Saturday, September 1, 2012

Failing marks

The kids go back to school next week, but for me I'm closing in on the end of my 2012 education and the marks aren't good. If I could sum up this season in one word, there are many I could choose from; frustrating, brutal, hopeless and a bunch of others of a more expletive nature.

Here is a look at the class of 2012 and perhaps you'll understand more what I'm talking about.

Fiesta: C- Fiesta continues to be the only somewhat-effective weed control, not killer, on the market, so I don't have much choice but to offer this student a seat in next year's homeroom. Yet, with the number of days pushing beyond 30 Celsius, this student was all but invisible and my patience is wearing thin. Not that I expect much from the next prodigy either. Remember that awful student Sarritor. That dude's now on the streets and homeless.

Corn Gluten: D- I've had it with this consistently under performing student and I am expelling it from all my programs except the organic next year, where it truly belongs. This will also be the final warning for some of my suppliers who happily took my money under the guise of organic products that are bullet proof. You can only sell so much snake oil before the consumer catches on and the backlash is never pretty.

Mother Nature: F If ever there was a student who deserves to be held back another year this is it. An early summer in March, 4 days of precipitation in April- most of that snow, heat alert after heat alert and a dryer, hotter year, with 20% the normal amount of rain fall and you have the class trouble maker. I'm still putting out fires from this one.

Nematodes: C- With insect damage getting worse this year I knew I'd have to rely heavily on this student to perform. However, sitting next to Mother Nature only helped to pull Nematodes grades down for this special needs student.

Super Green: D Perhaps this isn't the year to judge this student, after all if was a foreign exchange for Neem oil, but I didn't see any improvement what-so-ever and if this is what I can expect in the future then I want this application out of my class. Again, notice to the supplier: Don't bullshit me on effectiveness.

Bill 88: A+ Conservative MPP Bill Chudleigh understood the dilemma and took it to Queen's Park. He demanded an amendment to the bylaw to curb the black market mentality that now exists and could have worse repercussions for the environment and a dying lawn care industry, but the other class clowns didn't see the benefit and shot it down in the second reading. So while golf courses and farmers still get exemption because they're on the football team, I have to soldier on with out the benefit of a substitute teacher.

Pam Charbaneau and the Guelph Turf Grass Institute: C  While sometimes informative, Pam doesn't offer much on how to deal with the many problems that have arisen this year. Perhaps a trip to the Vice Principal's office might get her head in the game?

Overall lawns: C- But like so many athletes these days, it's really easy to tell who's juicin' with old time product from the states.

With a class full of these misfits it's easy to see why this teacher is burnt out. Maybe next year's students will be a little easier on me...but somehow I doubt it.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

It's just not funny anymore

Three years ago most of us embraced the new pesticide bylaw, including yours truly.

For one, we had no choice in the matter and secondly everyone had a nice fuzzy feeling of helping out the environment, kissing puppies and saving our children from the horrors of deformation- I scratch my third leg as I type.

Then we became annoyed with, Eco-this and Eco-that, as everyone and their mother tacked, "Eco" on to everything, jacked prices and tried to cash in on this wonderful new world of flowers and honey bees.

All this would have been fine if we had organics that actually worked as well as all the horn blowing...but they didn't and the giggling subsided to a murmur of discontent.

One of my friends put it simply, "the bylaw was done with the best intentions, but was poorly executed."

Now, here we all sit as the weather beats the hell out of our lawns riddled with weeds, infested with various grubs and the chinch bugs feasting away beside all the crabgrass.

It's the curb appeal you always dreamed of...on Halloween maybe, but not much else.

Many are probably praying for an early winter to cover up the patchy brownness with the purity of white.

Allergies, noxious weeds and insects are all off the charts and getting worse with each passing tick of the clock as I struggle to rearrange application timing and cultural practices- my effort to conform to the, "threat of the day". Still, I find, after every move I make, my king is rendered to checkmate.

Other lawn companies as well, are doing their best with what they've been left to keep on top of things, but many have now resorted to lying and promises they can't keep in order to squeeze out one more year from the disgruntled customer.

It's the type of fraudulent activity the Consumer Protection Agency says, "is a matter for the Ministry of the Environment" and the Ministry claims they, "have no jurisdiction to control what a company does, or says to sell their service."

So, you look around at your neighbours and some just give up and let the lawns go to hell. Then there are a few who maintain the lush green of days gone by....hmmm. Can anyone say "pesticide bunker"?

The fact is, this year I've had more people approach my truck and ask me questions about what to buy when they go state side. They always do it in hushed tones for fear Big Brother is lurking close by.

So, I tell them the active ingredient they need for their particular problem, if that's what they want to do. I mean, I've got a pesticide licence which isn't of much use anymore, I might as well use my knowledge for something besides posting a blog once a month.

The Ministry did say, they have no jurisdiction on what I say to people when it comes to my business...right?

Thank you for free speech if nothing else.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Fear...the powerful motivator

Back in the day when I worked for one of the larger Lawn companies, they pulled me off my truck in the summer when things got slow and stuck me on a phone to call customers. I was informed to tell the home owner their lawn had grubs and to up-sell them- at that time, a Merit grub application.

Well, every lawn has grubs, but it is a matter of tolerance- 4 per square foot is no big deal. You'd need about 10 per square to notice damage and  be advised to take action.

Yet, because I was trusted and I was using fear as a selling tool, I made the company about 10 Gs a week. People freaked out at the thought of losing their lawn and curb appeal to an insect.

