A guest blog post!
This post reaches us from Jack Chapman of Kingsbury Lawn Care which serves several hundred customers for lawn care services in the West Midlands area. Jack is a new committee member of the UK Lawn Care Association, a networking body made up of small to medium lawn care businesses from start-ups to the well established.
Much is made of what products to use when in the early years of a lawn treatment business. How many treatments to offer, what to apply when, and how it should all fit together. As per many facets in business, copying the next man shouldn’t be the aim here on the assumption you wish to better than the competition in your location.
Number of Treatments
The industry standard for the number of treatments per calendar year is five, with the biggest in the industry offering 4 as standard, 5 if with their winter mechanical package. The reasoning behind is that 4-6 treatments allow a lawn care business to make the correct nutrient inputs and the correct controls across the calendar year.
Too few treatments will result in turnover left on the table, callbacks for additional weed / control, and lawns riding a rollercoaster in terms of nutrient input. Too many treatments could lead to a hard sell at the lawn survey stage, and could result in cancellations for some treatments, leading to a loss in density of work.
Planning Your Timing
An advantage of being a smaller operator is that your are able to be responsive to unforeseen weather, possibility shifting treatments forwards or backwards slightly to suit your customers lawns, or yourself if some time off is overdue! Larger businesses may not have the same level of flexibility. There is an abundance of products which can be applied in nearly all conditions, with Droughtsafe being an example of this in high-summer.
If, with sub 100 lawn care customers, you need to plan your weeks / month that you are choosing to make a treatment. If, with 300+ customers, this may need to be spread across a two month window. Here is a loose example of the Kingsbury Lawn Care treatment cycles:
January / February – Winter Treatments
March / April – Spring Treatments
May / June – Early-Summer Treatments
July / August – Late-Summer Treatments
September / October – Mechanical Work
November / December – Late-Autumn Treatments
A one-month example to fit with mowing / garden maintenance:
February – Scarification
April – Spring Treatments
July – Summer Treatments
October – Autumn Treatments
December – Aeration
January – Winter Treatments
What am I going to apply in my treatments?
A standard lawn treatment is made up of a granular fertiliser, following by a control – normally for weeds but through slower growth months for moss. Some will just apply one product at a time, some two at all times, and for some this may vary by the treatment. Remember that what works for one lawn care business will not work for all!
It’s important in the first instance to establish the level of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium you with you apply to the turf per year. Too little and the turf isn’t going to benefit from your work and could lead to unhappy customers. Too much could lead to excessive thatch production, high fertiliser costs, and a lot of unhealthy lawns in need of regular scarification. I’ve heard of lawn care businesses applying anything between 100-220kg of Nitrogen, per hectare, per annum. A solid understanding of micro and macro nutrients is needed here – what is required by the turf in what quantities and what time. I would suggest picking the brains of your suppliers, but lets see what we can discuss below.
Spring is going to require a hit of nitrogen such as SmartLawn Ultimate in order to get the grass moving. A wet winter will deplete nitrogen sources. A level of both quick release and slow release nitrogen is going to be required in this product. This should be a balanced product with levels of P and K applied also to get roots moving into air pockets as they are vacated by water at this time of year. Spring is a busy time regardless of how your business is set up. Ideally you want to be making a treatment and not returning for 8-10 weeks, given the workload.
It will depend on when you are carrying out these treatments as to whether you choose to pair your fertiliser application with a weed or a moss control product. March, in the north, is going to be very different to April, in the south.
There is an extensive range of products which could be applied when the turf is growing well. It’s important to be aware of the best window for weed control (April-June typically) and that June-August could provide stressful conditions for lawns should spring and summer be dry. SmartLawn Droughtsafe is a good option at this time of year should there be little rain in the forecast. It would be madness to stop treating lawns while the weather is dry and likely good for weed control applications – but I’ve heard of some small businesses downing tools due to there being no rain in the forecast.
Lawn treatments during autumn can be a tough one to pin down. Your autumn window could be anytime between September and November, and will be dependent on where you are in the UK. The same product could be used throughout with the rate scaled back on the later it is applied, or keep the same calibration and change products. I personally like a temperature-controlled slow-release product in the autumn period. Growth in recent years has stretched into late December / early January before the plant enters dormancy. Remember that roots will continue to grow at a lower temperature than leaves.
Weed control will start to lose effectiveness after September, and increased moss growth may now become a challenge. Spraying for moss with a liquid iron may be a safer option than a granulated product. Staining patios is not advisable!
Winter lawn treatments can be very profitable. There is little requirement for a granular fertiliser application, certainly if the turf is dormant. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything we can be doing mind! We apply a liquid moss control in January / February along with carrying out aerations.
I’ve seen smaller operators look to take a lot of time off over winter, but I feel this is a great risk. That month you take off in January for example could prove to be a fine mild month, with the worst weather still to arrive. Our climate is certainly changing. Winter is, however, a good time to wind down, attend events such as the UK Lawn Care Association Annual Conference, and plan your all important spring marketing.