The Agronomist: Reflecting on The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Your Lawn Care Season - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

We recently updated our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use this website, you acknowledge that our revised Privacy Policy applies.

The Agronomist: Reflecting on The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Your Lawn Care Season

Hopefully by the time you read this your lawn care season is drawing to a successful conclusion. A well-deserved rest awaits before you begin the planning process for the 2022 season. But before you put things to bed for the year, I suggest you take some time to reflect upon the good, the bad and the ugly of the current season to create a benchmark for improvement. This is a good time to be very honest with yourself about the mistakes that you made, to critically evaluate what went wrong, to own the circumstances and learn from them. 

How Is a Lawn Care Season Like a Flight to a Tropical Island? 

Running a lawn care operation is a lot like piloting an airplane to a far-off destination. It requires careful planning, navigation, and timing. If anything upsets this careful balance you will not arrive at your destination or, worse yet, you’ll run out of fuel before landing. In many states, there are hard and fast dates past which you cannot apply fertilizer, and we cannot know when the first snowfall of the season will occur if you operate in the northern states. Being shut down before completing all your work means you’ve left revenue on the table unproduced, which is a very painful lesson. 

In the airplane analogy, this cutoff date is like the touchdown zone on a runway – the success or failure of the season is determined by your ability to hit the right spot on the runway at just the right time. Based upon the numerous factors that you must consider on a daily basis (weather, routing, equipment, personnel, etc.) you must adjust your “aircraft” accordingly to remain on course for completing all your scheduled work by the cutoff date. 

Did your season go according to plan? Were you able to hit your waypoints as one round of applications gave way to the next? If not, why not? What would you have done differently and how can you incorporate this insight into planning for next year? 

Are Your Service Calls Trying to Tell You Something? 

While it is fresh in your mind, contemplate what things pushed you off course during the season. These may be inefficiencies caused by poor computer software or hardware, inefficient routing, or factors relative to the products you chose to use. A review of service calls that you performed during the season is illuminating as well. 

I refer to service calls as “pre-cancels” because people who are dissatisfied with your service for whatever reason are reaching out to give you a chance to rectify the issue instead of just firing you outright. Are these service calls a result of things out of your control, like an outbreak of armyworms, or do you have customer service-related issues that require your attention? Having in-depth conversations with your employees that focus on constructive criticism of the status quo will help to ferret out these problems.    

What Was Good? How Can You Capture It and Make It Routine?

The absolute worst thing that an owner or manager that has a wealth of experience can do is to assume that the way you have always done something is the best way, or that someone that has less experience than you cannot conceive of far better ways of doing things than you have.

More than once, I have watched a specialist perform a task differently than I would do it that left me slack-jawed wondering why I hadn’t thought of that first. 

Being open to these radical new ideas is fundamental to your long-term success. The secret is capturing these golden nuggets and teaching the lessons to everyone else on your team. This is a perfect winter project. 

Turning Requirements Into Revenue 

Fertilizers and pesticides are among the most heavily regulated commodities in the United States. To comply with the multitude of regulations out there you are required to keep extensive application records. If you have not yet switched over to a software-based recordkeeping system, that should be Job One this winter.
Why? The data that you collect is solid gold. From identifying customers that need additional services such as overseeding and grub control to marketing your services to neighboring customers, turn those records into a revenue stream. Never has turning lemons into lemonade tasted so good.  

Take a Lesson From Your Doctor: Test, Test, Test 

When you see your doctor, quite often the answer to whatever is ailing you is found in the results of the lab tests that he or she orders. In so many ways this is just the same with caring for lawns. You can only see so much by just looking at what is on the surface. 

Performing a soil test will reveal deficiencies in soil chemistry that are all but invisible to the naked eye. The primary benefit of incorporating soil test results into your program is improved service outcomes – your lawns will perform better as you fine-tune fertilizer inputs to reflect what the soil needs instead of what you think the soil needs.

A very nice added side benefit is that you’re able to monetize the soil test results. When the results come back from the soil lab, share them with the customer so that they can see for themselves what’s deficient and requires attention. It’s a rare customer that will not spring for an additional limestone or phosphorus application, an added service that more than makes up for the cost of performing the soil test in the first place.  

This article was published in the November/December issue of the magazine. To read more stories from The Landscape Professional magazine, click here to subscribe to the digital edition.

Bob Mann

Bob Mann is the director of state and local government relations for NALP.