THE PITCH: Toro’s Z Master 7500-G is designed to keep crew numbers to a minimum and enhance productivity.

THE PITCH: With an all-new suspension system, the Ferris ISX3300 offers a mechanical upgrade and a new look.

THE PITCH: Hustler’s Super 88 zero-turn features the cut quality of a 54-inch deck and productivity of an 88-inch cut.

THE PITCH: The Parker HTE Series transmission is designed to last longer while delivering more power, a quieter performance and 10% better fuel efficiency than previous models.

THE PITCH: The Z955R machine is equipped with a Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) engine, and is designed to increase fuel efficiency and productivity during long days of work.

When Ross Heinen first tried smart irrigation controllers nearly a decade ago, he and his company were unimpressed.

He found the products to be inconsistent. Email alerts never came when systems were failing, or working out the bugs in systems brought more fatigue than implementing the systems was actually worth. Explaining the potential perks to customers was also difficult, especially when the systems overpromised and underdelivered.

But now, Heinen says he’s hopped back on the bandwagon because the technology has progressed so much. At his company, Puryear Farms in Gallatin, Tennessee, Heinen – the operations manager – and his team are even pushing smart controllers at the front end of their sales pitches. The smart controllers used to be just an add-on where you could take a stab at selling it and see if customers would pay extra; now, they can show how water savings over time pay off for the end user.

“Web-based connectivity is the biggest thing. Now, it’s on your phone, it’s on the computer, six guys can have access to it if they need to. It’s actually portable now,” Heinen says. “Yes, this is going to cost you a couple thousand dollars up front, but we can save you a couple hundred dollars every month on your water bill, so it pays for itself quickly.”

The wave of interest in smart controllers is definitely powered by technological advancements, but those aren’t just limited to irrigation tools. Clients are seemingly upgrading everything in their homes: Whether it’s monitoring a security camera or turning on their favorite TV shows, many things can be done on cell phones.

“It’s the way things are going,” says Jason Pyle, who works in franchise support at Conserva Irrigation. “Everyone wants what they want and they want it now. Just having connectivity at your fingertips, being able to access everything on your phone. You can turn your lights on in your house for crying out loud, open your garage door. There’s no reason why you can’t operate your irrigation controller.”

Mark Morgan, Jr., the account manager at The Morgan Landscape Group in North Carolina, says his company really started installing smart controllers in 2017. Now, he estimates 90% of the clients he pitches on smart controllers will go for it, which is especially nice given that his client base is largely high-end residential. He also says almost all controllers he replaces for his long-time clients are now smart controllers.

He’s noticed a majority of his customers who buy into smart controllers are younger, though he also adds that assuring clients they won’t need to do any additional work makes the sell easier. For his crew, it’s easier anyway to make adjustments remotely rather than arranging a time to have the client let them into their property to tweak fault systems.

“It’s a pretty easy sell, honestly, and it makes our jobs a lot easier on our end,” Morgan says. “We say, ‘Hey, we can install one of these and we never have to bother you again.’”

Pyle says that some think the market is too early to adapt smart controller technology because of a lack of clarity. WiFi can be a buzzword and people think they understand it even if they really don’t.

“Some people say smart controller and don’t know what it means,” Pyle says. “The ambiguity comes with a lack of education and from people not taking the time to want to sell it.”

What’s more, there’s so many options now to the point where it can be tough to keep up. Mike Strick from Carefree Lawn Sprinklers in Illinois has been in the business for 32 years and has seen lots of different controllers. He says in the late 80s or 90s, there was a new product option every five or 10 years. Now, there’s something different on the market every few months.

The trick is to maintain a good relationship with the manufacturers, Strick says. They might let you test out some of their new products and decide what works best for your company.

“It’s nice to see what’s out there, what we can anticipate, but learning about it and staying current is much more difficult than knowing if it’s something’s going to be around long-term,” Strick says. “There’s a fine line between being leading edge and being too far ahead.”

Morgan echoes this advice, adding that the support has been outstanding from his manufacturers. Any time he has a question, the manufacturers will get back with him the same day if there’s an email. They also update their settings and software based on suggestions or questions from the users.

