Wade Landscape is a leader in water conservation

The poolside view of a property that earned Wade Landscape a “Best Maintenance in Orange County” award a few years ago.
Photos courtesy of Wade Landscape.

As the economic crunch began, Bob Wade, CLP, CLIA, concentrated even more on landscape water conservation. His company, Wade Landscape, serves the upscale California communities of Newport Beach, Newport Coast and Laguna Beach, where water use is an ongoing issue.

Wade Landscape was the primary installer of smart controllers in a large runoff reduction study in Newport Coast conducted in conjunction with the city, Orange County and the state. “We installed approximately 1,500 WeatherTRAK controllers for this project. The controllers showed the problems with the existing systems, which led to retrofitting with MP rotators and other specialty heads. The resulting water savings averaged 50 percent on each project. The success of the study and that level of savings created an ongoing demand,” Wade says.

Wade Landscape grew increasingly proficient at scheduling and dealing with the quirks of retrofits and became certified installers for HydroPoint, Weathermatic and other irrigation controllers, while also building a strong market niche.

Shortly after graduating with a political science degree in 1972, Wade switched career paths and found his true calling in the landscape industry. He worked for others while earning a degree in ornamental horticulture from Cal Poly Pomona, and for several years afterward. In 1977, he started Wade Landscape, initially concentrating on small-scale landscape installations.

Growth was slow, but steady. He gradually built his staff as his multifaceted projects began attracting the attention of residents in the Laguna Beach community, and his reputation for delivering quality became better known. “We’re able to handle all aspects of landscape installation, construction and maintenance for residential and commercial clients,” he says. “The only thing we don’t do is major tree work. Irrigation has been part of our focus from the beginning.” All of which put him in the right place at the right time to play a primary role in the runoff reduction study.

Bob Wade, standing, and Supervisor Kris Halvorson check out an irrigation system overspray situation.

Moving forward

Typically, Wade has one large retrofit underway, completing it before undertaking the next large one. “That allows us to keep up with the work for our existing clients at our current staffing levels,” he says. “Our largest retrofit was 125 acres, the size of a golf course. Their first comparison of water bills was the December before the retrofit to the December after it. They saved 1.4 million gallons of water in one month, and the landscape looked better.”

With new construction curtailed, Wade is doing fewer large installations but much more in residential enhancements. These go way beyond annual color, though much of that is included. The company’s focus now extends beyond water into the sustainability aspects. “We help clients determine how they want to use their landscape areas, and we have the expertise to make the best match in plants to fit that use and the environmental factors, such as soil conditions and microclimates. Our three-year soil improvement program for the plant beds of the properties we maintain produces very good growing conditions.”

Wade develops a site-specific fertilization program for the turf, shrubs and ornamental plant beds and containers, using synthetics almost exclusively and rotating products to promote overall plant health.

The past few years, he’s opted for environmentally friendly control products to knock down the pests typically encountered. He’s educated his staff on the BMP steps involved to ensure scouting and application timing are handled correctly. He says, “Because of our concentration on plant health, most applications are spot-treatments. We haven’t had big infestations of any sort with this program.”

Mowing is managed with the same attention to detail. Wade notes that potential clients invariably point out tire tracks left by the previous service provider. “That’s made me more sensitive to the customer’s thinking and is one reason we use walk-behinds. We also have many sloped or mounded sites, and we strive to deliver better-than-expected service. We fix any muddy areas on our first few trips to the property. Then we use 21 and 36-inch walk-behinds so even our lesser-skilled crew members can deliver great results. Our one 72-inch ride-on mower is used at only three sites and always by skilled operators that don’t spin the wheels.”

Company setup

Wade’s staff consists of 10 full-time employees plus a supervisor. The four foremen are all from the same family, who have been on staff for at least 20 years. Wade says, “My entire staff is great, and these foremen and my supervisor are exceptional in expertise and dependability.”

Landscape areas are often small in relation to the home size in this area of California, so the level of maintenance is even more important.
This view shows the high level of maintenance expected by upscale clients. Small turf areas like this one accent the setting.
This is the entry to a property that earned Wade Landscape a “Best Maintenance in Orange County” award a few years ago.

Continual improvement is key to company growth. Along with safety training and the ongoing horticultural how, when and why tips and techniques Wade shares with his staff, he also sends them to training programs offered by local water departments and junior colleges.

Certification is one aspect of that mindset. “It’s my job to find out what the programs are and, if they’re beneficial for our company focus, complete them,” Wade says. He’s a certified landscape professional (CLP) through PLANET, a certified water manager through the California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA) and a certified landscape irrigation auditor (CLIA) through the Irrigation Association. He encourages his staff to do the same. Wade is also an EPA WaterSense Partner.

The company participates in the CLCA and chapter-level awards programs. Wade says, “I promote that on our business cards: award-winning.”

Industry involvement

While many are content bemoaning industry issues, Wade opts for cutting-edge involvement on the national level both personally and for the CLCA. He first joined CLCA to take advantage of their insurance program, but was impressed with its focus and soon got actively involved. He worked in various positions at the local level, including chapter president in 1998. He served as CLCA’s director of legislation for the last five years and is currently president-elect.

For the CLCA, the two big issues are water and immigration. On the water conservation aspect, Wade served on the California Urban Water Conservation Council task force AB2717, concentrating on Water Smart landscapes, a yearlong effort that met twice a month. When the task force recognized the need for a means to determine if those doing the work were qualified, Wade volunteered the CLCA to develop it. He says, “I grabbed it so we would have control of it, trusting the approvals within CLCA would follow, which they did. The excellent work of the committee tackling that project resulted in the Certified Water Manager program, which has become an EPA Water Sense Partner and gained national recognition.”

The task force work morphed into AB1881, California’s updated model water efficient landscape ordinance. “We lost some things, but we gained some things, too. It’s not exactly what we wanted, but we can make it work,” Wade says. Wade also serves as the CLCA representative on the UC Riverside Turfgrass Research Advisory Committee.

In 2005, he attended his first national IA conference to introduce the CLCA to them. Encouraged to further develop that relationship, he worked on the government affairs committee, serving as chair in 2009. That interaction on the national level has established Wade as an expert in landscape water conservation and earned the CLCA a voice in the decision-making processes.

Wade is also involved on the immigration side, working as part of the strong network of members supporting the chair and CLCA task force in establishing recognition among Sacramento legislators as the experts on immigration issues and pending legislation. “Our members speak on these issues to groups of legislators and at state and national level meetings. CLCA is part of The Immigration Works coalition and was the first state association to be accepted into EWIC [Essential Worker Immigration Coalition].”

He’s also a strong believer in giving back, introducing the Green Care for Troops program to the CLCA. The program matches those willing to provide lawn and landscape services free of charge to military families in need of help while a spouse is serving overseas. “I get the names and addresses of California families requesting assistance from the Green Care for Troops headquarters and connect them with key coordinators across the state to find local members to provide the services. It’s working well,” Wade says.

Strengthening the CLCA’s relationships with these national organizations and the American Nursery & Landscape Association tops Wade’s agenda as president. “It’s often said, ‘As California goes, so goes the nation.’ We need to do a better job of sharing our expertise where we’ve made advances. And, there’s much we can learn from others. These issues impact all of our members, and we need to be the conduit that ensures they are informed about them. The cutting edge has clout. A small company can have a big voice when we all work together,” Wade says.

Suz Trusty is a partner in Trusty & Associates, a communications and market research firm in Council Bluffs, Iowa. She has been involved in the green industry for over 40 years.