Monthly Archives: April 2017

Landscape Protection

An overlooked and equally important aspect of landscaping is protection, many people seem to think with landscaping you don’t need any safety protection, I’ve seen people operating trimmers with no eye protection, that’s a recipe for disaster and a very good way to lose an eye. I’ve also seen people operating mowers with regular running shoes on, what if you lost control of the mower and it went over your foot. You lose your foot. A hefty price to pay. One of the companies I worked for had a girl who was operating a mower trying to push it up an incline, it was a hot sunny day, she was tired and for a moment, a lapse in judgment. She lost control. The mower came crashing down, she got her body out the way but not her foot, thankfully she had a pair of steel toe boots that save her feet from becoming amputated. Safety is no joke, and when you are operating equipment it should be your number one concern.

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The first layer of protection is your safety glasses. In a job like landscaping where there is lots of debris, bits of grass, twig, rocks and sometimes even glass, you want to protect your eyes. Especially when you are trimming, trimming is probably the most dangerous part of the job, you can’t always control what the trimmer line picks up and whatever it does pick up is going to be sent toward you at a high velocity. Another thing to keep in mind is the direction that debris will be shot toward you with the trimmer, have the line spin away from you, working in the opposite direction the line spins at. Something I never understood is removing the guard off the trimmer, the guard is there for a reason. It’s called a guard and it does a very good job of protecting you from debris, especially when you are line edging. Yet many professionals insist on trimming without the guard.

Regardless if you use a guard or not, you’re going to need safety glasses. The best kind to get are the ones that wrap around your face, covering all angles of your eyes. Even on the lower part where some debris can sneak its way behind the glasses. The ones I use have a string attached to the two arms.

I’ve lost many high-quality safety glasses because I would take them off during lunch or when we were working on a garden and I forgot where I left them. I recommend the XX With the string around the arms so you can just have them hang while you do safer work.

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Buy them here .

Once you have the face covered you want to move a little bit lower to the hands, gloves are needed depending on the work you do If you do any heavy manual labor then you should wear gloves. Gloves can also protect you from getting splinters, or thorns stuck in your hand. If you do decide to wear gloves, you should invest in some good ones. Ones that will last a bit more than a season, your gloves will wear out the quickest of any safety protection you use. I recommend the X. Everyone where I worked had them, including myself. I swear by them.

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Best Gloves for Yardwork

Buy them here.

Moving onto another important piece of protection, the earplug or earmuffs. As a landscaper you’re going to be operating heavy equipment that easily exceeds the amount of decibels that can cause hearing damage. Ear protection is mandatory. There is multiple ways you can protect your ears, you use the actual ear plugs that go inside your ear, a headset style protection that has a built in radio or you can use some music headphones, allowing you to listen to music while working. It’s your decision, what I typically use is either small little in ear protection or the big muffs. I use the small ones if I want the mobility without having to having to carry around a headset, and I’ll use a headset if I know I’m going to be on a machine for a while. It depends on the circumstance however you should always be wearing ear protection. Your hearing is too valuable to lose to negligence.

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Buy the small in-ear ones here and buy the big muffs here or the ones with the radio here.

The next set of protection you want to consider is pants if you plan on trimming. Pants will protect you from most of the debris that hits your legs while trimming, you may hit the occasional object that will go through the pant material but that is rare. Whereas if you wear shorts you’re going to have to deal with not only debris, but grass covering your legs, getting inside your boot and so on. It is personal preference, you don’t have to wear pants but your legs will take a beating if you are trimming. You can pick up a pair of pants that are also breathable here, they come off in sections so if you think it’s too hot you still have the option to wear shorts, just unzip the leg. Many landscapers wear pants like these, and there’s no question why. They are great.

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Buy the pants here.

I touched on this before, in the beginning of the article where I told the story of a girl I worked with who almost lost her foot if it wasn’t for her steel-toed boots she had on. Foot protection is very important, especially when you are using a mower. Blade can spin at a speed of 3000 RPMs for your typical homeowner mower and for a commercial mower a blade can spin in the range of 40,000 RPMs. You must wear steel toed boots. I wore heavy-duty construction boots that I had for a previous construction job, they were big and clunky. I would not recommend them for landscaping, get something light. You do a lot of walking and there is a world of difference between walking an entire day in heavy construction boots and walking in something lighter. Regular shoes felt like clouds after a long days work. Make sure whatever you get has sufficient grip, often time you will be cutting in wet grass where you can lose traction if you’re on a slope and your boots don’t have the traction you are required. I’ve seen a lot of landscapers use these, they are lightweight and provide good traction.

