Wednesday, September 8, 2010

That's one for Mother Nature

Final score: Mother Nature 8 Lawn Companies 4

From the start Mother Nature took control of the game. Working from a mild winter, she scored early with weeds popping the first week in April and with trade talks stalled for all-star weed control Fiesta, the Lawn Company had no choice but try to fend off an early flourish with alternate organic methods.

Core Aeration only seemed to compound the problem by stirring up dormant weed seeds, pulling Broadleaf could not keep up to the invasion and by May, shell-shocked Corn Gluten was pulled from the net down 3-0 as the first period mercifully came to a close.

Early in the second period the visiting Lawn Company struck back as all-star Fiesta finally entered the game and found the net narrowing the score to 3-1. Yet as temperatures increased past 30 degrees, Fiesta was penalized for burning lawns and gross misconduct and eventually benched.

Management- the Harold Ballard-like Provincial Government- began to wonder if they had not made a mistake by trading away the future for this highly touted weed killer, but by this time Mother Nature had already countered with a second weed invasion, unleashing Oxalis, Crabgrass and Chickweed. Soon the Lawn Company was down 6-1 with one period to go. Even Chinch Bug broke through the usually steady defence of Neem Oil wreaking havoc on the Lawn Company goal.

In the third period the Lawn Company watched helplessly as Grubs and Sod Webworm sent the home team up 8-1 before they could get one back with Nematodes.

Even with late goals from Fiesta-back off the bench-and Late Fall Fertilizer with a well deserved assist from Eco-Lawn Over-Seeding to make the score 8-4, the damage had been done. Frustrated and battered the Lawn Company watched as the last seconds of this year's game ticked down and Mother Nature hoisted the coveted trophy high.

Well, there's always next year.

I hear there's a Gretzky-like prospect on the horizon for 2012 called Phoma Macrostoma. Perhaps we'll have to build through the draft?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Literally....the grass is greener

So we are in the midst of the perfect storm- wet Summer last year; mild Winter and temperatures that had weeds popping early April; late approval and delivery of the newest weed control by the PMRA, hot Summer this year.

But what does all this mean?

Well, excessive grub damage that I can't treat until mid August at the earliest for one, Chinch Bugs who have made a triumphant return after a two year absence, weeds I can't spray because the new Fiesta weed control burns lawns in temps over 30 degrees factoring in humidity and Crabgrass that has run rampant over the last few weeks despite, in some cases, putting down a pre-emergent in May.

And let us not forget the wonderful HST. Now, not only do I have to tell the customer, there's nothing I can do while their lawn quickly disappears to the elements, I have to tell them it's going to cost more.

"But why does my lawn have all this stuff and my neighbours doesn't?" Many customers ask.

Actually if you look closer you'll see that those living next door to you, do have problems. It's just, from a distance everything looks status quo. And if they don't then there's some cheatin' going on.

In fact, I overheard a conversation the other day, how the old Tri-kill is now selling for $1,000.00 for a 10 lt. jug on the black market.

Wow! A G-note for something I used to pay under a $100.00 for.

As a Lawn Care company owner, I feel a sense of helplessness mixed with frustration over this whole mess. I mean, golf courses and farmers are still exempt under the bylaw and they are dousing their crops/ turf. So if you feel the environment is reaping the benefits of the pesticide ban, think again.

Think of all the acres of farm land and golf courses in Ontario and the picture may seem clearer as all the pesticides still seep into the ground water.

The anger felt is not just me, it's the homeowner, the competitor, the distributor, the manufacturer.

Yet, I am abiding and doing what I can. That means once the temperatures cool down, I can get nematodes into the soil to combat grubs, I can spray, the very expensive, Fiesta without fear of toasting a lawn....and crabgrass.....well, since Acclaim is no longer on the menu and Corn Gluten will not affect established weeds, there is nothing I can do.

