Friday, March 26, 2010

Spring Landscape Maintenance

Sometime in the next 4 weeks it will be time to cut that lawn for the first time. For those of you lucky enough to have a service like ours, what do you need to do? Nothing.... Sit back, relax, and watch the Spring Clean-Up, First applications of fertilizer and weed control applied at the perfect times, and the first cutting of the season scheduled and completed when it needs to be. Watch mulch and soil amendment applied, annual flowers installed, and all of this perfect by the end of May.

But for those of us that are not so on.

If you have to complete these maintenance tasks yourself, what needs to be done over the next few weeks? Well, first things first. If you want the best looking lawn and landscape in the neighborhood, you will need the following in the next 4 weeks.

1. Spring Clean-Up
2. Lawn Cutting
3. Fertilization of turf areas(covered in the last blog)

Lets address the first two items and when they should be completed.

1. Spring Clean-Up.

Ok, you want to get in your beds and start to rake and cultivate and work that soil, right? Don't. These next few weeks your beds can be significantly compacted by walking on them. Not to say you can't go around and pick up sticks, branches, debris blowing around. It's time to do that. But you will want to wait until that soil has warmed up below the surface before any heavy bed work is completed. I would say April 15-30th this year will be the time to get in those beds.

Then get in there and cultivate down 3-6". It is a good time to prune any dead or broken branches off of plants, trees, etc. Cut to the ground any ornamental grasses, and amend mulch to maintain a nice 3" mulch layer if you have mulched beds. For topsoil beds, adding in compost or soil/compost mix to amend to 3" will be beneficial for those plants or future annual flower planting. For rock or gravel beds, leaf and debris should be blown, raked, or picked out and any weeds pulled out that may just be starting to emerge. Pull any weeds that you see in all beds for that matter. Any weeds you can pull prior to those weeds going to seed will help keep the beds weed free.

Turf areas can be raked or blown to remove any leaf or debris on top. Heavy raking especially in shade areas should be avoided until grass plants take proper rooting and begin to grow. Otherwise the existing grass plants can be raked up and areas will need to be reseeded.

Are there any bare turf areas from snow plowing, dog damage, thin areas from the prior season? Mix up some seed with compost and topsoil or a bag of garden mix. Use the highest quality sun or shade seed depending on your conditions and you will have a great patch mix for these bare areas. 2 shovelfuls of soil and one baseball sized handful of seed should do it. Topdress with this mix of soil and seed.

That should cover it for the Spring Clean-Up. This can be a gradual process over the next 60 days so it is completed prior to June 1, or all done at once. Remember that mulching done in early Spring will have to contend with heavy rains in May so may fade and not look as fresh in June and July. Delaying mulch amendments to later in the Spring may look better aesthetically for the rest of the season.

Lawn maintenance should be completed the first week that 1" of the grass blade can be cut off. When will that occur to your lawn? Somewhere around the 2nd to 4th week of April this year. Is your lawn equipment ready?

Now is the time to get that mower, trimmer, and blower in for a tune up. Drain out old gas and refill with fresh. Replace the spark plug and change the oil. And don't forget that every mower needs a sharp blade and scrape out all dead grass and stuff from underneath the deck. This can spread fungus and disease if old grass is not removed. I recommend for a residential home to sharpen the blade once in the Spring and once in the Summer. The mower should not be tearing the grass blade. You can look at the grass blade after the lawn is cut and assess if it is being cut or torn. Our company sharpens blades daily and this is necessary to get a great cut.

So, are you ready for Spring. Get out there and get those lawns and beds in top condition.

And remember that if you need any help with these services, or it seems like this will be too much work this Spring, give us a call.

For more information or to receive an estimate for lawn maintenance services go to:

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Wait to Fertilize until Next Month

So the back of Winter is broken and Spring is coming. Time to look at that sad, yellow, thin lawn and get to work on it, right? No! You can wait like a month!!

Please sit back, be a bit lazy, and listen to the 28 year veteran..............., me.

It really gets me when I see those National fertilization companies out there in March getting the first chemical application down and flying all those flags in the front lawns. Then the Radio ads start on how you need to dump down this and apply that for Grubs and Weeds and Crabgrass and whatever else will be the disease of the year you need protection from.

Well, stop, and listen for just a second. In the Chicagoland area, your lawn needs nothing for the next month, got it? If you applied nitrogen late last season, it is available now for your lawn. Whether organic or chemical, the nutrients are already there and ready for the turf to use this Spring.

The first application of nutrients need to be applied when the soil temperatures warm up a bit. The best time is right around that first cut of the season. for 2010 this will be around late April. The soil temperatures will be 60 degrees, the initial uptake of nutrients has occurred, the turf is growing and ready for the first application.

