Mark Black has some words of wisdom for his fellow lawn care operators: “Remember, one part of your business is to make it clean and green,” says the owner of Country Club Lawn & Tree Specialists in South Roxana, Ill. “The other side is to kill everything.”
While “killing everything” might sound like an LCO’s worst nightmare, there is one sector of the lawn care industry where it’s actually good for business. Vegetation management, also known as industrial vegetation management, or IVM, is the control of invasive or unwanted plants and weeds in often-overlooked areas, such as along highways, railroads and pipelines, and on utility and industrial sites. Vegetation management also can occur in gravel areas, along fence lines, curbs and landscape beds, and in hardscape cracks and crevices. This type of work is primarily done with the goal of a “bare ground” or “total plant control result.” It includes herbicide treatments and mechanical control through cutting and hand weeding.
“Vegetation management could be considered a sister service to lawn care, addressing weed issues in areas other than turf,” says Dwayne Hess, vegetation management services division manager for Rentokil Steritech, a pest control company that provides vegetation management, headquartered in Chatham, Ontario, Canada.
Hess says operations for traditional lawn care and vegetation management are similar because LCOs are working in a similar environment using similar equipment and techniques and are targeting the control of unwanted plants. But unlike traditional lawn care, vegetation management can be more of a year-round operation since herbicide treatments can be applied to plants in a preemergent state and during the active growing season.
Before offering vegetation management services, LCOs should be familiar with their state’s certification and licensing requirements.
When it comes to selecting products for vegetation management, Jay Young, herbicide product manager for PBI-Gordon, a supplier of lawn care products headquartered in Kansas City, Mo., says most LCOs use a nonselective herbicide that offers residual control. These products can control all unwanted plant life with one application for long periods of time and are not often used in other areas of the professional lawn care market due to their nonselectivity.
“LCOs should go with these products because they are trying to control everything with one application,” Young says. “They want that control to last six to eight months and be done with it.”
While the equipment necessary to perform vegetation management is similar to the equipment used for traditional lawn care, it can differ based on the depth of vegetation management services provided. Hess recommends that separate spray tank systems be maintained when offering selective turf weed control versus nonselective total bare ground applications to avoid misapplications and potential damage.
“Also, herbicide labeling needs to be considered in relation to the worksite location and could result in the need to utilize different labeled herbicides to control the same weeds,” he adds.
Black has steadily grown the vegetation management division of Country Club Lawn & Tree Specialists for the past 10 years, and it now comprises about 5 percent of his total business. He services commercial and industrial sites ranging from 2,000 square feet to 25 acres. Country Club is a $3 million company that offers 70 percent lawn care, 10 percent tree/shrub care, 7 percent snow removal and 13 percent “other” services (including vegetation management) to an 85 percent residential, 15 percent commercial clientele.
Like Hess, Black views vegetation management as a supplemental service to traditional lawn care. He reserves specific equipment for vegetation management and makes sure the tanks and sprayers are never used in a residential setting to prevent cross contamination, which he says is one of the biggest challenges when working with nonselective products. While only three of his technicians perform vegetation management, Black says more than half of them have received their Right-Of-Way Vegetation Management Certification through the state of Illinois. Black says most of the techniques and calibrations overlap with traditional lawn care procedures, but the extra knowledge is beneficial to his crews.
“If an LCO has the luxury of having someone slotted for service (calls) versus a route technician, he would be able to offer vegetation management. Vegetation control application timing will fill
in when service calls are light,” Black said. “We do it for the additional revenue, and it has been a great fit.”
Getting the word out
Hess says there are several benefits to vegetation management that lawn care companies can market to potential clientele. For example, thorough vegetation management on commercial sites can create a more inviting facility appearance that improves brand image. Vegetation management also adds to the overall safety of a facility by improving lines of sight and reducing slip, trip and fall hazards, which can reduce the risk of worksite injuries. Controlling vegetation also reduces fire hazards and eliminates habitats for biting and stinging insects, rodents, snakes and other unwanted pests. Effective vegetation management also may provide better access to a facility’s HVAC systems, outside storage, inventory and fuel stations.
“Vegetation management provides proven cost savings with safe, properly applied herbicidal control of vegetation versus more costly options such as frequent manual cutting and pulling of unwanted plants by hand,” Hess says. “Marketing these benefits as solutions is a key selling and management strategy.”
Other than listing the service on his company’s website and using Google AdWords, Black does not market his vegetation management services. In fact, he says they practically market themselves to the many industrial site managers in his area who have found him online. Country Club Lawn & Tree Specialists is located near six oil companies with tank yards. Black says “the sky is the limit” for LCOs in industrial areas who decide to actively promote their vegetation management services. Black also has considered bidding on vegetation management jobs through governments and municipalities, but he chooses not to go this route because these jobs are typically won by the lowest bidder.
“There is a possibility that we could get more into this service in the future, but right now, our best-case scenario is that this is a gap filler and easy revenue to generate,” he says. “Lawn care and vegetation management do overlap. Spraying is spraying, but you do have to know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what your target is.”
Photo: Country Club Lawn & Tree Specialists