Lawn installations as an added service

About half of the lawn installations that Mystic Landscaping handles involve completely new lawns; the remainder involve tearing out and replacing older lawn areas that are beyond repair. The company dry seeds, hydroseeds or sods, depending on customer budget and preference.
Photos courtesy of Mystic Landscaping.

Like many in the lawn care business, Tim LeBlanc, owner of Mystic Landscaping on the North Shore of Boston, is always looking for additional services he can provide customers. After focusing on snow removal in the winter, LeBlanc takes advantage of spring as a time to install lawns.

“It’s about 50/50 between projects that are completely new lawns and jobs that involve tearing out an existing lawn and replacing it with a new one,” LeBlanc explains. “I try to get the lawn installations done before the first week of June. After that, the heat makes things harder, then the new lawn is more prone to problems.”

Mystic Landscaping ( installs lawns in one of three ways, depending on the customer’s budget and preference: dry seeding, hydroseeding or sodding. “I prefer to do hydroseeding or sod. I really don’t like doing a plain seed lawn because it’s just such a pain to get it to establish and grow correctly,” he says.

While he urges customers to consider hydroseeding or sodding, some insist on going the most economical route. “I did one dry seeding job last year, and I got several calls afterwards from the customer asking why it was taking so long to look good. I reminded them that they wanted to use that method because it was the cheapest way, and that I had warned them they wouldn’t get the same results as hydroseeding or sod. And they understood that.”

LeBlanc suggested to those customers that they keep up on the watering (using a sprinkler in the mornings and putting down an inch a week), fertilizing and to reseed thin areas in the fall. “I drove by a couple of times to look at it, and it had come in about 60 percent within the first two months, and that’s about as good a result as you can ask for considering there was no irrigation and the site was in the sun about eight hours a day. Eventually it came in good, but it took a while.”

On the small to mid-size lawns that LeBlanc has installed, hydroseeding usually ends up costing only about 10 percent more than dry seeding, which might amount to a difference of only a couple hundred dollars in material costs. For hydroseeding projects, LeBlanc works with a friend who recently purchased a hydroseeding unit. He says the process is relatively straight-forward to learn, especially with a little guidance. “Northeast Nursery is in our area, and they’re good about teaching us how to do things the right way and what materials we need,” he states. “They sell those units, so they will even demonstrate how they work.”

The goal in any lawn installation is to produce a lush, thick cover of grass. After that, proper mowing and maintenance is required to keep the lawn looking good.
Before seeding, hydroseeding or sodding, the site requires proper preparation. “It usually involves stripping out everything that’s there and hauling it away. Then, we bring in new loam and level it out and make sure the drainage is correct,” explains Tim LeBlanc of Mystic Landscaping.

Regardless of the type of lawn install the customer opts for, the first step is to prep the site. LeBlanc often rents a skid steer for this part of the job. “It usually involves stripping out everything that’s there and hauling it away. Then, we bring in new loam and level it out and make sure the drainage is correct,” he explains.

For hydroseeded lawns, LeBlanc uses this time to also determine what should be put in the hydroseed mix. This process also depends on how much the customer is willing to spend for soil tests, etc. “My service area isn’t ultra-high-end,” says LeBlanc, “so many times the customers aren’t interested in paying top dollar to have a golf course look. They just want a nice lawn. So, when we’re doing the prep work, we try to get a sense of soil by looking at the trees and plants growing there. For example, if there are pine trees there, the soil is usually acidic, so we might put a little more lime in the mix.”

He also gets a sense from customers of the sun and shade on the site in order to put together the best blend of grass seed to go in the hydroseed mix. At that point, LeBlanc calls in his friend to spray the lawn. “Then, I recommend putting down some starter fertilizer about two weeks after it’s been sprayed. That’s something the customer can do, or if they don’t want to do it then I can come and take care of it for them,” he says. LeBlanc also provides the homeowner with a watering plan during the period the lawn is becoming established. “I tell them that if they don’t follow that plan, then I can’t guarantee the lawn will grow.”

LeBlanc says that about 70 percent of the lawns he installs are subsequently mowed and maintained by the homeowner. “Many of these are people who don’t mind mowing the lawn themselves, but they want a nicer lawn and they don’t have the resources to complete that big of a job, so they’ll call me in,” he explains. “I’ve found that the sod lawns I install are usually the ones that I end up maintaining, because the homeowner can’t see spending all the money on the sod and then risk ruining it by not taking care of it the right way.”

LeBlanc says the prep work is very similar when seeding or sodding, but the time it takes to install sod is significantly longer. “The work to cut each piece of sod and make sure it all fits takes time. That’s a big part of what adds to the cost,” he explains. For some customers, the cost is well worth the instant results. “Last year, for example, I did two sodding jobs because the homeowners needed to have lawns really fast for graduation parties,” LeBlanc says.

LeBlanc has two full-time employees and one part-time employee for a total crew of four during the busy season. “We mow about 35 to 40 hours per week, which still left about 10 to 20 hours a week for lawn installations, landscape construction projects, mulching and all the other stuff that needs to be done,” he explains. “Last year, we were set up cutting Tuesdays through Fridays, mowing about 10 hours a day. That seemed to work out pretty well.”

Mystic Landscaping handles some commercial work (including city cemeteries and some small condo associations), but most of its mowing takes place on residential lawns of about 1 acre and less. The crew uses a variety of mowers, ranging from Walker riding mowers to an older Encore 36-inch unit to a new Wright Stander. “We just got the Wright last year, and I love it,” raves LeBlanc.

While lawn maintenance is the main focus during the summer months, Mystic Landscaping also provides tree care services and handles small landscape construction jobs, typically the removal of overgrown trees and plants and planting of new shrubs and flowers.

LeBlanc doesn’t have a license to apply fertilizer, and instead recommends other service providers to handle that job. “But I hope to get into aeration this year,” he adds. “I have quite a few customers who are using large companies for their fertilizer treatments and aeration and those customers keep asking me when I’m going to start doing aerating, because they’re paying so much for it right now.”

From his past experience working at a golf course, he knows the benefits of aerating and is currently learning more about the type of seed to apply afterwards, etc. LeBlanc plans to purchase a Ryan aerator with about a 20-inch width. That machine would give him one more opportunity to provide customers an added service.

Patrick White is a freelance writer and editor who has covered every aspect of the green industry in the past 13 years. He is based in Middlesex, Vt., and is always on the lookout for unusual stories.