Now, if you can't keep yourself off of that lawn right now, let me give you something to do that CAN be beneficial. Seed. Lets look at that snowplow damage along the driveway, the holes that the squirrels and birds poked in the lawn and anywhere you see thin areas. Go to the store and buy 2-3 pounds of the highest quality seed(that's right, the expensive stuff). Get full sun or full shade depending on the areas to be repaired. Mix it up with a little topsoil. There is probably a bag of it sitting in the corner of your garage from last year. Then just sprinkle it in these bare areas like Parmesan cheese. The wet and muck and warmer soil temperatures in the next few weeks will get those seedlings up, quickly filling in any bare areas at the beginning of the season. That will keep you busy enough to not think about fertilizing(remember, wait a month!!)

We can recommend the best types of fertilizer products for this Spring and are offering an organic alternative for the 2010 season. So listen to me, do nothing right now, wait until the right time, and then lets get that lawn looking its best.

Think Spring,

Eric Hansen, President

For more information or to receive an estimate for lawn maintenance services go to:

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Propane Engine Fuel Summit

I just arrived in Washington DC for the Propane Engine Fuel Summit. Many speakers will be here representing all areas of the propane industry and the use of propane in equipment and vehicles. It will be interesting to see what new ideas and technologies will be available for fleet managers as well as for my interest, the landscape and lawn maintenance industry.

Anyone that wants to listen can log in to the propane engine fuel summit and see the agenda and the video webinar of the speakers on the web.

Today I got a call from a contractor in Michigan. We both spoke a few months back and he was asking questions about the Roush/Ford F350 and if he would be able to switch over his company to propane. I gave him a few tips then to pursue.

His update after he worked on this for a few months sounded familiar. As he went out into the marketplace to find a distributor of propane, and a manufacturer of equipment, he was stopped in his tracks. Many in the propane industry told him that propane would not work well for trucks and maintenance equipment. Propane companies that delivered propane to homes and farms didn't want to help him in his quest. Equipment dealers aren't interested in selling equipment if it is not gasoline. Even when he said that his goal was to use 5000 gallons this year, they still were not interested in the hassle of finding all of the different pieces involved in converting and put them together for him.

He finally found a distributor that was willing to put in a fill station. He found a lawn equipment dealer willing to order two machines for him this Spring that he could purchase, and he is going to add a truck to his operations as well.

This process was all done with frustration and lack of help and knowledge from the groups that should be the experts. Landscape maintenance contractors are interested in switching over but the majority of them will quit before they get going. Having 1 or 2 machines in an entire fleet and occasionally using them to market green initiatives, or used during ozone days will not allow expansion of this alternative fuel. It will be a temporary use of propane and never catch on.

On Thursday I will be describing the contractors perspective on switching from gasoline to propane. We have been working on this for 2 years and are still not there yet.

Will we get there ? I believe that the answer is yes if we keep working with the truck and equipment manufacturers, propane distributors, and the propane industry and lobbyists that are working to promote propane as an alternative fuel.

I will update you on the progress.

Eric Hansen, President Competitive Lawn Service, Inc
630-964-3100 Fax

For more information or to receive an estimate for lawn maintenance services go to:

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Better Business Bureau Reviews

I was asked last week what I thought about our relationship with the Better Business Bureau and if our company being a member is valuable . We have been members since 2004 and I know it is valuable to us but I had to think about the reasons why.

In this day and age of thousands of review sites out on the internet, it seems that the Better Business Bureau would get less and less valuable to the consumer. After all who checks with the BBB before making a purchasing decision? Isn't it faster and easier to google Competitive Lawn Service Reviews and get your answer. Isn't everything you read on the internet true?

The reality is that we do get a lot of value from our relationship with the Better Business Bureau. Since we have been a member for awhile, any negative business practices over the years would have been recorded. Businesses that have poor customer service, business practices, and the like quickly will be exposed through the BBB .

We also do receive a lot of traffic from the site. When we redid our website a few years ago with analytics that could see and track where our traffic was coming from, BBB was up there on the list and still is today.

Another added benefit that we agreed to when we joined the BBB was an arbitration service in case of any disputes. This was something we used once when a complaint was put in on our company. The BBB suggested this to the customer and we were assigned a BBB agent who worked to mediate the situation. The outcome was good for both the customer and for our company.

Some level of advertising is put out in the Chicagoland area including billboards, Tribune and Sun Times advertising, Yellow Pages, as well as Internet search programs, etc.

In the last few years they have also started a rating system from A+ to F for companies. For companies that do not have unresolved disputes or negative reviews they can receive an A+ rating. We were able to receive the highest A+ rating each year.

In my opinion, based on the value we receive from the program, I believe that it is still a worthwhile association to belong to.

For more information or to receive an estimate for lawn maintenance services go to:

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Propane Initiatives for Competitive Lawn Service

Twenty-five percent of homes in the United States are worth less than their mortgages. Unemployment is 10 percent. War, deficit, businesses folding, more and more daily bad news.

