Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Invaision of the mind snatchers

Today's tale of horror is better told by someone else. Click on the link to hear Brian Lilley's thoughts on the pesticide ban.

The one part I found scariest was the Big Brother approach Quebec is now incorporating to make sure homeowners aren't cheating with illegal pesticides.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Canadian horror story

Mr. Johnson and his wife were happy with their new house and the pride of ownership it brought them. They decided one of the first things they were going to do was hire a lawn company to attend to the up-keep of his grass and keep the turf weed-free.

Not knowing where to start he hired a company that he'd heard of before and signed up, paying in advance. Together he and his wife waited anxiously as the spring exhausted winter sure he was in for a long season of healthy green grass.

One day Mr. Johnson returned home from work to find a lawn flag jammed askew on his front lawn and an invoice of work completed in his mailbox. "Spring fertilizer," it said in big bold letters, "no extra care is needed."

He found this odd since the gate to his backyard was locked and no one had phoned from the company, as he had requested, to let him know they were coming. Yet, he told himself, "They're the professionals," and never gave it a second thought.

Four weeks passed and again Mr. Johnson found another sign on his front lawn. This time the lawn said, "Notice," and "Fiesta weed application." Again there was an accompanying invoice and again no phone calls had been made to let him know to unlock the gate.

Mr. Johnson began to feel a little annoyed, but decided to wait to see if the weeds were affected by the application. However, the weeds did not die as he was promised by the company. On the contrary, they seemed to multiply and thrive changing what was once green to a sea of yellow and white.

Mr. Johnson tried to call the company and after repeated attempts to get the right person, was assured someone would be out shortly to respray.

Two weeks passed before Mr. Johnson noticed the "Notice" sign, sticking out of the middle of the lawn this time. Again he found an invoice in the mailbox billing him for the extra application and like previous times no call had been made to unlock the back gate. Although the weeds on the front lawn seemed to turn black and whither the weeds in the backyard were unaffected.

Mr. Johnson in his disgust grabbed a weed puller from his garage and began to hand weed his backyard. As he labored he noticed an old man watching him from the chain link fence.

"Trouble with your lawn?" the old man enquired.
"Trouble with my lawn company!" Mr. Johnson spat.
"I used to have 'em...you know...the same company working my lawn."
"Really?" Mr. Johnson said as he rapidly pulled weeds.
"Yup...and I know your problem."
Mr. Johnson began to slow down and stopped pulling as he leaned on the tool and looked at the old man.
The old man spoke, "You've been seeing ghosts."
"Ghosts?" Mr. Johnson seemed dumbfounded.
"Yup...your lawn looks the way it does 'cause no one has done anything to it...well except you. They've just put their sign on the lawn and left you the invoice."
Mr. Johnson could not contain his rage. He marched into the house, picked up the phone and cancelled his account with the company that very day.

Next spring when winter finally lost its battle to a new season Mr. Johnson came home from work to find a lawn sign on his property and an unpaid invoice in his mailbox.
It was from the very same company he'd fired and told never to come back...and that's when the phone calls finally started!

Friday, September 13, 2013

The endophyte is near

If you haven't thought about seeding yet, you should. Next to core aeration this is one of the most important practices you can do for your lawn on an annual basis. The more you over-seed, the healthier the lawn and the less likely you'll have to deal with insects and weeds etc.

Now, don't think you can just throw any old dollar-store seed down and get fantastic results. The cheaper the seed the more you are inviting weeds to encroach on your lawn. Cost effective seed usually carries weed seeds in it, so you want to check the bag to make sure it has been tested and is virtually weed-seed free. Most "name brands" will have seed meeting this criteria.

Like-wise be careful if you are using top soil with your seed. Too many times this year I witnessed lawns seeded with bad top soil and there were more weeds than grass popping up. I use compost, or peat moss mainly because there are just too many weed-seed properties in top soil no matter how screened they say it is.

Also whether you are sowing by hand, or using a drop seeder make sure you have good seed to soil contact and the seed is uniform in your application. Too much is a waste and not enough doesn't help either. I could say, about 15 seeds per square inch, but instead, use your best judgement when raking it in.