“If I have an issue setting it up or adding a user, they’ll help,” he says. He’s a pretty tech-savvy guy and can fix most problems, but he knows he has limitations – he jokes that he’s definitely not a member of Geek Squad.

“They update the app and have continually added things,” Morgan says. “It’s like you’re getting a new controller almost.”

Smart controllers aren’t perfect, of course. Heinen says he longs for the day when smart controllers could be connected to other systems. Once the decoder is in for their two-wire systems, they’re married to that brand of smart controllers. Meanwhile, Morgan says sometimes customers can get too handsy with their systems and over or underwater their properties based on their own ideas of what’s best for their lawns.

“It’s their house, their property, they can do what they want, but I tell them, ‘Hey, I’d hold off on doing that extra watering,’” Morgan says.

Strick says that when there are issues, they often arise because of connectivity issues. When a controller loses connection, some will reboot automatically while others won’t.

A customer expects irrigation technicians to monitor their systems, but sometimes, they won’t know something is wrong until a few days later.

“It’s a reliability issue. Just like everyone’s cell phone, there are some places where you’re without service. We’ve found that there’s a lot of finger pointing going on,” Strick says. “Customers are looking for something that’s always going to be 100%. We’re not there.”

Ultimately, Strick also adds that these problems are far better than the alternative of not having smart controllers at all.

He’s been impressed with how many different choices there are in smart controllers now, and he encourages anybody who is interested in diving into using them to sample their products first.

“When they were getting started, customers were looking at it as a gadget. They were looking for one more thing to add to their smart home,” Strick says. “But then the customers realized that these controllers have the ability to do a lot more with water savings, making you aware of problems before your yard turns brown. Everybody’s got something that’s a little bit different now, so we’ve got to give the customer more than one option these days.” L&L

Turn your client’s firepit vision into a safe, appealing feature that fits into the overall landscape design.

Whether you’re in Tucson or Chicago, there’s one definitive smell that marks the start of fall when the first cool evening hits. “The entire town smells like a fire,” says Geno Neri, owner of Neri Landscape and Maintenance outside of Chicago.

With its familiar and primal allure, fire can extend the enjoyment of a patio or landscape as the seasons start to shift. Although it may not be a central focus during the day, a fire feature steals the show as soon as the sun goes down – providing heat and light that can keep the party roaring and set the mood for a memorable outdoor experience.

“The firepit is sort of the dream that people want when they come home. They want to hang out with friends and cook hot dogs and S’mores over the flames,” says Neri, estimating that at least 75 percent of the patios he designs and builds include a fire feature. “Fire makes a nice central gathering point, and it makes the patio go longer when we get cold nights.”

As the centerpiece of a successful landscape, firepits must be done right to be safe and functional, while also beautiful and unique enough to meet each customer’s needs. Here are the steps recommended by landscape contractors to design firepits that stand apart.

Most of Bill Krause’s landscape clients come to Terra Design through referrals. “They’ll say, ‘I saw what you did over at Joe’s house, and I want that,’” says Krause, past president of the Arizona Landscape Contractors Association, who received the ALCA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. “But we have to design it to fit their needs, their personality, and their project.”

Likewise, before Neri starts any patio, he asks his clients plenty of questions to discover what they have in mind. “The biggest thing is the communication; really talking to them and finding out what they’re looking for and what they’re going to use it for,” Neri says. “The key is taking the time to ask the additional questions to get to the root of what kind of experience they’re looking for from their firepit.”

For example, if a customer plans to cook out over their fire, Neri wants to know how often and for how many people. These kinds of questions will determine the size and placement of a firepit, and even the type of fuel it uses.

“If they’re going to use it more often, like every couple of days, then I’m going to recommend a gas starter for convenience,” Neri says. “If someone wants a wood-burning fire, then (I ask) where they’re going to be in a few years. Are they still going to get the kindling and the wood to start the fire, or are they going to want something a little easier, where they can just turn the key and light the fire?”

Neri installs just as many wood-burning features as natural gas firepits. Generally, he says, “it seems like the men more likely want to build the big wood fire, whereas lots of times, women are just looking to turn it on and get it going.” If he has to mediate the two, he’ll suggest a compromise of a gas starter to ignite regular wood.