I thought they would never put me back on a truck, I was making the company so much money.

It was because of this and a few other factors, I decided to leave and start my own business  five years ago where this tactic wasn't a tool to make money. However, you can see how fear can certainly motivate/ control people into immediate panic and loosening the purse strings.

Where am I going with this?

It always seems to come back to the bylaw, sadly.

Every year it feels I have to work harder to get lawns under control from weeds and insects given the tools I have left to use and I've seen more than I care to, with damage of one kind, or another the past few seasons.

It's like fighting a war with bows and arrows when your enemy has WMDs to bomb you into oblivion.

Recently a private members bill was tabled at Queen's Park to amend the pesticide bylaw. Bill 88, as it is known would put pesticides like 2-4-D back in the hands of the licenced professional only- something I have been advocating for a while now.

But the bill was defeated in the second reading, by the Liberals and NDP...and you saw how well they played together this week with the whole budget debacle.

Why, you ask?...your guess is as good as mine...a sudden push from anti-pesticide organizations...more pressing issues to deal with...fear maybe?

Honestly, there is a lot of misinformation out creates fear. It's the same fear that led to the bylaw in the first place at the hands of those like Gideon Forman who call themselves doctors, but aren't.

It's the same fear that still leads to calls every few weeks, of people lambasting us for posting our notice signs and spraying a class 11 pesticide...they are ignorant of the facts.

The fact,  class 11 pesticides, like Fiesta  and Finalsan are all we are allowed to use. They are considered safe for the public...and for most weeds apparently.

The fact, by law, I must flag a lawn every time I use this product either by broadcast, or spot application.

The fact, golf courses and farmers are exempt, so guess're still living next to and ingesting pesticides.

Yes, even your precious organically grown veggies are treated at some point. I know, I worked in the fruit and vegetable industry for 17 years prior to doing lawns and heard the dirty little whispers. But as long as your fear was quelled, you didn't mind paying more for a substandard edible product, did you?

The fact, the Canadian Cancer Society's web page states, there is no conclusive evidence of 2-4-D, the most studied chemical in the world, causing cancer. Yet, I heard this week, diesel fumes have been listed as a probable carcinogenic, so ramp up the fear machine and pass out the gas masks.

If you want to be fearful of something involving this situation, then ponder this:

The bylaw has driven pesticides into a Black Market mentality. Joe home owner is still using product- correctly? I don't know, but using it none-the-less, either brought back from the States, or from a personal stock pile in garages next to you.

The soft, green, pesticide-free grass McGuinty promised for your children to roll around on, is loaded with thistles and poison ivy to name a few.

Allergies? I don't know how my son works for me out in the field taking care of lawns? He's constantly sneezing and passing off a portion of his pay cheque to buy pills for relief.

Then there's the Lawn Care industry, that has suffered job loss, lost productivity and bankruptcy...ouch!

Yup, it appears fear works and works very always has throughout history.

Hopefully there will be another election and we can push to make this an issue again. Let the public decide once and for all instead of a nanny government swayed by political gain over science.

Perhaps fear of losing the vote might change a few minds?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

What the H? From chinch to cinch

It certainly has been a strange year of weather and if your lawn has been giving you problems even with a lawn company there to give it a nudge every month, there might be another issue at work.

If it's not green/ healthy and there seems to still be weed issues, you must realize a few things.

1) You, nor I, can control the weather...hell, the weather men can't even predict what is happening day-to-day.  The lack of rain in May and April for that matter has not helped. At least far...has been more cooperative, but if we get another dry spell, the lawn should be watered with 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water per week. Water deeply and infrequently. In other words, it's best to water all at once.

If you don`t know how long that should be, take an empty can, mark it at 1 1/2 and see how long it takes to fill to that level. Then you`ll have a future reference.

It is also a good idea to raise the mowing height to it`s highest level for the summer and grass-cycle.  Which-is-to-say; leave the clippings on the lawn to transfer the nitrogen back into the soil...but do not scalp your grass! Doing so, will only stress the lawn further and lead to other unfortunate issues.

2) Everything is about a month ahead of schedule. That also includes Chinch Bugs. Normally I don`t start to see damage until the end of June. This year I saw the first evidence May 24th...unreal!

Chinch bugs suck the sap from the grass plants so the lawn typically looks dried out. When this happens during a drought, people tend to blame their lack of watering or the hot weather for the poor looking lawn.

Chinch like it hot and like it dry. Damage usually occurs in areas of direct sun, or at lawn edges close to pavement and interlocking. Keeping the lawn hydrated and over seeding religiously with endophytic grass seed can deter this activity.

If you want to know for sure if it`s Chinch, rub the grass vigorously with your fingers, in full sun, near the damaged areas. Peel back the grass blades and you should be able to see them scurrying around. (see picture above)

3) Don`t rule out Leather Jackets, Sod Webworm and White Grubs. They have all been to blame for damage the past few seasons. Most notably Leather Jackets prevented many lawns from greening up this year as they fed on the turf and the raccoons and birds on the lawn told you of other grub issues at work.

June bugs have started to fly and lay eggs, European chafers and Japanese beetles also will lay eggs that will hatch into white grubs that can destroy a lawn in short order.
At the present time, the only solution for grub problems is a nematode application  in mid-August-September...and surprise-surprise...different strains of nematodes are needed to effectively treat various grubs.