In fact I'm sure if there were a nuclear holocaust tomorrow the only things to survive it, would be cockroaches, my step-mother and crabgrass.

In the meantime, stay cool, remain composed, and understand the situation.
Grass is resilient and your lawn can recover with care. In time, so will you.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Return of the giant hogweed

No this is not a post about an early 70's progressive rock song by Genesis, this is an actual article posted this week about the invasive weed up near Renfrew Onatrio, that is threatening to move south. This plant can cause severe blistering on your skin and potential blindness if you get any sap in your eyes.

Just great! Try telling your kids not to touch it when this weed grows in excess of 6 metres tall and stands out like a sore thumb.

In the same breath I came across this article, how a new University of Guelph study reveals some organic pesticides can have a higher environmental impact than conventional pesticides because the organic product may require larger doses.

Could they be talking about Fiesta, that works well enough, but has to be applied to the point of run-off? Or, corn gluten fertilizers that have me applying with my spreader wide open? Or, perhaps the 500 million nematodes I'm putting down per acre to combat grubs?

Look, I'm all for what's best for our environment, but to be told that I can't use traditional means to combat weeds and then be told that, "we're not sure the organic methods are any better in contamination", can see the dilemma especially when Phomamicrostoma is still 2 years away from hitting the market.

My thoughts on the matter are, the powers that be, jumped the gun without having a suitable replacement so they could look like they were doing something.

Yet, don't think there weren't some back room handshakes on this whole deal and someone out there isn't rolling in the green while we all roll in clover and *ouch* Canadian thistle.

I now have a product that costs 3x more then what I used to pay for the Tri-kill and I have to apply at a rate 4x heavier to be effective. It only stands to reason there will be more leeching into the soil. Meanwhile, weeds with a deep tap-root are just laughing.

Heracleum mantegazzianum! Giant hogweed lives!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Push comes to shove

Now, I know I have broached the subject before. The one where some of the larger companies in the lawn care industry seem to have a playbook on converting former customers back into believers of the faith.

However, after listening to some of my loyal patrons moan about tactics their former providers are still using trying to win them back, I find it hard to fathom there would be any register of success.

Let's explore the various levels shall we?

The soft sell tactic: Is the post card you get in the mail from your former company expressing regret. "Something went wrong between us, but we will do what it takes to win you back."

This sentiment is usually accompanied by a picture of flowers, or kittens, or kittens with flowers.

Regardless the customer knows, if that company hadn't sent out students who didn't do the work in the first place, there'd be no need to send a card now.

The hard sell: This is a very aggressive tactic. Incessant phone calls to the point of belligerence demanding to know who's doing the lawn now, promising to under cut the price and even going as far as slander- "the company you have now isn't using the correct products on your lawn."

If they mean Sarritor, then touche'! They've got me there?

Most people I talk to, find this manner of trying to win a customer back infuriating. Why didn't they get a better price two years ago when they were being gouged by the very same company offering the discount?

The Blindside technique: Funny as it may seem, I lost one customer to this tactic. It involves the company targeting other members of the family and offering them a special price if they purchase lawn care for their parents/daughter/ son/ etc. perhaps as a birthday gift?

But usually this special price also comes with some extra applications you didn't ask for. Applications you are subsequently billed for anyway.

The desperate sell: It may involve some or all of the tactics listed above, but no matter how many times they hear the word, "No!", they remain aggressive and will even sneak an application in on your lawn then bill you for it, threatening legal action if you don't pay.

In all, I have an opinion on all the horror stories I have heard over the years. Yet, I know my advice will fall on def ears.

If you'd only treat your customers with more respect and do a decent job with the work you have been contracted for, there would be no need to lower yourself to such a crass member of the bad business animal.

Hello! Is anyone in the lawn care industry listening?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The 33% rule

Last year I had a customer who was always complaining that his lawn was never healthy, green and there were always weeds everywhere. He told me his lawn looked like crap and it did.

