Just like corn, capital and cars, the water question is really one of imbalance. There’s too much of it in the Midwest and not enough in California. Most of the accessible water is too salty to use (at least for now), and the five vast reserves of freshwater that sit just north of my home state of Ohio are under constant threat of being trucked or sucked west. Water flows to slow (or not at all) from Colorado River headwaters, and too fast off roofs and parking lots in Virginia, overwhelming the storm sewers and the Chesapeake Bay.
This month, I asked some of the smartest water people I know to take a crack at what water means for the landscape industry now and in the future. I got so much good stuff that I couldn’t fit it all in the magazine.
No matter your business, water matters to you. You can’t cut grass if it’s not growing, or if your city has convinced your customers to take a payday and tear out their turf. You can’t maintain the 300 million trees that have been turned to kindling in Texas. And hardscapers, you’re not off the hook, either: In Maryland, citizens are required to pay a rain tax for the impervious surfaces they install on their property. It’s an attempt to control stormwater runoff into the Chesapeake Bay and therefore reduce the amount of chemicals in the water.
Which takes us to the Clean Water Act. EPA wants to increase its legal authority to include streams, ditches and ponds. This would mean increased permitting responsibility and requirements for the thousands of contractors who build, spray and otherwise maintain landscapes near these sometimes-temporary bodies of water. The agency just last month agreed to extend the comment period on the rule change, which means you have a deadline extension to make yourself heard.
I don’t have an answer for how to balance our nation’s reserves of quality water for use in the landscape, just as I don’t have ready answers for how to feed all our country’s hungry people, how to ensure everyone has enough money to send their kids to college or how to fix traffic jams on my way home from the office. I don’t have the answer, but I’ve put together a lot of good ideas in this issue that will help you find the opportunity and the answer to the water question.
Along with the state’s water supply, some of the once-flourishing California landscape business has begun drying up. In Sacramento, groundskeepers are letting the grass die on the state Capitol lawn and are encouraging others to follow suit. While many think it might be time to find a new job, one landscaper says he’s at capacity.
“Much of my old competition has already gone out of business” says Mike Garcia, owner of Enviroscape in Redondo Beach, Calif. “I’m turning work away and those people are disappointed.
“They want water conservation efforts and they’re willing to pay for them. The market is there and it only makes sense to capture it.”
The key to that demand was adaptation. Garcia shifted the focus of his company from traditional landscaping to water management and now approximately half of his revenue comes from such services as subsurface drip irrigation and rainwater harvesting.
He says this work can have margins of 30 percent, which has meant a nice boost to the bottom line for his $500,000 company. “Instead of feeling like it’s time to find a new profession, I see a huge opportunity to make a difference in this profession,” Garcia says.
And with California in the midst of one of its worst droughts in history, marketing these services has been easy. In fact, Garcia says he’s reaping the benefit of the millions of dollars that have already gone into water messaging by the water companies.
“Two years ago when I was talking about the drought, people were clueless,” Garcia says.
“They had no idea what I was talking about. But now, two years later, when I talk about the drought everybody knows. There’s a true consciousness about just how bad it really is.”
Garcia says using keywords and phrases on his website that are picked up during Internet searches has been critical to marketing and selling the service.
Phrases like “rainwater harvesting,” “drip irrigation,” “native gardens” and “save water/save money” are all popular searches.
“People will call me and use the correct terminology, which gives you some sense of how well the message has spread,” Garcia says.
“I’ll get a voicemail asking about subsurface drip irrigation. It kind of blows my mind. Two years ago nobody would have had any clue what that was.”
Garcia says it took him a “few installs” during a two to three month period to get the hang of the work, but says if you have the basics down, you should be able to do subsurface installations.
“All irrigation systems require knowing about water hydraulics, friction loss, pressure, volume, plant needs for certain times of year, etc.,” he says.
“If you have a good foundation in current irrigation methodologies, you will see subsurface drip as an easy add-on. The very first systems we installed several years ago are still going strong.”
Garcia says one thing contractors should acquire is a trencher.
“Do not hand trench,” he says. “This will discourage you. Buy or rent a machine."
He also advises documenting your work. “I’d encourage contractors to grab their smart phones and videotape their crew installing jobs,” Garcia says.
“Video has worked very well for me. I have helped other contractors by directing them to my YouTube videos, which show how subsurface drip is done, and I’ve encouraged them to share that with their own customers.” While customers may like to see the installation, it comes down to the dollars. “Like anything, people want to see what kind of money it will save them.
“When you can start demonstrating those cost savings, the proof is in the pudding.” he says.
Installing drip will result in an escalated cost of about 10 percent compared to a traditional sprinkler system, Garcia says.