Despite what you have been told by some lawn companies and garden centres, applying nematodes outside the Aug.-Sept. window will only get you approximately 30% control. It`s a waste of money and time in my opinion. Yet, those entities are in business to make money and they can always pass the buck and tell you, it`s your fault they didn`t work. No wonder people scoff when I mention this treatment.

4) Weeds have different germination periods. Dandelion may be gone for now but, say hello to chick weed, white clover and crabgrass.

Fiesta weed control will work on these issues except crabgrass, but has to be applied to the point of run-off. With the heat and humidity of the summer already here any application when the temperature moves above 30 degrees can cause more damage to the lawn.

So, on the flip`ve done nothing and the lawn is damaged.


Whether your lawn is thin due to the insects,or whether it is due to neglect, it can be repaired by seeding.

There are several ways to seed a lawn. Adding soil to the surface and seeding is easy to do if it is a small patch or two.
Adding large amounts of soil to large areas become more expensive and involves more work and more weed seeds that are transported back into your lawn.
Personally, I feel it is best to over-seed come fall in conjunction with an aeration especially if we are talking about a large area of turf. It`s the best way to increase the lawn`s density by far.

Fall, starting the 3rd week of August until the end of September is the ideal time to seed lawns. It is the natural way since grasses normally go to seed during the summer and the seed grow and germinate in the fall.

Once repaired you should resume annual maintenance of fertilizer, weed and insect controls and proper cultural practices. Also an annual aeration- preferably every fall- will help in keeping the lawn at its peek health and able to recover from weed and insect infestations.

So don`t just stand there. Make it easier on yourself. First understand the issue. Then act. If it means calling a professional then do it.

Harsh language may make you feel better, but it won`t correct the problem.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

GrASS...everyone's an expert

As if there isn't enough to deal with this year with insects, weeds and the weather, I have noticed another alarming trend.

I've had to deal with a few irate customers. Now, I understand it comes with the territory, the bigger you get, the more problem solving comes with it. Yet, it seems some people I deal with are suddenly experts on when I should perform applications on their lawns. They must think my pesticide license is something I was just lucky enough to find in a Wonka chocolate bar.

Perhaps this is frustration? Perhaps this is impatience? Perhaps these people have just lost hope and to them the grass is truly greener on the other side?

Let me say this first, all our programs are designed for treatments at regular intervals 4-6 weeks apart depending on the program. The higher-end programs have more applications and subsequently more visits...that's on a normal year.

This year we've had to be vigilant due to the dryness that fertilizer rates were either dialed back or delayed. Due to heat, over 30 Celsius, we've had to suspend Fiesta weed control and due to the fact everything is a month ahead of schedule we've had to juggle applications, like Super Green, that normally wouldn't begin until the end of June.

Here are examples of a few phone calls we've dealt with of late.

A customer called and asked when the next time we were treating his lawn. I looked up his account. We were there on May 9th and I told him mid June give-or-take. That wasn't good enough. Although I was tempted to move the next application up, I told him we would be there the next day to take a look and treat as needed.

His lawn was the best looking on his street, yet chickweed was starting and root-weed was evident on the lawn as it seems to be on all lawns this year. So I sprayed the weeds, flagged the lawn and kept his next visit on schedule...2 weeks from now.

Another asked me the same question and I told him within the next week. Again that wasn't good enough. "Your competition was in the area 3 weeks ago and there's not a weed on any of those lawns. I have clover."

I told him I would move his application up and slip him into next Tuesday's route. However, what this customer fails to understand is, we are a smaller company serving the entire GTA where-as the local Weedman has 40 trucks out daily...we have 3. It is even more important we adhere to proper scheduling.

I've had some new customers expecting overnight results despite me telling them the days of a "weed-free lawn" are gone and Fiesta is a control not a killer like 2-4-D. It takes repeated applications to gain control and lawn health.

I even have one guy, a car salesman, who has been with us for 4 years now. Every year he busts our balls about how his lawn isn't as nice as everyone else's and they do nothing.

Yet, we also do about 5 members of this guy's family and those lawns look great. At first I thought it might be a soil issue until I came to do an application and noticed huge mounds of cut grass at the side of his house. He was letting the grass get too long and then scalping it, thus stressing the lawn.

If you shave off all your hair and walk out into the blistering sun, what do you think would happen?

I have half a mind to buy a car off this guy, drive the shit out of it and return it, complaining he sold me a piece of crap.

Still there is more positive feedback to far outweigh the negative. There are those who tell me their lawn is the envy of the neighbourhood and they are always asked about who their lawn care provider is. There are those who understand, even when we do encounter the problems we've had, we are doing our best with the tools we still have left to work with and they are appreciative of our knowledge and level of customer service.

With all I have told you, there is still another alarming trend all of the above have in common- they have lawn care packages that call for the bare minimum in treatment and cost. There is no aeration, no over-seeding, no grub treatments in any of them. It's all fertilizer and weed control only. In a normal year this program would suffice, but this is not a normal year.

Now, I'm not a rich man by any means and I can't afford to just jettison customers at will. This is just me venting and the Blog is as good a place as any to plant tongue firmly inside cheek when the initial frustration has subsided. I know I'm also not the only company to experience complaints, but there comes a time when I may have to decide if it's worth a continued effort to eat these bad apples, or put them curbside on garbage day.

Hey, I wonder if the garbage guys will come ahead of schedule?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

So much for the 3-legged stool

Often I've preached lawn care as being a 3 legged stool. You see, first there is us the lawn dudes who come in a timely fashion to fertilize, aerate and apply weed control among other things. Then there is you...the happy home owner who waters the lawn, cuts the lawn and enjoys the lawn. Finally, we have the weather... that...hey, wait a minute.

