A passion for gardening and landscaping knows no gender bias. Both men and women enjoy working in the yard, planning projects, and beautifying the natural features of their homes. However, the landscaping industry—and many other “Green” industries—have historically been dominated by men, both in management and on ground crews. Now, there is evidence to suggest that this norm is slowly but surely changing. An increasing number of women are joining green industries and involving themselves in every tier of landscape design and management. Some are bright-eyed young professionals with college degrees in subjects like horticulture and business; others are amateurs with a passion for gardening and design; and still more are career women with diverse job experiences. Wherever they come from, women entering male-dominated industries face unjust challenges. They may be paid less than male colleagues, harassed by coworkers, or discriminated against by other professionals and clients. Despite these obstacles, women landscapers contribute creativity, insight, expertise, communication skills, business savvy, and invaluable perspective to the jobs they do. Through and through, they have proved their worth. Our full support is long overdue.
Spending time in the garden can be relaxing, therapeutic, and a great form of light-intensity exercise. But don’t let the “light” in light intensity fool you. Despite its slow pace, gardening is strenuous, and the amount of bending, reaching, and crouching it requires can cause back injuries. Elderly people and people with preexisting back conditions are most at risk of developing back pain when weeding, pruning, and planting; but even young and healthy gardeners can experience soreness and inflammation following a long day of working outdoors. It is important that all gardeners take the necessary steps to protect their backs from injury while they ready their plots for spring. The key to safe gardening practices is understanding what gardening tasks employ what muscles, and paying close attention to detail—a small change in posture or a simple pre-gardening stretch can make a huge world of difference. Here are some tips of managing the potential for back pain in the garden:
Roanoke Landscapes is currently in the process of hiring for our spring busy season, meaning we are parsing through a mountain’s worth of applications, scheduling interviews, and making tough decisions about who to add to our team. We experience all of the hiring problems that are typical of the landscaping industry. Since we hire seasonal workers, we have trouble finding consistent, dedicated candidates that have strong employment and driving records. Seasonal employment opportunities attract plenty of folks who are somewhat wayward—maybe they’ve never worked in any industry for longer than a few months, or they have a poor driving record, or a lack of reliable references. We’ve had to ask ourselves: how can we attract seasonal employees who will show up on time, do good work, and grow as we grow? Because we value excellent work, we strive to give our workforce excellent incentives, and we streamline the hiring process so that only the top candidates are interviewed and, ultimately, offered the job. Here’s some tips we recommend:
Start with a Strong Job Posting
Many green industry job postings on sites like craigslist or indeed are woefully unspecific. They may not give a clear description of the job, the preferred qualifications, and the essential duties that must be fulfilled. Many also fail to mention paygrade and employee incentives; that is, what the company is prepared to offer the right candidate. Generally, the more specific the job posting, the more qualified candidates will apply. Serious candidates will also want to know about the kind of company they’re applying for. They’ll be curious about the paygrade, any benefits the company offers, and opportunities for training and advancement. Write a detailed, straightforward job posting that covers all these bases, and consider getting it translated into Spanish. Personally, Roanoke Landscapes has a large Spanish-speaking workforce, and it’s essential that Spanish speaking populations can keep up with our job postings.
Do a Team Interview
When a promising candidate comes in for an interview, consider having more than just one team member involved in the interview process. It’s essential that the business owner or hiring manager feels confident about the candidate, but it is equally as essential that the candidate can mesh well with other employees. Plus, each team member can offer a unique perspective on what the job actually requires, and they may be able to ask the candidate pointed questions that further refine the hiring process. This is why many landscaping companies will do an initial, one-on-one interview, and then invite especially qualified candidates back for a second group interview.
Offer Employee Incentives
There’s no better way to attract great employees than by being an employee-focused company. Simply put, good people like to work for businesses that care about their happiness and welfare, and they stay employed at businesses that give them ample opportunities for advancement. At Roanoke Landscapes, we attract and keep good employees by offering higher salaries than other area businesses, opportunities for continued education and paid training, paid time off and holidays, and health insurance packages. We also try to support our employees’ work/life balance by limiting weekend work and long-distance travel. In return, our employees produce award-winning work, and most stay employed at the company for years—a rare feat in the landscaping industry.
Without our employees, our company and the proud legacy we’ve created would cease to exist. So we care deeply about hiring the right people and giving them every incentive to continue working as a part of our team. The hiring process can be exhausting and fruitless, but, when done correctly, it serves as the backbone of our business—where we find the best employees, and where the best employees find us. It’s a process worth perfecting, and one that every landscaping company should approach thoughtfully.
