Local landscapers embracing green lawn practices

David Albers/Staff
- Greenscapes employee Jose Zawala spreads pesticides on lawns in the Champions at Lely Resort neighborhood on Thursday, July 5, 2012, in Naples. With tighter regulations on fertilizer use and pressure from government agencies to be more eco-friendly, Collier County is requiring local landscaping businesses like Greenscapes to train their employees along the guidelines set by Green Industries Best Management Practices.

Photo by DAVID ALBERS // Buy this photo

David Albers/Staff - Greenscapes employee Jose Zawala spreads pesticides on lawns in the Champions at Lely Resort neighborhood on Thursday, July 5, 2012, in Naples. With tighter regulations on fertilizer use and pressure from government agencies to be more eco-friendly, Collier County is requiring local landscaping businesses like Greenscapes to train their employees along the guidelines set by Green Industries Best Management Practices.

The owner of Naples-based landscaping company Greenscapes paid $6,000 for every one of her 200 employees to take a green industry training class.

The law only requires Linda Rae Nelson to send one employee.

"It validates people in their position," Nelson said. "And it's a win-win for the environment."

With tighter regulations on fertilizer use and pressure from government agencies to be more eco-friendly, many local landscaping businesses like Nelson's are embracing green lawn care practices despite added costs.

The city of Naples first required businesses to take the green industries best management practices training in August 2011. Starting this year, all lawn maintenance businesses in Collier County were required to take the training. The class costs $30 per employee and $15 for a renewal. By 2014, all commercial landscaping businesses in Florida will be required to have a state fertilizer certificate.

Nelson can't put an exact dollar figure on the money she saved by sending her employees to the green training offered at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Reserve, but she said she's noticed a difference. Her employees use less fertilizer and less pesticide making them more cost-efficient.

"Instead of putting four (fertilizer) bags down, they put one," she said. Using fewer bags is just as effective, she said.

Nelson said she sees the entire lawn maintenance industry moving toward more eco-friendly practices, especially in Florida where tourists flock to the state to admire the natural beauty.

"People want to see great things, beautiful estuaries," she said. "We're the ones that determine that."

Greenscapes uses less herbicides and pesticides because the employees are educated, Nelson said. The company also uses organic fertilizer that costs 13 percent to 18 percent more than a regular bag. She says even though there's a cost, "you have to practice what you preach."

Renee Wilson, with Rookery Bay Reserve, said she and her colleagues have trained a few thousand landscape business employees in the area. In addition to fertilizer application, the class teaches proper pesticide application and landscape irrigation.

"Unfortunately, with some cultural norms people think more is better when actually less is better," Wilson said.

Rich Goring started his franchise landscaping business, The Grounds Guys of Southwest Florida, in October 2011. Originally from Canada, Goring and his business partner moved to Florida to go into business and escape the snow. Both are certified in the best management practices training.

Goring said the training saves his company and his customers money.

"When you're doing the proper fertilizing, the proper watering, the proper pruning and mulching it helps keep the cost down," Goring said.

With 25 years of experience and a degree in horticulture, Goring said he's very conscious of green practices. In Canada, landscapers could not spray pesticides. He avoids spraying them here.

Nelson and Goring both said as the education around green practices grows, customers will seek out more eco-friendly landscaping businesses.

A few years ago, Nelson said customers had the attitude, "I don't care what the ban is, I want my grass green." She said now there's a tolerance level.

"We're in an environment where there's got to be a balance of nature," Nelson said.

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