Halt! What Grows There?

This is the perfect time of year to take a slow, conscientious look at all parts of the properties in your care. By taking a walk around the perimeters of the garden or lawn, you will see what is exposed in the furthest corners of the property. Seeing what may not be evident when the grass is green, shrubs leafing out, trees vibrant or blooming, and lawn furniture focusing interest and attraction on a patio’s hardscape or fire pit, can help you make not only a “to do” list but craft a proposal for work to tackle during the year.

bird nest photo
This is the perfect time of year to walk around your clients’ properties, and see what is going on in the furthest corners and most remote areas of the lawn or garden. With little foliage, you can see things you may not have known before, and your customers may really enjoy knowing. Seeing birds’ nests means you are doing something right to offer habitat welcoming to birds. In turn, their presence offers benefits to the gardens and to the people enjoying those gardens.

You may find some canes of brambles starting, having escaped from a neighbor’s raspberry patch, and need to contain those now. You may see, worse yet, evidence of knotweed or Oriental bittersweet, both distinctive in shapes and colors of growth, that need to be eradicated now in this phase of their growth. You may find things you didn’t realize had taken root, having escaped from a compost pile and need to reorganize how the compost is stored and cared for.

Walking around the properties, you will see what they look like from a different vantage point. Seeing what neighbors see or how a face of the property looks from a less traveled street could mean you’ll pay more attention to planting or pruning to bring those vantage points up to the standard of the rest of the garden you’ve cared for or designed over the time you’ve been with that client.

Too often, we narrow our field of vision by being fond of relaxing in a small area, accessed by a patio slider to the house, and over time, get more lax about other areas of the garden that could effectively increase our appreciation of the property. Seeing the garden now, without the furniture or containers planted by patio walls, could mean you can work with the client to highlight trees (think nighttime landscape lighting) or create secondary focal points in areas of the yard further from the house itself.

While wanting to replace the pandemic “stuck at home” mindset with “home is where we love to spend time” mindset, you can take a chance to scrutinize the whole property with an eye on what else could be where on the property. Think about spending time there, and caring for a part of the lawn which could be recreational, such as how to site a bocce ball area, horseshoe pits, badminton or cornhole toss games. The popularity of these games in increasing, and this time of year when people are getting antsy to be outdoors, is the perfect time to see where in a lawn something like that could be possible. There’s a lot of movement to redesign the front lawn in ways we formerly thought unconventional, such as with a space for games like these to a place to grow vegetables!

You have the skills to share ideas with clients, and the professional approach to justify why an investment in a garden game area, raised bed for vegetables, or enhancing a far corner of the property (new term on the scene, “Sit Spot”) can mean more to discuss with your clients. Also very importantly, you’ll see how much more there is to learn about the habitat you’re helping create for the benefit of wildlife, birds, insects to thrive and protect our ecological balance with the overall environment. Get out there and appreciate your work, remembering what it will look like in a several months and see where your vision for the client takes you both!

— by Chris Blackstone, NHCLP

Landscaper or Groundskeeper? There’s More to it than You Think

I kneel in the frosty earth, cutting back amber stems of perennials gone by. I look up at the paver walkway I installed in August. Will the de-icing product we apply this winter kill this autumn’s tender transplants? So many hands are on the salt scoops.

When I was a landscaper, that is, a contractor, I wouldn’t have worried. My guarantee only covered new plants, not divisions. If I had done my job properly, my crew would maintain the divisions in the spring, ensuring their survival.

Here, the odds were not so favorable. I am the sole grounds maintenance technician here, responsible for more than seven acres of landscape, spread over three facilities. With our fourth facility under construction, I am soon to inherit more. For my baby plants, it’s survival of the fittest.
I now work directly for an industrial manufacturing company. When I made the transition from contractor to full time employee, I had no idea how different that would be. The learning curve was steep.

