#27- The 3 Things You Need For A Great Lawn

Just because you are hiring a lawn company does not mean everything will be perfect and that you do not have to do anything. In this episode we talk about the three main parts to a healthy lawn and the importance the homeowner plays in all of this. 

To have an amazing lawn you need to feed the lawn and soil, water correctly, and mow correctly. Often I see many people do 1 or 2 of the 3 and expect an amazing lawn. But that's not how it works. These are things you have to watch and inspect each month throughout the entire season. 


Hey, hey everyone, what is up? This is Ete with another episode of Eco Lawn Science. Hope you're having a great day. Mine's going pretty well. Thanks for asking. Today I want to talk a little bit about expectations when you have a lawn care service. 

So when you have a company like mine that is out there performing the treatments on your property, trying to get the weeds out, keep that lawn healthy and you're hiring those guys, you know, there's some work that you have to do as the homeowner to really make this work. And I want to kind of jump into that because that comes up a lot. I recently interviewed a landscaper in Park City as someone I look up to, respect a lot, for one of my other shows–I have a show called The Company Next Door where I interview other entrepreneurs, anyway–and she said this. She does installs and she, you know, does incredible work on some of the best, greatest properties in Park City. And she said, you know, she said, Ete, what I do is when I show up, I listen to the client: so the homeowner, their needs. And then I listen to the property, the landscape. And I kind of help this whole conversation and I connect them. 

And I really liked that, uh, that approach. And I think we're missing that sometimes in this industry. You know, it's just, we come, we ride big machines, we blow off, we make a lot of noise and, and we, we get the lawn looking good and we do the right things there. But sometimes there's this like, it's disconnected. The homeowner might not understand something: Well, why is this happening? Why don't I have this? I pay you guys, why is my lawn not perfectly green? And so anyway, that's kind of what's led to this conversation today. So a little bit about that is we can only do, and I say we as service professionals, we can only do so much, right? 

The best clients, my favorite clients and the favorite lawns that I've been able to work on over the years are the ones where the homeowner and the, the company they hire, are locked up. You know, they have the same understandings, they have a great communication and they're working in some ways, side-by-side to get the best lawn. And that doesn't mean they're calling me every week, "Hey, I just saw this, this," but it's just more, we locked that up before we start: the right values and the right goals and everything is just clear. And then there is a system of communication where they understand, hey, when something's not right, let me, let me check in with these guys. And I don't have to check in yelling and screaming. Like some people could like, you know, "Why is there a weed? I pay you!" without really truly understanding, you know, the biology and what's going on in the soil. Because we obviously can't control that as service companies, but people really believe that sometimes. And so, but working together in this, this kind of synergistic way where there's a great communication and a great reply and things are getting done. 

And so as far as expectations go, you know, we as service professionals, we can apply the fertilizers, you know, we can take care of the weeds, we can feed your soil, we can add organics to the soil and build it up and compost teas. We can do all this, but if other parts aren't done, this is really not that valuable. You know, we can't own our own, take a, a living organism and make it green when we're there once every five weeks. It just doesn't happen.

And the two biggest parts...So it's kind of a three piece deal, right? You've got the feeding and the growth and the weed control and the soil biology, that all that, that's one. That's, that's the company you hire. Then over here, the second one–think of a triangle–the second little, little corner is the maintenance: the mowing, the weed whacking around the edges, you know, the edging, the blowing off, you know, those types of parts. That, that's the second part. And the third part really is the irrigation, is the watering. So as you know, that triangle, the company you hire, they only can help with the one thing. But without everything, those three corners working, you know, synced up, it's not going to be that ultimate result. You're not going to maximize the money and you may not be happy. Because sometimes people think, "I hire you to make my lawn green. Why isn't it green?" And depending on where you are, like especially here in Utah, irrigation is everything. And so yeah, I can feed and treat and, and work at the biology all night and all day, but without those other two pieces really dialed in, I can't make, I really can't make a ton of improvement that I want to make. And that frustrates me. And so that's not a good fit.

