That’s because the main task being performed after a storm requires a lot of chainsaw work— cutting down the trees that have fallen on houses, cars, and in the roadways are the first priorities for all landscapers. Extra safety measures at this time revolve around being very aware of people in the area as well as power lines which may be hanging lower than usual or even lying on top of trees and shrubs.
“Our first priority is debris removal to be sure there is access for emergency vehicles or people to get in and out of their homes. [This means] getting fallen trees away from people’s houses and cars, driveways, and walkways, so they can get out of their driveway,” says Kennedy of Fishtail, pointing out that piles of debris were left everywhere by Ian. Storm surge in the coastal areas blocked entrances to houses and even to the entrances of communities. Kennedy continues, “Once all of our clients have been checked off that they do have that emergency access, then we come back and that’s when we go through the list of what goes into the main cleanup, which is typically stump grinding, pruning, and then if necessary, replanting. So it’s about a four month process.”
Landscapers who have both residential and commercial clients all said residential takes precedence after a storm. Making people’s properties safe is the most important work to be done, and commercial businesses usually aren’t open for several days afterward anyway. Another factor in scheduling priority besides the fallen trees and debris mentioned above, is water. “One thing we have to be careful about though is flooding. We cannot do work on someone’s yard if it hasn’t dried up yet,” says Rickelman. “Water is a big holdup sometimes, so if your yard is flooded, we have to wait to do the cleanup.”
When it comes to pricing, all mentioned being very careful about not price-gouging people who have just been through the worst storm of their lives. Each charged an hourly fee for their cleanup work.
Planning For The Future
Hurricane Ian was a storm of the century, but with weather events becoming more extreme, it may no longer be a once in a lifetime experience. So planning for storm resilience is on local landscapers’ minds.
“In terms of how our Industry may change due to Ian, I think they’re going to move everybody back from those coastal areas in my opinion. A lot of people are going lose backyards. Where they had 50’ of backyard going down to the water, they’re probably going to have some more seawall now, and less backyard, to try to protect from future land erosion,” comments Rickelman.
“And in terms of building codes, they’re going to raise everybody up, which is going to add a whole new factor to what we do as far as design,” he adds. “When you’re designing, your main three basics are depth, symmetry, and color. If a property is now 15′ off the ground and there’s just open area behind the house, you lose all that depth and symmetry. So now you’re left with just color [and] we have to figure out what we can do to make that color look good with what we have to work with.”
Bailey Peer, owner of Peer Landscaping (and profiled in Turf ’s October Yardstick feature), acknowledges that storm cleanup can present unique growth opportunties for landscape businesses. “Hurricane cleanup is actually how I jump started my landscaping business in 2017,” he says. “I was working with a handful of customers, part time, by myself. After Hurricane Irma, I hired 10 team members temporarily for storm cleanup work. This lasted about two months, then we scaled back to three full-time workers, including myself. We were able to sustain the three full timers by all the new contacts that we made through the storm clean up.”
He adds, “The biggest storm lesson I learned is being available to the new talent that comes looking for a job after the storm. In Southwest Florida right now it’s extremely hard to find a team to build around. Talent is much harder to get than new clients. We have learned when things get shaken up in a storm, be open and available to hire the talent that might come knocking.”
Clapp has over 35 years experience in media and publishing and is a former Editor-In-Chief at Turf ’s sister publication, Business Facilities. With a Master of Media Arts from the New School, she is president of Visitivity Media in Ft. Myers, FL, specializing in video and digital marketing.