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You can buy them here.

Now that we have our whole body covered, we’re ready to go out in the blazing hot sun and tackle or work..right? Not so fast. Before you do ANY work outside you should put on sunblock, skin cancer is a very serious thing and it’s extremely common with people who spend a lot of time outdoors. It’s a slow killer, you won’t know you have it until it’s too late and symptoms have already developed. As outdoors men we tend to take this one for granted the most, we love the outdoors, and we forget that the sun despite providing us warmth and enjoyment, can also harm us, and eventually even kill us. Skin protection should always be a concern. Make sure you buy sunscreen lotion that is properly rated for the intensity of the sun you plan to work in. I recommend this, they’re a good product and a large reason why I haven’t burned this entire year despite it being one of the hottest.

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The final thing I want to go over is simple awareness, the safety equipment I have listed here are great but the best piece of equipment is our own brains. If a job doesn’t look safe, or you don’t think the mower will be able to handle the incline or slope, don’t try to. Be aware of the people around you, especially if you are working near residential or high traffic areas. If people are close, turn the equipment off or leave it in idle and pull the throttle back. This rule holds even more weight if there are children nearby, children are more sensitive to loud noises and their hearing hasn’t fully developed which makes them more susceptible to hearing damage from loud equipment. Be mindful of your co-workers too. If you’re trimming and one of the guys on a mower is passing by, stop trimming and wait for your path to be clear. A general rule is the person on the heavy equipment has right of way, so the guy on the trimmer should idle his machine and wait.

Safety is an overlooked aspect of a landscapers work, there are many hidden dangers when you are operating heavy or light machinery, dangers not only to yourself but also to others as well. We often forget in the comfort of our own backyard that the equipment we are operating has the potential to change our lives, for ever. We often forget when we work for a commercial company, on the same piece of equipment for many years that the equipment is still dangerous and can still injure us just as severely as when we first started. This is why it is important to wear the proper safety equipment and to always be aware of our surroundings because if we don’t we could change our lives, or someone else’s forever and that is a burden that no one would want to live with.

Commercial and Professional versus Consumer

The jump from homeowner to commercial grade equipment can seem daunting

  • Is it worth the significant increase in cost?
  • Should the average homeowner run commercial grade equipment?
  • When is it worth it?

In this article we will look into when it is a good idea to spend the extra money and purchase commercial equipment, as well as the factors to consider when choosing which dealer to go with.

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The biggest problem with homeowner equipment is the quality of the parts and the amount of abuse that they can take. A homeowner machine could last longer than ten years if it rarely gets used and if the use it does get isn’t heavy or hard on the machine. Then you have outlier machines, ones that last for years, taking any abuse you throw at them. Sometimes you get lucky, the push mowers that I used at a private golf course I worked for were very old, probably from the mid eighties and they were residential mowers. They took an insane amount of abuse, cutting fescue, running on severe slopes, the mowers tipping over and oil getting into the gas and even running over rocks. The thing is, these machines are outliers, your average homeowner machine lasts about two years from normal use, and if it gets abused this life cycle shrinks even more. This short life cycle is even more noticeable with trimmers, blowers, and other equipment with small two stroke engines. Some people have purchased a homeowner trimmer and had them blow up within an hour or two of use. This is why many homeowners now run commercial equipment, despite the increase in price.

Don’t let the word “Commercial” confuse you, commercial quality products are not going to be bulkier, and harder to work with, it’s actually the contrary. Commercial grade products are going to give you less headaches and you will be able to start the job quicker and finish it quicker as well. Commercial simply means professional equipment with dealership support in case anything goes wrong.

So when do you want to upgrade from homeowner equipment to commercial? When is the jump worth it?

To answer that question, you have to ask your self a few questions.

