Landscapers predict busy year

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec / Leonardo Arroyo tends some of the greenery scheduled to be planted for a customer Wednesday at Adler’s Landscaping.

Area landscapers are expecting a busy year. Mother Nature may lend a helping hand.

“After the first week of April we expect temperatures to moderate and become more seasonal. This will provide a good transition to outdoor work,” said AccuWeather senior meteorologist Bob Smerbeck. “We expect temperatures to be above normal in April and May, with drier conditions in May. It is totally different than last year.

That’s great news for landscapers after the wet spring and summer of 2019.

“Last year was terrible with all of the rain. Last year is on everybody’s mind,” said Patrick Plummer of Hollidaysburg.

However, landscapers could have some early problems said Thomas G. Ford, Penn State Extension commercial horticulture educator.

“While we had a relatively mild winter, wet conditions have made it very difficult for landscape professionals to actually bring equipment onto customers’ properties. Arborists in particular have not been able to use their bucket trucks to prune trees and clean-up storm and wind damage,” Ford said. “Wet conditions also may make it difficult for some nurseries to dig nursery stock for spring orders.”

Most local landscapers say they are on schedule or ahead of last year’s pace.

“We are ahead of schedule, we are full force into it. We didn’t stop for the winter, we just kept going. We took about a three week break. We are doing patios and retaining walls. We are working on three retaining wall projects right now,” said Shawn Warner, owner of Warner’s Landscaping & Property Maintenance, Altoona. “(The winter) was the best one I encountered. We stayed busy all winter doing things like retaining walls, patios and block work. We also do snow removal. The winter was consistently workable.”

Joe Beck, owner of Beck’s Maintenance and Landscape Center, Duncansville, said he is definitely ahead of schedule.

“The weather has been holding up. We are finishing up projects we started last year but didn’t get done because of the early winter. This weather has been a great benefit to us.

“Things look good right now. As long as the rain holds off, it will be a fairly busy year for everybody,” Beck said.

Rich Huber, owner of ProLawn Landscaping Co., Altoona, said he is on schedule.

“We got a good jump, the weather has been cooperating. I keep my fingers crossed it isn’t going to rain. We have some work left over from last year we didn’t get done because the snow came early.” Huber said.

Jeff Adler, president of Adler’s Landscaping Nursery Inc., Altoona, said he may be slightly behind schedule.

“We are a little bit behind because the snow hung around longer than expected. If there is snow on the ground you can’t work in the nursery or rake the lawn. I don’t see it as anything major, maybe a couple of weeks,” Adler said.

Adler and Plummer said they have encountered some instances of snow mold — a type of fungus and a turf disease that damages or kills grass after snow melts, typically in late winter.

“You see some patches of dead grass,” Adler said.

Beck said what he called an “average” winter did cause some problems.

“The freezing created a lot of damage to asphalt and concrete as far as having up and down movement. We have had more cracking in parking lots compared to prior winters,” Beck said.

The biggest challenge for lawn care companies and landscapers is not the weather, but labor supply, Ford said.

“Many business owners cannot expand their business or take on new clients because they cannot find workers,” Ford said.

Beck agrees.

“Nobody can find guys who want to work. I got 100 applications, but only about three good ones. Only about 20 had driver’s licenses. The biggest problem is the epidemic with drugs and alcohol. It has put a hurt on the community itself,” Beck said. “People aren’t qualified because of it. We don’t want those people around our company and our customers.”

Adler echoed the sentiment.

“We can’t find laborers. We have to find guys with driver’s licenses. If they have DUIs, our insurance won’t cover them. I can’t have 15 guys without driver’s licenses. Number two, can they pass the drug test and do they have a criminal record. I don’t want guys with criminal records working at my clients’ homes,” Adler said. “It is getting worse every year. The unemployment rate is down to about 3 percent. We’ve had trouble for years and it is getting worse.”

The improving economy has been both a blessing and a curse for landscapers.

“The economy helps us because we have tons of work but we can’t find enough people for the job sites,” Huber said.

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