Snow still may be deep on the ground where you live, or maybe it’s nearly time for the first applications of the year. Regardless of your region, a few basic rules will help you start the season on the right foot. Here’s what to consider as things kick into high gear:
Get the word out.
If you haven’t already signed clients up from last year, notify customers of this year’s packages and options and any pertinent changes, such as with billing or fees. “We send renewal notices right after the new year,” says Steven Thomas, owner of Lawn Fitness in Kansas City, Missouri. “Customers can sign and return the letters or call. We usually don’t have to do too many follow-up calls.”
When it comes to program offerings, Thomas sells both four-step and six-step programs; the six-step has a second pre-emerge and a winter fertilizer. He also encourages homeowners to consider dethatching and annual spring clean ups (even if they had a fall clean up) to remove remaining leaf litter, fallen limbs and so on.
These add-on services boost revenue but also help give lawns a fresh start after a hard winter.
Prep your gear.
Before things get busy, give your equipment a once-over. Inspect sprayers and spreaders from top to bottom, looking for everything from broken welds on frames and clogged sprayers to low tire pressure and faulty shut-off assemblies. Service grease points, and check air and oil filters, plugs and batteries.
“Calibrate your equipment,” says Clint Waltz, a turfgrass specialist with the University of Georgia. “This step saves you time, money and effort in the long-run.”
Prep your people.
Not just your equipment has been semi-retired over the winter; so have your crew members. You may also have new hires, so it’s a good time to train people on your preferred techniques and procedures, especially safety and the use of personal protective equipment. “On a rainy day when you can’t get out there and work, don’t send everyone home. Pay your crews a few hours to practice some calibration exercises,” Waltz says. “That way they’ll be ready to do it in the field on the fly.”
Instead of sending workers home on a rainy day, pay crews to practice calibrating equipment.
Get your pre-emergent down.
The first round has to be down before weeds germinate. Keep a close eye on soil temperatures, not just the calendar date, to time your applications properly. For crabgrass, the most potentially invasive and costly weed to control, that’s when soil temps are around 50 to 55 degrees. Space out a second application 45 to 60 days after the first for season-long management.
Soil temps vary depending on the year, so log onto your state’s ag-based weather network, the university coop extension service in your state, or a manufacturer’s site.
To ensure you get the most accurate information, “tap into one that’s site-specific to within about 100 miles of where you’re located,” Waltz says. These resources often list historic averages, too, so you can plan accordingly if you have a large number of lawns in your lineup. But try not to drive yourself too batty about timing because many newer pre-emerge products have longer residual control times. The bottom line: “It’s generally better to err on the side of getting these down too early rather than too late,” Waltz says.
Cool season grasses start to grow when temperatures are in the 45 to 55-degree range. Putting down fertilizer before that is not beneficial because the plants can’t use it before the root activity starts. “If it rains or snows and pushes that below the root zone, you’re not getting any results, and you’re wasting product from an economic and agronomic sense,” Waltz says.
For warm season grasses, it’s time to make the first nitrogen application when soil temperatures are around 65 degrees at a depth of four inches. “If you stimulate these grasses too soon, they are susceptible to damage from a late cold snap. We sometimes get these around Easter, which is typically in late March or early April,” Waltz says. “In this case, the grass doesn’t recover quite as well as if it comes out of dormancy slowly.”
“It’s generally better to err on the side of getting these down too early rather than too late.” Clint Waltz, turfgrass specialist, University of Georgia
Tweak your approach.
Pay attention to what you’ve done this year, so you can live and learn. “I used to start my first applications or pre-emerge later in the season, but that didn’t give me enough time to space out the second application before it got too hot,” Thomas says. “Now I’ve bumped it up a few weeks earlier so I can get them both down in time.”
He also advises not to get sloppy on your record-keeping, no matter how busy you get. It’s critical to know what you put down and when in case there’s ever an occasion when you have an issue such as turf damage or pesticide drift.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by tasks once the season starts, but don’t neglect communicating with clients throughout the year. Newsletters and emails with information about environmental concerns or links to current lawn issues keep clients in the loop. Clients generally are more understanding when they’re kept informed about potential issues.
Keep up with your training.
“I choose to do recertification training every two years, even though it’s only required every three years in this state,” Thomas says. “You learn something every time, and it keeps you on top of things. I think such a minimal investment is worth the knowledge you gain.”