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Expand your business model with organic lawn care

Discussion in 'Organic Lawn Care' started by ICT Bill, Dec 4, 2007.

  1. ICT Bill

    ICT Bill LawnSite Platinum Member
    Messages: 4,115

    I have read several posts on this site about how much fertilizer prices are going up and the issues with other companies low balling. There are great answers in these threads about how companies run "a business".

    In that vein....... for those of you especially around water and being legislated as to what you can apply and do to a lawn.

    For those that don't know, MA, CT, NY, NH, ME, MD, FL, I'm sure I am missing some, are being legislated as to what you can apply and when. In some instances around K-12 schools NO fertilizer, herbicide or pesticide may be applied at any time, period. In some counties, the same. The organic lawn care guys are cleaning up with very respectable margins.

    The chemical lawns guys are wondering what happened

    Organic lawn care can expand your business model and enable you to differentiate yourself from other lawn companies.
    The fact of the matter is that customers that want to do organic lawn care typically have the income to afford the service.
    How many other lawn services in your area do it?
    Talk about a profitable niche.

    I just wanted to bring it up......think about it
  2. cantoo

    cantoo LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,910

    I'm a chemical guy but have a few questions anyway. IOn these schools if you can't use any fertilizer then what are you putting on? Or did you mean synthetic fert? A local Town tried this a couple of years ago and the soccer fields are now mostly mud when they are used. In fact one area was just declared surplus because no one used it anymore and sold to a housing developer. On one field the first year they tried the steam method with a 12' or so wide machine to kill weeds of course it killed everything, they actually thought it would only kill weeds. It was a terrible time to test new methods as they were just starting a real bad cycle of grubs. Really just poor timing with the grubs killing everything and the weeds taking over. It's too bad but they lost a lot of people right off the bat. I would think that likely over half the lawns in that town are now serviced by four or five big companies that spray. I do have a friend that bought a franchaise that advertises organic but not sure what programs he is using. I would be willing to change but people want results fast and cheap. We won't take on customers that want every weed gone or that think we need to spray more than twice per year. We just try to get it under control not eliminated.
  3. ICT Bill

    ICT Bill LawnSite Platinum Member
    Messages: 4,115

    You bring up some very good points, unfortunately there is no simple answer, I will address a few without going into great detail.
    The first that comes to mind is education of the lawn care professional and setting the expectations of the customer.
    There are parts of Canada that are becoming very strict with applications of chemicals. A good place to start is to look to some of the local and state funded outreach programs on education

    You live in an area where solid fertilizers in the spring and fall are not very effective because of the temperature of the soil, sprays however are quite effective with low soil temperatures. So you are probably set up for spraying already.

    Lets start with the basics, organic lawn care is about getting good to great organic matter (compost) into the soil and spraying with compost teas to increase the biology. Aerating and overseeding in the first 3 years every fall is also part of most programs. The aeration allows us to get compost and biology down in the root zone where it does it does its job best.
    These programs are a different mindset, soil fertility is the main point, not feeding the turf plant. The point is to feed the soil, the soil feeds the plant.

    This practice increases soil fertility, builds soil tilth and allows the soil biology to come back into balance. This in turn increases vigor and health to the turf. In many instances we are trying to outcompete weeds with a healthy and thick lawn. There are instances where things do not go as planned, it is called "emergency non-organic rescue treatment" and this procedure and resulting practice must be agreed to by the client, most companies have a form that lists what is to be done and how, that the client must sign.

    When discussing this subject with "chemical guys" (I am just quoting you, no offense) weeds seems to be the first thing that comes up. In these practices we are not trying to kill things but manipulate the soil and turf so that "weeds" have a difficult time establishing themselves. Weeds are actually seen as a symptom of something else that is going on in the soil. Experienced organic lawn people can tell you right away what micro nutrients are lacking by seeing what grows there. If weeds are established there are several way to take care of them, you could actually bend over and dig it out of the ground, there are different oils to use, some use a small propane torch to burn them up.

