Kris Ashby is well-educated on chemical and organic services alike.
However counterintuitive it might sound, Kris Ashby, owner of Elite Grounds in Pleasant Grove, Utah, applies chemicals precisely so that he can avoid using them at all.
“We spend a lot of time trying to prevent issues,” says Ashby, whose nine-year-old lawn and landscape company handles mostly commercial maintenance and installation. With 60 employees, it is one of the largest landscape firms in Utah. “We’re pretty aggressive, but because we’re consistent, we don’t use a lot of chemicals. For instance, we have a big push in the spring to make sure we get our pre-emergents down at the right time.”
Elite Grounds, which Ashby founded in 2003 with business partner Mark Minson after working for three decades in the field, has always had a scientifically-driven focus on results. Yet for many landscape professionals in Utah, a defining moment came two years ago when a tragic accident galvanized the industry to new safety standards.
In 2010, a pesticide worker treating voles applied large amounts of chemicals to close to a home, killing two young sisters in the Salt Lake City suburb of Layton three days later.
The company was ultimately cited for more than 3,500 recordkeeping violations, and the worker responsible faced two counts of negligent homicide.
The untimely tragedy became a rallying cry for improving Utah’s pesticide regulatory system; today, landscape companies are required to become licensed applicators. Previously, the system only required individual workers to become licensed.
“A lot of companies dump chemicals because they let things get away from them, and they’re trying to get things in line,” says Ashby. “We’re very selective about chemicals. We believe in the integrated pest management approach of identifying the plant first, and then choosing the right chemical that is specific to taking care of the problem.”
And while Ashby is very knowledgeable about chemicals, he also spends time learning about and using organic lawn care. Ashby says it is a natural outgrowth of chemical know-how.
“We have a lot of lush gardens here, and our lawns are a beautiful blue grass and rye mix. Yet as water has become more and more of an issue, we’ve spent a lot of time developing water-efficient landscapes,” he says. “With fertilizer costs going up and concerns about chemicals, we have also added organic programs to the company.”
The results are impressive, Ashby says. “I’ve done organics on my home for 12 years now,” he says. “For years, organics were a little pricey. Yet regular fertilizers are petroleum based, so they’ve skyrocketed in price in the last few years. Meanwhile, biological treatments have gone down in price and become more competitive.”
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