Your client may have a dream of their ideal fire feature, but as the contractor, you’re the expert on what’s realistic and appropriate, according to local safety standards.

As much as customers love the idea of burning wood, it might not be the best choice – especially in dry climates. “Everybody loves the smell of mesquite wood burning, but in the desert, we have to protect from the sparks,” says Krause, who’s based in Tucson. “We have to put screens on the chimney as well as the opening of the fireplace, because we don’t want wood popping and starting the desert on fire.”

That’s why Krause tries to steer clients toward natural gas firepits with on/off valves and safety locks for more control. About 75 percent of the fire features he installs are fueled by natural gas – and since all gas pipes in Arizona require permits, he must follow city and county laws that dictate the size of gas pipe he can run to each feature.

While certain rules may limit the possibilities for firepits, consider how the stipulations might fuel your creativity.

“In our area, a firepit with a three-foot opening needs to be 25 feet away from the house,” Neri says. “That’s one of the things that we’re always educating our customers about. In yards with bigger patios, that’s not a problem, but if we’re on a small lot, that 25-foot rule can limit where you’re putting that firepit.”

Since the local code does allow a 30-inch temporary firepit structure, Neri often integrates that into small patio designs instead. “We might build a platform for that (portable firepit) to be on,” he says, “and we still design everything around that.”

The key to building a firepit with “wow” appeal is making it a cohesive part of the whole landscape.

For example, if fire codes prohibit a firepit on the patio near the house, Neri might move the fire feature to a remote corner of the yard, and then design a path leading to it. “We don’t want it to be an eyesore like a wishing well sticking out in the middle of the yard,” he says. “Sometimes we have to landscape around it differently to make sure it’s incorporated.”

Whether you’re adding a fire feature to an existing landscape or starting a whole design from scratch, the firepit needs to fit in.

“Form and function are key,” Krause says. “A lot of projects I’ve been to (look like someone said), ‘Oh, let’s just throw in a firepit,’ as an afterthought. The fire feature needs to fit the function of the landscape, as well as the look, the feel and the flow. So, when we do a project, we design the overall landscape as a whole package that all flows together.”

Selecting materials that match the surrounding landscape is the secret to creating firepits that fit. “You can’t just use some random material that’s not found anywhere else in the yard,” Krause says. “It needs to look like it belongs there.”

Speaking of materials, Neri says firepits have been trending toward more natural products, like natural stone and boulders, instead of concrete blocks. By finding creative ways to feature natural materials, contractors can spruce up firepits to match any surroundings.

“We still do a lot of the concrete firepits, but we’ve been doing more of the flagstone masonry and other natural products,” Neri says. “If you’re trying to stand out and do something a little bit different, come up with a different combination of materials.”

For instance, Neri might cap a traditional cement block firepit with natural stone to match the accents in the surrounding seat walls and patio pillars, to create a contrast with a brick patio.

Krause prefers to stick to similar materials. Since rock gardens are popular in the Southwest, he says boulder firepits fit right into the natural stone surroundings. But he advises clients to stay consistent in the overall theme of their landscape.

“A lot of homeowners look on the internet and they’ll come up with a nice natural rock garden, and then they want a standard concrete fireplace. But that doesn’t quite fit with what we’re doing here,” he says. “If we’re doing a nice formal garden, then we won’t put in a natural boulder firewall that doesn’t go with the setting.”

Neri’s firepit business has been fairly stable, and he expects it to remain steady. Krause, who estimates that about half of his company’s projects include a fire feature, thinks this service will grow as homeowners continue to realize the value of creating their own resort experience at home.

“People are staying home more and not going out and blowing money like they were before the recession hit,” Krause says. “We’re spending a lot of time at home, so let’s have our own little resort in our backyard, versus going to a resort and spending hundreds of dollars over the weekend.”

As this trend continues, he sees more opportunities for contractors who can effectively translate a client’s backyard dream into a cohesive landscape centered around a firepit that fits the form and function of the space.

Utility vehicles aren’t solely for fun anymore – landscapers have been using them in various capacities.