  1. Are you satisfied with the equipment you currently have?
  2. Do you spend a lot of time taking care of your lawn?

If you’ve experienced issues with your current equipment breaking, or not lasting as long as you would like, then you should upgrade to commercial quality. Yes, it will be more expensive but it will last longer and save you from buying new machines every season. A good commercial mower can last upwards of 7 years. That means for 7 years you will not have to buy a new machine, whereas with homeowner brands you might have to buy a new machine every year, which could add to over a thousand dollars in new machines over the time frame of 7 years, making the commercial grade equipment the better investment in the long run.

Another great advantage that commercial grade equipment has, is dealership support and the warranties. When you buy a machine from a reputable dealer, you can count on your machine being properly serviced and often times dealers will offer new customers free tune ups, depending on how expensive of a machine you got. This also means that if you have problems with your machine, or want to trade it in or if you bought it and realized it isn’t what you expected  you are not stuck with a lemon. Dealers are much more generous when it comes to returning faulty product, and if you have an old commercial machine you can always trade it in for a new one to help cut cost.
Contrast this, to big box stores where the policies are stricter, generally once you use it a few times you cannot refund it and if you do you will only get store credit. I believe this factor alone constitutes commercial grade over residential homeowner equipment.

A big plus with commercial equipment is the amount of time that can be cut taking care of your lawn, instead of spending three hours to mow your lawn, it could take two or less with a commercial mower. Making those painful tasks of mowing on a step incline, or slope much easier and providing a nicer cut at the same time. If you find you take more time than you would like maintaining your lawn, then commercial quality might be a good choice for you. You will not only save time but potentially money in the long term.

If you snoop around lawn care forums and ask the members what their worst purchase was, you would see many vouches for homeowner designed equipment, very few people are unsatisfied with commercial grade quality and the ones that are, simply trade in their current product for something better. That’s the great thing about buying commercial equipment, the re-sale value is high. You can buy a new trimmer for 700 dollars and sell it for 400 leaving only a 300 dollar deficit which is about the price of two homeowner trimmers, or one expensive homeowner trimmer.

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Don’t let the words “John Deere” , “Toro” , “Echo” stamped on equipment in Homedepot, or any other big box store fool you. It may say John Deere, but it is not. The components are not John Deere quality, the frames will be weaker, the engines cheaper often being MTD engines instead of a Kawasaki, Honda or one of the commercial grade engines you would find in a Deere and the parts are just not as tough as you would find on a commercial piece of equipment. Many people do not know this, they simply assume because it says John Deere on the mower, that it is going to be a quality machine and generally that is true, unless it came from a big box store and has MTD parts in it instead of the parts a true John Deere has. The hard part about this is some big box stores, or department stores will have say a John Deere with the true parts a John Deere has and it won’t have any MTD parts, but this is hard to tell and it’s much better to go to a dealer where you know you will be spending your hard earned cash on a quality product.

The biggest issue with commercial grade equipment is the price, you will pay about double for commercial compared to homeowner equipment, thankfully with commercial equipment you don’t have to buy new. You can buy a used machine for much less than new and still maintain that commercial quality power, cut and longevity depending how much abuse the machine already has. You can also still have the benefits of dealer support when you buy used too, the parts will be the same, and service will just be like you bought it new, except the warranty might be over. Lot’s of homeowners and new business owners choose to buy used commercial equipment, you lose some longevity but you make up for that in the savings, not only with money but time as well.

The biggest thing with commercial equipment is your dealer support, a good dealership is extremely valuable and before you chose which commercial product you want to buy, make sure the dealer is reputable and the mechanics are good, there will come a time where something will need to be replaced and you don’t want to be stuck with a bad dealership, who takes forever to fix your machine or gives you the run-around saying they cannot fix it and that you will have to buy new. A good dealership is worth more than its weight in gold.

If you took the time to read this article then you’ve probably already thought about upgrading to commercial quality equipment, if you value your time, and don’t mind spending more in the short-term then I would highly suggest you make the jump, it’s a little scary, dealers can be intimidating but if you do the proper research and only do business through a reputable dealer, then the jump will be painless. And soon, the struggles of a homeowner machine will be a thing of the past, and you too will be one those homeowners who swears by buying commercial equipment.