Gardening in the winter—especially when the weather takes a spring-like turn, like it has in many parts of The Southern United States today—is a great way to stay active during an otherwise sedentary season. If you have kids, you know that children are especially vulnerable to feeling “walled in” by cold, dreary weather. For them, working in the garden is an opportunity to expend energy, learn new skills, develop an appreciation for healthy food, and kick start their scientific aptitude. Even when there’s snow on the ground, there are still plenty of kid-friendly gardening chores and lessons that can be completed indoors. Here are a few ideas:
Water Glass Projects
You can grow an impressive variety of plants and vegetables out of a simple water glass—no soil or fertilizer required! These projects are easy and the transparency of the water allows kids to see the way roots form and buds sprout in real time. You can grow an avocado by sticking four toothpicks around the edge of a seed and suspending it in a glass of water with the round end of the seed pointed down. Change the water every couple of days until roots start to fill the glass.
You can also grow sweet potato vines in glass of water. Suspend a sweet potato in a jar half-filled with water, so that the water hits the very top of the sweet potato. Refill the water every couple days, and eventually a vine will start to sprout.
Make Bird Feeders
Though not much grows this time of year, plenty of native birds are still around scouring winter landscapes for food. Native birds are an integral part of garden ecosystems—some act as essential pollinators and others eat harmful pests. Kids who are interested in learning more about what birds contribute to gardens can make simple bird feeders and hang them up around their yards. There are a number of designs that work well, but one of the most effective is also one of the simplest: roll a pine cone in peanut butter and bird seed, and then attach the end of the cone to a string and hang from a tree or shrub. Beware: birds love this treat, but so do other animals. These homemade feeders have even been known to attract bears!
Start Spring Gardens Indoors
Many gardeners start working on their spring gardens long before the vernal equinox. Planning a garden in advance can be an important lesson in time management and organization. Start by including your kids in the seed-choosing process. Let them look through seed catalogues and help them plan out which plants should go where. After you’ve bought the seeds, start them off in indoor containers kept under lamps or in a well-lit windowsill. Together, you and your kids can water the seeds and measure growth week by week, until it’s time to replant them in the ground come spring.
In Southwest Virginia, winter weather fluctuates from extremely winter-like (subfreezing temperatures, snow, ice, blistering wind) to suspiciously mild (today it is nearly 70 degrees!) For me, the milder days provide an opportunity to get outside and enjoy the pleasures of spring a couple months early, which is a big help in combating cabin fever. But spring-like weather in February is inevitably followed by stretches of cold, wet, and downright gross winter spells. On bad weather days, cabin fever often leaves me feeling restless and unproductive which, in turn, can affect my performance at work and make accomplishing anything at home feel like an impossibility. Here are some methods I’ve come up with over the years for beating cabin fever and making the most of winter, whatever the weather is:
As landscapers, we know the appeal of fresh cut flowers—especially on Valentine’s Day. In landscaping and in love, flowers add a welcome touch of excitement. Granted, that excitement is temporary—flowers wilt, dry up, and turn as taupe as the rest of winter’s dull vistas—but that doesn’t kill the charm. Year after year, we keep growing and planting more and more flowers for our clients, and it’s likely that at least some of them end up as the centerpiece in a flashy Valentine’s Day spread.
As landscapers, we also know the appeal of lasting, practical gifts. After all, most of what we do is maintenance, and maintenance is a no-frills kind of game. Couples who have been together for many years might similarly appreciate the low key art of maintenance. For them, love is probably more about the small, practical things that keep a relationship going than flashy romantic gestures. In other words, it’s not the brightness of the flowers but the sturdiness of the soil that matters most. In honor of that truth, and those couples who are celebrating longevity more than romance this Valentine’s Day, here are some practical (garden-themed) Valentine’s Day gifts that will make your sweetie feel as loved as a freshly fertilized lawn.
A Pair of Pruning Shears
Pruning: the oft-overlooked garden chore that will totally transform your yard. Many amateur gardeners neglect their pruning duties and end up with shrubs that resemble overwatered chia pets. Other gardeners prune incorrectly, using dull shears that hack more than they trim. A good, sharp pair of pruning shears and a sturdy pair of gloves to go with them can make a world of difference in the garden. Removing debris and dead growth will be easier than ever, and your love will have no reason to neglect that tangled mess you both sweetly refer to as a “winter garden” any longer. If you want to win some extra points, gift your sweetheart the shears and then take them back to do the pruning yourself. There’s really no better Valentine’s Day gift than watching someone else do the work you’ve been finding excuses not to do.
Soil pH Meter
If the strength of the soil is really more important than the brightness of the flowers, then it’ll probably be helpful to know exactly how strong the soil is. Perfect for amateur gardeners who want to take it to the next level, a soil pH meter lets users measure the pH level of their garden soil with ease, thus allowing for more accurate troubleshooting and better planning. After all, many plant problems can be traced back to the soil, and corrected by using soil amendments and fertilizers. So, if your love wants a “green thumb” but can’t grow anything without also killing it, a soil pH meter may be the clearest path towards redemption.