Grass type is also very important. If you get a lot of sun you need a seed mixture heavier on the perennial rye side. We like CPR- creeping perennial rye. Ryes are the workhorse of the grass world. They germinate quickly and take a pounding from heavy traffic i.e. kids, pets.

If you are dealing with more shade, then a mix with a high concentration of fescue is more appropriate. We use Eco Lawn- a blend of seven different fescues, but you have to be patient as the germination takes longer -approx. 3 weeks. Fescues tend to be less maintenance as they are slow growers and drought tolerant. The more diverse the blend the healthier your lawn will be in the long run. A blend of fescue and rye like Pickseed's Enviro 2000 is a good choice as well.

I also advocate using very little Kentucy Blue Grass, if at all, in your seeding. Yeah it looks great, but you want seed that will delve deep roots and KBG isn't a good choice for that reason alone. You must also consider insect problems somewhere down the line. Whether grubs, or top feeding insects, they all love that grass type. You might as well yell "come and get it" once it has germinated. Ever wonder why all those newly sodded subdivisions have grass that is dead and dying a year or so after installation? You'll be told you didn't water it enough, but the real truth here is sod is 90% Kentucky Blue with it's shallow root system on crap soil that is sending out dinner invites to every insect in the neighbourhood.

If you have a rather large lawn to maintain perhaps you should consider over-seeding with clover- known back-in-the-day as the "rich man's weed." We use Huia Grasslands that doesn't flower the way Dutch White does. It's drought tolerant, is less maintenance, keeps bugs at bay and feeds nitrogen into your lawn. However if you are considering clover, hold off until next April before over-seeding.

You should also concentrate on grass seed that is endophytic. An endophyte is a naturally occurring fungus that keeps insect damage to a minimum and is mainly found in rye and fescue seed. Remember, which ever way you choose to go there's nothing I consider bullet proof and persistence of repeating this ritual every fall is the only golden ticket.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

One school year begins as another ends

Last year I did an end of season report on the lawn care class room and the products we use to control each issue.

Now, realize that this is my opinion and you don't have to agree with what I say. I mean, maybe you sell some of these products and you don't want the public knowing the truth? Personally, I embrace it, to the point I've lost a considerable dollar amount suggesting to customers, if they really want something that is absolute they should seek advice from a minimum wage employee in a garden centre south of the border.

Do I suggest breaking the law is the way to go in lawn care...absolutely not, but an exacerbated home owner should be aware of all options open to them. If I can't guarantee results they should know what can.

So here we go.

Mother Nature- C+
At first I was excited to have this student in the class when I saw the long-range Farmer's Almanac prediction of a cooler/wetter summer, but she became a playground bully around mid July and by the end of August Mother Nature had terrorized more than her fair share of lawns with crabgrass, chinch bug and cut worm. Having seen the forecast for next year as "hotter/dryer", the marks for Mother Nature look like they are headed south.

Crabgrass- D-
There is still no effective treatment on the horizon to combat this class clown who repeatedly skips school then shows up magically when the weather turns hot, causing a disruption for all the other students. Some will preach corn gluten is the way to go to tame this beast, but I have found through trial and error you'd get better results from raising your mowing height and keeping you soil temperature as cool as possible because this is one weed that doesn't care how much time it spends in the principal's office.

Chinch Bugs- D-
The sudden heat in July led to a charge of this insect across many a lawn this year. The damage was easier to spot because until late August the lawns never had a chance to go dormant. F.Y.I. no nematode trials have ever shown any effect at controling this insect, although the very same nematodes have been effective at parting you from your money. Every heard of that saying,"there's a sucker born every minute"? Looking forward to getting Met 52 in my class next year and saying goodbye to nematodes, hopefully forever.

Fiesta- B-
This student did a reasonable job this year keeping weeds in check as long as it was applied on a consistant basis, but the wet weather meant many repeated applications. It's no 2-4-D, but right now it's all we have so I give it a passing grade this year. Say, what ever happened to that foreign exchange student, Phoma Macrostoma? Weren't we promised that weed control in 2012?....Bueller....Scotts....anyone?