I explained to him he got the same applications on his lawn that everyone else did and suggested he may need to have a soil test, because the problem must be on a deeper level.

My guess at that time was, the lawn was low in magnesium, or organic matter and this was causing it to be unreceptive to treatments.

The customer, being on a the most basic program, did not want to spend the $42 and change for the soil test.

"Look," I said trying to keep him happy, "I'll give you my top program next year at the same price you're paying now to get your lawn under control."

He eagerly agreed.

After the first fertilization, core aeration and bio weed control, the lawn was looking much better, but by the time I showed up for the next application, it was back to looking stressed, brown and weed-filled.

It was then I noticed the huge pile of grass clippings at the side of house and the warning bells began to sound. This guy was letting his grass get insanely long, then scalping it down to nothing and expecting it to look like a golf green.

I had given him my top program for half-price and he was pissing all over my work.

So I made a note on the invoice outlining proper lawn cutting techniques and we'll see what happens, but I'm not terribly optimistic.

So let's establish some ground rules. In fact let us refer to it as the rule of 33%.

The days of lawn companies showing up for two weed-and-feed applications a year, are gone people. It died when the bylaw came in. Now the visits have to be more frequent and the applications more regulated. This is my 33% and my commitment to you.

In between visits I need the home owner to be my eyes and tell me when things are not smiles and giggles with their lawn i.e. visible grub damage, weed issues, and so on. I also need the home owner to do their 33%, which is- cut properly.

Here are your 33% commandments.

Thou shalt not remove more than a third of the blade of grass to minimize stress and ring the dinner bell for weeds.

Thou shalt keep thy mowing blades sharp as to not invite turf disease.

Thou shalt keep thy mowing height on high during the summer months as to keep thy lawn drought tolerant.

Thou shalt deeply water thy grass at least once a week to help create a strong root system.

Thou shalt change thy mowing direction from week to week to promote a healthier and thicker lawn.

Thou shalt leave thy clippings on thy grass to return nitrogen back into thy soil.

Thou shalt never gas up thy mower when on the lawn. Hey, it happens.

The final rule of 33% is the weather. You and I may both do our part, but if Mother Nature doesn't cooperate we can still have problems.

I know you are wondering, "33 + 33 + 33...that still leaves 1% unaccounted for".

I guess you can say that 1% is the previous lawn company showing up and doing an application on your lawn even though you cancelled with them. Let's hope you never have to experience that 1%.

As for my customer and his scalped lawn, I`m not worried. He`s a car salesman. Next season when he wants to renew his sweetheart deal of half-price lawn care, I will tell him, he can have the same program again provided he gives me a new truck at half-price- a truck that I will drive over curbs, rocky terrain and abuse. Then I`ll bring it back and tell him it`s crap.

That seems fair.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A double dose

A customer of mine called me in a panic the other day. I had just performed a weed control with the new Fiesta on his property and he was quite upset.

Not at me, but at his former lawn service provider who showed up later that day, even though the lawn was flagged decided to put Sarritor on his weeds as well and left him a bill.

All I could think was, I'm glad they didn't put fertilizer on top of my fertilizer and burn the lawn.

I asked him, "I thought you cancelled them?"

"I did", he told me, "at the end of last season."

"Do you have a cancellation number?"

"I do."

So here is what I told him. In fact, I will tell anyone who has a company, that they've cancelled, show up and do an application anyway. It's more common than you'd expect.

Phone them. Be mad as hell. Quote your cancellation number. Tell them you are not paying for the invoice and will charge them with tresspassing if they show up on your lawn uninvited again. Also add, if there is any damage caused to the lawn due to a double application, you'll be sending a bill to that company for resodding.

To this day, I can't see how further infuriating a past customer will endear them to you when you try to win them back next season?

Yet, a few things still troubled me about the situation.

Why would a technician knowingly perform an application on a lawn that was already flagged and dated for the same day?