I think we better take a closer look at this wobbly leg.

Let's see...we had a ridiculously warm March that saw weeds up and running before I started lawn 1 of my applications.

In fact, the forsythia bloomed so early that it rendered corn gluten to a hit and run victim before the second week of April.

So we all got fooled into throwing down seed only to have winter return mid month and delay any germination.

Meanwhile, the recent winter, or lack there of, gave us more grub damage and turf ripped to shreds by raccoons then I could remember. The wonky weather also revealed a staggering leather jacket infestation in some areas where the lawns could not outgrow the damage leaving them patchy and brown.

Throw in an unusually dry April and you have a recipe for lawncare suicide.

So what's next Mother Nature...locusts? Well, actually I saw the first Chinch Bug damage of the season today....IN MAY!

If my hand were a gun I think I might shove that fleshy mitt right in my mouth and pull the trigger.

Don't get me wrong, I really like what I do and the challenges are no exception. But it seems now, year-in-year-out, I get no help what-so-ever from the forces of nature. With no chemical buddies to deal with weeds and insects anymore it often feels like I'm trying to get to shore with nothing more than a spoon for a paddle.

You can sense the frustration from the Lawncare Industry and the customers who understand only that their grass does not meet expectations, so what's the point of paying for it to look that way?

It really has me wondering why I went to all the trouble of getting my pesticide licence when all I can use are organics that don't do the job effectively. Maybe it's time for a new vocation? I guess in terms of this post, I should have been a carpenter.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Hangover III - with Grub Galifianakis

Here we are a full three years after the pesticide bylaw came in to effect for Ontario and suffering from what I like to call the Merit hangover.

Except this hangover is much harder to watch and has me wanting to walk out of the theatre before the end.

Merit was what we used to use to control white grub back before the Province decided to remove it from the shelves and leave us to fend off our root feeding foes with nematodes and a prayer.

Perhaps you have noticed how much damage there is from skunks and raccoons digging the living be-jesus out of your turf this spring on their quest for the white grub.

Yet, this isn't an adventure, nor is it a fantasy led by a wise wizard. This time you can't get rid of that pesky ring by casting it into Mount Doom. In fact, there isn't much you can do to combat these dark forces at this time of the year. could get an aeration at least. Open up the soil for Hitchcock's birds to take over, but remember this isn't a thriller that gets resolved easily.

Meanwhile, there are a lot of snake oil salesmen out there that would have you believe nematodes will work this early in the season...they don't!

They'll quote Steinernema glaseri as the nematode of choice to throw you off track and separate you from those funky new plastic c-notes, but this isn't a mystery filled with intrigue and red herrings either.

By the time you figure out who-done-it?...your money will be gone and so will the lawn company, but you'll still be left with your grubs.

The truth is, even in ideal conditions when all the parameters have been met and the nematodes sent into battle in brooding cloud and rain somewhere in mid-August, you can expect maybe....80-85% control, so this isn't much of a war film either for these band of brothers.

Many times this spring I have been left to ponder all this senseless destruction and in staggered bursts, whisper, the horror...the horror. It's actually the closest genre to what is happening out there.

The saddest thing is, it isn't my fault, nor is it the home owners, yet we are shelling out the shekels only to witness another sequel to the grubs hunger games.

Almost everyone I talk to is fed up with the lack of alternatives and contemplating replacing the lawn with rock gardens and artificial turf. This is a threat opening up a whole new set of problems if enough people get on board that Titanic. As stated yesterday, the grass is responsible for filtering a lot of crap out of our air and if that changes...I don't want to think of the potential consequences.

But, what can be done while lobbyists and enviro-fear mongers rule the roost?

I'm open to suggestions and I share your frustration.

One thing for sure with this sure isn't a comedy. Because the only ones laughing are the grubs.

Contact your local provincial representative and push for modifications to the pesticide act. Trash politics and return to the health and safety approved scientific approach. Put chemicals, that were approved by Health Canada and the PMRA back in the hands of the licenced professional...let us do our jobs effectively.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Happy Earth Day everyone

My contribution is to post an article that appeared in McLean's magazine last month concerning the drive toward a pesticide ban in Manitoba.

Since we are now a full 3 years into ours as of this day, I thought it might be fun to revisit the whole debate from another angle.

Manitoba should think twice before banning pesticides

The unintended consequences don’t necessarily make for a healthier environment

by the editors on Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Winter is not typically given to thoughts of lawn care. Nevertheless, Manitoba’s conservation minister recently announced he’s making plans for a pesticide ban. In particular, Gord Mackintosh said he’s keen to bring Manitoba’s pesticide laws in line with those in other provinces. “Manitobans are entitled to the same protections most other Canadians enjoy,” he declared.

Yet Manitobans might want to learn from the experience of those other provinces, rather than simply parrot them. Evidence from other jurisdictions suggests there are numerous unintended consequences to such a ban. And not all of them make for a healthier environment.

Currently every province east of the Mantioba-Ontario border restricts the use of cosmetic pesticides in some way. Mackintosh says he admires the strict bans enforced in Ontario and Nova Scotia. These rules prohibit use of a long list of pesticides on all lawns and fields. Golf courses and farms are exempt.

Of course, every one of these banned pesticides has been certified as safe for residential use by Ottawa’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency. PMRA scientists perform rigorous evaluations of all pesticides and when they conclude that one “meets Canada’s strict health and safety standards,” this verdict carries the weight of exhaustive investigation. Bans, encouraged by lobby groups ranging from family physicians to environmentalists, rest not on competing scientific evidence, but rather a vague unease about chemicals in general.

