Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Vole position

Since I've been out assessing lawns for the 2011 season, one problem seems to be reoccurring this year; vole damage. I've seen it on new and established lawns alike--- one more middle finger from Mother Nature after last year when every problem known to lawn surfaced.

First of all if you don't know what a vole is, take a look at the little mouse-like critter on the top left. This my friends is the vermin that has created a highway of scribbled throughout your lawn. The one that is now visible with the spring thaw and could destroy your garden and trees if they are not dealt with. I say they because they are baby making machines and where there is one vole there are surely now others.

The last resort I would suggest would be using an anticoagulant bait like Warfarin besides voles quickly become bait shy when they realize you're trying to poison them. Plus you run the chance of affecting others, birds,cats, dogs....children and you don't want that.

I would also advise against putting down traps unless they capture humanely and you can catch and release.

Instead there are a few natural ways to deal with the scourge. People with outdoor cats do not seem to have this problem and why would they, the average cat catches three to four voles a day....but if you are short on Felines...

I have also heard that laying a stick of Juicy Fruit at the base of their runway can help dramatically. The little buggers apparently love the stuff and they can't digest the gum so, problem solved.

Repairing the damage: If it isn't extensive the lawn should repair itself once the season starts. Rake up the thatch lightly with a rake, (if it hurts your back, you're doing it too hard), and over-seed if you feel the area will not fill in quickly.

On larger damaged areas where the root system has been destroyed, clear away the debris---again lightly---with a rake and reseed the damaged area. All this is a pain in the ass--- I know, but a necessary evil if you want to keep the weeds from moving in and taking advantage of bare spots.

You've already given up the vole position, you don't want to find yourself the long-shot to having a winning lawn.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Who needs who?

As the nice weather becomes more prevalent in the change from winter to spring, you might be considering a lawn maintenance company, or a lawn care company to help keep your turf's aesthetics in top condition.

When doing so, it is important that you treat the process as if you're interviewing a potential employee for a vacant position. Too many times it seems like the other way around where a company is coming in to assess a property and telling the home owner what they need.

Sure, you're calling in the first place because you need assistance, but don't forget who the boss is. You.

Here are some basic questions you should ask any lawn care provider before making the decision.

Although for many people price is an issue there is one of more significance; is the company licenced to perform the necessary applications?

In order to run a company, you must first have a Land Exterminator Licence, (not easy to get BTW) and an operating licence with the Ministry of the Environment.
Usually this is only a problem if the company is a smaller operation. However, be aware that the Exterminator Licence allows up to three non-licenced technicians to work under your licence. Ever wonder why there always seems to be students working on your lawn?

Insurance/ business liability?

Again the bigger guys- not usually an issue. However if someone punctures a sprinkler line with an aerator, or burns the hell out of your lawn, are they covered to replace the damage?


You wouldn't hire a dude to work on your kitchen, or build a deck without seeing previous work would you? Your lawn company should be no different. Usually you can get a feel from the website, but remember it's easy to load a page with stock photos. Sadly I've seen it done.

Do you need to be called prior?

Do you have children, pets, allergies? Do you really want someone coming a day before the big B.B.Q. to do an aeration? Make sure you are called the night before an application so if there's a problem you can let the company know and they can reschedule your application.

What do you get for your buck?

How many applications? What do they include? Is there an extra charge for return visits between scheduled applications.

Some people like my buddy Dave at the Gardener do lawn maintenance and cutting during the season. He also does snow removal in the winter, some don't. Be aware of your needs.

Are there any hidden provisions in the contract? i.e. renewal stipulations. Some companies will automatically renew your contract without your say-so for "your convenience" just like a gym membership.

Ask yourself if you're not happy with the work, do you really want them to keep coming back year to year because of the fine print?

Take back the control. After all it is your lawn and on your lawn they work for you.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Win, place, or show?

First off, congratulations to Mrs. D. Heller of Ajax who won her lawn services for the year, Miss K. Varlow of Courtice and Mr. B. Parker of Whitby who both won Eco Lawn over seeding in our home show giveaway.

Which brings me to my next thought: Home shows- are they worth doing?

For three years now we have been present at the Oshawa Home Show and for three years we have watched a dwindling attendance where at times there were more vendors than potential customers to talk with.

A sad fact and one that has us questioning our involvement in future home shows.

It's not like we're a big ticket service like landscaping, or renovations where one job is the difference in success and failure. We have to explore the bigger picture of residual income where we do our best to create a happy customer who becomes a repeat customer.