Are companies that desperate that they are now hiring people who can't read or aren't aware of the problems a double application could cause? It's a basic rule we're all taught on our first day.

I guess.

And why, when there is Fiesta- considered a superior control- would this company still be using Sarritor?

This second question I had answered the next day when I spoke with one of their technicians who was doing a house across the street from me. He told me they had Fiesta but were not allowed to use it until they had exhausted their Sarritor stock.

So let me get this have a quality weed control to give to your paying customer, but you choose not to use it until you get rid of the stuff that doesn't work as well? Man, that's customer service!

"That's right", said the technician who also asked me If I was hiring.

"Can you read?" I asked.

So getting back to my customer. I told him, "Look at the bright side. With a double dose on your dandelions you shouldn't have to worry about WEEDs MAN."

There's gold in them thar lawns!

Here we are at the end of May and after much waiting I finally got my hands on the gold- Fiesta, the new organic, iron based weed killer.

Why did I have to wait this long when I was told I would have it May 1st to use officially on May 8th?

There are a few schools of thought on this.

Apparently Neudorff was caught off guard by the demand and can't keep up, said one.

Neudorff can be excused. After all how much does a German company based in California really know, or care about how many weeds we have outside our igloos up here in the north?

The PMRA dragged their ass on approval said another, then they had to print labels in French and English and ship it up from California. That takes time.

OK, but dudes! You did know we've had nothing to combat weeds except harsh language since April 22nd, 2009 right? You'd think preparation might have been a little more on the ball?

Yet, what I believe is, this is all about greed. I've seen it before. Does anyone remember how Sarritor was horded by one company who didn't want to share with the rest of the class? For 2 years this went on until it became apparent what junk Sarritor actually was.

Well, it's happening again. I'm sure everyone has seen those new "Brave Heart"- style commercials where war is waged on weeds by a host of iron clad Knights.
Most of the Fiesta has been scooped up for repackaging and selling by one company, leaving the trickle down of bread crumbs to the peasants who have had to fight for every litre of the precious juice.

Forget, that this product is already outrageously priced and has to be applied to the point of run-off to work effectively. Ever seen how long it takes to spot spray a lawn loaded with weeds?

Let's just hope Fiesta works and doesn't become Siesta.

There's already one major lawn company that has been humbled by their back-peddling on Sarritor and because they were reluctant to share, they bare the burden alone.

All I can say is, if you're a small operator like me, hang on, be true to yourself, don't bullshit your customers and when even better controls hit the market- and they will- you'll be in good position to rise above the quagmire that has become the lawn care industry.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hold on. Help is on the way.

With the strangely mild weather we've had this Spring, the weeds have popped early and once again the collective murmur has begun about the ineffectiveness of organic weed controls under a bylaw.

Well, if it's any consolation, the powers that be, now say, they may have jumped the gun a wee bit by going cold turkey on banning pesticides instead of phasing in the ban.

Yet, I'm here to tell you, technology is catching up to legislation and new alternate organic controls are coming soon. Forget Sarritor, it's junk. There are so many variables, I could spend a few hours trying to explain why this product, for the most part has been ineffective, but that's a post for another day.

Certain larger companies who horded the product line over the past few years so small operators couldn't join the parade are doing some fancy dancing. Can you hear the sound of me laughing?

When you tell your customers that Sarritor is God's gift to weed control and will do everything including take out your garbage and drop your kids off at school, there's bound to be some repercussions, but that's a post for another day.

But I'm not here to tell you about products that don't work. I want to tell you of those that, hopefully will. I say hopefully, because I have not used these controls yet. I've only seen the information.

The one that really turns my crank is Phomamicrostoma, a mouthful indeed, but that's not going to reach the market until 2012 just beating the end of the Mayan Calendar. So you'll have a weed-free lawn for one year, then BOOM! Again, that's a post for another day.

