Create a Year-Round Landscape: Enjoy Your Yard in All Seasons

People who live in the parts of the country that have cold winters can take a page from our warm-weather friends who use their yards year-round. Just because it gets colder for part of the year, doesn’t mean we should put away the lawn furniture after Labor Day and lock the back door until spring.


There are a variety of ways you can extend the use of your yard into late fall and even winter. Many patios, decks, and outdoor living spaces have fire features, such as fire pits, chimineas, and stone or brick fireplaces, that come in all price ranges and are great focal points for outdoor entertaining in the fall and even into the winter. Add a grill or outdoor kitchen and you have a great space for fall-themed entertaining, dinner alfresco, or a s’mores and hot cocoa party. Adding pergolas, gazebos, or covered patios creates a feeling of shelter and warmth in the winter, in addition to providing shade in the summer.

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Planning for a year-round landscape extends to the plants themselves. Most of us are probably guilty of choosing plants, trees, and shrubs for our yards with spring and summer in mind. If you begin to use your landscape in fall and winter, you will start to think about how you can incorporate plants and trees that add pops of color and texture in the fall and winter. It is easy to create gorgeous fall color in your yard with maple trees, birch and oak trees and Japanese maples, but it is sometimes harder to envision your landscape in winter.

One way to think about fall and winter landscapes is in terms of “bark and berries.” Add color to winter landscapes by using plants with berries like holly trees, viburnums, and beauty berries. Birds are attracted to berries, so these plants may attract winter wildlife. Trees with lighter colored or papery bark such as river birch trees, crape myrtles, dogwood trees, and Japanese maple trees add texture and interest. There are also a variety of evergreen trees that come in different shades that can add visual interest.

Using, designing for, and appreciating your yard year-round can extend your entertaining options, help you connect with nature, get you outdoors for fresh air and help you create memories with friends and family.

One Simple Decision

diazlegday12While waiting to board the plane, I leaned over to hug my son, Joshua, and realized he had grown so much since last year’s Renewal and Remembrance.

I almost didn’t come this year, too much on my plate. Life was too complicated, finances weren’t there, abrupt changes that rattled me, oh I could give you a million really good, valid reasons but in the end, it was a simple decision. I needed to be there. Joshua needed to be there.

This event changes us every year. From the very first time, years ago, when I asked Joshua if he wanted to come and received a “less than thrilled to plant things in the dirt and get hot and sweaty” look to now “if we can work it around my baseball schedule, I want to go.” I am going to do my best to make that happen because kids learn by example. If I continue to provide him with opportunities to serve others by attending the annual Renewal & Remembrance children’s program, and then when he is upgraded to the “man’s job of spreading the smelly Lime or using the STIHL auger with Mr. Roger to make all the holes for the little kids before they show up”, I am showing him what it means to help your community and give back.


I show him that we are lucky to be able to storm the hill with all of our other PLANET members who tirelessly work to educate and protect our members and our industry. We visit BOTH sides of the political landscape because in the end, it is up to each of us to persevere, challenge, innovate, and be bold.

Joshua sat with me during my very long meetings. He mentioned that “your meetings are not like what you see on television.” I asked him to delve further and he continued by saying “your conversations are nice, kind, polite and they listen to you. No one is yelling, being rude, or tense. They tell you stuff that is really neat (i.e. one of the staffers that I have met with for years told me she now has a boyfriend, and Senator Reid had a fantastic story about the land swap that happened so Joshua’s school could be built) and they work with you to see how we can end gridlock and make some headway on the issues that you talk about.” Yes, this happens on BOTH sides.

Renewal and Remembrance, Legislative Day on the Hill. It takes time, it takes money, but in the end, it changes lives. I know it changes Joshua’s and mine. What are you waiting for? I hope to see you in 2015. You can’t afford to pass up a life changing event. It’s one simple decision.

The World Cup Soccer, Sales, and Certification Connection


All eyes are on Brazil for the month of June as 32 top soccer teams compete for the right to be called the world’s best. As you can imagine, it was no easy path to the soccer spotlight.

Before the teams even got to Brazil, they had to look at all of the players who were invited to try out for the teams. In some nations, 30 players were invited to earn a spot on the roster. Then each nation’s coach picked the 23 best players to participate in the World Cup representing their country. What a let-down it must have been for those seven players to get that far only to see their dream end short of the goal.

We can see the same analogy in our businesses as we try to get more sales. We work hard putting a bid together, making a great presentation and get to the final decision-making time, only to be turned down and the job given to someone else. We ask ourselves over and over…”What could we have done differently to be the chosen firm?”