White Grub- A
Combined with a colder winter, a cooler/wetter spring and a dry August, grubs weren't much of an issue this year unlike the classroom disruption they've been in previous semesters. It made for one happy teacher that didn't have to rely on nematodes in 2013.

The Home Owner- B+
It's taken some time, but people are starting to understand, in order to have a healthier lawn, mowing heights have to be raised and weekly watering is needed. If you want to cut your lawn like a putting green, open a golf course. At least you'd have access to the good stuff...

...and I'm not trying to bring politics into this post. Those dunces were expelled from the classroom some time ago.

Friday, August 2, 2013


How many Weedman trucks does it take to get one new customer?
Answer: Four...apparently.

What... three to hold you down and one to take your money?

This was the scene on our street last week for the latest "new customer blitz" as students with fluorescent yellow vests and clipboard in hand made their way from house to house. I guess telemarketing isn't working anymore?

I didn't see this much door-to-door campaigning last election. Thankfully they left us alone so I know they were able to read our trucks touting, "lawn care".

Well...keep up the good work boys! I love aggressive marketing like this. It keeps us from having to advertise at all.

Man, just shoot me if it ever becomes all about the numbers instead of customer service.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Know problemo

With the increasing heat and humidity, not to mention excessive downpours we've experienced, it is no wonder we are starting to see problems on the lawns.

Identifying the issue and knowing what to do are the most important elements.

Seeing spots?

Because of this specific weather mixture turf disease has been more prevalent than in recent years, dollar spot, brown patch and leaf spot leading to melting out have all caused lawns to lose uniformity.

Really, fixing these issues are quite easy. A shot of nitrogen from fertilizer and growing the area out is the best way to deal with it. Just be careful to dial back the application otherwise you run the risk of burning the lawn. Also annual aeration is a good preventative measure.


I am now starting to see damage from Chinch Bug nymphs. There hasn't been a lot of activity but what I've seen thus far has been enough to advise treatment.

Chinch love the heat and as a top feeding insect will procreate in your lawn's thatch layer while sucking the juice out of the grass blade, reducing it to a straw-like appearance. Often this damage is mistaken for drought until it's too late.

The insects are easily spotted in the morning sun by getting on your knees and parting the grass blades on the edges of the infected area. It is here you can see them scurrying about.

Treatment these days, is more preventative than target specific since "Sevin" is no longer available. Annual aeration and over-seeding with endophytic grass like Eco Lawn is key. STAY AWAY FROM KENTUCKY BLUE GRASS! However, soap flushes and products with eucalyptus do help and can convince the insect to pack-up and leave.

Feeling crabby?

Remember when I told you earlier this year to raise your mowing height, but you still wanted that golf course feel and ignored me? Well, you should now be seeing crabgrass germinating on the edges of your lawn and perhaps in the sunniest areas of your turf as well.

Like chinch, crabgrass loves the heat and has exploded seemingly overnight.

The reason I recommend a higher setting for the mower is to keep the grass drought tolerant and the soil temperature cooler so crabgrass germination is less likely.

Perhaps you'd feel better to know that even with my mower on it's highest setting I still have crabgrass on some edges of my lawn near the pavement, but it is minimal and easily pulled.

Some will preach corn gluten as a pre-emergent in May, but I am not one of those people.  Having used this product in various forms, I am here to tell you, it simply isn't effective enough and in my opinion a waste of money.

Your best plan is to either pull it out now, or wait until this annual weed dies in the fall. Then reseed the area with predominately perennial rye grasses. Personally I'm really taking a shine to a product called CPR (creeping perennial rye).

Wow, that's a lot on your plate, but remember we still have August and the next wave of grubs to deal with. Have a great summer.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Ladies and gentlemen....THE BEETLES!

I'm not sure which of these is George, but let's hope this year they are both the quiet one.

Suffice it to say, this is not your parent's Ed Sullivan performance and the only screaming I've heard in recent years is that of the home owner crying to the heavens as their lawn slowly became a grub buffet.

Last year lawns disappeared faster than political approval ratings.