Don't get me wrong, we did well enough selling Eco-Lawn and lawn care programs to cover our costs and time. We even have some promising leads that will be the difference down the line.

Yet, when the result doesn't out weight the desire and effort you have to ask some hard questions. Do we win when we place at the show?

Right now an affirmative response would have to come with a twisted arm.

Next year...who knows. we'll cross that bridge when we get there provided my sore feet recover.

Truth or consequences

Really I should be spending more time on telling you about dos and don'ts concerning your turf as the Spring season fast approaches. Instead I find myself wondering why there are so many idiots out there in the lawn care industry slandering the crap out of each other. There are enough lawns for everyone guys!

Yes, I admit there are those, who by their own actions, deserve a good tongue lashing now and again for their lack of integrity, but even in my most ruthless moments I never name the offending company or owner (in print)...let them dig their own grave, the customer isn't as stupid as they'd like to believe.

It's a competitive business, I understand that, but I have always tried to help those who I felt were reputable in this business when they sought my advice and visa-versa.

However, of late, I seem to be hearing from my alliances and customers alike that even I am not immune from attack after several reports of slander and lies against me surfaced from rival companies.

At first I was surprised until I discovered the source of the untruths that reeked more of desperation, greed and petty jealousy--- asinine comments that were more laughable than palpable.

Personally I am here to do a job to the best of my ability, provide knowledge to the homeowner about their lawn which includes what to watch for when others are doing the applications. It's the same advice I'd hope someone would tell me if they saw me pouring gasoline on a fire. I feel it's a public service and if I were an offending party I wouldn't expect a happy customer nor a loyal one...are some of you lawn boys listening?

So hopefully this will be the last post about this subject and I can get back to telling you how to have a green lawn instead of worrying about those green with envy.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

If at first you don't succeed...

I thought I might take the opportunity to tell you a few horror stories I have witnessed first hand from working in the lawn care industry.

I have seen a lawn fertilized against a customer's wishes. I have noticed an application performed on a wrong house. I have been there when a newly seeded lawn was sprayed with chemical weed control. I have seen an aerator take out a shed. I also saw one puncture a sprinkler line, destroy a fence, damage a newly sodded lawn. I've witnessed a ramp fly off a truck on the DVP and subsequently get run over by several vehicles. I have noticed directives from a lawn care company to disregard the pesticide bylaw and spray Killex anyway.

Right place at the wrong time perhaps? No. I have seen these things happen because I was the culprit, ignorant of proper procedures and protocols.

All these mishaps took place when I worked for one of the bigger lawn companies in an industry I knew nothing about when I started.

How is it possible that I should now run a successful lawn care business with asinine mistakes such as these?

First let me tell you, that all I have done was early in my first year and the product of one day training. That's right! One day of training until I was given my own truck and told to go hone my skills on your lawn --- to make mistakes on your lawn. And no one checked up on the work I was doing.

However, I learned from my mistakes. I listened to the veterans around me in an attempt to gain knowledge and I took an interest in doing the job correctly with moral obligations. I wrote for my licence and passed top of my class. I worked with pride and efficiency until I was counted as one of the top technicians in the company. Someone able to train others guessed day of my undivided attention before we cut the poor bastards loose.

To my knowledge, this is the way things are still done by the big guys. After all, time is money. Unfortunate for the home owner mostly, but sadly, for the technician too. I have viewed the results of lawns burned by the wrong applications and far too much product after it was discovered the technician had mixed up his valves and was spraying Merit (for grubs) to control weeds and Par III (for weeds) to kill grubs, for over a month before anyone caught on. He was a nice enough guy, but after a mistake like that was fired on the spot. Another victim of the one day train.

Yet others I knew filled out invoices, but failed to complete any work and were rewarded. After all, they were returning at the end of the day with forty plus work orders done. What company is going to question a work ethic like that?...until the customer calls to complain that his grass is still full of weeds.

Look, I'm not trying to tell you what to do with your hard earned money and I'm not painting all in the lawn care industry with one brush. There are reputable lawn care providers out there who take the time to train their staff properly. I'm simply pointing out the shortfalls in a flawed system too many still use. You as a home owner paying for a service, should be aware of the possibilities.

Is your lawn company sending out a technician with little training to learn on your lawn?

Do you want to put your money down on the roulette wheel?

Personally, I'd rather let them try, try again on someone else's property.