Private Greens of Nevada caters to its clients

Since 1993, Private Greens of Nevada, Inc., Las Vegas, Nev., has been specializing in the condominium, townhouse and Home Owner Association (HOA) markets, serving the upscale properties of gated communities. The company offers design/build, installation, irrigation, maintenance, and outdoor lighting services. With 32 accounts, company revenues are approximately $1 million a year. Owner Russ Griffin has 12 full-time, year-round employees, with six to eight crew members added in the spring and summer.

Each maintenance account is serviced once a week, with the same supervisor, crew leader and crew working on a property so they are familiar with what is needed. Griffin says, “We visit a property on the same day each week, but we don’t hit the same property at the same time of day each trip. We’ll start with a site one week and make it the last stop the next. Crews tend to run down a bit toward the end of the day. We don’t want to give any client that ‘end-of-day’ crew consistently.”

Photos Courtesy of Steve Trusty.
This crew member focuses on pruning and weeding in the plant bed at the entrance to this gated property. A crew member trims the turf in this highly landscaped section of one client’s property.

Griffin makes a critical walk-through of each of the properties regularly to catch areas that need attention. He also supplies the property manager and the on-site maintenance person with small red flags on spikes to alert the crew of situations that need to be checked.

Griffin trains his staff on the protocols necessary to work effectively on residential properties. “We plan tasks to avoid any disruption of their activities,” he says. “For example, our string trimmer operators will shut off the unit as people approach, acknowledge those people, and wait until they have moved past before starting again.”

During the spring, crews spend more time trimming to keep the flush of new growth under control. During the summer, trimming is scheduled to cover one-quarter of each property each week so the entire property will have been trimmed once a month.

Each of the company’s enclosed trailers carries equipment and tools safely, yet provide easy access while on-site. Each is equipped with a Scag zero-turn mower, a Scag 36-inch, walk-behind mower and a Toro 21-inch, self-propelled mower, as well as racks for the gas cans, tank sprayers, string trimmers, blowers, rakes, pruners and other tools, and storage areas for irrigation parts and other materials to keep everything in place.

Griffin says, “We take extra steps to avoid clutter while we’re working. Our crew members get what they need to perform each task and put it back in place when they’ve finished. We pull a trailer to collect organic waste for removal. That waste is taken to A-1 Organics to make compost. We pay a drop-off fee to them, which is a slight reduction from that charged at the dump site. We feel this is the right thing to do, and our clients appreciate our environmentally friendly choice.”

Plant adaptability

The Las Vegas climate is filled with contrasts. Spring and fall are mild, but spiked with sharp temperature fluctuations, and summers feature highs topping 100. July and August can produce thunderstorms with heavy rainfall and flash flooding. Winter brings a few dustings of snow, and total annual precipitation is 4 inches or less. Freezing temperatures can hit any time between late November and early March. Strong winds are often a factor, occasionally exceeding 50 miles per hour.

Griffin says, “The weather contrasts do limit plant variety, and water use is always an issue. We do use a lot of native plant materials and continually seek different plants that will not just survive, but actually thrive here. We’ve done a lot of re-landscaping for our clients, bringing in better choices for the microclimates and adding more interest in texture, form and color.”

He promotes xeriscaping as a water-saving alternative. “We explain that xeriscaping can be much more than rocks and cactus. We can incorporate water-friendly choices in trees, shrubs and flowers to create a beautiful setting. On the partial conversion at one of our properties, we replaced 15,000 square feet of turf with xeriscape plantings. We did retain a few small patches of turf so there are some grassy areas for play and some that add to the aesthetics for specific views. Even when the clients don’t want to make a major switch to xeriscaping, we save water by making smaller landscaping changes wherever we can.”

Xeriscaping can include plants to add color and texture to the setting, rather than just cactus and rocks. Russ Griffin, CLP, owner of Private Greens of Nevada, Inc., shows the ICC Controller at one of the company’s maintenance accounts.

Water issues

With limited water resources and a growing urban and suburban population, Las Vegas has instituted stringent water-use regulations. To conserve precious water resources, Griffin follows the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) watering schedules and alerts clients to the importance of adhering to them.

SNWA allows turf irrigation only one day a week, November through February. In March, April, September and October, turf can be watered three days per week, with use scheduled by area for Monday, Wednesday and Friday or Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. From May through August, turf irrigation is allowed six days a week.

The evaporation rate is so high during the heat of the day that irrigation is not allowed between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. To eliminate runoff, turf irrigation must conform to a cycle and soak pattern within restricted run time. Pop-up sprinkler heads are limited to three four-minute cycles with a one-hour interval between cycles. Rotating heads are limited to three 12-minute cycles. Watering with drip irrigation is limited, too, with 4 GPH emitters limited to 30 minutes; 2 GPH emitters to 60 minutes; and 1 GPH emitters to 90 minutes.

A shaded patch of turf provides a small space for play or relaxation on this xeriscaped property.

Griffin says, “Obviously, we work with our clients to make their irrigation systems as efficient as possible. We’ve converted to the Hunter MP rotators for more uniform distribution on turf areas; we use the ICC Controller, which allows us to custom-tailor the irrigation cycles for the multiple zones within a site and more easily convert them to comply with the seasonal restrictions. Installation of the Irrometer moisture sensors and timer has saved some properties up to 30 percent of irrigation water over a year.”

Griffin builds in a short cycle for each zone so maintenance crews can monitor system performance while on-site. “We make sure all heads are operating properly and make any necessary adjustments or repairs. We program the systems to operate when the wind factor is lowest, so the irrigation is set to start at 2 a.m. on most of our properties, with the cycles timed to cover all the zones prior to that 11 a.m. cutoff time.”

Looking ahead

Property maintenance is the core of the business. “The service package is customized for each client,” says Griffin. “I need to balance competitive pricing with the need to operate profitably, so a great deal of analysis goes into preparing each new account proposal. I tour the property to determine the number of hours it will take to properly perform each task needed to maintain it. I also have my two supervisors analyze the property, using the same strategy. Then, we compare the three outcomes. We discuss any differences to ensure we’ve taken everything into consideration. Our proposal will be based on the dollar value I’ve developed for each of the tasks, so I want a good consensus to be sure the bid is right before presenting it to the potential client.”

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.