As such, provincial pesticide bans represent a triumph of sentiment over science. But does this sort of regulation provide a net benefit to society? The experience of other provinces can be revealing.

After two years without pesticides in Ontario, the evidence is starkly visible: mostly browns and yellows. There’s little debate the province looks shabbier and weedier now. Parks, sports fields and lawns have become wholly infested with dandelions and a variety of other weeds and there’s no practical way to remove them, other than hand-pulling. Whether this is a good or bad thing may depend on your definition of beauty—not to mention the condition of your back and knees. A recent poll found a majority of Ontario homeowners want to end the ban.

But what of other health impacts arising from a pesticide ban? In Chicago, the suburban municipality of Highland Park regularly won awards for the quality of its sports fields. Then four years ago it dropped pesticides for trendy organic pest control. The result was a disaster. In some parks, weeds accounted for over 60 per cent of the ground cover. Many fields were unusable for sports. “The fields are getting worse every year,” parks commissioner Cal Bernstein told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Something needs to be done to reverse the trend.” In November, the district approved the return of pesticides.

And while pesticide bans are frequently defended by advocates as a way to reduce unknown risks and promote a more natural environment, in fact the opposite may be true.

The number of artificial turf fields in Ontario has recently exploded—from a mere handful a decade ago to over a hundred this year. For Rob Witherspoon, director of the University of Guelph’s Turfgrass Institute, the reason for the switch from natural to ersatz is obvious. “Without pesticides it has become a lot more challenging to maintain a natural turf sports field,” he observes.

Artificial turf fields boast plenty of advantages, despite their average $1-million upfront cost. A typical artificial field can provide up to four times the usable playing hours as compared to natural grass, since real turf requires frequent rests and considerable expertise to maintain. Nonetheless, it seems ironic a pesticide ban meant to encourage a greener environment will result in a greater prevalence of plastic sports fields. (Not to mention the issue of how to dispose of an artificial field once its lifespan ends.)

Other real risks have also been overlooked in the unscientific panic about pesticides. Witherspoon notes that grass is not only a natural filter, but also a microbiological system that consumes any bodily fluids leaked, spat or vomited onto it. Not so with an artificial field. In the absence of a cleansing downpour, what’s on the field stays on the field. Texas, with a hot, dry climate that favours artificial turf fields, has reported a rate of staph infections among high school students many times the national average. In 2007, footballer Boone Baker of Austin, Texas, almost died from a deadly methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection he picked up from his high school’s artificial turf. Regular disinfection of artificial fields using industrial-strength chemical products is now a recommended maintenance procedure in all climates.

When it comes to pesticides, Manitoba can learn a lot from the experience of those who’ve gone before. If the goal is to reduce veriļ¬able risks, promote a more natural environment and encourage healthy activities, banning pesticides seems a strange way to go about it.

I know decisions are made to protect the public as a whole, the smoking ban comes to mind, but people are still allowed to smoke outdoors and in their homes, so why not keep the pesticides away from Joe Public, but put them back in the hands of the professional. And by "professional", I mean someone who has earned their pesticide licence, not some kid off the street looking for a summer job. I worked hard for the 92% I got on my landscape licence where anything below 75% is a fail.

To me, it seems like a more viable solution and a solid compromise. Then those who want cosmetic applications can have them done correctly and those who don''re already living the dream....ahhhhhchooo!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

This little piggy goes to market in 2014

I expected to be talking about Spring today, enjoying the seasonal change, getting ready for the 2012 lawn season launch, but noooooooo. I sit here with a picture of a pig atop this post.

Phoma Macrostoma! If you've been reading this blog then you know it's coming. Actually it was to have arrived this year (2012). After all, it has been approved as the next great, or not-so-great, organic weed control by the PMRA from what I'm told.

So why isn't it available yet, when its creator Karen Bailey in a phone conversation I had with her, told me it would be?

First of all, don't get mad at Karen. She's always been very pleasant to me and I'm sure she wants to see the weed control she created on the market as much as anyone.

Depending on who you talk to, there are two schools of thought.

One side says, Scotts is having problems recreating a product that will perform the same way Phoma Macrostoma does in the lab...hence the delay.

The other whispers, Scotts is still selling a lot of Weed-B-Gone and don't want a better weed control on the market until that dog has finished hunting. Since they have the licence for this product they can do whatever they want.

So, my friends is it greed, or is it the fact that a company that makes 3 billion annually doesn't have the resource to fix this problem?

I tried to get an answer from Scotts but they only sent me a link to the government PDF on Phoma Macrostoma, which is of absolutely no help.

As it stands now, we are not expecting this product until 2014. That's another 2 years! I guess they'll have to sell you the inferior Weed-B-Gone with the same active ingredient, (iron chelate), that is in Fiesta? Yup the exact same Fiesta all the lawn care companies now use to control weeds...or try to.

However, Scotts has dumbed-down their product to the point, for the most part, it is ineffective and who does the customer bitch to?- The lawn guys.

Even using the recommended rate with this stuff I still get complaints, that "it just doesn't work" and I completely understand. Expecting an organic control to make your lawn weed-free especially when neighbours around you have given up on their turf, or you're in a new subdivision where they are still building and disturbing all those juicy weed seeds from dormancy, or you live next to a school/ city owned field, you can't win.