“The savings come in the form of water, which is spiking in price every month due to drought,” he says.
As water prices continue to rise, the ROI will be greater, Garcia says.
“A client called and was horrified to see their water bill had risen dramatically,” he says.
“Upon looking at their bill, it was noted their usage had actually gone down. The cost of water is rising at alarming rates.”
For more information
Visit bit.ly/lldrip to listen to a webinar Garcia did with L&L on drip installation. You can also visit bit.ly/lldrought to read an article on the impact of drought in California.
Prolonged record-setting heat and drought are not comforting words if you work in the green industry. However, from March 2011 to spring 2013 a large portion of the central United States experienced just that. The historic event impacted the horticulture industry in many ways, including some surprises.
The John C. Pair Horticultural Center of Kansas State University is a research and extension facility near Wichita, Kan., with a mission of introducing and evaluating woody landscape plant material for the state and region. Seasonal drought, rapid temperature changes, scorching summer heat and perpetual drying winds make it an ideal location to stress-test woody plants. The calendar years of 2011 and 2012 were a reminder that our mission is important beyond our state’s borders.
This unusual weather event provided an opportunity to observe the effects of heat and drought on mature, established landscape plants. No greenhouse; No growth chamber; No artificially induced drought. This was real-world stress testing. The following list of 10 species survived the event with little to no observable effects.
While I am nearly certain that somewhere across the region stricken by this drought, readers will be able to point to an incidence where each of the following has failed. However, when well-established and otherwise healthy, each of the species performed admirably and deserves further consideration in areas with regular periods of extended heat and drought.
Pistacia chinensis (Chinese pistache).
This tree continues to amaze. It is perfectly hardy in USDA Hardiness Zone 6, yet is also a widely used landscape tree in Phoenix. Additionally, the species seems perfectly at home in the continental climate of the southern Great Plains where rapid temperature shifts are a common occurrence.
Fall color is a primary ornamental attribute and can range from none, to yellow, to orange, to brilliant red, and some with hues of purple. Since the vast majority of established landscape trees are of seed origin, this presents an opportunity for selecting superior specimens. There are a few named cultivars and others in the works that have reliable fall color or a cooperative growth habit.
With it comes a warning – it’s invasive. It is true that in the southern plains from Kansas through Texas you can find Chinese pistache escaping and invading fence rows, abandoned fields and empty urban lots.
Acer saccharum (Caddo sugar maple).
For 30 years this southwestern ecotype of sugar maple has repeatedly proven itself to be one of the toughest shade trees in heat and drought-prone areas.
Originating from a disjunct sugar maple population in western Oklahoma, these genes know heat and drought. As an added advantage, they also grow rather well in soil pH up to 8.0. At our facility, Caddo sugar maple is surrounded by scorched, dying and dead sugar maple cultivars. Yet Caddo sugar maple has the audacity to push a mid-summer flush of growth as if the drought had never occurred. Landscape irrigation systems are no friend to Caddo maple.
Trees surrounded by over-irrigated turf are generally in poor health. Cultivars have been selected for brilliant red fall color and are superior to seedlings for that reason. Plants have performed well as far north as Ames, Iowa, and as far south as Dallas.
Its drawback – niche market. The beautiful and abundant cultivars of sugar maple already on the market are plenty drought tolerant for most locations.
Availability can also be a limiting factor. Some growers may try to collect seed from established trees in the landscape. Unfortunately, those seeds are probably contaminated by neighboring non-Caddo pollen parents.
Acer truncatum (Shantung maple).
A beautiful tree with a purple flush of spring growth, gorgeous fall color and drought tolerance. Trees of seed origin can range in fall color from yellow to orange to red. Our experience has shown that specimen trees tend to produce a high number of progeny with fall color similar to the seed parent. In other words, collect seeds from parent trees that turn red in fall. This species continues to impress on an annual basis. There have been no observed pest problems. It has dependable cold hardiness and reliable fall color.
Size is appropriate for suburban lots and trees are not messy. However, vigorous growth going into fall can be damaged by an early freeze in more mild climates where the plants produce a late summer flush of growth and fail to properly harden off. In the southern plains region with intense summer heat, that does not seem to be a problem and plants are always prepared for the first freeze.
Chionanthus retusus (Chinese fringetree).
Widely recognized for its incredible bloom and excellent bark characteristics, we now feel confident promoting this species for its drought tolerance. In the midst of back-to-back record setting heat and drought events, not a single scorched leaf could be found, their flowering was not diminished, and their fall color was a beautiful golden yellow. Leaves remained dark emerald green throughout the growing season.