Let me point out a huge sales tool that is underutilized. It’s called certification. Do you have Landscape Industry Certified personnel on your team? If you use your certified team members as a sales tool and let your customers know the qualifications of your team, that could be a deal maker.


I’ll repeat advice we’ve discussed in certification communications before.

As a Landscape Industry Certified Manager or Technician, you and your team set the standard for professionalism in the industry. Using your toolkit, your imagination, and simple strategies, you can promote your certification, impress and assure customers, enhance your career and gain recognition from your colleagues and supervisors.

In my personal life, I am a soccer official and have officiated over 1500 matches in my career. In the spirit of the game, let me issue you a yellow card and ask—WHY ARE YOU NOT LANDSCAPE INDUSTRY CERTIFIED or promoting your credentials? Better yet, why is your staff not Landscape Industry Certified or promoting the credentials of your team?

Use this certification sales tool to set you apart from others and increase your sales.

Contact PLANET at 800-395-2522 or email to get started on earning your certification, or request your certification toolkit for promotional ideas, logos and more.

David Hupman, Landscape Industry Certified Manager & Technician

BRICKMAN – Blue Ash, Ohio

Chair, International Certification Council

Company Tip: Win With Certification

I heard some recent comments on certification that stopped me cold. In essence, credentialing has no sales value to the company. It’s a wonderful individual achievement and that’s it. And, unless PLANET gets consumers to demand certification it will never truly garner ROI (return on investment).

I’ve heard these statements before and, unfortunately, we often forget that we’re the solution. They underscore the importance that certification must be embraced at the owner-manager level, encouraged, and incorporated into business plans, in-house training, and promoted in all company communications and advertising.

Certification is an individual honor and it’s a savvy CEO that turns the qualifications of his or her team into successful sales goals. Education and certification of your crew can help boost a company’s profits and bottom line only if promoted. Not to mention boost team morale and longevity in the process.

Do you highlight your crew’s credentials on business cards, website, advertising campaigns, and customer newsletters, just to name a few obvious places? Until we all communicate that our teams are certified will we recognize sales value to the company.


I live and breathe the quality and value of our certification programs, particularly in my volunteer role as chair of PLANET’s International Certification Council (ICC). I achieved my Landscape Industry Certified Manager & Technician status several years back. I believe in certification so much that I’ve dedicated countless hours as Technician-Exterior exam volunteer in Ohio and auditor for the ICC’s Authorization Panel.

I’m not alone. Certified individuals tend to become passionate about their achievement. Even those that don’t see the sales value to the company or the ROI unless consumers demand it. Talk is cheap. Action is essential. Take action by including certification in our everyday business operations, marketing and communications.

As Landscape Industry Certified individuals, we all have a toolkit to help us promote our credential – as individuals and at the company level. When was the last time you opened your certification toolkit and used the samples, templates, ideas and more to make certification a revenue generator?

Not all customers are demanding or asking about certification of our crews now but they will be if we start telling them about how we commit to having the technicians and managers at our companies certified. And, why it’s important to hire certified pros to take care of their property.

By the way, the new website is driving consumers to hire Landscape Industry Certified. Suggest we share this link with our customers and add it to our websites.

Let’s follow this example in our company promotions.

Certification is one of those items in your toolbox that can really propel your company to the next level and beyond. Once certification was achieved, we marketed it throughout all of our advertising and company info. We would specifically use phrases like:

ü  You would not go to court without a certified lawyer;

ü  You would not send your kids to a school without certified teachers; and

ü  You would not go into surgery without a board certified surgeon.

Why would you trust one of your most expensive investments (i.e., your home) to anyone other than a certified landscaper?—Richard D. Arlington, III, Landscape Industry Certified Manager, Arlington Lawncare & Landscape, Inc., Erie, Pa.

Are you ready to really make certification your company’s competitive slam dunk? Take up the certification challenge now. Get certified, get your staff certified, and promote your achievement all the way to the bank.

Contact PLANET at 800-395-2522 or email to get started.

David Hupman, Landscape Industry Certified Manager & Technician

BRICKMAN – Great Lakes Division, Blue Ash, Ohio

Chair, International Certification Council

Legislative Day on the Hill: Certainly Not a Waste of Time

“Why do you waste your time?” the lady I sat next to on the plane asked after she inquired what I was going to do in D.C., and I explained about Renewal & Remembrance and Legislative Day with PLANET. “Well ,” she continued negatively, “it’s supposed to be really hot, humid, and don’t forget the time change too—that means you both will be getting up at 3 a.m. and you know those politicians don’t listen.“  I just smiled at her. How do I explain to her what these events mean?

