Strong communication a key to organic turf care

Achieve more success with an organic lawn care program by tempering client expectations from the outset.

Consumer demand for sustainable and environmentally friendly products and services has skyrocketed in recent years. If you’re starting to meet this demand, organic lawn care professionals offer some insights for managing client expectations with alternative programs.

Be transparent

Today’s consumers are accustomed to instant gratification, but converting from conventional to organic lawn care takes time and patience. Contractors must be transparent with clients about the gradual progress and transformations they can expect.

Dave Walsh
Dave Walsh

“Organic lawn care is the long rather than the short-term answer (for a client’s lawn),” says Dave Walsh, owner and founder of EcoGreen Lawn Care in Collegeville, Pa., which maintains a 100 percent lawn care service portfolio. “The client must understand at the onset that it’s a commitment to go organic.”

Often, particularly with new residential clients, their turf has gone feral with weeds, which creates a challenging starting point.

“Initially, we need to get the weeds under control before we can do anything organically,” Walsh says. “So, I’ll recommend a hybrid program that involves six treatments, the first two a traditional conventional program to get a head start on the weeds in the spring, then transition to the organic program.”

Focus initial client meetings on educating them about what organic lawn care service will entail, says Britt Phillips, owner of Complete Land Organics in Wilmot, N.H. The company’s service portfolio is 100 percent lawn care.

“I provide a lot of information to clients right off the bat because I want to educate them and manage their expectations. I want them to understand my process, step by step, of what we’ll be doing as we transition to organics,” she says.

Walsh recommends asking new clients various probing questions, like rating the lawn’s condition, how they would best describe their turf, and what state they want to see it in eventually.

“From there, we’ll recommend where we should start with our program,” he says. “We explain what condition the lawn is in, what’s going to happen throughout the process, and how long an organic program might take to begin producing the results they want to see. They need to understand this may be a three-year commitment.”

Be focused

Britt Phillips
Britt Phillips

No two properties are alike, a notion essential in successful organic lawn care practices. Before applying a foliar or granular organic nutritional product, Walsh focuses on pH testing, while Phillips prefers soil testing to assess turfgrass needs and what’s going on below the surface.

“I won’t even write (an organic) program unless I’ve done a soil test,” Phillips says. “My programs are customized to each (client’s) soil conditions because so much of what my programs are is amending, balancing and building to create a soil that grass loves to grow in.”

Walsh says assessing soil pH is critical because weed varieties tend to prosper in acidic soil. In addition, organic soil amendments are more effective in soil with a neutral pH.

“Especially with organic lawn care, you have to have the right pH for the grass to take up nutrients effectively,” he says.

Be collaborative

Walsh and Phillips solely manage turf care for clients, while many other green industry professionals handle mowing, irrigation and tree and ornamental care on their clients’ properties. They say it’s vital to communicate and collaborate with the pros tending other aspects of the client’s outdoor space that cross over to turf care.

“In the initial client meeting, I always ask the client who they’re working with for mowing and for irrigation. Our market in New Hampshire isn’t very big, so we tend to know each other, and I like to maintain good professional relationships (with contractors),” she says.

She says, for example, if she notices stressed turf due to low cutting heights, she’ll ask the mowing contractor to raise their mowing deck to alleviate the stress. She’ll also work with irrigation contractors when needed.

“When you build up the soil profile, the organic matter holds moisture like a sponge, so the client may not need as much or as frequent irrigation,” she adds. “I’ll consult with the client’s irrigation contractor because some areas of the property are receiving too much water.”

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Mike Zawacki

Mike Zawacki is a Cleveland-based writer covering the landscape and turf industries for nearly two decades.

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