The good news? With the cooler weather this year, insect development is a month behind schedule. However, vigilance is key and you should be on the lookout for excessive night flights by the European Chafer and Japanese Beetle as they prepare to mate and lay eggs...yes, in your lawn.

Now, four grubs per square foot is no big deal and damage will not be evident until you hit the 10 psf threshold. At that point treatment is highly recommended.

Although there are new controls on the horizon, currently your only defense are nematodes and believe me, I'm not happy about it either.

As stated in previous posts, mid August to the end of September is your best window of opportunity to allow second generation nematodes to do their thing and hopefully eradicate up to 70% of the larvae before they can over-winter in your soil.

But you must remember timing isn't everything in this case.  UV, expiration dates, proper storage until use and water, water, water must be taken into strong consideration when applying.

As far as damage is concerned, you should see it come August. Look for circular bled patches of grass that do not respond to watering. In time, these patches will snake outward and the grass will lift quite easily like a carpet.

The best advice I can give you, if you see this damage don't Let it Be, otherwise your turf will have a Long and Winding Road to recovery.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Not my Cullen-ary choice

Finally we have come through the toughest part of our season and I have to say, the weather has been pretty good to the lawn care industry thus far. The mostly cooler temps, timely rainfall and...unlike last year...we haven't had to play catch-up with the weeds.

In all, the lawns we've been servicing for a few years are lush and green with few weeds.

The grass with the help of seeding and aerations have recovered nicely from earlier grub issues. The Guelph Turf Grass Institute doesn't seem to think grubs will be much of a nuisance this year...and definitely not the destruction we saw the past two years for sure.

However, I was troubled when I received an email from a frantic customer a couple of weeks back. She was one of the unlucky ones who lost a good portion of her lawn to grubs last year and booked a nematode treatment for mid August this season.

Why was she panicking now? Because Mark Cullen said the time to apply nematodes was mid June. She even sent me the link so I could see for myself, but the damage was done. Her trust in me was gone because Cullen is her guru, her god, her Gordon Ramsey to my short-order cook.

First of all, Mark Cullen should know better...that's right Cullen...I'm calling you out!
I am surprised you are not more versed in nematode application.

So I sent my customer the link for the Guelph Turf Grass Institute, the one that said unless you were exempt under the bylaw there was nothing you could do until mid August at the earliest when treating grubs.

Even my supplier asked me if I'd like to order my nematodes now for August- not purchase- order.

So who to believe?

I'm not saying Mark Cullen isn't knowledgeable, but he is wrong on this point and could have cost me a customer with the B.S. entrĂ©e he's serving.

Since nematodes are currently the only product on the market to combat grubs it is important that the consumer be made aware of proper timing and application. Yet, strange as it may seem, the following information was not present on Cullen's news letter.

You must first understand you are dealing with a living organism with nematodes. They have a shelf-life. So pay attention to expiration dates.
Keep refrigerated until use.
Do not apply in sunlight. UV kills them.
Must, must, must water after the application for 3 to 4 days to flush these microscopic worms into the soil.

The unfortunate casualty in all this, is the misinformed consumer who is being spoon-fed this erroneous gruel as well as being told they need different strains of nematodes for various problems--- grubs, chinch bug, sod webworm, leather jackets.

By the time you've picked up all four products that's about $200.00 out-of-pocket for 3,000 square feet of turf.

And even if you follow application instructions, to the letter, you are still only looking at 30% control, if you're lucky, for a June application.

Tell me, would you drop two C-notes on a hockey game if you knew you'd only see one period?

The best case scenario in all this would be if there was a more effective grub control on the market. One where you don't have to worry about timing, weather, refrigeration etc.

Oh, wait a moment! I forgot to tell you about Met 52!

A new product for insect control which is being fast-forwarded through the approval process. 

The Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) is the Canadian regulatory body responsible for registering pesticides for public use.  Among other things,  they determine to what extent the pesticide may be effective for the Canadian market and whether it provides an additional pesticide option that adds to the products already available.  In this case, the PMRA is quite attentive to the lack of viable insecticides for the landscape and retail market and has sped up the approval process for a new insecticide that is environmentally friendly.