Already wildly popular, sales of UTVs are only expected to grow thanks to their versatility, power, and expanding model lines and capabilities.

A recent study by BrandEssence Market Research estimates that the UTV market will reach $6.47 billion in sales by 2025 – an average compound annual growth rate of almost 7% per year over the next five years.

While UTVs have been available on the market for years, their popularity in a wide range of sectors – from lawn and landscape work to farming, hunting, golf course and even hotel/resort maintenance – has driven new suppliers into the market for the first time and encouraged longtime manufacturers to expand their UTV product lines to fit growing demand.

“I went to a meeting of a professional grounds and maintenance society, and it was amazing how many fleets of our machines are at luxury hotels, or are being used by crews to spray applications on center islands of roads or on college grounds or other large properties,” says Roger Gifford, product marketing manager with Kubota.

Thanks to available add-ons like salt spreaders and snowplows or snowblowers, many units have true year-round usability. “At a (GIE+EXPO) snow and ice management meeting last year, before I could even start presenting, people were coming up to me saying, ‘Oh, we’re familiar with your (UTV) product. We run a fleet of 10 to 12,’” Gifford says. “They were using them everywhere from commercial sites to colleges to city sidewalks and railroad yards for ice and snow removal.”

Last year, Greenworks unveiled its new, electric-powered CU800 UTV, which has a 1,500-pound hitch towing capacity and runs up to 60 miles on a single charge of its 13.8 kilowatt-hour lithium battery.

“With a 12-inch clearance and 10-inch suspension, it can go pretty much anywhere off-road,” says Corey Fisher, Greenworks’ vehicle engineer. “For landscapers, it’s a very capable vehicle that can easily go up and down hills around properties, and with a 550-pound cargo capacity bed, you can store equipment and whatever tools you need for the job, along with two occupants.”

Greenworks also offers a smaller UTV – the CU500 – which offers a 1,250-pound hitch towing capability and 330 pounds of cargo capacity and is able to travel up to 70 miles on a single charge. Being electric, both UTVs are emissions free and essentially silent to run.

“These (two models) are the first UTVs that we’re coming out with, and we have a road plan ahead of us, where we’re going to be coming out with more models,” Fisher says. “This is just the first of many. The market is quite large and has everything from small, Gator-style vehicles to huge, four-person off-road units. This is our first foray into the market, and we plan on filling each of those categories with a unit.”

Kubota’s RTV-X1120 first launched in 2014, with an expanded line of new models hitting the market for 2018 production. “The original one was more of a deluxe model, then we introduced a worksite model and one that we call a general-purpose model,” says Gifford. “So, we have expanded the model offerings within that line.”

The diesel-powered RTV-X1120 product line now includes six distinct models, allowing customers to select from among a range of towing, power and cargo capacities to best suit their work needs.

“With a general-purpose model, you don’t have a hydraulic bed lift. You just have a base bumper in the front, and you don’t have tilt wheel. So, if you look at a nursery or garden center and you’re just using it to move potted plant material around the property, you don’t really need the hydraulic capacity of the bed,” Gifford says. “In a landscape application, maybe crews are pruning trees and want to (use the UTV) catch brush and get it in the bed. It’s good for that general purpose type of work.”

For a step up in power, Kubota’s X1120 worksite model offers fully hydraulic power steering, Gifford says. “The benefit there is that it has absolutely no steering wheel kickback when you’re going over rough terrain. That really enhances the comfort for the customer. And when you’re in extremely muddy conditions and under payload, the hydraulic (power) really makes it very easy to steer the machine.”

For crews needing even larger cargo capacity, the Kubota RTV-X1140 offers a cleverly designed, adaptable cargo bed that can convert to second-row seating when not in use for hauling. “You can convert from a 10 cubic foot bed to a 19.1 cubic foot bed in under a minute,” Gifford says.

Kubota also recently introduced a new, gas-powered line of UTVs – its Sidekick series – built for durability plus speed. Faster than Kubota’s diesel models (which top out at around 29 mph), the Sidekick can reach speeds of 40 mph.

“Landscape crews should investigate the tasks that will be performed with a UTV in order to select the right UTV for the job,” says Amy Peyton Vincent, UTV product specialist for Caterpillar.