I, as a lawn care provider, can only hope to hold the line until I get something more effective.

Is that Phoma Macrostoma? Perhaps, but now I have to wait two more years to find out.

Maybe Scotts figures in another two years, we'll be so fed-up and desperate, we'll pay anything for the precious product?

I think it's time to light a fire under Scotts' ass and send a little message? I'm not just talking about boycotting Weed-B-Gone. I'm talking about all Scotts' products, fertilizers, grass seed, insect controls, the whole shootin' match.

So let's turn up our collective noses...since money is king and Scotts sits on the throne with a pompous swagger.

Tell them what you really think.

Oink! Oink!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Forget March break...we're going back to school now.

"The government is letting us spray for weeds again!"

"Don't go with that company they can't possibly give you the same service for the price they are offering."

"We have the best products, the same ones golf courses use."

"All our technicians are licenced professionals."

"Don't pay attention to a few bad reviews, we have thousands of satisfied customers."

Do some, or all of these statements sound familiar?

These are some of the tactics used to get your business every year when it comes to lawn care.

Let us look into each of these statements and answer them, shall we?

The government is letting us spray for weeds again!

Since the approval of Fiesta, which is an organic weed control (not killer), we have been allowed to spray weeds. In fact, no one has ever said we couldn't spray weeds, it was just a matter of, with what?

Since the pesticide ban the older methods like Killex, Par III, etc. were no longer allowed, but organic methods? Use as much as you want pal.

The fact that some companies are twisting this information to get you to pony-up your dough is heinous. remember it is a Provincial bylaw, which means: it supersedes all municipal bylaws. So when they say they can now spray in...let's say Markham only...they are lying to your face.

Don't go with that company they can't possibly give you the same service for the price they are offering.

It is competitive out there, but I believe there are enough lawns for everyone. However some of the bigger companies have more overhead, must adhere to franchise agreements and financial bottom lines and targets. Given the nature of the business I believe this is more a statement of panic than anything else. You can tell, by how fast they come down in price when there's a competing bid.

Give the customer your quote, tell them what services they get and what makes you different from the other companies out there and let the customer decide.

We have the best products, the same ones golf courses use.

This is just a bald-face lie. Golf courses are still exempt under the bylaw and we are not allowed to use the same products. As far as using the best products out there under the bylaw? Sure, we all use them, but one company having an edge over another would come down to customer service, not product.

All our technicians are licenced professionals.

When I first started in this business I was part of a "no experience necessary" cattle call. I was given 1 day of training, mostly on how to up-sell a customer and then sent my merry way in my own truck. By the end of the first 2 weeks, half of the employees had quit or were fired.

The remaining wrote a rinky-dink technicians test and were passed regardless of knowledge. Did I suddenly become more knowledgeable after that test? No, but I did write for my licence at the end of the year and over time I gained the knowledge.

This year the same routine will be conducted by many a company out there for one reason and one reason only. The first round is like planting a flag on your territory and the more trucks and employees you have out there, the quicker that can be accomplished. At least if you end up with a half-assed job, or fertilizer burns on your property this year, you'll understand why.

Don't pay attention to a few bad reviews, we have thousands of satisfied customers.

It is true that a pissed off customer makes more noise than a happy one, but when you are checking sites like Homestars where customers rate companies on a scale of 0-10, take what you read into perspective. If a company has a ton of zeros and then a series of glowing reports followed by a ton of zeros, that sounds more like crisis management than a true testimonial to me.

Look at the average score if you want a more accurate picture and try to focus on companies that have an average of 7 or higher. You probably won't see any of the top names in lawn care there.

This quiz doesn't eliminate all the pitfalls, but it does put you in the frame of better preparation before you sign on the dotted.

Doing your homework will take you far and your lawn will end up with the passing grade.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The univited guest

So here we are with the season looming and it will probably start early. I'm still hearing the buzz from the CBC's Marketplace broadcast on Weedman. I could go on about leopards and their spots, but do I really need to?

Despite the bad press, the tactics some companies have used year-in-year-out to bully people into paying for unwanted service have why change now?

I will lay money on it: There will be several of my customers, who are former clients of other companies and will find their lawns flagged by these intruders in the spring. This will force me to delay the start of their lawn care program while everything is sorted out.

How is this possible?
The customer cancelled their contract with Weedman etal. and gave us the confirmation, in fact, they've already paid us for our service for the year.

It's all about a barely legible clause on the invoice of a company like Weedman that states: "service continues year to year for your convenience." The bigger companies and perhaps some of the small ones will do anything to adhere to this principal and ignore the customer's desire to discontinue.

I can't say this has never happened to us where we did an unwanted application, because it has. But unlike our competitors we apologized for the misunderstanding, did not bill the customer, did not send them to collections and did not hound them any further for their business.

It may sound ridiculous to some, but we call each and every customer before the season to confirm they wish to continue with our service so we don't do unwanted applications and run into these situations.

So make sure you cancel in writing, get a cancellation number and write down any information you can to help you when this happens down the road...because it will.

I'm now advising some customers who have been repeatedly harassed by one company, or another, to threaten legal action for trespassing if unwanted applications are performed after cancellation notice is given otherwise, like the common cold- you can get rid of it for a while but inevitably it will be back again one day.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


At this time of the year, it is not uncommon to find ourselves competing with other lawn companies when quoting lawn care.

We show up, measure and assess the property then leave a quote based on square footage and lawn conditions, (previous grub damage, compacted soil etc.)