This insecticide is currently called  MET  52 but will probably go to the market under another name.  It is effective against both grubs and chinch bug but needs to be applied separately to control these pests.  Chinch bug is a surface feeder and grubs are root feeders, so the first application would need to be left on the surface and the second would need to be watered in.

Under normal due process, this insecticide would have become available in 2014 or 2015.  However, results to date demonstrate that the insecticide is insect specific and environmentally friendly so there is a very real likelihood this product will be on the market in the next 2-3 months.  Indications are that it will certainly be available as a liquid and there is some chance, but maybe not immediately, that it will also be packaged as a granular. 

So beware manufacturers of nematodes. Your days may be numbered. I for one believe I speak for many in the industry, it can't come soon enough. Remember Sarritor the first great organic weed control that wasn't. That's right....Sarritor who?

So fleece the unsuspecting while you can, soon there will be a new item on the menu. It's about time we had a product that was more palatable.

Monday, June 3, 2013

If it smells like manure...

This week I came across a few startling revelations I would like to share with you.

A young man approached me while I was doing an application and asked if we were hiring.

As I took his information he told me he currently worked for one of the bigger lawn companies and wanted to find employment elsewhere.

There's no need to tell you which one, because some of the things he told me were practiced by my former employers as well and they were much smaller. You are either reputable, or you're far from it if you ask me.

I then asked him what he was looking to make pay-wise and he said he and all his fellow employees worked on commission only.

Commission only!

Ever wonder why your hear of a lawn technician running through the application? Well now you know. The more work the more pay.

In fact he said, "there's a lot of Ghosting going on too."

For those of you who aren't familiar with this term, it's when you find an invoice in your mail box but no application was ever performed.

Does that answer the question about how the technician got over your locked gate to the back yard with a spreader and why your weeds look just as bad?

Come to think of it, the lawn company I used to work for never questioned, not even once, when one of our guys came back to the office daily around 2:00 PM with 40 jobs done.

The young man also informed me on all the products they used- mostly the same as us- yet, the one I found interesting was the spring fertilizer -36-0-5.

WOW! That's a lot of nitrogen to feed the lawn out of the gate, but don't take my word for it.

FERTILIZING: A few of the biggest mistakes made when it comes to using fertilizers is not only using the right mixture, but using the right quantity and applying it at the right time of the year. Often times when spring comes around people feel a need to fertilize their lawns in hopes of seeing a green plush lawn as soon as possible. Too much fertilizer, especially with high levels of soluble nitrogen fertilizer, tends to increase thatch problems and leaves lawns more prone to insect and disease. Or, worse yet, you will literally burn your lawn.

I guess that's when the grub, surface insect and aeration up-sell kicks in?

I asked him with all this going on weren't they worried about their image. I mean there are a ton of sites dedicated to informing potential customers through the reviews of others.

However, when you see several positive reviews followed by some that are not so favourable you have to ask questions. Especially when there are sites like this one:
http://www.ReviewShowcase.com  for Reviews and Reputation Service.

1. Positive reviews increase your business rank by linking important and relevant websites to your website.

2. A constant stream of positive reviews improves your online reputation.

3. Positive reviews drive traffic to your business.

4. Positive reviews restore a tarnished reputation by pushing down negative reviews and links.

5. Helps protect against competitors or anyone else from attempting to run your ranking.

So that's how some companies have been able to improve their reputation in only the past few months on sites like Homestars? They've been paying for it! Some, are getting positive reviews from areas they don't even service.

With the ever changing landscape of the lawn care industry where social media plays an increasing roll in success, or failure, it's no wonder everyone is looking for any trick, or gimmick to gain the upper hand on the competition.

That said, in my opinion, there is no replacement for hard work, honesty and excellent customer service.

Remember it is up to you, the potential customer, to do your homework before choosing a company that fits your needs. Otherwise you might find yourself standing it in the midst of a most unpleasant olfactory sent.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Organic...yup...it's still a dirty word for 2013

Normally this is where I'd start applying corn gluten, but it is missing from our programs this year with exception of the organic package. The reason is, like most other lawn companies out there, we've become fatigued by the song-and-dance of how well this application actually works.