The company currently offers four UTV models: the CUV82 (2-seat, gas-powered); CUV102 (2-seat, diesel-powered); the CUV85 (5-seat, gas-powered); and the CUV105 (5-seat, diesel-powered).

“Our CAT UTVs are designed to deliver durability, comfort and maintenance simplicity while enjoying a smooth ride on any terrain,” Vincent says. “All four models boast 1,000-pound capacity in the bed and 2,000-pound towing capacity.

The gas models reach speeds over 45 mph and the diesel models can reach 25 mph. Of course, opting for a multi-row UTV allows you to carry around more passengers on the worksite.”

When deciding which UTV is right for your crew, Vincent suggests focusing on three central features: fuel or power type (gas, diesel, or electric); speed required for the job at hand; and preferred rider capacity (one row versus two).

A key part of UTVs’ versatility is their compact size and maneuverability, allowing crews to do jobs even in the tightest of spaces – as well as the flexibility and freedom to cover large properties or fields with ease.

“Our machines are work machines. You can load your chainsaws, your firewood, your hay bales, whatever you need for fixing feces or going out and working in the field, that’s what they’re geared for,” says Joel Hicks, product development manager for KIOTI. “They’re a great fit for any off-road applications. These machines are certainly able to withstand the rigors of the environment and get you where you want to go.”

Currently, KIOTI offers two diesel-powered UTV lines, the MECHRON and the K9, available in multiple models. Both the MECHRON 2240 and the K9 2400 offer 1,598 pounds of payload capacity and 1,300 pounds of towing capacity, but the K9 features a slightly more sporty design.

“The K9 is our newest vehicle. It offers a few upgrades on creature comfort and storage,” Hicks says. “We started shipping those in late spring (2018), and we have seen an uptick in UTV sales since we launched that. That product has been well received by dealers and customers as well.”

Most manufacturers offer a range of add-ons and accessories to increase rider comfort and safety, from glass windshields and windshield wipers to safety lights, backup alarms, roof canopies, head rests, USB ports and more.

Caterpillar UTVs offer behind-seat storage areas, a glove box, dash storage and even cup holders. They also offer as much leg, elbow and headroom for riders in the second row as for those in the front seat, Vincent says.

On CAT UTVs, several safety upgrades come standard, including a horn, three-point seat belts, “certified steel tube ROPS (rollover prevention system), and a display system that includes advanced diagnostics,” Vincent says.

“Using the gas models’ display system, a top speed can be set and locked using the protective password so owners can set exactly how fast they want their machines traveling,” Vincent says.

All these features help ensure crews stay safe and comfortable while on the job – and that the task at hand gets done seamlessly.

“Our machines are really geared toward the work sector,” Hicks says. “They have large beds on them – roughly 59 to 60 inches wide. They have excellent ground clearance. They all have four-wheel drive, independent suspension, rear differential-lock, front-limited slip. They are capable of getting into and out of tight spaces.”

“UTVs combine the benefits of ATVs and pickup trucks into one easy to maneuver vehicle,” Vincent says. “They merge the load hauling and towing capacities crews want with the lightweight, off-road vehicle they need in the field.”

Stay in the holiday spirit by thinking about snow: Sustainable snow management is a concept the industry is still navigating.

Sustainable landscaping practices are easy to define and implement, in part due to the vast amount of research on how methods impact the surrounding environment and the laws that legislate chemical usage. However, achieving sustainable snow and ice management practices is something the industry is still working toward. For environmentally conscious companies, this means establishing and following our own guidelines in determining what’s best for our customers, our company and the planet.

In the 25 years we’ve been providing commercial snow removal and landscaping services to customers, we’ve prided ourselves on being stewards of the environment. And for the most part, we’ve been successful in this endeavor. Unfortunately, the practice of removing snow and ice isn’t the best for the earth. Ice-management products like salt and liquid deicers are essential to keeping pavement safe for walking and driving. Likewise, each product has a different level of impact on surrounding watersheds and soil, as well as plant and animal life. It’s forced us to do our due diligence and to take a close look at the following.

Over the years, signs of pollution in our water and soil has caused more people to take a closer look at the exact toll road salt and deicers have taken on the environment.

