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?