If you listen to the media this year and formulate a strategy and a vision for moving forward in this economy, you might as well close the doors and sell off the assets: It seems that terrible.

This is how I felt in January of 2009 as we firmed up seasonal commercial and residential contracts for Competitive Lawn Service. We are just a small company in Downers Grove, Illinois, that shows up weekly and cuts, trims, fertilizes, and cleans up properties locally.

At the beginning of the year, this is what I faced:

All of the contracts could be canceled. The clients might not have any money to pay for these services this season. They might cancel all of the additional services and leave the company under water on the revenue side. What was going to happen? How can we prepare for this impending doom? Maybe we hire fewer employees this year, I thought, purchase less equipment that we will need to service these accounts, figure on losing 20 percent or 30 percent of our contracts because that is what our industry is experiencing.

OK, take a deep breath and do not think that way.

I would not want to work for a company with that kind of vision. It’s like walking backwards—off of a cliff. And besides, what about all that has occurred in the last few years? How can we use all of the good news in the economy, the local changes, and the ability that company leaders have to make “stuff” happen?

But where are the bright spots? Are there any? My gosh, they are all around us, and we just need to lift ourselves out of the negative muck and mire and look around. 2009 can be amazing, but it just depends how I take us down this road, I thought.

We already had started without even knowing or concentrating on it.

In 2007 and 2008, our company started playing around with alternative fuels and running lawn equipment on propane. Why?

Well, originally it was less expensive than the rising price of unleaded gasoline and was saving some money for us. Only a few pieces of equipment and maybe 50 bucks here and there, but was it worth the hassle? We had engines that blew up and equipment that we couldn’t get started sometimes. But this was a learning process, the same learning process that any new company would experience with gasoline engines getting started in our industry. We went through that 28 years ago when the company began.


We can run with this. Maybe we can create the first commercial crew in the country to run on propane. We would be 60 percent less CO2 emissions for our clients. The equipment is quieter. Propane is less expensive and more efficient to run. So how do we do this?

First we need a place to fill our equipment. We had been refilling containers at our local equipment-rental company. Let’s put a fill station on our site in Downers Grove. The first private fill station for lawn equipment in Illinois. But why is this so groundbreaking? Why is it so hard? Local and state regulations. Hassles, problems, and it took months to get approved.

Next, let’s get more equipment—now we’re talking. But all of the equipment we need doesn’t exist yet. Let’s do research and development for the manufacturers and help them get the equipment that we need for the next season. I think this summer we tested just about every propane piece of equipment coming to market for 2010.

What about the kinds and types of propane tanks that need to be mounted on the equipment for operation? Some work, some don’t, and some just need to be changed. Fiberglass lightweight tanks? Baffled aluminum tanks? What works well and what doesn’t?

What about trucks? They are unveiled at Ford but that is only for half-ton and we need larger 1-ton trucks for our operations. When do the 1-ton trucks come out in propane, and when can we get our hands on the first ones. OK, so we will receive the first Ford F350 from Detroit. Great! Looks like it will be shipped in December. Time for a photo and video opportunity!

What about trimmers and blowers? They are out now but use the Coleman 1-pound canisters, and we cannot refill these for commercial operations. We need a solution. How about a backpack that can carry propane and operate the trimmers? Will this work, and when can we get smaller tanks like 1 and 2 pound? Can they make them in Norway?

We need some kind of tagline on this. “Green Propane Power” sounds good. Let’s brand this up and get it on all our trucks and trailers as we switch over to propane. As I visited the Green Industry Equipment Expo show in Louisville, Kentucky, and saw all of the propane-powered equipment presented, I think that our industry is on to something. The industry is moving forward and changing.

I was fortunate enough for British Airways to give me the ability to fly to Europe on their “face to face” program and begin to make international connections that could open the doors for the technology that our industry needs to move forward in the direction of alternative fuels. I was able to meet literally hundreds of other company leaders who get it and see the doors and the opportunities that exist throughout the world.

I am proud to say that after a year of hard work, Competitive Lawn Service, Inc. will be the first company in the country to have a commercial lawn maintenance crew to operate 100 percent on propane as an alternative fuel, as well as a private propane fill station at our location. And our growing list of commercial and residential clients are listening and applauding. The future looks bright for 2010, and we are ready. Ready to branch out, expand, open new locations, and go where no company has gone before in the direction of alternative fuels, quality service, and a passion for making a difference in this world.

So, here I am in London in November of 2009 blogging about the year that was. How much different would the blog have sounded if I didn’t hear that single knock on the door? I would have listened to fear. I would have listened to all of the bad news in the marketplace, in our economy, in our industry. Instead I listened to a clear knock. Now there are more knocks every day. I am listening. Are you?

The question we all should have is not how we are going to survive, but rather what door we should open and go through—and where it will lead.

Eric Hansen is founder of Competitive Lawn Service, Inc.

For more information or to receive an estimate for lawn maintenance services go to: