When Dave Walsh started EcoGreen Lawn Care in 2011, he says he was the first to offer southeastern Pennsylvania a choice between traditional and organic lawn care. Today, his company is a BeeSafe applicator and can service clients with all-natural fertilizer, soil conditioners and more.
“I think nowadays, with all the resources available, people are just more aware and looking for alternatives with the keyword organic,” Walsh says. “Every year I see more and more people are inquiring about it. Even in the last year especially, it’s really been taking off.”
THE HOT TREND.
Walsh says clients across the country are searching for organic options in everything from their food to their landscaping. For EcoGreen, people with young children or pet owners are typical customers, but now Walsh sees just about everyone getting involved. Every demographic seems to be increasingly concerned with their environmental footprint.
And commercial clients are getting in on it. Walsh says this surprised him. However, companies are finding that it’s beneficial to market the fact they’re environmentally conscious.
Chip Soltesz from Dyna-Green in Ohio says he got out in front of the organics craze before it hit a fever pitch. He just wishes he could take credit for anticipating the trend.
In 2008, petroleum spiked and the cost of fertilizer went up 400 percent in a matter of two weeks. Seeking a fast alternative, Soltesz tried everything. Since then, he’s used organic-based products.
“It’s a commitment to go organic; it’s not going to turn around overnight.” Dave Walsh, owner, EcoGreen Lawn Care
“I started checking anything everyone called organic. Everything that was slightly feasible, I gave it a shot,” Soltesz says. “I’d like to pat myself on the back that I did it to save the environment and going greener, but no, I did it for survival because I can’t have fertilizer going up and down on those wild swings anymore.”
At that time, Soltesz says some people even criticized him for saying he was going organic. But now, he says offering organics is largely to thank for his company’s growth, even if he was already aiming to expand beyond a two-truck operation over the last decade anyway.
What’s more, many companies are including organics because of legal restrictions and limitations opponents continue to attack them for their part in contributing to hot-button environmental issues like algae blooms.
“I’ve definitely sold a lot of customers in a lot of areas that I might not have got the other way, but I’ve also been in the business a long time,” Soltesz says. “A lot of it was, ‘I have a really good product; I have a message.’ Instead of keeping this thing under wraps, let’s try to grow this thing.”
How it works.
Rick Ross says finding success with organic lawn care is about the process, not the product.
Ross is the owner of Organic Footprint, an organic supplier in North Carolina. If applied correctly, Ross says organics should increase water and nutrient holding capacity, which means lawns will have a greater heat or drought tolerance. He also says organics release nitrogen slower and heighten microbial activity, both of which contribute to healthier soil.
One of the knocks on organic products is that they take extra time to make a lawn look healthy over synthetic fertilizer. Also, companies often charge more for organic lawn care because the products are more expensive.
Walsh, who provides both organic and traditional lawn care options, says he has to charge between 15 and 20 percent higher for the organic service.
Going fully organic may never happen for most companies. They say they must also offer traditional or hybrid services. Walsh says he hopes to do so in the next five or 10 years, but he also adds that he has a family to support, and the profitability just may not be there yet. Ross – who says he keeps his product price down because he wants organic products to become popular – acknowledges it may never be possible to supply only organics.
Walsh often asks customers to sign on for multiple years because the organic process can be time-consuming. He first uses a synthetic preemergent and then a chemical weed-killer, then the remaining four treatments are purely organic. This expedites the process, especially when a lawn hasn’t been cared for at all.
“It’s a commitment to go organic; it’s not going to turn around overnight. We look at it as a three-year commitment,” Walsh says. “Especially for a customer just starting out who hasn’t done anything with their lawns and there’s a lot of weeds, it’s a slower process.”
Soltesz, who uses the synthetic-organic blend, urges customers to remain patient throughout the process. It’s the same patience he practiced when he first picked up an organic product in 2008.
“The ones who listened, most of them are customers,” Soltesz says. “The ones who didn’t and were impatient, we’ll get them back next year.”