    These practices allow you to begin a dialog with the customer about the best practices for their yard as a whole, this in turn promotes trust and pretty soon the customer will not do anything without consulting you first. This allows you to basically OWN the yard and all of the extras that come along with it. You change from a weed and feed company to a trusted part of the community. It becomes a business centric decision that has increased responsibility but also increased profits

    OK, I'm off my soapbox (and I said I would be brief)
  4. grassman177

    grassman177 LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 9,795

    i use chemicals for weeds, but i also use some organic fert to feed the soil too, i think i get the best of both worlds. i have few weeds with very minimal weed control.
  5. ICT Bill

    ICT Bill LawnSite Platinum Member
    Messages: 4,115

    Sounds like a good balance to me. There are a lot of hybrid companies out there using organic fertilizers and typically spot treatment of herbicides.
    When a customer site calls and says "I've got dandelions and I don't want them there, and your company said I wouldn't have any" you have only one choice to keep the customer. Get rid of the dandelions

    Some companies go and dig them because they already told the customer that is how they handle it, some spot spray, some use small propane torches.

    I am curious, do you get calls asking for organic lawn treatment or is it not advertised and just the way you do business.
  6. Kiril

    Kiril LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 18,334

    I think it is important to expand on this. Weed growth does not necessarily correlate to nutrient deficiency. When a nutrient deficiency does exist, some weeds will have a competitive advantage over turf, thus the reason why you can sometimes look at your weed population and make general assumptions with regard to nutrient status without testing.

    The most important thing to take away from this is you want to provide conditions for your turf/plants that give them the competitive advantage, not the "weeds". This is your best defense against weeds.
  7. ICT Bill

    ICT Bill LawnSite Platinum Member
    Messages: 4,115

    You said it much better than I did
  8. mdlwn1

    mdlwn1 LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,443

    Compost tea brewing needs to come into it's own. When there are known standards and the science can back it up (we know it works..but standards are needed for mass production) things will change. My grandfather used to make his own tea for his garden...you had to see the tomatoes..and taste them! Until then, most guys will just dump way too much, cut way too much. and water way too much. It's sad.
  9. ICT Bill

    ICT Bill LawnSite Platinum Member
    Messages: 4,115

    Actually I don't think you can do it wrong....just do it better. Thats not exactly what you said but I wanted to make the point.

    The practice and the science actually has standards as to what a viable compost tea is. There are several labs around the country that will analyze the biology of your compost, compost tea or soil biology an tell you the exact parameters of the product. They will (typically) also consult with you on the results and how to tweak one thing or another to get the desired results.

    There are several scientists (soil biologists, plant pathologists and a bunch of other "ists") in the country that consult with lawn and landscape professionals in order to get the desired results. The science has come so far that common turf, shrubs and trees have been cataloged as to the perferred parameters in the soil for the best response. You can adjust bacteria, fungi, foods, micronutrients in the landscape to be plant specific.

    You grandfather was (or is) a real smart guy, what you need to remember is that your grandfather had not been marketed too his entire life about how he needed to put down the 4 step program. He probably learned techniques that had been passed down for generations on how to grow a good tomato.

    One thing to remember is: plants have been doing this for about 450 million years before we figured out how to make fertilizer. They have it pretty much figured out by now.
  10. MaineFert

    MaineFert LawnSite Member
    from Maine
    Messages: 115

    Our company has been using the "hybrid" method for 3 or 4 years now. We switched from the typical synthetic programs to an "organic matter" program. We do spot treat when necessary, or when asked to by clients, but we only recently started to advertise for organic programs and people have really taken to it. We also rep the products that we use because they are working much better than the covnentional synthetic fertilizers. We are concentrating on building the soil and budgeting for organic matter rather than budgeting for Nitrogen.

    We do now advertise as offering organic programs, and some of our lawns are basically weed free, even without chemical inputs.

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