May 1 2001 12:00 AM

Ah, spring?when a landscape contractor?s
fancy turns to thoughts of . . . mower attachments
that make each job easier.

Whether a contractor specializing in landscape work lives in Texas or Connecticut, and no matter what unique challenges come with the turf, there are attachments that fit virtually every need. Such helpmates have the two-fold purpose of enhancing efficiency and improving the bottom line of any landscaping business.

Gilbert Pena, manager of Market Development, Commercial Mowing for John Deere, says every landscape contractor should have a mulching or bagging attachment, which eliminates the need to go back and rake a lawn. A mulching attachment is also essential, Pena says, since many landfills don?t accept grass clippings. The mulcher simply blows the clippings back into the lawn as fine pieces.

Edgar Banzhaf, commercial product sales manager at Cub Cadet, says a mulch kit is ?a great way to save time and help return nutrients to the soil.? He adds that mulchers eliminate clumping of discharged grass, so there is no lost time collecting the clippings.

Every mower manufacturer has add-ons that are a boon to landscape contractors. For example, Grasshopper Mowers offer aerators, dethatchers, a shielded sprayer and a bed shaper, among others. Toro?s Z Master rider cuts grass finely, something it says increases a landscape contractor?s productivity, since there are no clippings to worry about.

Great Dane produces the Zero Turn Chariot, which offers a cutting deck of up to 61 inches, while Walker makes a boom sprayer and spray gun for pesticide operations that offers up to a 35-foot stream. Walker also has a 40-inch, front-mounted spring tine dethatcher and a curb jumper ramp, both of which have specialty uses, the latter especially for difficult curb areas.

Given the number of work-saving attachments on the market, what do contractors use to improve efficiency? Well, it depends on which part of the country they are located in. Bob Kroth, owner of Parkway Lawn Service, Inc., in Minneapolis, Minnesota, says he makes extensive use of dethatchers in the spring on both his rider and walk-behind mowers to service his fast-food and apartment building accounts. In addition, he uses a front-mounted dethatching rake, in tandem with an attached bagger to vacuum up the dethatched grass. ?I also have a tow-behind aerator, which provides a much wider swath than any hand aerator,? Kroth says. ?It?s a real time-saver.?

Down in Texas, where the soil is clay-based, Rudy DelBosque, who owns DelBosque Landscaping in Roswell (a suburb of Dallas), depends heavily on aerators to loosen up this particularly stubborn type of soil. ?I rent Lesco aerators for this operation,? DelBosque says. ?The attachment really makes my life easier, especially in spring, when we begin the aerating process.?

Bermuda grass is the choice in Texas, not only because of the harder soil, but also because it is thicker and needs less watering. The Bermuda grass DelBosque plants is locally grown, he says.

DelBosque employs as many as 50 people during the spring and summer seasons to accommodate his accounts ? mostly small industrial operations that include bottle manufacturers, places selling trailers, and banks.

Connecticut, and New England in general, is known for its spectacular display of colors when the deciduous trees decide it?s time to shed their leaves. While the annual show always draws stares of admiration from residents and visitors alike, those millions of leaves create a pesky problem once they hit the ground.

But Bruce Moore, Sr., CLP (Certified Landscape Professional), who owns Eastern Land Management, Inc., in Stamford, Connecticut, is well-prepared for the annual cleanup. ?I have a front-mounted leaf blower for my lawn clearing in the fall,? he says. ?This attachment rids a lawn area of leaves in a hurry ? much faster and more efficiently than a hand-pulled blower.?

When the snow flies, Moore is also ready. His snowblowing equipment, mounted on Zero-Turn Bobcats, keeps the driveways and parking areas of his large commercial accounts in Stamford clean and serviceable.

But even Connecticut?s long winters are not forever. When spring comes, Moore uses aerators on his riders for any number of applications. He maintains athletic fields, which he aerates four to six times a year. ?For other aeration applications, it?s two times per year,? Moore says, adding, ?It?s incredible how much time we save because of the aerator attachment, especially when we?re doing an athletic field.? Moore employs up to 35 people during the peak seasons of spring and summer.
Leaf blowing is not confined to New England, by any means. In the Richmond, Virginia area, James River Ground Management, Inc., of Glen Allen, Virginia, services commercial customers in the fall, with leaf-blowing attachments.

James Patterson, purchasing and warehouse manager, says the rider-mounted leaf vacuum makes the fall leaf cleanup easier, though James River also employs baggers on its walk-behind mowers.