And so let's talk a little bit about the other pieces because this part you're already hiring out if you're using a company. If you're not, then yeah, we're talking about fertilizing, we're talking about, you know, feeding the soil, the things I've mentioned. But then the other part with the mowing, one thing I see is a lot of companies, people will hire companies and they'll mow too low, they'll scalp the lawn. Or they're just constantly running heavy machinery when the lawn's a little wet. The timing's wrong and they damaged and they stressed the lawn out. I've seen it. And then peak of summer, 99 degrees, the lawn is brown and dormant and people are out mowing on top, just adding more stress, right? And so those really aren't good practices. And those are all working against what we're trying to do. Not only are they not helping, they're actually counteracting. And so that's, that's where you got to have that sync up. You know, ideally you want to mow higher. I actually recommend going up quite a bit, three and a half to four inches. And I know some people will freak out at that. But hear me out. 

Let me tell you some of the benefits that we're looking at when you can move it up. And just so you know, what I'm sharing today is backed up by many universities. But the one that I liked the most was put out by the Michigan State University Extension and they love three and a half to four inches and, and I've always loved that as well. So here's some of the reasons why. You know, when you mow low, you're going to scalp the lawn. When they cut it too low, they scalp it, that's really harmful and adds a lot of stress to the lawn. So when your blades are up, the chances of scalping are significantly less. It also allows you to clip like 20-30% of the leaf blade each time you mow, which is kind of the ideal proportion for it to be beneficial, to regenerate. You know, there's a lot of benefits to that. It helps to establish the larger root system, which the result of that is it's more drought tolerant, right? When the summer comes, it survives well because the root system has just been flourishing. It helps with broadleaf weed and even crab grass control. And people are like, what are you talking about? It's because when you can grow higher, it shades that soil surface, keeping it a lower temperature. And as you know, the higher that temperature gets in the soil, the more chances and the more rapidly those weeds are going to germinate. And it also helps to kind of fight off grubs because of that larger root mass, you know. And one last thought on that is, because it helps minimize the weeds and the grubs, the best part of that is you're not using as much weed controls and you're not having to use as many insecticides on the lawn, which also benefits the microbiology down below the soil.

So yeah. So raise those blades up, keep them sharp, make sure they're sharpened routinely so that they're not just ripping. And the other thing is make sure they're cleaned. A lot of people don't clean their blades. You may have a company that they'll come and mow and they'll mow 30 lawns in a day and those blades don't get cleaned for months. The problem is some, that can be a carrier for some diseases, some fungus that will attack the lawn. Spores, they will attach to those blades and you will spread it to the next property. A client could get, you know, a fungus issue and say, "Hey, I'm hiring you guys. Why do I have fungus?" Well, it's because of this, you know, and so again, we got to work lockstep with the mowing companies. 

Okay, let's talk about the third corner in our little triangle, which is irrigation. So here in Utah we have great rainfall or snow throughout the spring, usually throughout May, you know, there's all kinds of snow and rain and just we get plenty of spring moisture and then June it starts to dry up, but homeowners who have, who take care of their landscapes, they'll have some type of irrigation. So they'll run those in June, but come July, August, we don't see a single drop often in July or August. And so, and June as well, often so you could go two to three months without it. And so we subsidize it with our irrigation. And again, that's, that's part of the problem too. Every lawn is going to be a little bit different as far as how much water it needs. It's going to, you know, the soil type, the soil structure, those are all the components that are going to define what does it really need.

But some kind of important things that I like... You know, obviously it's a big concern here in Utah because we are in a drought area. And so the state has really come down and they've created something called Slow the Flow. And that is a program, and I've actually met the director and I've been to some of the things, but basically you can sign up and for free, they'll come out and they'll run tests for your sprinklers basically to make sure are they set up and efficient. You know, did you install yourself and put the wrong kind of heads in so that it's not being utilized? Are the timer's off, you know, those types of things and they'll help you and they'll guide you. So that's a great tool that I, I recommend and I love that, that our state's doing that.

But really that's the first part is making sure that your irrigation, you have the right heads, you know, you have the right, and that they're in the right places. I have on my property, a spot that browns out every year because the head that's supposed to hit this area is buried behind a huge rock. I mean a big boulder. And so the boulder gets plenty of water. Again, total waste and drives me loony. I'm trying to get it fixed. But that spot browns out because it's not getting hit. 