The recommendation usually involves a few notes/ suggestions and the price. We ask the customer to contact us with their decision when and if they are ready to proceed.

Yesterday, a potential customer sent us a quote from one of the larger competitors and I was amazed at all the bells and whistles before they actually got around to conveying a quote.

Does this sound like a bottom line proposal to you, or a lawyer trying to deflect attention away from the real issues?

The names have been omitted to protect anonymity, but I am here to read between the lines and educate you on what is really being said. After all I used to work for a company like this before I started my own business.

We would like to thank you for the opportunity to provide you with a quotation for the 2012 season as well as provide you with some further information regarding our programs and services offered for your home at (potential customer address)

OK, so far so good.

(This lawn company) has lightning fast service calls for those with a passion for being pampered.

As long as you can afford it.

We guarantee your complete satisfaction and are committed to our 24 hour response time on our free unlimited service calls!

Careful now, "unlimited" means I could call and have you there every day of the season for your 24 hour yet, lightning fast service.

One of our Senior Lawn Care Service Advisors...

Warning: Senior Lawn Care Service Advisor may be an unlicensed summer student.

...will visit your home to assess and resolve any problems or answer any questions you may have regarding your lawn or services applied.

And we'll up-sell you applications to fix those problems.

If you're not at home we will leave you a detailed written report and follow up that evening with a phone call to go over your concerns and resolutions to solve them.

Oh, I see now...get as many service calls as you want. If you don't follow our recommendations and pay for the extra service, you have no one to blame but yourself and the satisfaction guarantee is off the table. Hey, we told you so.

In addition to unlimited free service calls,(this lawn company) offers unlimited free re-applications on all services we apply!

In truth, this would not be a good idea as doubling up on an application could severely hurt the lawn health. Anyone seen fertilizer burns? Maybe they haven't been in business long enough to know better?

(this lawn company) is simply the best, with over 40 years of longevity and industry proven success! You can trust our total satisfaction guarantee and that we will keep our promises.

40 years? I guess I was wrong, but when are they going to tell me how much I have to pay instead of blowing their own horn? This is a quote right?

(this lawn company) is proud to have moved into this new era of Natural lawn care in Ontario where legislation allows for only the use of Natural and alternative approved products to be used on all turf grass areas. (this lawn company) has been testing and mastering these alternative products over the last few years and have the best Natural Program and value proposition on the market!

Then, it might concern them to know there are other companies using the same products and charging far less.

For the 2012 Season...

Alright! Finally the quote.

...we are very excited to be offering our all new Program which is our greenest and most environmentally friendly approach that we have ever had to offer! This program contains a revolutionary new liquid weed control product called Fiesta WHICH WORKS IN HOURS NOT WEEKS AND REQUIRES NO WATERING TO BE 100% EFFECTIVE!

Still no quote! BTW Fiesta has been out for a few years now. Everyone in the industry uses it and liquid weed control has never needed water as it would be rendered ineffective.

You will receive 4 scheduled applications of this weed control throughout the season plus unlimited access to free re-applications by just contacting us via a quick phone call or e-mail!

I guess they haven't heard how expensive this product is? F.Y.I. they keep using the words "weed control", which is correct yet, I've seen this company's lawn sign proudly promote, "We kill weeds".

Also this program includes 3 Slow release granular polyon coated technology golf course grade fertilizers,

The key word here is "grade", but the customer will see golf course and go "wow". You do know that golf courses are exempt under the Provincial bylaw and allowed to apply what the lawn care industry can no longer use, don't you? It's not the fert alone creating beautiful turf grass on the fairways.

and a free mid-summer inspection of your lawn as well as a Summer Stress Relief application for Chinch Bugs.

When last I checked there are no products legally registered in Canada for the control of Chinch Bugs. There are soil amendments that seem to deter this insect activity, but this is the same type of wording that had the government pulling Neem Oil off the shelves last year. Jesus! Grow a brain!

We are on your lawn a minimum of once a month from April through September for a minimum of 6 visits. The cost for your property at (potential customer address) would be $318.1 payable on a by application basis over 5 equal payments of $63.62

Finally payment info!...oh...wait a minute...

...or if you wish to prepay and save making it only $302.195 HST included that's a savings of $15.905 by prepaying now.

Wow! Save $15.905! Whatever will I do with the extra half penny? Just round it up people.

Back By Popular Demand!!! Our Special Beat the HST Offer!

They haven't done one application yet and here comes the up-sell already.

We also have an amazing special offer for this year.

Actually it's a special offer every year, but nothing sells like the fear of passing up a deal.

We are offering a Special Beat the HST offering which allows you to have our program as described above as well as your choice of 2 premium add on services, that's 8 actual visits to your lawn. You can choose 2 of the following services to be added as part of your Beat the HST program: mechanical core aeration, natural grub control, and natural crab grass preventer. For an additional $199.0895

$199.0895? Anyone else find this confusing and wonder why they're doing it? Seems more mechanical than personal to me.

you can have this deluxe package. The original cost for this program is $544.41 but by prepaying this you will save $27.2205 that's an amazing 25% off. Making the total prepaid price only $408.3075!

OK let's see...hmmm...original program $302.195 + another $199.0895 should equal $408.3075 which is 25% of %544.41 making me save $27.2205, but it doesn't add up. So maybe I should carry the one, divide by 13% x the square root of lawn square footage....why does having a nice lawn suddenly seem so hard?

Me thinks, someone needs to go back to school.

Perhaps we all need to study harder. I recommend a site called Homestars to see what other customers have to say about services they've used, or Google the company name and "complaints" to gain a better understanding before you say "yes".