Be aware that clonal propagation can be frustrating, but it can be done. Reports of biannual blooming exist but this has not been widely viewed as a criticism of the species.
Heptacodium miconioides (seven-son flower).
The bark is eye-catching when the plant is limbed up for viewing. The flowers light up the landscape the first week of September (Wichita) and are visited by more species of pollinators than can be counted. The sepals keep the show going for two to three more weeks when they change to a rosy pink.
Perhaps most surprising was the way its dark emerald-green leaves persisted through exceptional drought completely unscathed. Even flowering was perfectly normal despite coming at the end of the growing season. But the plant suffers from a lack of diversity. It’s an amazing plant, but the gene pool is relatively small which limits the potential for cultivar selection. A species this good, yearns for improved cultivars.
Quercus shumardii (shumard oak).
This widely adapted species is native to moist bottomlands, yet handles drought extremely well. A fibrous root system lends its self well to B&B production and makes transplanting fairly successful. Its fall color can be outstanding burnt orange to red in some selections. Some individual trees push a red flush of growth in the spring that holds color into early summer. This could be an interesting character to select for. I have never seen this species suffer the effects of an extended drought.
The only drawback I can provide is that clonal propagation is difficult. A moderately successful means of asexual propagation would simplify and speed the introduction of new selections. Acorns can be messy in heavy fruit set years.
Quercus muehlenbergii (chinkapin oak).
No bells and whistles here – it’s just a really tough tree. Often found growing on elevated limestone outcroppings, this species is right at home in well drained, high pH soil. Chinkapin oak is a large tree with attractive bark, clean green leaves, and acorns that are highly prized by all forms of wildlife. Keep watch for cultivars with improved foliage quality and growth habit. They are on the way. Transplanting is tricky. If careful attention is not taken to ensure a well-branched fibrous root system, then B&B trees are likely to contain few roots in the ball, which correlates to few successes in the landscape. Acorns can be objectionable in years with heavy fruit load.
Ulmus americana(American elm)
There is a reason it used to be the most common landscape and urban shade tree — adaptability. New cultivars with disease resistance are once again finding their way into our landscapes. As part of the multistate National Elm Trial, we were fortunate to observe several cultivars of elm over the past few years, and drought tolerance appears to be a trait distributed throughout the 18 taxa in our evaluation. The species transplants well, establishes quickly and grows rapidly. It has a few negatives — elm leaf beetle feeding, grasshopper feeding, rank growth requiring frequent pruning, and cultivars with unattractive growth habits. However, when a fast-growing, broad-spreading shade tree with wide adaptability and impressive drought tolerance is required, the list of available species gets pretty short. American elm will be on that list.
Maclura pomifera (Osage orange)
Seriously, Osage orange. This tree, more than any other, played a significant role in the westward expansion of agriculture into the Great Plains region. As a windbreak and living fence this species has no competition. Improved cultivars are available. Extreme weather event after extreme weather event, these trees never fail. No drought has made them defoliate, no spring freeze has caught them in leaf, and no ice event has broken their branches. Attractive bark and clean green foliage combined with impressive stress tolerance makes it a good shade tree and a good urban tree. But those thorns and fruit are undesirable, to say the least. Several cultivars exist that are thornless and fruitless (male). Availability is also an issue because demand is low. However, a couple more years like the last few, and we may see increased demand for truly drought tolerant trees.
Cupressus arizonica(Arizona cypress)
With a name like that it has to be drought tolerant. The species will easily handle the heat and drought of the southern Great Plains. In our studies, a one-year seedling transplanted to the field increased its root biomass by 5,000 percent in the following 12 months and roots were excavated to a depth of 4 feet. In regions routinely plagued by extended high summer temperatures and drought, this underutilized species should be a regular component in the conifer mix. Hardiness will limit use of this species in colder regions. If specimens are crowded, they tend to not age well and cause thinning and defoliation on the lower portion of the tree. New cultivars with blue foliage, improved cold hardiness, pyramidal growth and that root well from stem cuttings would be desirable.
The author is director of the John C. Pair Horticultural Center, Kansas State University.
Many small businesses have survived the economic downturn by reducing overhead and maximizing operational efficiency. As the economy improves, some companies are experiencing turnover as employees jump ship for what they perceive as a better position elsewhere. Are these good employees gone bad? Or were they just bad hires in disguise?
The Harvard Business Review reports that up to 80 percent of employee turnover can be traced back to bad hires, suggesting that perhaps the final frontier of small business belt-tightening is refining the hiring process.
Careerbuilder reports bad hires cost an average of $25,000. This doesn’t even include intangible costs such as lost productivity, damaged morale or loss of company reputation among customers.
Here are a few suggestions to help you minimize the chance of a bad hire:
Build a bench.