A large company, employing 130 in season and about 50 at other times of the year, James River brings out its small army of pull-behind and walk-behind aerators and dethatchers when spring rolls around. ?We like the pull-behind aerator, particularly, because it covers three times the area of a walk-behind in the same amount of time, and there is far less operator fatigue,? Patterson says.

Another godsend for the company has been a special Finn mulch blower, which is mounted on a truck capable of holding 16 yards of mulch. Three James River employees do the same amount of mulch spreading in a day that formerly took 10 employees a whole week to do. ?The key to this [mulching] is the operator,? Patterson says. ?We train them to do the best possible job, and our customers love the results.?

Similar time savings are experienced by Bill Metzler of Lakewood Landscape Partners, located in Des Plaines, Illinois. Metzler, project superintendent for the company, is enthusiastic about the Bobcat T-3100 tractor, which has a versatile sprayer attachment that makes difficult jobs almost easy. The mounted sprayer attachment can be used to eliminate vegetation that grows in cracks on sidewalks and curbs, as well as on portions of land that undulate. ?The tractor also can drive around flowerbeds and shrubs because of its tight turning radius,? Metzler says.

?Using a hose for spraying would take forever. In fact, we save about four hours on a path over hose spraying. You don?t need a person wearing a backpack; it?s all contained in one place on the tractor.?

Metzler says his company?s largest account is a 70-acre corporate site, with about 5,000 trees and more than 75,000 shrubs. (His crews planted the trees and shrubs between 1989 and 1991.) And, like Moore?s outfit, Lakewood has many snowplowing customers in winter. It retains approximately 10 of its employees (there are 30 or so in season) for this task.

From snow to sun, we turn to Ken Roth, CLP, owner of Vivicon, Inc., in Tampa, Florida. As in Texas, there is a special grass planted ? St. Augustine. ?It?s very hardy for the climate,? Roth says. To keep it that way, Roth utilizes a number of attachments, primarily a sprayer for pesticides and a fertilizer hopper, most of which are manufactured by Cushman.

Roth notes the sprayer has been a real time-saver. ?It improved our ability to get behind buildings,? Roth says. At one time, we used a truck with a long hose attached to it. We were continually moving the truck to reach places, which wasn?t the most efficient way to go. Now, in just a few hours, one employee can do the job that once took all day ? or longer.?

Roth specializes in large planned residential communities. He and his employees maintain extensive common areas, roadway medians within the complex, and replace dead trees and shrubs.

In neighboring Louisiana, Terrytown, to be exact, we find Dan Standley, owner of Dan?s Landscaping & Lawn Care, Inc. Standley?s company offers mulching, aerating, deep-root injection fertilizing of trees, overseeding, and lawn fertilizing services. Standley says his Dixie Chopper, a rider he depends upon daily, is the fastest one available. Coupled with a 60-inch mower deck, Standley says, he or one of his 10 employees (including two seasonal) can zoom through a football field in a fraction of the time it takes slower riders.

As in other southern areas, slow-growing grass that requires less mowing is planted. In Louisiana, it?s centipede grass. Standley keeps his municipal clients? lawns neat and trim not only through mowing, but also by specialty applications. ?In spring and fall, we use a pull-behind aerator, as well as a mulching cart,? Standley says. Some properties also require three to four applications a year for pesticide and fungus control.? His clients include two large shopping centers and smaller commercial properties.

While attachments are great for improving efficiency for landscape contractors, there is another critical element everyone stressed ? excellent customer service. This is something the best attachments in the world cannot replace.

Bruce Moore, for example, says he surveys all clients two times a year and gets high marks for the quality of his service. ?We?re very focused on what we do,? Moore says. ?We feel it is vital to maintain good and long-term relationships with all of them.?

Others featured in this article echoed that sentiment. Don Standley says he also surveys his clients twice a year and visits each one monthly to maintain personal relationships. ?Quality is a big issue with me,? he says. ?We?re always asking ourselves, ?How can we improve the way we do things?? ?

Standley took client service ?above and beyond? last year, when a weed whacker being used by one of his employees threw a stone into the car window of a manager at McDonald?s ? one of Standley?s clients.

?She was on her way to a conference when it happened,? Standley says. ?She couldn?t get one of those mobile glass replacement services to come out, since it was late afternoon. So, we took her car to a glass place and had the window fixed. Then, we filled up the tank and washed the car. She was so happy she gave us another McDonald?s to maintain!?

These landscape contractors believe in excellence all around ? on the job and when special circumstances arise. They would do nothing less.

May 2001