For example, researchers at the University of Minnesota found that 70% of the salt applied to the roads near the Twin Cities makes its way into the region’s watershed. This impacts not only aquatic life, but it also takes a toll on municipal water systems.

Likewise, research shows bulk salt applied to pavement colder than 15 degrees Fahrenheit has little to no effect. For property managers and snow removal contractors, this means pretreating roads and walkable surfaces before they reach that temperature is essential. When done correctly, the result is less bagged ice-melt material on roads and walkways.

In addition to rock salt, there are numerous ways the chemical makeup of your preferred deicer impacts the surrounding ecosystem.

The two main types of deicers are chlorides or acetate-based products. Without getting too far into the chemistry of these products, it’s important to understand that chlorides and acetates are both salts, but they are derived from different compounds – chlorides from hydrochloric acid and acetates from acetic acid. It’s this difference that determines the effect that the deicers will have on the surrounding environment.

Chloride deicers are widely considered to be the greatest polluters because they’re not biodegradable, which means they easily make their way into groundwater and soil. Plants that come into contact with chlorides can have a difficult time absorbing water and nutrients from the soil, causing them to dry out.

Carbohydrate deicers like beet sugars are often praised because they’re a natural, non-salt alternative to industrial deicers. However, they are not immune to shortcomings either.

For a comprehensive table summarizing the properties of deicing agents, enter into your browser.

Salt and other deicers applied to pavement – regardless of whether they’re chloride or carbohydrate based – can attract animals who like the product’s taste. This can lead to an increase in roadkill accidents. As mentioned, deicers affect the salt content of the water, and when local water sources are polluted, animals are often the first to pay the price. Research indicates that freshwater amphibians like newts and salamanders become stunted and deformed when exposed to waters that are high in salt, and the animals that feed on them suffer as a result as well.

Looking to make a positive change? Then the initial step is to commit to reducing your impact on the environment while maintaining safety as the priority.

Simply put, deicer on the roads and walkways means fewer crashes and slip-and-fall incidents. That being said, there are many practices to implement that are better for the planet. Here are some to consider.

At Schill, we integrate alternative fuels whenever possible. For example, propane fuels our fleet of 100-plus lawn mowers, and many of the trucks and snowplows we use for snow and ice removal run on diesel.

While it wasn’t the case even 10 years ago, diesel is now the most carbon-efficient fuel for more modern, larger vehicles, as they can have 40% fewer emissions than vehicles that run on conventional gas.

No deicer or ice-melt product is without adverse effects, but liquid deicers and blended products can have a much smaller impact on the surrounding environment.

Adopt liquid deicer as a pretreatment on the properties you manage. This will not only save your customers thousands of dollars’ worth of bagged material, but you’ll be able to save clients thousands of dollars in plant replacements the next spring by using winter products that are less harmful to nearby trees and shrubs.

Natural products like beet juice and cheese brines – which, again, can still negatively impact the environment – aren’t the most effective for commercial use because they aren’t as effective at melting ice and therefore still need to be combined with other ice melt products.

Instead, use blended products that will allow you to reduce the amount of bulk salt you’re using. For example, the liquid deicer we use is more effective than natural alternatives, therefore allowing us to use much less salt than they would.

Perhaps most importantly, the professional snow and ice management industry must take responsibility for setting standards for how much deicer is appropriate to use in certain situations.

Therefore, use equipment that’s calibrated to make sure you know exactly how much salt or deicer is being applied, and you’re only putting down what’s necessary.

Calculate how much deicer needs to be used per snow/ice event based on road and ambient temperatures, as well as the efficacy of the product being applied.

Enter into your browser and check out pages 17-19 for Rock Salt Application Rate Guidelines.

We all want to be better stewards of the environment. Therefore, it’s important to talk with existing and potential clients about how sustainability can positively affect a company’s bottom line and improve corporate culture, and how they can partner with you through your best practices to make sustainability a reality in snow and ice management.

The author is the president of Schill Grounds Management in North Ridgeville, Ohio. He is a frequent Snow magazine contributor and a 2011 Snow magazine Leadership Award recipient.

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