to prevent weeds from getting a foot hold in your lawn. For best results the new seed needs to be in contact with the soil. Either scratch the surface of the soil, top dress with new soil and seed or aerate the lawn twice and then spot seed thin and bare areas. New seed will not begin to germinate until soil and air temperatures are over 50 degrees, even so early spring seeding now is okay as the spring rains will begin to prepare the seed and make it ready to pop when the temperatures warm.

Spring is the ideal time to get your lawn in shape for the season. The combination of these activities will be sure to improve your lawn and get it ready for the summer season. For additional free information about lawn renovation activities email: with “Lawn renovation” in the subject line.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Thank you for your thoughts...

This past several weeks I was in touch with about a dozen or so of our customers and had the opportunity to talk with them about a referral program we were developing. I appreciate that my customers were willing to give me feedback on some ideas we had and how we could improve our business and the referral process that we were discussing. Their insight helped to refine the program which is now posted here:

What was most touching to me were the expressions of sincere care and concern that our customers have for our business and the team members who work at Lawn Lad. I was certainly warmed by their outward desire to help us become a better company. We all recognize the uncertain economic times that we are in and it was clear that our customers want us to succeed.

An unintended benefit of these conversations for me was getting to hear about the instances when our crews have made a positive impact on the lives of our customers. I was also able to hear about instances where we could have improved or done something differently that would have been more positive. All of the feedback was very much appreciated and very valuable to me. So, thank you to each of you who made the time in your busy schedules to share your thoughts and opinions with me.

I am very fortunate to have customers who care about us as much as we care about them. We are working hard every day to improve our business and grow better relationships with our customers and the Heights-area community. It is because of customers like you that we have continued to serve the Heights area for 30 years. Thank you again for your continued business, we look forward to working with you again this year.

Sincerely yours,
Douglas Freer

Friday, March 6, 2009

Top five priorities for the yard this spring

Warm spring like weather sure is welcome after the cold and snowy months of January and February. With thoughts turning to spring now is a great time to get started early in the yard.

My top five priorities for the yard this spring include:

  1. Clean-up: While not generally overlooked I do see people delaying clean up which makes the clean-up work more difficult. Get to the leaves, sticks and general debris early while all the plants are still dormant, including bulbs and perennials. Bed clean up is a snap now while the weather is cooperative.
  2. Pruning: The benefits of dormant pruning are numerous and I've written about them previously. Pruning "naked" plants now allows you to see more clearly what you're working on. Pruning before buds break will direct the plants energy into remaining plant parts creating a healthier. Now is your chance to do this work - don't miss out on this limited window of opportunity.
  3. Focus on the soil: Our urban landscapes contradict the natural cycles in nature. We rake up our leaves and other yard clippings and debris and deposit them on the curb for the city to scoop up and hall away. Yes, the city recycles the yard debris to create compost and leaf humus. But this natural cycle of decomposition is not happening in our own yards, and practically speaking I'm okay with having a neat, clean yard so I do the same thing. But what we must do then is replenish the organic matter by adding compost back to our bed and lawn areas. Organics like SweetPeet, leaf humus and compost contribute to a healthy, productive and active soil that allows plants to grow strong and healthy requiring fewer pesticides and fertilizers to keep things looking good. Focus on the health of your soil and it will pay dividends in the long run.
  4. Nutrients: Fertilizing this time of year before the spring growth is an ideal time to provide necessary nutrients to your lawn and plants. Your landscape plants and trees require different fertilizers from your lawn. In a tight economy people have a tendency to pull back on fertilizing because its an area they feel they can do without and you will not see the immediate results. My recommendation would be to adjust your program but do not eliminate it if you're looking for ways to cut back. The neglected lawn will cost more to renovate down the road then what you will pay now to maintain it.
  5. Seeding: It is still too cold to grow grass seed - but now is a great time to plant grass seed particularly when repairing damaged lawn areas. Rye and fescue normally take about 7 to 10 days and blue grass takes about 30 days to germinate in normal growing conditions. Putting the seed down early with good seed to soil contact now will get even the blue grass to germinate sooner than normal when the soil and air temperatures are consistently above 51 F degrees. When the warmer spring temperatures are here for good the new seed will pop up if we've had sufficient rain and snow fall. Less watering and quicker germination - can't beat it. Two drawbacks - A) seed left on the surface of the soil may wash out with heavy rains and you may need to seed again. B) Do not apply typical crabgrass pre-emergent control products with your first round of fertilizing or you will prevent your new seed from growing as well. You will need to use a product like Tupersan if you want to both spot seed and prevent crabgrass.

Get out into the yard and get going. There is nothing quite like a fresh, clean and neat looking yard to welcome spring.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Taking the pain out of hiring a home improvement contractor

Spring time means home improvements and yard projects, which may mean hiring a contractor to help out. Deciding to hire a contractor can cause fear, anxiety and increase stress. Who can you trust to do a good job, stand behind their work and do it at a fair price? If you understand how to hire a contractor and do a little homework you will dramatically increase your odds for a positive outcome.

The process of hiring a contractor for a project varies on the type and scope of work as well, as the budget. With a deepening recession, homeowners will likely see more offers from individuals and companies they may not have heard of before as unemployed or laid off workers start entrepreneurial ventures with the hopes of making ends meet. Don’t rule out the newer contractors who may be qualified for your job, but there are other risks to consider. Taking the time to select a reputable and professional contractor may save you time, money and wasted emotional energy.