If a company is worthy of your business then the pretty words and window dressing will be evident elsewhere and not just on the quote.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

With friends like this who needs to advertise?

If you saw "Snake in the Grass" Feb. 10th, 2012 on CBC's Marketplace, then you'll know what I mean. The program addressed customer outrage at the way Weedman conducts their business including consumer protection violations.

Hey, do your homework. Just Google any lawn company and "complaints" and you'll see, in most cases, there's nothing different from the Marketplace broadcast.

I spent five years in the Lawn Care Industry with one of the larger companies before I started my own. I already knew this and have reported it here in many a blog over the last 4 years.

I watched as they failed upwards with their customer service, their crass handling of complaints, their inexcusable practice of sending inexperienced students to do applications and the blatant lies in order to ring a few more shekels from unsuspecting patrons. The company I worked for was pompous and pretentious in how they treated their customers and I, as the messenger, often handled the brunt of the fallout.

When I started my company 5 years ago with an impending pesticide bylaw looming, people thought me mad. Why would I go into an industry that had such limitations placed on it to be successful? Yet, I believed by changing the lawn care model and running an operation that was 180 degrees from that of my competitors I could achieve growth- a growth that has continued year after year since I started. All this despite having limited tools to do my job effectively.

The bigger companies should have realized the storm was coming and put on goulashes as well, but they continued to pound away with the tired methods that made them rich when the products worked with absolution.

Sure it's easy to blame the anger and resentment Weedman is feeling on the pesticide bylaw, it has hurt us all, but it's not the real reason for the loss of revenue. We use the same materials as the big guys and we have close to 98% customer retention year in-year out.

So what's the difference?

Today the customer has to become a partner and realize their role in maintaining the health of their lawn, it's the only way and it requires education. Gone are the days of showing up twice a year and spraying weeds and gone is the methodology that these companies still cling to like a baby-blankie.

The customer is not a number and they are not a blank cheque - a realization in the first step to building the better beast.

Personally I hope companies like Weedman continue to operate as they always have...after all, they're my best advertisement.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Since the beginning of 2012 there have been the usual onslaught of predictions for the year ahead. Everything from financial warnings and potential weather catastrophes to celebrity death guestimations and scandals lying in wait.

And let us not forget a shout out to the Mayans with the end of the world looming next December.

In keeping with the spirit, I thought it might be fun to give you my forecast for the 2012 lawn care season.

So here it goes:

People will continue threatening to pave over their lawns, or create 4,000 square foot rock gardens, but the number who actually do this will be small.

April and May will be cooler and drier than normal across most of the region. Which means less time spent in my rubber boots and perhaps manageable weed control...fingers crossed.

Grub issues will continue to be a problem as we run the 3-year cycle. Most damage will be seen in the Spring due to a milder Winter and unruly raccoons.

Summer will be cooler and drier than normal, with the hottest temperatures in early June and mid-July. Crabgrass could be a problem in July again in some areas, but Chinch Bug shouldn't be as bad as it was last year.

September and October will be cooler and slightly rainier than normal in the east, while the west will be drier than normal, with near-normal temperatures, on average.
In all, looks like a pretty decent fall to over-seed, apply nematodes and pray for a quick end to the lawn season...just kidding about that last one.

People will continue to shop state-side for weed and insect controls and disregard the Provincial bylaw. After all, the Feds run the border and they don't have a problem with, is that poison ivy and giant hogweed I see in the backyard?...just sayin'. Poisonous plants are exempt under the bylaw.

On second thought maybe the Mayans were right, except it's the lawn care industry teetering on the precipice of extinction?

Here's hoping there's a 2013. In the meantime have a great 2012.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Same old, same old

The 2012 IPM Symposium happened this past Monday and once again yours truly was in attendance. Yet, I found the speakers presenting much of the same old tired information I've heard over the past few years concerning green alternatives to control weeds and insects.

I actually found out more on my own research than was presented to me at this largest event for the Lawn Care Industry.

There was no information of the long awaited new weed control Phoma Macrostoma. What I found out is, it has been approved by the PMRA, but Scotts is dragging their ass on the manufacturing. Probably until they discover the best way to charge us more for this product. Anyway it could be as much as 2 more years before we see it hit the shelves.

Continued tests with Fiesta showed it did work, to a point, in controlling weeds. The key word here is "control", not kill. Also take into consideration that the Guelph Turfgrass Institute conducts many of its tests in a controlled, or greenhouse environment. There are no neighbours with weed infested lawns going to seed and blowing onto your lawn, no children and pets running roughshod over the testing area and no times where the mercy of Mother Nature comes into play. The good news, Fiesta seems to be coming down in price as other companies challenge Neudorff with their own chelated iron products.

Also the reason Neem Oil was pulled from our collective grasp in 2011 was mentioned, but if you've been reading these blogs, you knew that months ago when it first surfaced.

The Ministry continued to thump their chest with the amount of inspections and fines that were administered over the past year, but it came across as weak at the knees and job justification more than a warning to those caught in a moral dilemma of pesticides vs. bylaw. There are just too many loopholes and not enough teeth.

Over all, the food was good, but I came away with nothing more then a "circle the wagons" mentality preaching to try and weather the storm until someone manufactures weed and insect controls that actually work effectively.

Until then, either hang on and curse under your breath, or convert to a micro lawn, (pictured above) that you can maintain easily. The alternatives are slim to none, and Slim just left the IPM Symposium.