Spring

White to Green

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A Healthy Dose of Planning and Patience to Transition from White to Green

Have you thought about how your spring lawn care plan might vary this year given the drought? In an earlier blog post, we shared resources that we rely on for information on assessment and prediction of climate conditions. All of this information affects the methodology and timing we use to perform our seasonal services. For Spring 2013, GH’s approach is based on drought-like conditions we’ll continue to experience in Minnesota coupled with a good dose of our standard Step-by-Step Spring Clean-up Services.

NiceSpringLawn

We’ve been seeing white (as in snow) for several months. Now we’re eager to see green (as in a beautiful, plush lawn). As I consider how GH will adjust our spring services based climate, new research findings and ever-changing lawn-care techniques, I’m reminded that GH should be a steward of the environment and educate our clients. So I’ll share two thoughts with you: planning and patience.

PLANNING
Our spring services can help you create a plan to set up your lawn for a great summer. We offer leaf removal (lawn raking and gutter cleaning), aeration, fertilization, seeding and dethatching and irrigation maintenance. Leaf removal is pretty standard for starters, but as I moved on to a review of improving our services for the remainder on the list, certain information stood out to me as critical.

Aerate in Moderation: Research from the University of Minnesota continues to churn out seasonal research and recommendations for soil prep and treatment options including aeration. At GH, we’ll assess aeration needs accordingly. For example, the U of M asserts: If your lawn is stressed from lack of moisture, typical aeration practices will add more stress to the lawn, so we may recommend only to irrigate.

GH seconds these findings and offers aeration only in the spring, when temperatures are cool, our most seasonal moisture typically comes from rain and the summer stress of heat and dry weather has yet to begin. If you’ve been irrigating with little turfgrass response, soil compaction may be an issue, in which case aerating would help and we may recommend that.
(Source: http://blog.lib.umn.edu/efans/ygnews/2012/10/fall-lawn-care-update-whats-di.html)

Use Natural Organic Compost Topdressing: Grass has a reputation of being a “heavy feeder,” requiring lots of fertilizer. But that’s true only of lawns that contain little organic matter, worms or other soil life. Consider topdressing your lawn with our screened organic compost dressing. Spreading ¼ to ½ inch of our rich compost will increase the life and microbial activity in your soil, and add natural fertilizer.

At GH, we advise using organic fertilizers because they release nutrients slowly over time to provide long-term nutrition, improve soil health, and encourage soil life. They also provide vital trace nutrients that your lawn needs in minute quantities.


What Lies Beneath

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What Minnesotan doesn’t look forward to flowing rivers of melting snow in the spring? Chances are most of us do – - even the winter fanatics should have had their fill of winter activities come March 20, the first official day of spring. This year’s spring, however, will bring some trepidation for homeowners as they begin to uncover their lawn after winter snow has finally melted away. And rightfully so.

Snow Melting on grass

We at GH are concerned too. To inform our services and advise our clients, we follow government, national and local groups that regularly provide surveys, stats, trends and predictions and monitor drought, climate changes and storm assessments. We track this data ourselves and apply it to our business for predictive modeling of services needed per each season and tailor our services offered accordingly. We not only share these service offerings with our clients, but we also aim to raise awareness of the effects of climate and educate our clients on steps they can take to assure they have a solid lawn-care plan for each season.

Services we track include the U.S. Drought Monitor, the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) and the University of Minnesota Department of Horticulture Science. On February 14, 2013, The U.S. Drought Monitor, released a study that places large portions of northwest, west central, southwest, and south central Minnesota in the Extreme Drought category. Minneapolis falls into the Severe category (see map) while southwestern falls into the Extreme category. This site gives us historical context and a national picture of what’s going on climate-wise with weekly updates.

Of recent positive note is CPC’s movement for Minnesota into the Improvement category in their February 7-April 30, 2013, Drought Prediction Survey, based on two large snow events with high water content, occurring over the last three weeks (mid Jan – early Feb), See http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/expert_assessment/seasonal_drought.html. We like that CPC’s predictions factor in the effects of recent precipitation and we can reference it biweekly for updates.