First, I had to become more adaptable. Plans and budgets are 100% required, but at any given moment the priority can change. In the middle of spreading 90 yards of mulch? Wait, “we” have decided that I need to pull the curbing from two parking lot islands, store the granite, transplant the trees, and install two 18 by 18 paver walkways. And yes, this is coming out of my budget. I have to decide what to give up from what I planned. In all honesty, the project makes sense. Who decides a tree in an island should be right in front of a door? The people who made the blueprints, that’s who. Now I have to undo it.
Lesson two stung a little more: the grounds are of low importance. My managers want the grounds to be beautiful, thriving, and ecologically progressive. However, manufacturing is the priority. We do not sell landscapes. If a task that effects production arises (a storage area needs to be turned into cubicles) I must drop everything and help with that. My budget reflects the perceived importance. I must wring every ounce from every resource to maximize every project, but that part is similar to being a contractor.

My third lesson is the one I struggle with the most to this day – slow down. Pace yourself. Do not come in expecting to hustle all day, every day – or anyone else to do so. Yes, management wants productivity, but time is built into every day for communication with multiple layers of co-workers, contractors, and supervisors. Translation: meetings.

I loved my time as a landscaper. The creativity and satisfaction of installations, the quiet routine of maintenance, being outside every day, all of these made me happy. Now, I have traded some of it for an excellent benefits package, and an employer who believes in things such as a “good work-life balance.” I have taken on tasks not related to the landscape, like generator, crane and check valve inspections. With each new responsibility I am rewarded, but also pulled inside more. My “growth plan” has a goal which doesn’t have me outside much at all, but I am assured that I will always have jurisdiction over the grounds. My hands will just be a bit cleaner.

— by Melody Hughes, NHCLP


Labor Issues in the Green Industry

We had a great panel discussion at our Dinner Meeting on January 18, 2022. Together, the panelists had over 100 years of experience in the Green Industry. We discussed the lack of help, increasing employee wages, and how to find new employees and keep current ones.

NHLA would like to thank all of our panelists for their time and expertise: Greg Herring from The Herring Group, a landscape consulting firm; Thomas Morin, owner of Morin’s Landscaping, Inc.; Andrew Pelkey, co-owner and COO of North Point Outdoors; and George Pellettieri, owner of Pellettieri Associates, Inc. NHLA would also like to thank Jim Moreau from Northeast Turf & Irrigation for moderating the panel discussion. Finally, NHLA thanks all of the members that attended. It was a very successful night.
As you all know one of the challenges all employers are facing now is an acute labor shortage. We all know how difficult, if not discouraging, it can be to find and keep the right people to do the demanding work we do each day. Some say, people don’t want to work anymore, especially in jobs that require hard physical labor. Others say that workers are out there, but we just don’t know how to reach them and inspire them to do the work we find personally satisfying and rewarding. There’s something special about creating, designing, and building beautiful landscapes to make our clients happy. We explored the challenges we all face, no matter the size of our company.

We want to share some of the outcomes and ideas from the meeting.

Biggest concerns or challenges regarding their workforce:
• The uncertainty of the H2B program and the changes in the laws.
• We have more work than we can handle with our current staff.
• The retention of employees and rising salaries.
• Be careful not to overlook current staff who are doing really well for the company, before hiring new staff.

Biggest frustration with employees:
• The lack of commitment.
• Common courtesy towards others.
• Time and effort into training, only to have them leave the next day.

COVID impact on hiring:
• It has had little impact; it has been sliding for the past 5-10 years.
• Staff dealing with childcare and remote learning.
• The flexibility to accommodate family schedules.

How wages impact companies?
• Significant wage increases.
• Work around schedules.
• Margins have to stay the same, double-edged sword.
• Unfortunately wage increases are not stopping any time soon.

Where can we look for help?
• The H2B Visa program works well; however, you need to be able to justify the cost. It’s not for everyone. Currently there is a lottery system and prevailing wages.
• Placing signs on telephone poles.
• Contacting family and friends.
• Hiring for experience versus degrees.
• Facebook
• Cold calls

Successful ways for finding and keeping productive employees:
• Employees have a purpose, such as volunteerism. “I can make a difference!”
• Career paths
• Incentives programs
• Profit sharing

How can NHLA help?
• Health insurance
• Employee Assistance Programs
• Education programs
• Learn Everywhere program

Overall, it was a great discussion! The board will plan future meetings and events to meet your needs. Please contact any board member with your ideas. We are here for you!

— by Pam Moreau, NHLA Business Manager