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How to use wetting agents to win customers

April 2, 2021 -  By
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Green lawn (Photo: BioLawn)

Photo: BioLawn

Last summer, the agronomists at Lawns Unlimited in Milton, Del., excitedly observed how well the company’s new summer lawn care program was performing. The region was dry at the time, and based on the sandy soils of the region, many lawns were showing signs of fatigue. Yet, their customers’ lawns were outperforming their neighbors’ lawns — their grass was greener.

The secret to their success? Lawns Unlimited’s commitment to adding a wetting agent to overcome the bicarbonate layer in the soil it battles year in, year out.

“You could almost see the lawn turn green overnight, just by applying the material,” says Ed Fleming, owner and president of the company. “I was always curious about using some type of soil hydrate training agent because of the fact that we have very sandy soils.”

Landscape Management discussed wetting agent success stories with Lawns Unlimited in Delaware and BioLawn in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, as well as product experts with the Plant Food Co. and WinField United.

Focused on quality

Founded in 1986, Lawns Unlimited is a full-service operation focusing on lawn care for residential clients. The company also offers irrigation installation, irrigation upgrades, well drilling and mosquito control.

The company is led by Fleming and Travis Pitts. Both have degrees in agronomy and environmental science from Delaware Valley College, which they put to good use when creating plans for their customers. The company prides itself on being beneficial for yards and beneficial for the environment. Last year, the company began including

Hydration A-Plus plant and soil hydrating agent and bicarbonate reducer from the Plant Food Co. in its program. The visual results, as well as the water savings, were immediately noticeable.

“We don’t want to overwater, and we don’t want to underwater,” Pitts says. “We want to maximize the water that’s going on the lawn so that it retains as much as possible. It’s more about saving water for our clients and the environment. Minimize the water, maximize its use.”

Fleming says he and Pitts have used other wetting agents in the past on a case-by-case basis. In 2020, they included Hydration A-Plus in their total turf package and blanketed all their yards with the product.

“It’s an extra added cost, but we are more focused on quality of product, which makes our lawns look better than our competition’s,” Fleming says. “It breaks the bicarbonate layer … it’s just a barrier. Once you break that layer, it allows the material to go into the soil and helps free up the calcium. That’s what makes the turf green up overnight.”

Supplementing turf programs

BioLawn, in the Twin Cities, is a residential lawn care company. Will Haselbauer, the owner, has been running the company for five years, but his experience with turf goes back to his undergraduate days at the University of Minnesota and obtaining his masters at the University of Tennessee in plant science. At Tennessee, he studied sports turf, including how to get a football field to recover quickly from the many stresses imparted on the turf: both environmental stresses like drought and disease pressure and the stresses of a 300-pound offensive lineman’s cleats.

“I’m familiar with supplementing turf programs with a lot of things,” Haselbauer says. “The wetting agent is a product we know helps bridge the gap of a summer drought and helps on both irrigated and nonirrigated lawns. Reducing water inputs and needs on both as well as keeping the lawn looking better.”

BioLawn’s goals are to use environmentally sound practices and safer products for both its customers and its technicians, Haselbauer says. The wetting agent BioLawn has relied on for the past few seasons is Synergy from Aquatrols. It’s a step in the company’s lawn care package, something the team tries to sell to every customer.

“You get that summer decline in a lawn, and the customer isn’t happy. If we can sell them this application to prevent that, it’s easier for us,” he says. “It’s funny, you get worried about adding an extra service or increasing the cost of a package, but most people don’t care; they just want you to take care of their lawn. The conversation of, ‘Why are you doing this extra application?’ is way easier than the conversation, ‘Why does my lawn look horrible?’”

A progressive approach

Aaron Johnsen, director of sales, professional products, for WinField United, says the lawn care industry isn’t close to utilizing wetting agents to their full potential because the results are sometimes hard to see for both the customer and the lawn care company.

“You sell a weed control, and someone sees the weeds die. You sell a fertilizer, and you see the lawn green up,” Johnsen says. “Wetting agents, you put it down today, and you don’t know if you’re going to get the weather to show the benefit.”

Johnsen believes that someday wetting agents will be as big in the lawn care industry as they are in the golf maintenance industry. He says progressive
companies, like Lawns Unlimited and BioLawn, are showing how wetting agents offer a company the opportunity to stand out. He suggests a company first try a wetting agent in its program by selling it as an add-on service.

“Sell a summer stress turf application and combine more than a wetting agent in there,” he says. “Combine a couple things together, where you know, during the heat stress of the summer, you’re going to get a benefit from one of these two or three things. This helps your lawn get through the stress of the summer. Your cost is covered in that additional revenue in that service.”

Tom Weinert, vice president of sales, the Plant Food Co., says he believes wetting agents are getting on the radar of lawn care companies because of how they help yards respond to stress; how they help grass recover quicker; and the reduction in water. Also important to the adoption of Hydration A-Plus, he says, is that lawn care companies don’t need to water it in.

Weinert suggests lawn care companies take that first step by dedicating one truck with a smaller route, for one day, to doing applications.

“The biggest impact is when the guys or gals on that route come back after a week or two and say, ‘Why are those lawns so much better than my other ones?’” he says. “Also, try it on the owner’s yard to see what they say.”

Seth Jones

About the Author:

Seth Jones, a graduate of Kansas University’s William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, was voted best columnist in the industry in 2014 and 2018 by the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association. Seth has more than 19 years of experience in the golf and turf industries and has traveled the world seeking great stories. He is editor-in-chief of Landscape Management, Golfdom and Athletic Turf magazines. Jones can be reached at sjones@northcoastmedia.net.

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