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Alternative ways to approach landscaping and lawn care were all the talk at the Ecological Landscaping Association conference.

Brian Horn | March 5, 2013

“Lawn” isn’t a four-letter word. But reducing the size of one is an option to decrease the negative effects that maintaining a green, lush one could have on the environment.

That was one message conveyed at the Ecological Landscaping Association conference held Feb 27-28 in Springfield, Mass.

Trevor Smith, vice president of the ELA, said shrinking the size of a lawn and planting gardens or beds around it is an option for the customer who wants to become more environmentally-friendly.

“If you have kids, you need a big lawn and a big play space,” said Smith, who owns Land Escapes, a company in Arlington, Mass., specializing in low-maintenance landscape design and custom landscape floral arrangement. “But if it’s just a couple, then they can have an area just to hang out on. I use lawns as transition areas from one garden to the next, so then you are selling people gardens, and that’s even better for your bottom dollar.”

The conference gives those interested in exploring unconventional landscaping and lawn care options a place to learn and network with others who are interested in the topic. The ELA is not anti-chemical, but there is a wide range of opinions within the group.

“We’ve worked very hard over the years and have been successful in welcoming people from whatever perspective or experience, or whatever choices they are making because that makes for a better sharing of knowledge,” said founding ELA member and current treasurer, Sue Storr.

“We don’t endorse one point of view or one technique. People are from so many different aspects of the trade – groundskeepers, residential, commercial, municipal and landscape architects – all types of people that interact with landscapes are looking to exchange ideas and best practices.”

Selling the homeowner. Maintaining a lawn using “organic” practices won’t yield the same results in the same amount of time as a traditionally maintained lawn. The organic method will take a much longer time, which is something you need to stress to your customers.

Smith said you have to let the client know that if their lawns are “addicted to chemicals and used to chemical fertilizers,” there will be a time during the transition to organic care where your lawn won’t look so good.

“As long as you inform your client that’s going to happen, then there shouldn’t be a problem,” Smith said. “As long as you talk about it in an upbeat way and let them know they have a drug-addicted lawn that you are now going to make organic, they’re going to be OK. They’ll see that transition time as a healthy thing.”

While many homeowners and property managers want their lawns to resemble the quality of a golf course, you can let them know some golf courses are reducing fairway sizes and increasing the rough because of water conversation concerns.

Don Woodall from the Colonial Seed Co. said those interested in looking for lower input grasses should skip the dealer and go directly to the seed company.

He said organic fertilizer has allowed golf courses to manage turf in a much more sophisticated way and some courses are going toward eco-friendly methods and products.

“That’s important to tell the homeowner," Woodall said.

Be the expert. Smith said a problem with ecological landscaping is the number of uneducated contractors claiming to have expertise in the field.

“What is really going to hurt the ecological landscaping community is people going out and not knowing what they are doing and trying to retrofit things and make it happen, and then those systems will fail,” he says. “That’s just going to hurt everybody and make the systems look bad.”

But if you take advantage of the different education opportunities that organizations like the ELA provide, you can be the expert in the area, which will lead to better profits.

“Another part of it is the eco-technologies that are coming out now – rain harvesting systems, living roofs, living walls all these things – these technologies are becoming available and about to blow up in the market,” Smith said. “So find these technologies and find a way to take a training course. Play with it, learn about it and then you’ll be able to do it. Then, you’ll be out there, you’ll be able to charge top dollar. You are trained in that technology so you can charge top dollar for it and it will be installed the right way.”
 

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