This question still echoed in my head as we (my 11-year-old son and I) entered Arlington National Cemetery. He said he felt somber, thankful, sad, cool, and excited, all wrapped into one. I saw him take off his hat in respect when he said the pledge of allegiance in the front of the amphitheater, crammed with hundreds of PLANET volunteers. I watched him as he told his new 3-year-old friend “work with me,” as they planted a tree and grasses together on a hill as part of an effort reduce rainwater runoff. I know that the very tree he helped plant will someday provide shade to the people who come to honor those buried here at Arlington. I felt his arm around my waist comforting me as I cried when they played taps at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier after laying the wreath and his whispered question asking if I was ok. I saw him gaze at the horse-drawn, flag-draped casket accompanied by a platoon dressed in white and then ask me if I knew how that person had died trying to keep us free. I noticed the entire PLANET volunteer team standing still in respect, hats in hands, as the procession went by. At the end of the day, hot sweaty and stinky, he put his head on my shoulder during the bus ride back and said, “Mom, do we get to come back and help plant again next year? We are the planting experts you know and they need our help ….”


I watched his face turn slowly red as Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) looked directly at him and asked him, “Why are you here?” He spoke up and said, “To talk to you sir.” When Sen. Heller asked him about what, I listened as my son told him about the ways that government affects our company and our green industry. This introduction opened the door for my conversation that was warmly received. Next, I observed him from the balcony while he was on the House of Representatives floor during a vote with Rep. Dr. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) as he introduced himself, shook hands, and said he was here to help PLANET, the best landscaping group in America. Another life moment captured. I saw him confidently approach Sen. Harry Reid (R-Nev.), offer his hand, introduce himself, and smile when the senator told him he has a son named Joshua too. At the end of our visits he said, “Mom, politicians are just normal people, just like Rep. Dr. Foxx says. They work in our capital and they work for us.” 



Mission accomplished, another American realizing the value of getting involved, making a difference, using the free speech that others have died to make sure we have.

THIS was a privilege; it was certainly not a waste of time.


Joy Diaz

Land Care, Inc.


TOP 10 Reasons to Join a Peer Group

I’ve been facilitating CEO peer groups with my partner Tom Oyler for over a decade. I thought the best reasons for joining would vary from year to year depending upon shifts in the economy, the market, changing customer preferences. But you know what?  They haven’t. 

The number one takeaway year after year has never changed:  Members leave the meetings feeling better and more inspired than when they came in. 


The meetings are also fun and the groups share great camaraderie. This isn’t to say we don’t work our tails off.  We do.  We work hard to stay focused on the serious business of running a business and use opportunities for fun to make sure we don’t take ourselves too seriously.


1. Friendships. 

There is a special bond among the peers.  Perhaps it comes from the trusting, transparent and non-judgmental environment necessary to make these things work. Members always tell me, “These guys have my back.”


2. Education.

Over the years our groups have had as speakers and session leaders CEOs from our industry’s top tier manufacturers… companies who supply us with products and services so we can do a better job.  The best part is that we have an opportunity for some up close and personal time with our industry’s most important thinkers and achievers who share insights and trends gleaned from their ongoing research and development.


3. Fun.

We have a lot of this, too, when we meet at off-site venues.  Normally hosting duties rotate among member companies.  Sometimes a member company suggests a field trip to a showcase facility in the area, a MLB stadium or botanical garden, where a behind-the-scenes tour is arranged.


4. Intelligence.

I can’t guarantee that a peer group membership improves your IQ, but I’ve been told by group members that they feel a whole lot smarter and have a better game because of the shared problem-solving and collaboration that is part and parcel of the team dynamics.


5. Performance.

Who doesn’t want a better performing company?  Our members tell us that being part of a peer group – and the whole process of sticking to commitments and staying accountable — is the best thing they do all year. It shows in the numbers.


6. Benchmarking.

Knowing how you measure up in real time is a real bonus. Because the meetings are confidential, members can compare financial data and rank themselves against top tier companies in our industry. We plug the metrics into a formatted template so we can compare operational data apples-to-apples. The members then give each other advice on how to improve their numbers, and occasionally the systems and processes that are essential to achieving financial success.


7. Board of Directors.

Members of the group become a surrogate outside board of directors. Members of your group can be relied upon to become your advisors: they challenge your assumptions, push you a little out of your comfort zone, and, more often than not, since one or more has probably been in your shoes, give advice that’s worth its weight in gold. This process makes it easier to make informed and strategic decisions when faced with challenging dilemmas.


8. It’s No Longer Lonely At The Top.

Members are free to pick up the phone or email the group between meetings to share or trouble shoot issues that may come up between meetings, such as how much to pay a mechanic, or what to do with a problem employee, etc. This is really helpful; owners feel less isolated than they were before.