Lastly, we look to the U of M and their wealth of data on climate and horticulture. They state that Minnesota’s interesting climate — which in a single year can produce temperatures ranging from -50 to 100° F — offers researchers and students a special opportunity to study plant life in extreme conditions.The site is a good resource for navigating lawn care in Minnesota. We like their optimistic attitude even if their statement about extreme temperature ranges keeps us on edge. Visit their site here.

GH’s assessment of all of this data, shapes our message to our clients this March: homeowners should be concerned about their lawns and take some additional steps this spring. Find out more about mulching, lawn repair and Spring Clean-Up Services.


A Tech-Savvy Approach

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Handling Mother Nature with a Tech-Savvy Approach

The weather in Minnesota brings a wealth of unpredictability for landscape and snow removal businesses. XX years ago we implemented new technology to continue to deliver on our promise of efficient and exceptional customer service and to stay on top of the curve balls Mother Nature consistently throws.

GoPlow.com, an online service that connects the professional snow and ice management industry, based on a 2012 State of the Industry Survey, said that the majority of snow and ice professionals aren’t using technology to its full potential for their business. Only 45% are using smartphones, 14% are using GPS and an even fewer 8% are using free software and technology to their advantage. See http://goplow.com/business/smartphone-technology-for-snow-ice-professionals.html
published in November 2012. It should be noted that some of these services that can benefit these business types are free and are provided through smartphone apps, GPS technology and weather radar, for example.

GuyWithTabletOutside

At Green Horizons, we employ a variety of free and purchased technology for our business.
My goal has been to use technology that will make our internal processes more efficient and create a proper balance of in-person and automated customer service interactions. On the back end, our investment to continually upgrade and add technology has allowed our business to better manage our services and increase our customer responsiveness. On the front end, we still believe there is value in having that personal touch to our service and getting to know our customers and we continue to provide that in-person. We look to technology via the smartphone and web to help us respond to our customers’ busy lives and their immediate needs for our services.

Technology is engrained in our culture – the more our employees and customers use it and become confortable with it, the more we continue to push for advancements and new uses. The data gathering alone has helped with predictability even in an external environment, which we cannot control. Employees are more satisfied because they have the tools to be efficient in their work and communications.

And because we actively use technology, we are able to offer a more tech savvy services to a growing number of our customers who prefer our online and mobile phone scheduling service options. For example, customers get pushed real-time updates on their service status via text if they so choose. We also spend less time and expense on the job management side directly resulting in increased time to devote to our customer’s larger-picture needs and add value to their planning on a seasonal or annual basis.

Here’s a little behind-the-scenes look at how our operation is set up:
Every customer’s house has a location identification number that allows us to manage services for specific routes and crews on any given day, including routine and one-time services. Prior to dispatching any crew, they know their full plan for the shift. They also know that additional jobs may pop up or others may fall off for whatever reason. It’s all managed through our home office in real-time and only works because the crew is logging in when they arrive at each customer’s home.

Step 1: When the crew arrives at each location, they input the customer’s location ID into their smartphone and the GPS checks the location for the most current information for that particular customer’s service order. If service is still scheduled, a light on their phone turns from red to green, prompting them to read the details of the order, start the job and confirm they have started the job via their smartphone.

Step 2: Back at the main office, the crew’s timetable is updated based on estimates and is continually accessed to determine if new services can efficiently be scheduled if needed. When the crew finishes, they confirm they have completed the job via their smartphone. At that time they can also type in any notes or comments pertaining to the job.

Step 3: The crew checks their shift route to see if any changes have occurred. They proceed to the next location.

TabletGrowingPlant

All of this information is relayed in real-time to our web-based routing program. It’s been a tremendous asset to our office staff and crews. For example, during a recent snowfall, our dispatcher, Mario, was able to check the progress of all the routes online. He noticed that a crew in West Bloomington was having difficulties and was way behind. He was able to check some other routes in the area and discovered that they were almost finished with their list of homes to service for the shift. As a result, he was able to dispatch them to the sites in need of additional help to clear all the snow for those customers in a timely manner. An added benefit: This was all done from our dispatcher’s home online in the middle of the night.

When I think of the unpredictability in our business, it becomes even more apparent to me that the integrated use of many technologies is essential and will only improve our business and responsiveness. Are you a Green Horizons customer? What has your experience been with our online services and reporting?


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