Take for instance last year, an anomaly I know, but the forsythia was blooming 2nd week of April. On a normal year that would be early May and the corn gluten would have to be applied prior to this event.

That said...you are looking at- if you're accurate in your application (20lbs per 1,000 sq. ft. of lawn)- an effectiveness of four to six weeks as a pre-emergent.

Even on a normal year that takes you to early/ mid June. Then we get drought and heat like we've had the past few years and Bingo everyone gets crabgrass. Cue the unhappy customers and the angry calls.

With the few products that are approved for use these days we've had to do some fancy dancing of our own.

Take for instance Nematodes. On the heels of the worst grub damage I've ever seen, you may be tempted to buy a sponge, or two to treat your battered lawn this spring.

Well- Let me just tell you what the Turf Grass Institute says about spring applications.

Grubs are up and feeding now. There isn’t a lot of grub damage per se. The secondary pests such as raccoons, skunks and starlings are doing their usual spring damage to turf that is infested with grubs. As far as control goes, there is very little that can be done this time of year. Last spring Dr. Michael Brownbridge and I conducted a spring applied nematode trial and neither Hb or Steinernema glaseri were effective. To help recovery, rake the dead areas and plan to over-seed in a couple of weeks. Whether it is home lawn turf where you are relying on insect parasitic nematodes or golf course turf where you are relying on traditional pesticide chemistry, now is not the time to control grubs. Make a note of the damaged areas and plan to apply grub control in the mid summer on golf courses or in August for home lawns.

We've also stopped buying product from any supplier whose sole purpose is to make money off people like you and I with products that do not work effectively

So go out and get your 20kg bag and apply it if you wish. Load up on Nematodes. But right now these products are dead weight I can do without.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Today we're on the links

Happy Earth Day.

In previous years I have admittedly spent a little time on my soap box preaching, but I made a commitment to not do that this year.

This blog is meant to be about information regarding lawn care and since I'm not a politician, nor would I choose to be, I  prefer to stay away from that arena.

However, I do believe we are all entitled to as much information as we are willing to handle and for that reason I have chosen to post some links that make for interesting reading to help you formulate your own opinion.

One of the sites I subscribe to is Force of Nature. This is a site with very strong opinions concerning the pesticide ban, but also an excellent source for seeing the truth about the political agenda. I have come to see, sadly, this isn't about protecting the public and creating carcinogens where there weren't any. It isn't about how chemicals are evil and phosphorous in fertilizer may eat your children. It's all about the almighty dollar and who profits the most from these decisions.

Frequently asked questions about the Ontario pesticide ban.

MPP Ted Chudleigh's opinion on the OPB.

Cross-border shopping.

And then there's grubs.

Really, as I see it, you have three choices, do nothing, do it yourself, or have someone do it for you.

As far as the need for lawn care under any prohibition, unless you are really familiar about what to do, or you're cheating with outlawed products, you probably need lawn care more than ever. Sure you could surrender the turf to weeds and insects but we need grass to filter our air and if we lose it to infestations, artificial turf and rock gardens somewhere down the line there will be an impact.

It seems to me, every time someone implements a better mouse trap it ends up creating more problems in the long run. One of my favourite sayings is, "to see eternity in a seed one needs vision rather than eyesight."

Wake up and embrace the vision before all you're left with is hindsight.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The cut above

Maybe it's just me, but I've been having trouble getting motivated for the 2013 lawn season. I understand why that is with the unforgiving weather we've had the past few years. It's like building a beautiful sand castle on the beach with the tide constantly pounding the shoreline and destroying any existence of your efforts.

Eventually, smacking your head against that wall is going to affect your thought process.

So what to do?

Soldier on I guess. But there are things you can do as a homeowner to help and one of the most important practices is raising your mowing height.

Now I understand I'm approaching this subject a little early, but the earlier the better in this instance. I still find it confusing that there are dudes out there still scalping their lawns when they cut it.

Is it they don't know? Laziness perhaps? Memories of chemical days gone by?

Let me ask you this, would you cut off most of your hair and then walk out into the blistering sun without any protection?