Starting A Landscape Business

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With the state of the economy and jobs being cut, the idea of owning your own business is becoming increasingly attractive. Many go to into business for themselves as a freelancer and others start their own companies. One of the simplest companies to start is a landscaping/lawncare company. Many people do this and you can make some good cash through it, especially when you start getting big contracts like malls and high-end condominiums. That’s where the money is at.

In fact, you may have ran your own lawn care business when you were a kid. Offering to cut the elderly’s lawn or your neighbors for some extra cash. It’s a great way to introduce a youngster to business and all you really need is a mower.

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However, to start a real landscape business you will need much more than a mower. You’re going to need blowers, trimmers, ride on, push mowers, trailer and a truck to haul it all. You can’t really skimp out on any of this either. You may be able to get by without a ride-on mower but that severely limits the amount of work you can take on.

Landscape businesses can be profitable and if you already own some of these things I would highly suggest going into business, even if it’s just part-time. The extra bit of cash definitely helps and if you keep it up you can parlay your business into other avenues like window cleaning or garden maintenance.

Like most businesses though, you need clients. That will be the hardest part, getting people to pay for your services. Once you get some clients it’s relatively easy to keep them due to the nature of the business. Lawn has to be cut on average once a week, that’s residual guaranteed income. Repeat clients. Which is great for a business because then you don’t need to find a new customer after ever purchase. It’s easier to have a current customer pay more than it is to find a whole new customer.

That leads to the one major downside of landscaping, that is that the work is seasonal. Most of the time, you’re only going to be operating between Spring, Fall. Depending where you live the length of your winter will vary. What most landscape companies do is run a snow removal operation during the winter, this is great and helps supplement the loss of income. But as a beginner, there’s a very slim chance you will be able to do snow removal on top of landscaping. The equipment is expensive and unless you like shoveling snow then it would be wise to stay out of the snow business for now. Wait till you have more clientele.

Landscaping seems like a great business to start it has relatively low costs, residual income and is capable of scaling to big dollars. Even if it’s seasonal you can still make great money at it. However, there’s one thing you really need to consider before starting a landscaping business.

That is location. The success of your business will vary completely on your own location, many cities, towns and even rural areas already have a plethora of landscaping businesses. Everyone is trying to get a slice of the pie and the thing is, most of them go under after the 1-3 year mark. There’s a lot to owning and operating a successful business that will last and if the market is already heavily saturated then you’re only making your chances of survival slimmer than they already were.

The problem is, if you do go under, you’re going to have equipment that you’ve already invested into that you need to get rid of. Especially if it’s commercial grade. This makes the cost go up even more. A lot of first-time business owners don’t consider the actual costs of a business nor do they create a solid plan to go about their business. Causing them to ultimately fail. I would highly recommend you to create a business plan if you’re thinking about going into landscaping. You will save a lot of headache by doing this.

One final thing I want to touch on is repairing. When you own a business and have a piece of equipment down, that’s money you are wasting. If you plan to own a business I highly recommend learning how to repair most of your equipment yourself. Waiting for a mechanic to fix things is going to kill you, not only with cost but time as well. Bigger machines, you can get away without knowing how to fix them but the smaller engines you definitely should learn how to fix yourself. You will save a lot of time and money by doing so, which is key in business.

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Remember, when you start a landscaping business you have to keep in mind that the business end of it is just as important as the actual lawn care part. Many people don’t take this important piece of information into consideration. You may love cutting lawn or lawn care but to make any sort of profit you have to remember that it is a business. You can’t expect to make cash just because you love the work. Its easy to forget this and it will be detrimental to your business if you do.

Starting a lawn care business can be a great way to earn some extra cash or if you decide to go fully into it; a living. However, before you even consider starting one you should take into account the factors I have listed here. If you do not and decide to start one anyway then you’re going to have a rough time. You might still succeed and I hope you do, but it’s best to arm yourself with knowledge before you decide on something that could impact your life as much as a business could. Starting a lawn care business can be a great idea but only if you do your homework. If you don’t you could end up like the multitudes of business that go under. Be smart, think it over and I have no doubt you will come to the right decision.