A well-developed succession plan will tell you who you will need and when, whether you have the talent in house, or if you’ll have to go outside to get it. Say you have one good field supervisor who could become a great branch manager in 24 months, but your growth plan calls for opening two new branches in the next year. Those gaps in your succession plan will help you plan and budget for meeting your hiring needs.
Know what you need.
To hire successfully, you have to manage your talent assets like you run your jobs. A successful maintenance contract starts with a clear scope of service. Likewise, a successful hire starts with a detailed job description.
Your job description should list the main responsibilities of the position, the skills required for success and the core competencies of the ideal candidate. It should also provide a brief context for how the role contributes to the overall success of the organization.
Solicit input from stakeholders who really know what it takes to do the job. If you’re the business owner and you haven’t worked in the field for years, don’t rely on your memory of how you used to run a crew. Go ask the people who run your crews now what skills and characteristics they need in a successful candidate.
Identify the traits and skills of your top performers already in the job and use them to benchmark the ideal candidate. This will save time in screening and interviewing, and can also help predict how an individual will perform in the job by comparing their past behavior with your ideal.
Hire for fit, train for skills.
The top reason people leave an organization is conflict with a team member or supervisor, so it’s better to hire someone with potential to learn the skills you need, who you know will be a great team player.
To check for fit, have the finalists meet with several members of your team and even with managers in other departments. Take the candidate to lunch for a more casual test of how the person interacts in a team setting.
If you don’t have in-house recruiting staff, you may want to work with a contract recruiter who specializes in the green industry. They can screen applicants to cull the best candidates and perform valuable skills and behavioral assessments that will streamline the selection process.
If it comes down to two or three equally good candidates, it may be time to do a gut check. Here is where your emotional intelligence should come into play. If you are drawn to one candidate more than another, ask yourself why. Be honest. Is it because they are more like you? Do you need someone like you in this position? Or would it be better to have someone not like you to complement the team dynamics?
Regardless of what your gut says, be sure to practice due diligence with background and reference checks.
Hedge your bets and cut your losses.
Sometimes it’s hard to build a bench when you just need a body in the seat. A growing trend among employers is to offer temp-to-permanent or contract-to-hire assignments to their top candidates. This is a short work period (30-90 days) that allows the company and the candidate to decide if the potential hire will be a match long-term.
During the trial period, evaluate the employee on quality of work, working well with others, attitude, attendance, customer interaction and how they meet deadlines. These critical criteria will reveal a bad hire early on so you can cut your losses and get back to growing your company.
No matter how quickly you identify a bad hire, you’re still going to waste money by having to replace them. The key is to waste the least amount of time and money by applying the same discipline to your hiring process as you do to your production processes.
The author is an independent communications consultant in Glenwood, Md.
1. Bobcat Push Broom
The pitch: This push broom attachment is faster than hand sweeping, and is able to clean along tight areas such as curbs and walls.
- It has the ability to sweep materials when operating in either forward or reverse.
- For a loader model, the push broom attaches to the bucket with spring-loaded pins.
- Sweep and clean up materials, whether wet or dry. Designed for sweeping dirt, leaves, light snow, standing water, and spilled materials.
For more information: www.bobcat.com
2. CEAttachments Heavy-clipper
The pitch: The EDGE Heavy-Duty High Reach Clipper is designed for commercial and rental use for contractors.
- The rotator is hard-wearing and built with several extra gussets, and features 110 degree rotation.
- A wireless remote control allows the operator to activate the solenoid valve for rotation, without the complication of wires getting tangled in brush.
- It's made of 5/8-inch steel for durability in cutting trees and branches up to 9-inches in diameter.
For more information: www.ceattachments.com
3. John Deere MH60C Mulching Head
The pitch: The MH60C Mulching Head is designed for durability by utilizing oversize 64-mm (2.5 inch) sealed rotor bearings and double carbide-tipped teeth.
- The heavy-duty push bar helps to topple trees and brush while protecting the carrier from any flying debris.
- Featuring a two-speed hydraulic system, the mulching head is able to efficiently utilize available horsepower.
- Preset pressure levels allow the motor to automatically shift to high displacement.
For more information: www.johndeere.com
4. Toro 22520 Narrow Bucket
The pitch: Toro's narrow bucket attachment can handle compact construction and remodeling sites by moving through 36 inches gates.
- This 34.5 inch-wide bucket allows you to get through narrow spaces, including gates and doorways.
- Can be used on the Dingo TX 420 or any Dingo model equipped with narrow wheels and tires.
- The steel cutting edge extends the life of the bucket and keeps the cutting edge uniform.
For more information: www.toro.com