Well, your lawn is hair for your property. And like hair, if you don't take care of it, it's not going to look very nice.  Your split ends are simply going to be weeds, drought and insects.

Higher mowing allows for you to grass-cycle and return essential nutrients to your soil. It will also alleviate- hopefully- the chances of you removing too much (no more than 1/3) of the blade of grass and stress your lawn out. You'll find the lawn more drought tolerant in high temperatures.

Mowing at around the 3" mark also helps keep the soil temperature down and potentially the crabgrass/ weed-seed germination to a minimum.

I could go on, but let me just say, keeping your mower on a high setting, blades sharp for a precise cut and changing the direction you cut each time, will create a healthier lawn able to withstand what Mother Nature throws our way.

Perhaps this year we can spend less time kicking over sand battlements and ruining a perfectly good day at the beach. Fingers crossed.

Monday, March 25, 2013

S.W.O.T. that fly

S.W.O.T. analysis is something every company should do before embarking into their chosen field and revisit every few years. It can be a living, breathing document and one to keep the heart pumping in any successful business.

I know it was one of the first things I did before I clicked the on button and applied my first fertilizer. It is also something I've had to tweak now and then with changes to legislation, weather and public perception.

Let us first, for those who don't know, breakdown what S.W.O.T. stands for.

S.W.O.T. is a way to analyze the competition while looking at your own business operation and comparing the two. It stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

An interesting thing I discovered when I did mine was that many in the lawn care industry operate a certain way and have for many years...because it worked for them. This means extensive cold calling, up-selling, negative billing, fraudulent guarantees, not to mention a high volume of cheap, unskilled labour in the field...and on your lawn.

I know all this, because I used to work for a bigger company and was part of that annual spring cattle-call with one day of training before being assigned a truck and a spreader. It is the same today as it was ten years ago when I first started.

Don't believe me? Look at the job posting above.

Yet, the numbers don't lie. There is enough of a success rate operating this way to consider it a Strength.

It's funny how these were all facets I identified as Weaknesses when I did my analysis and thus an Opportunity to design a new business model.

I could simply rectify this mode of operandi by telling my customers the truth and developing a trust/personal relationship which is uncontested by my competitors. If I backed it up with performance, why would anyone want to go back to a company operating under the old lawn care model?

Since we virtually use the same products when performing applications it seemed the best place to carve out my own brand and try to repair the damage caused by others, in some instances, with ruthless canvassing and shoddy workmanship.

Now I'm not saying that the stones I throw will bring down the big three Goliath companies. There's too much franchise money, a greater workforce and advertising dollars to dent the armor. However, I don't feel the need to compete anymore when many of their wounds are self inflicted...and the Threats to us?...

...I certainly don't see any. Do you?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Winter...it's not such a bad thing...

...unless you push snow for a living, are elderly, don't have a snow blower, commute to work in the slop etc.

 I'm not a big fan of the snow either- it only serves to insulate the soil- it's the cold that gets me giddy.

Yet, you have to admit, we've had it pretty easy the past few winters.

You might wonder with all the ill will toward sub-zero temperatures and massive accumulations of the white stuff why I'm so happy about it?

Simple...grubs. Grubs have totally destroyed lawns over the past few years and it's only going to get worse and I'll take the help where I can get it.

Nematodes, which are the only recourse the lawn industry has to combat this uninvited guest, do work, but...and it's a big but, there are many variables involved in a successful insertion of these microscopic worms that feast on grub larvae. Many of these conditions are out of my hands from the moment I drive off after I've completed an application.

And...forget applying until mid August anyway. By that time you may have precious little turf to worry about especially if there's a sellout to the hunger games in April/May. By that I mean more than 10 grubs per square foot when the warmer weather coaxes the little buggers from slumber.

Core aeration also helps alleviate the problem slightly, but let's be honest here, there are no effective, over-night killers on the market anymore, so we have to get help from Mother Nature.

Grubs over-winter by burrowing down into the soil after they've had their all-you-eat buffet at the root level of your turf in late summer. Compounding the issue are skunks and raccoons who love nice plump grubs to dine on when they can't get into your garbage.