So one of the smartest things is again, you can utilize these programs, have them come out, they can give you a better plan if it's not, you know, effective. And then you can maybe redo or make the changes necessary. This is everything here. You've got to keep that lawn wet and again at every property it's going to be different what I mean by wet, but you know, on average, you know, maybe an inch a week, it really is gonna depend, you know, on, you know, is it a shady area? You can put less. Is it a sunny area? It might need more. But just this idea of, this is such a crucial part. You know, we can fertilize it and mow right. But if it's not being watered properly, the food's not going to go where it needs to go. It's just going to dry out. It's, we, you know, we're a mile high up in the sky here, you know, our elevation. So that plays into it. 

What I'm trying to say in all this is your expectations...You can have a great lawn. You can have a great landscape. But first, make sure you understand these three corners of this triangle, you know, the irrigation, the feeding, food source, and then the mowing and make sure they're all sync together and make sure they're all working together.

You know, from my company when we're out and we see in the summer, on a client, a spot that looks like it's going to be drought, you know, we try to notify them. "Hey," (we send them an email), "just so you know you know"–or we take a picture–"this is what we saw." You know, "Can you go ahead and check your sprinklers?" And there's this whole thing. 

But if everyone works together, then yeah, you can have a great lawn, a great property. But if not, and you're just doing one of the three things, that's, that's where it gets hard. And so as simple as this all sounds, you'd be surprised how many times I get that phone call, "Hey, you guys came out, but it's not as green as it should be." And then I come to find out, "Oh, our sprinklers have been off for a month," you know, and it's like, well, okay. Or "Oh yeah, it hasn't been mowed in two months and we've got weeds everywhere." You know? And so it can be very frustrating and so anyway, that's what led to this, this episode. 

So hopefully this helps. I know this was a pretty simple one, but I guess it needs to be heard cause it's always coming in. Anyway, have a great day.

Over the past few years robot lawn mowers have popped onto the scene. They are getting better and smarter each year. Should you fire your crew and go grab some of these? Will they replace humans in the near future? How effective are they? What do they cost? All this and more....


Hey, hey. Hope everyone's doing well out there. Welcome back to another episode of EcoLawn Science. Today I want to talk about something that I've been fascinated with over the last, I guess the last year. And that is robots. 

I went to a conference and we talked about the future of technology in the lawn care industry specifically, but also have gone to some other things since and just looked at the future of bots in all industries and can start seeing the writing on the wall, see what's happening. I could start, you know, you can, once you learn what they're capable of, you can see what kind of jobs won't be around, and you can kind of plan for it. I like the idea. I am not afraid of bots. I think they're coming. They're here and so we need to embrace them and understand them so we can figure out how to best utilize them in our lives. Otherwise, we'll probably get run out of business. You know, there's gonna be some level of automation and bots in your business in the next few years. 

I got fascinated with bots and then for Christmas my mother-in-law got me one of those Roombas, the bot that runs around your house and vacuums. And, um, I think it's a Shark brand and it's, it’s phenomenal. I just, I'm fascinated with it. I had a great Christmas, but that was probably the thing I was just freaking out about just cause I've been so into bots lately. And, you know, pulled it out, put the batteries in, and within a few minutes, not even, within two minutes that thing was ready to go and we did a test run, and it's incredible. You know, we have two little kids at home, so we're always sweeping the floors because they're always making a mess. We have a lot of visitors, and so we're sweeping one, at least one to two times a day, and we've had it now for a few weeks, and basically all we do at night is we pick everything off the floor, put it on the couch, and let that bought run around the whole downstairs, and it's awesome. I wake up, my floors are clean, but I love my experience with my little robot. I call him Robi, um, and love watching him clean, and I'm just sitting there doing something else, and I think it's exciting and it's really cool. 

So anyway, so let's talk about lawn care, let’s talk about bots and lawn care. So you may or may not have seen: we now have bots, little, like our Roombas, that can go ahead and mow the lawn for you. It's a little complicated, and there's a couple things that I think they still need to create solutions for. But to me it's fascinating and exciting technology. They've been selling them. They've sold over a million of these robots in Europe over the past decade. And so now they're finally hitting the states on a larger scale, and you can get them all over. You can get them, homeowners can go buy them, you know, they start as low as 1500 bucks, and they could go up as high as, I've seen one for 4 or 5 thousand dollars. 