Three key points to consider when hiring a contractor:

  1. Use your gut instinct in determining if you like the personality, style and professionalism of the person or company that you are considering. Feeling like a good fit is the first criteria – but is not the only one. Dig deeper and go beyond your gut instinct before you enter a business relationship that has financial consequences. Be sure to interview at least two or three contractors and get several quotes. Be leery of claims from contractors that simply state they can do the same job for a lot less.
  2. Does the contractor carry the proper insurance including both general liability and Workers’ Compensation coverage? Business insurance is one way to help legitimize a company. Most importantly it provides essential protection for the homeowner from certain liabilities.
    - General liability coverage protects the homeowner should an accident occur and there is property damage or a personal injury. It also increases the chance of recovering any claims should a law suit be necessary from a project that fails to perform.
    - Workers’ Compensation coverage provides the employee of a company with coverage in the event of an injury while working. If a worker for the contractor is injured on the owner’s property and the contractor does not have Workers’ Comp coverage, the homeowner may be at an increased risk regardless if they are negligent in causing the accident or injury. An injured worker who does not have Workers’ Comp coverage through the contractor may have expenses that they seek to recover and the homeowner’s policy may not provide coverage leaving the homeowner exposed to the liability. Workers paid under the table or paid as “contractors” but are really considered employees by the IRS are not then covered by Workers’ Compensation coverage.
  3. Does the contractor put their quote or bid in writing? Verbal agreements are the root cause for many problems between contractors and homeowners. A written agreement, or contract, should detail the scope of service, timeframe for the job, agreed upon price and the terms. A fixed cost contract prevents escalating costs that are common in time and material bids. Change orders to the original agreement and warranties should also be in writing to minimize forgotten commitments.

In a depressed economy homeowners can’t afford to gamble unnecessarily. For a free list of tips on how to safely select a contractor and what questions to ask – email

Monday, January 5, 2009

Improve plant health with winter pruning

Burrrr… who in their right mind would venture into the cold and snowy weather this time of year to work in their yard? The brave souls that don their long johns, scarves and parkas to do some dormant pruning will be rewarded with healthier landscape plants and less work in the long run.

Many people fear damaging plants and avoid pruning all together. Being a bit leery is wise, but with a little knowledge and practice, anyone can prune properly and should look forward to positive results. Pruning is the removal of plant parts to improve plant health. Do remove dead, diseased or damaged plant material at any time – there is no time like the present to remove damaged plant parts which may only cause long term problems.

Starting with the basics - there are three main types of pruning. Corrective pruning redirects growth to achieve a desired shape and a more natural looking plant. Preventative pruning removes dead, diseased or damaged plant material, as well as problematic branches such as those overhanging walkways or growing into buildings and homes. Rejuvenating pruning is done by heading back heavy growth and thinning crowded older plants to encourage new growth.

Specifically, dormant pruning benefits ornamental plants and trees by removing unhealthy or excessive growth and deadwood, and by improving the natural branching characteristic of the plant. It is a combination of the different types of pruning listed above. The best timing for structural, rejuvenating, or corrective pruning is late January through early March when the plant is inactive. So grab your hat, gloves and tools and let’s get busy.

Proper Pruning Tools & Tips

  • Use bypass pruners and loppers (Use anvil style pruners only on dead wood)
  • Use the proper sized tool for the job – pruners for small finger sized branches, loppers for thumb sized and larger branches and saws for bigger branches and limbs
  • Keep equipment clean, sharp and rust free
  • Get a holster to store tools so they don’t get lost and avoid contact with the wet groun

Dormant pruning helps to maintain a plant’s size in a limited space, and it revitalizes older, woody plants. Plants pruned during dormancy become healthier in spring as the plants energy is directed to fewer remaining branches which is supported by the same root mass. The increased energy transferred to healthier remaining stems and branches grows a more prolific and healthy plant.

Dormant pruning reduces headaches during summer pruning work. Keep in mind that pruning actually encourages growth. For those plants that are sheared in summer months like the common privet hedge, new growth rapidly appears with twice the growth output. This is what causes the outer portion of the plant to become so woody – and darn tough to cut back after years of shearing. Selectively removing some of the excessive woodiness will help to redirect plant growth helping the plant to fill in thin and bare areas.

Before starting, have a vision for what your pruning will accomplish so you are careful to prune the correct way to achieve your goals. When pruning, follow these steps in order: 1) Remove dead, diseased and damaged wood from the plant. 2) Clear building structures, paths and driveways of obstructing plants 3) Remove any crossing or rubbing branches that might cause future injury. 4) Thin and head back according to the plant’s natural growing characteristics. Thinning prevents ornamentals from becoming top heavy and more susceptible to winter snow damage and it encourages the plant to fill in the lower areas with new growth.

Before pruning, determine what the plant can handle – which requires knowing what plant you’re working on and its growing habit. Some plants need to be pruned gingerly, while others benefit from a vigorous pruning. In general, it is best not to prune more than a third or quarter of any ornamental or tree, and in many cases removing a fifth of the plant is more appropriate. Rejuvenating pruning usually involves a three- to five-year pruning plan.

Pruning in late fall or early winter should be avoided. Soil temperatures are still warm and the plant is still actively transferring its energy stored in the canopy to the root system. Pruning late fall robs the plant of vital stored energy potentially weakening the plant. Heavy fall pruning is not advised because it may encourage new growth that may not have time to harden off before cold weather sets in, potentially causing frost damage to the new growth. One major exception to late winter pruning is spring flowering ornamentals (e.g. lilac, forsythia, viburnum), which are best pruned after they flower and before they form flower buds for the following year.

To learn more about proper pruning techniques – email to receive a free copy of Pruning Landscape Plants - OSU Cooperative Extension Service Bulletin #543