This year we had calls about nocturnal destruction well into the twilight of November. This told me, because it wasn't cold enough the grubs were still close to the surface- between 2 and 8 inches. So welcome the frigid blast of winter my friends. The colder the better.

There is a good chance the grub population will be culled somewhat by it and the destruction this coming season less severe. *fingers crossed*

However, as with all predictions surrounding the weather, I'm only a genius if my forecast comes to fruition.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Plus ca change, plus ce le meme chose

It's a new year and with it comes a new attitude...well for me anyway. Some may have noticed, I've been absent on the Ol' Blog the last four months?

I felt after the tough year for turf that was 2012...and it was tough for everyone in the business, I needed to get away from it all and clear my head. I wanted to get back to giving advice instead of just ranting about politics.

So, here I am intent on practicing what I preach, ready to give my opinion on 2013 season preparation.

Personally, I wasn't expecting to have to post in January, but one of our customers informed us Weedman's kids were already out canvassing her neighbourhood trying to sign homeowners up.

Now if you are a Weedman customer and happy with their service- good for you. Stay with what works. However, if you are entertaining the thought of bringing in a third party to take care of your lawn there are a few things you should be aware of when hiring anyone in this industry...including me if you see fit.

I should say now, not all companies are alike and there is still some integrity and truth out there, but you will have to dig deep to find the gold. The smell might be a little potent in the process.

The search starts with understanding the warning signs and the tactics used to snatch your hard-earned money.

1) If anyone tells you they have a weed killer, or a product no one else has, they are not being truthful. Almost 4 years ago the playing field was leveled and we all use the same products now. There are no more silver bullets and systemic killers when it comes to weeds and the next control, "Phoma", is still a year away at the earliest.

As it currently stands, it takes time to get control and convert a weed-filled lawn into a healthy one.
If someone is using a cocktail of their own making then the PMRA and Health Canada are not going to take kindly to its existence since it would be an unregistered product and just as illegal as applying any substance currently under the bylaw.

2) Make sure what you are getting is what you pay for and what you need. There are companies who will sell you a basic program because the price is more attractive, even though they know you have grub damage, or compacted soil. They know that later in the season they can sell you an aeration, or nematode treatment at top dollar instead of saving you the coin now with a prepaid discount for the entire lot.

3) Sometimes saying "yes" to anything is carte blanche to perform applications on your lawn without further authorization. I have heard the horror stories time and time again how a homeowner said yes to a free estimate, no to service, only to find an invoice in the mail box for applications rendered once the season started. There are people who will pay the bill without a fight, or fuss and it's what the company counts on.

4) Be aware, bigger is not always better. The bigger the company, the more resources. Which means a possibility of annoying telemarketing to up-sell you applications, a plethora of different and in some cases, under-trained lawn technicians performing the applications. Also sadly, you may find it more difficult to reach someone if you have a problem with your lawn, or billing.

5) Understand the company's policies. Do they return year to year unless you cancel?
If you need to cancel, what are the protocols and is there any refund pending? Do they perform unauthorized applications on your lawn when they are needed, i.e. grub, even though it is not part of your program. Again, there are instances where someone has paid over 6 bills for a program that was initially under $300, simply because of extra applications. Remember even though negative billing isn't legal, it is a practice that is still widely used as a revenue stream. I recommend contacting the Ministry of Consumer Affairs  if you are a victim of negative billing.

6) Trust is paramount. When someone asks me if I guarantee the products I use I tell them, "I guarantee I will do my best with the tools I have." However, how can you guarantee a product many of the manufacturers won't stand behind 100%. There are just too many variables and excuses to hide behind. So if someone in the lawn care business guarantees weed-free, or grub-free etc., I would be skeptical, but that's because I know the products and what they need to perform effectively.

Social media has held many companies accountable who still draw from the old playbook and with a little research you will begin to draw your own conclusions whether, or not you have the right lawn care provider. I find Homestars an excellent source for all home related hires. As for lawn care, I want to believe because of people like you and I and a strong internet voice, that this industry is making an effort to change.

Unfortunately, as with all things, the more things change the more they stay the same.