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:  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.