Keeping It Green

Stay Positive; Stay Focused
By Ron Hall

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity ... "

Charles Dickens penned those words to begin his classic "Tale of Two Cities." I read it years ago on the orders of a strict but wonderful high school English teacher.

The phrase "best of times, worst of times" often comes to mind as I attempt to make sense of this infuriating post-recession recovery. One day the U.S. employment numbers are encouraging, and all seems headed in the right direction. The next day a southern European country's economy (take your pick) threatens implosion, and this or that "expert" opines that it could loosen the thread that plunges the world into recession.

So, what's really going to happen?

Nobody truly knows.

Don't let these economic mood swings distract you.

It's enough to realize that just four years removed from the worst economic downturn since The Great Depression, our industry is growing again. Not gangbusters, but healthy growth nonetheless.

Actually, some of you grew your companies during the recession.

When things looked darkest I contacted about a dozen landscape and lawn service company owners. Yes, most were concerned. Even so, everyone I talked to then said they expected their companies to weather the storm. Some, in fact, confidently predicted growth; that surprised me.

I had to ask Chris Senske twice if I was hearing him right when he predicted double-digit growth for his Senske Lawn & Tree Care. It turns out he was spot on. His company, headquartered near Spokane, Wash., grew in 2009 and has since expanded throughout the intermountain west.

I'm becoming ever more convinced that the public doesn't view our landscape or lawn services as discretionary anymore.

Here's why:

These may not be "the best of times," but there are many reasons to positive about the growth of the industry.

Irrigation is Not for Dummies

Probably all of us have seen the "FOR DUMMIES" books, so I wasn't that surprised when I discovered that, yes, there's a "Drip Irrigation Installation Instructions FOR DUMMIES." The 12-page pamphlet by Orbit Irrigation Products, Inc. offers practical, but very basic information. The target audience appears to be homeowners.

Now that I've given credit to this small, practical publication, I want to stress the obvious: designing, installing and maintaining landscape irrigation (including drip irrigation) isn't for dummies. And when I say dummies, I'm referring to unknowledgeable practitioners and also contractors that cut corners with irrigation design, specified products or both. Hey, most of the components are underground; who will ever know, right?

In participating in and writing about the landscape industry these past 28 years I've seen my share of poorly designed and malfunctioning landscape irrigation systems. The folks that determine who gets the water, how much they'll get, and what water costs have seen the same thing. Little wonder that they look to landscapes first when they decide that conservation is in order.

While overhead irrigation is and will remain the primary way to irrigate our landscapes into the foreseeable future, drip irrigation is gaining importance for irrigating flowerbeds, trees and even turfgrass in more and more locations and settings. Please read this issue's cover article "Drip Goes Mainstream" on page A8. You will get a greater appreciation of drip irrigation's role in our industry, and the knowledge that's needed to be a smart and successful irrigator regardless if its overhead or subsurface.

Landscape and turf irrigation is not something that should be attempted by dummies. Designing and installing irrigation systems requires professionally trained and experienced individuals possessing practical mechanical and electrical system skills, and knowledgeable in mathematics and fluid dynamics. Beyond that, they have to understand the dollars-and-cents issues related to succeeding as owners or employees of small businesses.

If you're going to provide irrigation, get the proper training to do it correctly. Or, partner with a knowledgeable sub to do it for you on a job-by-job basis. Irrigation is not for dummies.

Ron Hall
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