Um, and even more interesting is there’s companies now popping up around America that literally purchased the bots, and they employ them. So imagine your landscaper, but instead of the two or three guys that show up to cut the grass, he just drops off a little robot. And that's happening. So I want to dig into that a little bit because I didn't quite understand it, and share with you what I've learned. So they are limited, these bots, so they can mow the grass, but they can't weed wack, they can't edge, and obviously they can't blow off the mess. So there's a little bit of limited–but what's really neat about them is they just work all the time. So imagine your vacuum robot at home, my Robi, it goes around, and when it's tired, it backs itself up and it docks and it recharges and then it goes back out. 

And that's essentially how these lawn robots are working, but what’s kind of, so what happens is you can call the company to come out. So let's say you're gonna hire a company, a lawn company that uses robots. And so the first visit, they show up and they'd install some type of fencing. It's like a perimeter. It's obviously not a fence, but some wiring that kind of tells the bot where not to go. And there's a little bit of work on the install, and sometimes there can be a price, they may charge you a price extra for the install. 

And then what happens is you're essentially leasing that bot from them each month. So some companies may say, okay, it's 100 bucks a month throughout the growing season, so let's say 7 months. So 700 bucks, I'm gonna set it up, I'm going to, you know, set the perimeter fencing. I'm gonna teach it what it needs means to do. And this thing is gonna be on your property all 7 months of the year working rain or shine. 

And here's some really cool things about the bots: obviously, they're solar. A lot of them are solar powered, so that's just, you know, talk about eco-friendly. That's next level. Even if you have a lawn service, and we get rainy days, they’re behind. With the bots, they can actually cut in a light rain because they're not heavy, they're very light. And so they don't track up, they don't put tracks in your grass like a big mower. They don't damage it, and they can, I think if it's pouring rain, they may, they may go back and dock, but a lighter, medium rain they could still work. 

Because they're out there all the time, they're hardly cutting a lot of inches, so the lawn stays, whatever you program it–let's say you program at two-and-a-half, three inches somewhere in there, a healthy turfgrass length–and the lawn literally stays there, once it gets going, all year. I mean, you don't have to, you know, if your guys come once a week, sometimes for me, by the sixth day my lawn needs to be cut. And so this, it looks perfect all year. They're cutting off little pieces at a time, and so there's no, it just drops the clippings back into the lawn without causing any damage, because it's not like it's two inches of clipping. It might be an eighth of an inch because it's there every day. And so it's cool. So you're recycling the nutrients from the grass clippings without causing a massive thatch buildup. 

And they're incredible little bots. And so one of the cool things is so when you get it, if you hire a company, that's, that's providing the service because you might think, I'll just go by my own. While the company is generally gonna fully ensure that robot, so if somebody steals it, if it breaks, you don't have to worry about it. They put GPS tracking devices on each bot, and so they, to the point where they can actually be notified if a bot leaves your property and it's automatically disabled.

They’re safe for pets and kids, that's a big question. What happens is, it’s got a very sensitive bumper on it. As soon as it taps anything it just stops. So one of the complicated things about it is if you have a gate, you know the bot can’t normally go from front to back lawn. But some companies I've seen have designed their own little patent, like a robot door, and basically it's like, it's a really cool little fence. I haven't seen one in person, but I've researched it a bit. It's a little fence, like, picture a doggy door, but the robot can go under. But then, as soon as it goes under it like locks, so the pets can't get out, the kids are safe, no one's going to get out, but the bot can go back and forth. 

Here's some cool things: it's very quiet. So typical landscaping or lawn mowing is limited to the day hours. You don’t want to be out there 6 a.m. or 7p.m. annoying all your neighbors. These bots are so quiet they can run throughout the night. So really cool technology there. 

As far as, you know, one of the big things I've seen people ask are what about if I have leaves or fallen trees. Actually, these little bots do a great job, some of them, of mulching up small sticks and leaves and moving them out of their way. So if there is a heavy, if you had a big storm and big branches came down, then yeah, you’d either need to hire someone to remove them or you would need to move the big ones. But the little things you don't even have to worry about. 

As far as, yeah, we talked a little bit about blade length. It can cut anywhere from 1 1/4 to 3 1/2 inches, which is awesome. I always recommend a higher, people like to cut their lawns too short–causes a lot of issues. 

