To run a productive and efficient landscaping business, company owners and managers must choose the right equipment for their operation. "Flexibility is the name of the game," says Rick Doesburg, owner of Thornton Landscape, Inc., in Cincinnati, Ohio. "Its not just about putting plants in the ground. Its about irrigation, it%s about lighting; and its about retaining walls, and patios and overheads."
One tractor attachment that allows for flexibility is one of the oldest implements--the front-end loader. Doug Preslar, regional fleet and facility safety manager for True Green Landcare, says his company probably uses this attachment more than any other in its various branches. True Green Landcares home office is in Memphis, Tennessee, while Preslar works out of the Charlotte, North Carolina branch.
Those in the industry say the front-end loader has a wide variety of uses, and is a key piece of equipment for landscape contractors today. "Its the most versatile (attachment). You can use it for so many different things--lifting, loading, pushing, scraping, leveling," Preslar says. "We use it for lifting trees, setting them on the trucks, getting them off the trucks and into the hole. We use it for loading dirt, gravel, bark, sand, whatever we need, and in the winter we use it for pushing snow. Its handy when its there, thats for sure."
Many tractors are sold with the loaders already in place, says Dan Kilgas, product manager for residential and commercial mowing products for Kubota Tractor Corporation, Torrance, California. Kilgas says the front-end loader remains one of todays most valuable attachments for a tractor.
"Probably 60 percent of our tractors are sold with a loader, and thats our own loader, and there are many, many short-line people who sell loaders that fit our tractors," says Kilgas. "Its very hard for us to put a number on exactly how many (loaders are put on tractors), but its very, very high. It makes the tractor so much more versatile, and it can complete a job much faster than to have someone standing there with a shovel trying to get the job done."
Kilgas lists backhoes, box scrapers and tillers as other popular attachments, although he notes that a business location can dictate what implements are used. "We are surprised sometimes that depending on the part of the country you go to, their needs are pretty specific for the areas theyre in," he says.
The type of work a company does also can direct what equipment that company purchases. For example, Kilgas says, backhoes can be quite popular if the landscape contractor is digging large holes for greenery, such as trees, or for other design features, like ponds.
Another popular attachment, the box scraper, can do many things a loader cant, Kilgas says, such as finishing work.
Terry Brown, product manager for compact tractors for John Deere Worldwide Commercial & Consumer Equipment Division, Moline, Illinois, also categorizes loaders, backhoes and box scrapers as among some of the most popular attachments his company sells.
The loader tops the list at John Deere. "Its extremely handy for smoothing out yards, etc. and to move material, for example, from the front to the back of a property," he explains.
Brown also points to the versatility of the loader as a key feature of this old favorite. "A loader can be used in a lot of different ways," he says. "Now the flip side to that is that a loader makes the tractor longer and it hurts your maneuverability, especially if you want to have a box scraper or rotary cutter or something else on the back."
Although a backhoe takes a little more time to put on and take off a tractor than a loader, its still less than a five-minute job, Brown says. "Landscape contractors also find backhoes very useful," he says.
Backhoes, along with york rakes and brush hogs, are big sellers at Knoxland Equipment, Inc., Weare, New Hampshire, according to sales manager Allen Young. Knoxland Equipment, Inc., is a distributor of Massey Ferguson tractors as well as Same tractors. It also sells implements from short-line manufacturers such as Bush Hog, Bradco and Arps.
Along with the older, more common attachments, there are a number of other implements that contractors are finding useful for more specific types of jobs. Preslar says one extremely useful attachment is the Aera-vator, a relatively new implement, produced by First Products, Inc.
Designed like an aerator, the Aera-vator is PTO driven, according to Preslar. "It actually vibrates and shakes the ground loose as it rolls," he says. "It has spikes on it and puts holes in the ground. Its a sweet device. We dont buy aerators any more."
True Green Landcare bought its first Aera-vator two years ago and has since added a second one to its operation. "In fact, we have some customers that ask for it. They want an Aera-vator on the property, not an aerator," Preslar says. "An Aera-vator, that is a must."
The pulverizer is also a very popular implement. After the front-end loader, Preslar says, its the second-most used tractor attachment at his company. "Except for the loader, we probably use it more than anything," he says. "What its designed for is tearing up the ground and then smoothing it over, so you can seed. So the pulverizer and the fertilizer and grass seed spreader are important implements to the tractor."
