By Lindsey Getz
From the Spring 2019 Issue
As a lawn care operator, you’re in the business of producing well-maintained and lush green lawns and landscapes. But the unpredictability of weather and the prevalence of certain diseases (as a result of changing weather and site conditions) can make this challenging to say the least. Even so, having success with turf and tree disease management as an add-on service isn’t exactly an easy feat, either. It often requires taking the time to talk to and educate customers—along with a serious dose of honesty.
Fred Oskanian, owner of Terra Lawn Care Specialists in Collegeville, PA, knows a thing about that. In fact, he’s often competing against the “big national companies” that tend to make hard sales pitches and even use diseases as bait.
“There is a lot of misinformation out there, and some of it is perpetuated by companies who are willing to use any line to hook new customers,” Oskanian says. “It’s why we have two agronomists on staff, and we make all of our technicians obtain their own licensure. We’ve been out to properties in which the client was told their lawn was dead when in fact it was just dormant.”
Oskanian says that lawn care companies that fail to educate their clients also run the risk of the client assuming they did something wrong, when in fact, the lawn has just been plagued by disease.
“That’s why we’re big on sending one of our two lead technicians over to properties when concerns get called in,” Oskanian says. “That’s one of the benefits of having a company that is local and small enough that we can respond to those concerns and provide education as needed, depending on what’s going on.”
There’s no question that customer education is vital when it comes to understanding disease. Brian Aynardi, northeast manager of university and contract research for PBI-Gordon Corporation, says that it might help to talk to customers about specific diseases that are prevalent in their geographical area, as many lawn diseases occur regionally. For instance, Aynardi says that Dollar Spot, Brown Patch, Leaf Spot, and Pythium Blight are most prevalent in the North whereas in the South, Large Patch and Spring Dead Spot are commonly found.
“It’s also important to recognize that the environment has a major impact on lawn disease,” says Aynardi. “Many diseases require very specific conditions and temperatures to thrive and spread. For that reason, it can be very unpredictable in terms of what any given year might bring.”
Oskanian says that funguses are definitely the company’s primary concern and that he gets a mix of those that are willing to “wait it out” (as some funguses do resolve themselves) and others that are interested in pursuing fungicides. He says that it comes down to an “honest conversation,” not a hard sell approach.
Aynardi suggests that conversations with homeowners about fungicides should help allay their concerns about safety, as he sees this as a point of resistance from some.
“Being able to understand the label and articulate the safety of the product to the customer is a big deal in terms of their willingness to allow for the application of professional products,” says Aynardi.
He continues, “I think there are a lot of people that want to have a nice lawn but have some concerns that need to be addressed. Lawn care operators who are most successful with add-on disease control will be those that can talk to the customer about these concerns.”
Aynardi says that PBI-Gordon recently expanded their fungicide portfolio. The company’s product, Kabuto, is an effective fungicide for Dollar Spot and Spring Dead Spot in turfgrass.
The Surrounding Landscape
Of course, many companies also work with the surrounding landscape and know that trouble with disease is not just limited to the turf. However, when it comes to tree diseases, it can get a bit more complex. Different species of trees are prone to different diseases (which of course vary regionally). Plus, many tree diseases also mimic other problems such as pests or even environmental stressors, says Joshua Malik, founder and owner of Joshua Tree, a professional tree and lawn care company in Stockertown, PA.
“When it comes to control methods, the exact recommendations will vary based on the specifics on the disease,” Malik adds. “But the most obvious treatment for tree disease, such as a fungus infection, is the application of a professional grade product. At Joshua Tree, for fungal diseases we use two different professional fungicide products, including a contact control. That’s going to reduce fungal spores immediately. In addition to a contact control, we’ll use a product that gets absorbed over a longer period of time.”
Along with the application of a professional grade product, Malik says that his technicians will also make important “cultural recommendations” that could improve the tree’s overall health. This might include suggestions regarding irrigation, pruning, or even mulching. Oftentimes homeowners don’t even realize how much their own actions are impacting the health of their trees.
Ned Patchett, president and certified arborist from Ned Patchett Consulting, a tree service in Moss Beach, CA, says that they often connect with lawn care companies when it’s determined a tree disease may be caused by an irrigation system that oversprays.
“When you have broadcast irrigation from lawns spraying the trunk of a tree, it can create environmental conditions in which fungus will thrive,” Patchett says. “We often end up working with folks in the turf industry to remedy this.”
Education Is Key
At the end of the day, whether it’s for turf or trees, client education is of critical importance.
“We spend a lot of time talking to our customers and helping them understand what’s going on with their tree,” Malik adds. “Sometimes that includes a hard conversation that their tree cannot be saved. There are certain diseases, such as Thousand Cankers Disease, which have no cure. If the tree has already been aggressively attacked by a disease with no cure, the best course of action may be removal. It comes down to having an honest conversation about what’s best.”
“No matter what you’re dealing with, I think addressing issues with customers head on—before they bring them up—is the key to success,” he says. “Whether it’s understanding what’s going on with their property or concerns over whether or not a treatment is safe, it’s so important to put clients at ease. The best way to do that is with education.”
Getz is an award winning freelance writer based in Royersford, PA.
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