So most of the bots that I've seen, on a commercial level, are only able to cut up to about half an acre of grass. So if you've got a four acre property, you're gonna need more than one of these bots, and you're going to set up different, different stations. 

And something else that I thought was pretty cool is you can actually program them at a certain time. So if you're running your sprinklers, if you got your pets out certain times, you could just have these bots work around it. So it's pretty cool. 

So I think some of the benefits to hiring a company is you know, they insure them, um, they have these custom doors, they maintain them because, you're like starting at 1500 for a bot, plus the setup. And so there's a little bit of an advantage on both sides. Now here's the tricky part, is if you hire a company, it's only gonna mow the grass. So if you want your sidewalks and edges trimmed and weed wacked, it can't do that. So what I've seen is the companies that are doing this, they'll deploy their bots and they leave the bot on your property, but they might come over once every other week or every 10 days, and they might edge out the property and do the weed wacking. 

So there's some of the pros and cons of the bots, and I believe the technology is just gonna keep improving, especially over the next three or four years. You know, one of the biggest issues with mowing lawns is, is to have the staff, to have the team and to get the people that will show up on time, will work hard, make it look great. You know, by the time you get into payroll, by the time you get into work visas and all these things, it's really costly. Your margins are shrinking because of your overhead in the labor field. And so, I think with the bots, in my mind, it's an up front cost. So you might spend two grand the first year, or fifteen hundred to two grand depending on the bot, the first year and so you're gonna break even. But then the next year, once that bot is paid for, think about that, if you get 10 years out of it, it's literally like having an employee for 10 years for free, in some sense. And so I really like that concept, especially as labor is getting harder and harder to find. I think that's great. I think, you know, obviously you could scale down your business. 

So here's the tricky thing if you have one bot per property. So let's say you have 100 properties that you mow on a weekly basis. You gotta buy 100 bots. So you're gonna be in that one 100-plus thousand dollars up front. But again, if you have the capital to take that kind of hit, knowing that the second year those bots are paid off and you've got 100 employees really that are out there working and all you're doing is maintaining them, that's a pretty cool little business model. And, and then you just send one, you know, you have a maybe a truck or two that has a guy in it with a weed wacker and an edger, and then you just send those trucks out and they could go through and hit, just because they're doing that, they could probably hit 30, 40, 50 properties a day. So you do the math. I mean, it's really cool, and I think it's exciting. 

Um, there is, one of the leaders in this, in the bot mowing technology is a company called Robin Autopilot, and they're actually a franchise. They're looking for people that want to get into it and start their own companies. I've looked into some of their franchise fees, into what they recommend for insurance, investments, and usually you're gonna come in somewhere around 80-100,000 to really get in. There’s about a $30,000 franchise fee. There's an initial robot package. You know you have to have basic equipment, initial advertising and marketing just your normal business costs. But again, once you get this in and rolling, think about that. If you have 500 bots, think about how many lawns, I mean, think about how you could maintain 500 lawns, really with a small crew, and the best part is those lawns always stay at the perfect length all year. So think about how happy your customer will be. For the homeowners, if you're a DIY kind of person and you want to save money in the long term, you could go by the nice commercial bot. You could spend a little more, three grand, you know, it’s a little more extra to program it. But if you're not afraid of maintaining the bot, if you're not afraid of doing the weed wacking, edging yourself, think about that. You could, you could spend three grand and never have to mow your lawn again as long as the length of the bots. So hopefully that's 5,8,10 years. 

So either side, I think there's a place for this. I think like anything you know, there's still some human interaction that has to happen. We have to, humans have to set it up, they have to maintain them, they have to bring them in for the winter. But overall, I think it's a great tool to have, and I think you could build a great business. And I'm actually very excited about this technology. I hope, I know it's a little bit, it's quite a disrupter. I have a lot of friends in the lawn mowing industry and so I will be anxious and watching to see if they embrace it, if they fight it, and where this goes, and in fact I'll probably have some of them on the show to talk more about it from, from an actual lawn mowing company’s perspective. 

So anyway, there you have it. Exciting tech future is here. Embrace it  or run from it, that's up to you. But I think this is a great spot. I think these bots could play a great role in helping us, either on the business side but also on the homeowner side, just automate and make life simpler. Hope you guys have gotten something out of this. I hope you've enjoyed it. Have a great day and I see you on the next show.

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