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Weather hampers landscapers

Despite spring’s slow start, business owners have plenty of work lined up

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec / Shawn Warner, owner of Altoona-based Warner’s Landscaping & Property Maintenance, completes a project for a Duncansville homeowner on Tuesday.

Last Monday’s snowstorm, which dumped up to 7 inches of white stuff across the area, didn’t do area landscapers any favors.

“The weather has put everyone upside down. We are about a month behind at this point,” said Russell McCloskey, owner of McCloskey’s Landscaping of Bellwood. “Late season snows are detrimental to both the customer and the contractor. It is hard to make a schedule and keep up with it.”

“We are probably behind by a couple of weeks. Getting seeding and planting done was more difficult with snow on the ground,” said Shawn Warner, owner of Warner’s Landscaping & Property Maintenance, Altoona.

“March has been wetter than usual. Starting off wet makes things more difficult as far as getting onto the job site and doing the cleanup work,” Warner said.

AccuWeather meteorologist Paul Pastelok said March temperatures were below normal and snowfall for the month in the Altoona area was well above normal — 15 inches compared to the normal 7 inches.

“It was a chilly month. The weather has been weird. Our seasons are off,” Pastelok said. “It will be late April or the first of May until it gets warm, but it may fall back again. It may be until mid-May until it stays consistently warm.”

The weather is the biggest challenge facing landscapers.

“It has really put us back. We usually start the first or second week of March but haven’t been able to get started. With snow and rain, yards are too mushy to get in and do anything. I am behind at least three weeks, but we’ve kept up with maintenance work,” said Rich Huber, owner of ProLawn Landscaping Co., Altoona.

“Normally we would have been at it for about a month. It has been a rough spring. It has been sloppy; we can’t get out and rake and blow leaves. You have bad years, and you have phenomenal years. This is a crazy year. Sooner or later winter is going to bite you,” said Jeff Adler, president of Adler’s Landscaping Nursery Inc., Altoona.

Joe Beck, owner of Beck’s Maintenance and Landscape Center, Duncansville, said the weather has had a huge impact.

“The intermittent freezing causes more damage to plants, shrubs, trees and the ground itself. The problem is trees and plants go in and out of dormancy, and that is not good for the plants,” Beck said. “We are behind schedule. We have not been able to get shrubs, plants and trees out of the greenhouse.”

Byron Smail, owner of Byron Smail Landscaping, Roaring Spring, said the weather has been a challenge.

“I like to start in early March. Cold, wind and snow have held up the plant orders,” he said.

“It will be mid-April until the plants arrive at the nurseries. We try not to do flowering plants until it warms up. It is hard to plan your schedule when it is raining or snowing,” Smail said.

This spring has been like a traditional south central Pennsylvania spring, said Thomas G. Ford, Penn State Extension commercial horticulture educator.

“We would rather see it cool so we do not advance flower buds on fruit trees too early. We have lost a portion of our fruit crop for the past four to five years so a ‘normal’ spring is what every fruit grower needs,” Ford said.

“In respect to landscaping, the wet weather is delaying the digging of nursery stock in some areas, so the cooler weather should help extend the planting season for landscape contractors,” he said. “When it warms too quickly and it seems like we jump into summer, we see more stress on nursery stock and newly planted landscapes.”

Jason Sensenig, owner of Brookside Lawn & Landscaping Service, New Enterprise, said the weather has been impacting his cleanup work.

“Once the weather turns warm, it will come in with a bang and we will have more to get done in a reasonable amount of time. We are a good week behind. If we get more rainy weather, that could set us back more than a week,” Sensenig said.

The winter weather may lead to some other problems.

“While we did not have extensive snow cover, we will see disease like snow mold in area lawns. Our heavy wet snows of late may cause frost cracks in shrubs. These cracks will cause limbs to die after they become stressed. We may see more oak wilt in 2018 because of limb damage from heavy wet spring snows,” Ford said.

Landscapers face other challenges besides the weather.

“The biggest challenge is the amount of unregulated people doing the work. There are so may fly-by-night people in the industry it hurts us with the overhead. We can’t find good help. We can’t find people who want to work that are hands-on guys,” Beck said.

“We had a sign out for about two weeks and got four people. We didn’t hire any of them. People are not qualified to do the work,” Adler said.

Despite the poor start, most landscapers have plenty of work lined up for the season.

“We have a lot lined up, but the phones aren’t ringing much. When the weather is crappy, people are not thinking about landscaping. Once it gets to 60 degrees and sunny, the phones will ring off the hook. It will be full throttle when it gets nice out,” Smail said.

“We are probably lined up for about two months with our regular customers with maintenance work. We also have some new installations lined up so that may take us beyond that,” Sensenig said.

Huber said he started getting calls in February.

“I have been out meeting with people and giving them estimates. We have some work we didn’t get to last year, so we will do those projects in early spring. I have enough to keep busy through the end of July. I have different crews to do different things. We are sitting back and waiting for Mother Nature to release her winter grip,” Huber said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.

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