Or you could convert your lawn to a self-sufficient one by using Eco-Lawn low maintenance grass seed. Eco-Lawn eventually becomes allelopathic, or in other words; emits a natural pre-emergent herbicide that prevents other plants from germinating within it. You guessed it...a post for another day.

The alternate organic weed control that will be out on May 1st of this year and available for use, officially May 8th 2010,is called....wait I can't tell you what it's called until it receives finally approval from the PMRA.

Anyhoo....this new product seems like a pretty cool control. It's an iron based liquid, I guess that's where they get the Fe in the name. This product is also target specific unlike Horticultural Vinegars, and will cause little or no damage to the grass. It boasts a 90% control after two applications. So, if this is true, it's the closet mimic to 2-4-D we've had yet.

And as for the the picture at the top of the page? Why that's the new FIESTA by Ford....I've said too much.

Perhaps that's a post for another day too?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

And they're off!

Although it may be Easter, they were actually out of the gate in mid March- the big boys that is.

It's easy to understand, after all the weather has been great and there's a huge market place to try and conquer, plus an equally high volume of current customers to service. So like being the first to the top of Everest to plant your flag, lawn company signs have been springing up faster than the dandelions that will soon infest lawns.

Yet, not all applications are created equal and education is the best defence for you the consumer, from finding yourself on the wrong end of the satisfaction quotient.

So here are a few things to remember at this time of the year:
An aeration can cause more damage than benefit if done too early. Usually It's a judgement call, but I feel the middle of April is a safer bet to start.

No matter what you are promised, your hundred dollar Nematode treatment before August is not going to get you 100% control. You'll be lucky to get 20% effectiveness.

Companies assuring you of $25 an application may seem wonderful at first glance, but is it? If they're giving you 5 fertilizations, aeration, 4 weed control, a couple soil stimulants, surface insect and grub over the course of a season it's suddenly not such a great deal. Do the math.

It's a numbers game and someone has to be first, but if you haven't had time to prepare your lawn, then that first fertilizer could be a wasted application. Many companies don't have the luxury of waiting for the right time and conditions to do your lawn. It's more cost effective for them to do the work and then send someone back, if you complain.

Don't be afraid, if you use a lawn company to demand a call the night prior to an application for your consent. This will help you in two ways. 1) You'll have the power to hold the application off if you feel it's too early, or you're just not ready. And 2) If you haven't signed for the year, it will stop those companies from just showing up without your consent and billing you for an unwanted application.

Remember, you as the home owner have the right to choose who you want on your lawn and when you want them.

Take back control of your lawn. It was yours in the first place.

Monday, January 11, 2010

January is for cold and calling

You look outside; there's snow on the ground, it's cold out and you feel miserable from the lack of sun/ flu/ winter blahs. Bah! You just feel miserable.

Yet, the phone is ringing off the hook with annoying lawn care telemarketers like pesky summer mosquitoes, all wanting your business.

"I can't even see my lawn," you say.

It doesn't matter. They know you have one and now is the "unofficial" open season on potential lawn care customers.

That's right. As we speak, freckled-faced twenty-somethings with no idea of what your lawn health is about, other than it should be green, are ready to take your abuse.

For minimum wage and commission, they are going to try to sell you on their company for the next week to 10 days- the average life span of the telemarketer before they quit in a huff.

Then a new recruit will take their place and you'll probably get another call from the very same company.

So much for the National Do Not Call List.

What do they hope to accomplish by pestering you and pissing you off?...

That they pound you into submission, by wearing you down and get your business. "OK! I'll sign up! Just stop calling here."

This tactic doesn't work on everyone of course, but in baseball a batting average where the player gets on base twice out of every 10 at bats, is considered quite respectable.

And for those two new customers, you can expect that a lawn care technician, with about as much knowledge of your lawn as the telemarketer, will show up at your door when the season begins and start doing applications.

The sad, cold reality of it all is; no one seems interested in cultivating relationships with the customer anymore- they just want the money.

Is it any wonder the Lawn Care industry has such a bad name?