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Growing green: Landscapers gearing up for the season

‘Mother Nature runs the show’

03/11/21 Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski / Jack MacFarlane of Beck's Maintenance Landscaping uses a leaf blower at a home along Larch Street in Hollidaysburg.

Area landscapers and lawn care professionals are ready to get busy and expect a good season.

Fortunately, landscapers were considered an essential business and were able to continue working through the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year was our busiest year. We saw an increase in business. I have a little work left from last year, and we are scheduling for this year. Things are looking good so far,” said John Sinisi, owner of J.J. Sinisi Landscape and Lawn Care, Altoona.

The owner of ProLawn Landscaping Co., Altoona, also said more than grass has been growing.

“The last three or four years have been the best I have had since starting the business 25 years ago. Hopefully the economy continues the trend we have seen the last few years and the pandemic eases and eventually subsides,” said ProLawn owner Rich Huber.

Tony Luther, owner of Luther Lawn Service, Duncansville, said, “As long as it doesn’t snow any more, we should be able to get our spring cleanup projects rolling.

“We will keep an eye on the weather. The extended forecast looks like no more major events.”

The area received more snow than past winters, which helped landscapers who also provide snow removal.

“We had a great snow removal season to give us the extra cash flow to purchase some new equipment for this upcoming season,” Huber said.

Russell McCloskey, owner of McCloskeys Landscaping Inc., Bellwood, agreed.

“It helps so we are not as far behind (financially) coming into spring,” McCloskey said.

However, Joe Beck, owner of Beck’s Maintenance and Landscape Center, Duncansville, said there was a downside to the additional snow.

“More snow led more guys getting into snow removal. We are fighting for work with unlicensed and uninsured landscapers, the fly by nighters,” Beck said.

Thomas G. Ford, commercial horticulture educator, Penn State Extension, said the snow cover offers a variety of benefits to plant materials.

“The snow cover prevents significant fluctuations in soil temperature and will provide needed moisture to the various plants that are growing in it,” Ford said.

However, snow cover can lead to some problems.

“Persistent snow cover, however, may have encouraged a disease known as ‘snow mold’ to infect some turf and lawn areas. In some situations, snow mold may kill large sections of turf. which will require reseeding this spring,” Ford said.

Persistent snow cover also affords protection to small rodents known as voles, which are voracious plant feeders and will girdle the bark on woody plants and will devour spring flowering bulbs and the roots systems of herbaceous perennials, Ford said

“As long as it doesn’t snow any more we should be able to get our spring cleanup projects rolling. We will keep an eye on the weather, the extended forecast looks like no more major events,” Luther said.

“We are just getting started, we will be in good shape, we are about a week behind.” McCloskey said.

Mike Foose, owner of Lawn Doctor, Altoona, said he typically likes to get started around the first of March.

“I’ve been doing this for 41 years. We don’t plan, we react, Mother Nature runs the show,” Foose said.

The pandemic has caused some problems, but it appears customers will be spending.

“The biggest effect for us from the pandemic was the difficulty in obtaining certain materials we needed for projects. There were some extended delays and longer waiting periods for materials and for parts for our equipment and trucks,” Huber said. “People are still willing to spend money on outdoor projects. Most people in our demographics were still able to work during this pandemic and maintain their disposable income. I feel the stimulus checks also provided additional disposable income to people who, in turn, spent that money on projects they may have been putting off.”

However, Beck still has some concerns.

“There are still people concerned on whether to spend or not. There are people off work, there are people still fearful to spend, they are not sure if they will get their jobs back,” Beck said.

Landscapers and lawn care professionals do face challenges. Finding workers is always a concern.

“Labor is the number one issue, right now people are making a fortune for doing nothing, sitting at home, don’t have to work. Finding great help is a difficult thing, we try to temper our growth because we don’t have enough people to do the work,” Foose said..

“Finding qualified, reliable labor is still the biggest challenge facing our business. The economical and political landscapes can also present challenges to our business. Ever-changing environmental regulations, tax rates, labor laws, insurances, certifications, and all the fees associated with operating small businesses can create obstacles to overcome to maintain profitability and continuity,” Huber said.

Ford agrees that labor may be an issue.

“COVID-19 still has the potential to impact landscape contractors and their workforce. Landscapers may be a little cautious when taking on new jobs because of workforce concerns. Some of our landscapers use foreign-born workers to staff their landscape crews. If these workers cannot enter the country due to COVID-19 issues in their home country we could see workforce availability issues this spring. In 2020 COVID-19 issues shuddered some embassies temporarily which delayed the processing of some guest worker applications resulting in worker shortages,” Ford said.

There are other concerns as well.

“There are people out of work doing things like landscaping to bring more income for themselves. What people need to keep in mind is that there is proper licensing and insurance required to do the work, It is not a free fall for anyone who has a lawnmower in their truck. When you hire someone make sure they are licensed and insured. The homeowner is liable to make sure the work is done up to code,” Beck said.

“Right now we are facing rising fuel prices, that will be an issue for a lot of contractors. I am afraid fuel prices will continue to rise,” McCloskey said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 814-946-7467.

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