Another Ohio-based company, Yardmaster, Inc., which has its home office in Cleveland, also depends on the pulverizer to take care of some of its workload. "The most common attachment we use is the pulverizer," says company President Kurt Kluznik. "It pulverizes the soil, scarifying it in preparation for planting," he says. "First a box scraper is used on a site, much like a mini-bulldozer, to make the ground level," Kluznik says. "Then you can follow that up with a pulverizer."
In Kluzniks operation, he finds the brush hog, which is also called a bush hog or field mower, is another widely used attachment, as are rotary tillers and overseeders.
"What we are experiencing now, and what we have experienced for the past five years, is that we are seeing equipment that is specifically designed for our industry. In the past, most of our equipment was adapted from other industries, such as agriculture," says Kluznik.
Among this specialty equipment, Kluznik notes, is the Rock Hound and the Eliminator, produced by Melroe Company, Ingersoll Rand. Yardmaster, Inc., uses both of these implements. "These (attachments) have no use in any other industry," he says. "They are not adapted; they are made specifically for our industry."
Kluznik describes the Rock Hound, also referred to as a landscape rake, as a big implement that rakes soil as well as collects rocks and debris. "It eliminates hand raking, so its very, very popular," he says.
Another equally popular implement is the Eliminator, which Kluznik calls a very simple piece of equipment. "Its basically used as sort of an alternative to a rotary tiller. It rips up the soil, it pulls out the debris," he says. "It loosens the soil so you can move it around."
The Eliminator is gaining in popularity, according to Kluznik, because its a lot less expensive to buy and run than other comparable attachments. "It really has no moving parts, so its low maintenance," he explains.
Kluznik says that the way some of these pieces of equipment are made now doesnt take as much skill to use as some of the other older attachments. "Its easier to train somebody to operate them and theyre a lot safer," he says. He lists the Rock Hound, the Eliminator and pulverizer, which several manufacturers produce, in this category.
Doesburg says his company mainly uses a tractor for loading trucks, and he depends on skid-steers for most of the other jobs on sites. "Whether you use the skidster, the dingo or the tractor, they all have attachments that all do the same things," he says.
Skid-steers as well as small tractors allow for flexibility and can be money-savers as well. "Youre always doing different jobs, so this is the ideal scenario for most contractors," he says. "That way they can have a backhoe (attachment) and not really have a backhoe. We can have a trencher (attachment) and not necessarily have something that is specifically tied into (just being) a trencher." He lists rotary tillers, power brooms and trenchers as some of the implements his company relies on.
Leasing is also a consideration with attachments, whether theyre for use with a skid-steer or a tractor. This option can save companies valuable money. "For example, we occasionally need a backhoe, so we rent one. This way we dont have to purchase it and have it sit around the yard for the rest of the year," Doesburg explains. "We know enough to price that into the job, so you can get attachments by leasing."
Overall, tractor attachments help landscape contractors meet the challenging task of maintaining a productive and efficient work crew. And some of todays newest implements, as well as some of the old favorites, do help companies run more efficiently. "Anybody who is looking to buy a piece of equipment today is looking for increased productivity," Young says.
For contractors faced with todays dwindling labor market, this is an important consideration in running a successful business. "The landscape contractor has two things he needs to think about," Brown says. "One is the availability of labor."
The other thing is the attitude of the workers. "If you have someone out there at the end of a shovel all day, youre not going to have a very happy employee," Brown explains. "So if you put him on a piece of equipment thats going to make his job easier, as well as make him more productive, youre going to have a better worker."
Equipment also helps landscape contractors deal with the tight labor market. "It reduces the need for labor, and anything that can be used to eliminate labor these days is pretty darn important," Kluznik says.
Finding good workers, Doesburg notes, can be difficult in todays workforce. "Labor is probably one of the greatest problems, (certainly the lack of labor) that our country faces, not just in landscaping, but in general," Doesburg says. "There arent enough people out there to do the work we have to do."
As more equipment reduces the need for labor, the easier a landscape contractors job will be, Doesburg says. "The more we can do with equipment, the better off we are to be able to keep producing; also the better chance we have to hire people," he says. "People dont like to dig holes with a shovel. Thats rough work. If you can mechanically dig it, and all they are shoveling is loose soil, then they become happier workers."
Doesburg says he would welcome the addition of even more equipment made specifically for the landscape industry. "Theres not enough equipment yet," he says. "I hope there are more and more innovations that come along to solve some of the labor problems we have." n
Depending on which of the various attachments available is coupled with it, the tractor can handle many different jobs.
Photo courtesy of Kubota