A Sun Hat
There’s only one thing that makes me lazier than cold weather: hot weather. It’s just plainly difficult to get any meaningful work done in the garden when you’re sweating up a storm and the sun is in your eyes. It’s amazing how much a decent sun hat (and plenty of water) can cool you off on a sweltering day and provide much needed sun coverage. Your love will surely appreciate having a convenient and stylish summer accessory that will make the dog days a little more bearable—and they might even get more work done because of it.
A Freshly Mowed Lawn
Out of all the yard chores there are to do, many people say mowing is their least favorite. It is loud, sweaty, arduous (especially if, God forbid, done with a push mower), and it invariably leaves the person doing it smelling of wet grass and gasoline—not a great smell. Maybe your love doesn’t normally mow the lawn (lucky!) or maybe they always do. Either way, February may be a bit too early to think about trimming the grass. Still, all seasoned couples know the value of delayed gratification. When the time comes to mow the lawn for the first time this spring, let your sweetheart sit this one out and do it yourself. If you want to be extra impressive, maybe even throw some fertilizer down—cow poop isn’t a pleasant smell either, and your S.O will be grateful to avoid it.
Maintaining a pristine lawn isn’t the kind of work you can easily turn your back on. Unkempt landscapes foster all kinds of nasty blights: weeds, mold, disease, and pests among them. It takes near constant upkeep to prevent any one of these problems from creeping in and creating chaos. Still, most of us are guilty of slacking on lawn and landscaping chores—and then dealing with the consequences later.
When surveying their dilapidated lawns, homeowners often feel overwhelmed. They may ask themselves: is it better to fix this or start from scratch? Anyone who has experience pulling a mess of weeds would likely argue that starting from scratch is far less painful than trying to unsink a sunken ship. But those who have spent thousands on lawn renovations would likely say that a revamp saves time and money. Ultimately, when deciding how to move forward with your lawn, there are several factors to consider:
Boxwoods are one of the most popular ornamental plants around. They add neat, full flashes of green to residential and commercial landscapes across the country, and they’re fantastically hardy—even in the winter months. Boxwoods require little maintenance compared to other shrubs, but they do need regular pruning to grow healthfully. This time of year is ideal for pruning boxwoods, and many landscaping companies—including Roanoke Landscapes—provide pruning services for Boxwoods during the winter. Boxwood pruning is an ongoing process, usually done in steps. Here’s how the professionals handle it:
Pruning a Boxwood
Though some landscapers shear boxwoods into tidy and uniform shapes, shearing can cause congestion and stall new growth. Selective pruning is the preferred method for controlling old growth and encouraging new growth both inside and outside of the plant. Selectively pruned shrubs may look less formal than sheared shrubs, but what they lack in uniformity they make up for in health and longevity.
Selective pruning is done in layers. The process starts at the innermost layer of the plant and slowly builds outward to the outer most layer. To start off, use a pair of pruning shears and parse through the inner most layer of the plant, watching for areas where growth is particularly thick. Prune stems by cutting off growth right above a “V” notch or right below where there is a lot of leaf growth. Don’t go overboard with your cuts—selective pruning is just that: selective. You should cut sparingly, and only cut areas where existing growth is congested. The ultimate goal is to help layer growth and open up the plant so that new growth will have room to proliferate.
Working in layers, move slowly from the deep underbelly of the shrub to the outer most layer, continuing to prune areas that are congested with leaves, bugs, or other kinds of debris. Ultimately, your cuts should be fairly inconspicuous compared to the overall density of the shrub. You don’t want your boxwood to have bald spots, you just want to air it out a little bit—removing some existing density and giving it a more organic shape overall.
Repeat pruning in layers until congested areas are opened up sufficiently. For a visual how-to, check out this YouTube clip from CTSCAPER:
This month, Lawn and Landscape wrote a piece on the increasing number of young people who are entering the Landscape Industry rather than matriculating into a four-year college or university. This is a contentious point to some; ultimately, is it better that young people forego careers in favor of continuing their education, or should entering the workforce take precedence over getting a degree?
Seed saving, or the practice of leaving plants in the ground until they begin to seed and then harvesting the seeds for later use, was commonly practiced by gardeners and farmers for most of human history. Centuries of seed saving and breeding are responsible for the biodiversity of modern crops. However, as the demand for food grows worldwide, traditional gardening and farming practices have been superseded by industrial techniques. Now, large-scale farms typically use genetically modified seeds that are patented by various bioengineering corporations, and even hobby gardeners buy most of their seeds from distributors. These changes have created controversy—genetically modified seeds may be able to meet global demands, but many worry about the quality of genetically modified produce and how patenting plant genes could affect biodiversity and the health of future crops. A movement of farmers and gardeners are pushing for a return to more traditional food and plant growing techniques—starting with the return of seed saving.