9. Best Practice Sharing.

There is no need to keep reinventing the wheel. Someone in the group usually has a good way of doing something, or is eager to share their lessons learned. Through open discussion, I’ve seen members become inspired to create better practices and an improved ways of operating.


10. Next Generation Systems & Technology.

Owners can compare notes on technology, business applications, cloud-driven management systems; get real-time advice on equipment; explore social media and marketing strategies; learn how environmental approaches and sustainable best practices are working to drive business; and discover what’s new in lawn care, snow and ice certifications, environmental responsibility, and safety and risk management.


For more information on PLANET Peer Groups, visit the PLANET website.

By Bruce K. Wilson, Managing Partner, Wilson-Oyler Group

, a new consumer-focused website

As part of a larger public relations campaign to raise awareness of the value, expertise, and knowledge that comes with hiring professional lawn and landscape companies and to foster a deeper appreciation for green spaces, PLANET recently unveiled a new consumer-focused website— provides homeowners and commercial clients with helpful information about the importance of healthy plants and green spaces, seasonal tips (to include timely summer tips and water-saving tips), and the benefits of hiring a PLANET member or Landscape Industry Certified professional. It includes design tips and ideas, highlights the benefits of indoor plants, contains discussions about sustainable landscape practices, and provides information about how to choose a professional company and about the Landscape Industry Certified designation.

It also is a great place for the media to get helpful consumer information for articles. PLANET encourages you to test drive, then link to it and include it in blogs, social media, or client communications. Each month will include a new “spotlight” story about how people benefit from their lawns and landscapes, and will highlight the work of members.

Note: As part of the effort to raise awareness, the new public relations campaign also has been successful at getting advice from PLANET “pros” featured in publications such as Better Homes and, The Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, and commercial publications like Condo Management Magazine, Facilities Manager, and other facility management magazines. Check out our PLANET in the News section of to see where PLANET might be popping up next.


The people of PLANET



There’s an old saying in business: You’re only as successful as the people you surround yourself with. I believe this implicitly from my experience in the corporate world, working with other trade groups, and certainly, most recently, serving as your president. It’s been an exciting and very rewarding year for me in many ways, from the industry professionals and volunteers I’ve come to know, to the PLANET staff members who make the organization run so smoothly. Their combined contribution bodes well for the industry and the future of PLANET.


Following are just a few of the past year’s highlights that I believe standout among others, all of which could not have been accomplished without the efforts and support of those mentioned above.


Certainly, an important one is the addition of the Irrigation & Water Management Specialty Group. Since many members already offer this service, adding this group seemed logical. Doing so also brought on board those dedicated exclusively to providing irrigation installation and maintenance services, further validating PLANET’s role as the “voice of the green industry.”


This past year, we’ve made great strides in reaching out to past presidents whose experience and wisdom are pivotal to our continued growth. We’ve engaged them at the Green Industry Conference (GIC) and other events and keep them updated through a bimonthly past presidents newsletter.



In addition, PLANET launched a few initiatives to accelerate membership numbers and further enhance the effectiveness of its well-received certification program. To help expand the membership base, leadership has been in discussion with state groups to allow their members to become eligible for PLANET membership. This effort, under the leadership of Ohio Landscape Association Executive Director Sandy Munley, will continue this spring to include a focus group comprised of other state leaders.


PLANET also enlisted a new PR firm, Four Leaf Public Relations, to help promote PLANET and to educate consumers about our industry and about the importance of hiring a well-educated, professional company that has Landscape Industry Certified staff.


The PLANET staff and leadership continue to put incredible effort into key events such as the GIC and Lawn Care Summit. Once again it proves that these venues are important not only for the information they convey, but also for the networking opportunities they offer attendees.


I haven’t even mentioned PLANET Universe, other educational resources, or the community service programs, such as PLANET Day of Service, Renewal & Remembrance, and PLANET Gives Back. Committees are also hard at work with Student Career Days and Legislative Day on the Hill—all of which continue to receive wide support among membership and the industry.

This is a dynamic organization with unlimited potential that is made possible by its leadership and other volunteers, the PLANET staff, and its CEO Sabeena Hickman, not to mention the ongoing important support from the industry. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being PLANET president and welcome Glenn Jacobsen as your next president. His talents and leadership skills will carry forward an agenda that promises a great future for the people of PLANET and the industry.


Norman Goldenberg, Landscape Industry Certified Technician

Immediate Past President

Safety at its Best

Edward J. Snyder III, Owner Greenleaf Services, Inc. located in Linville, N.C. was one of PLANET’s recent Safety Recognition Awards winners but notably one of the seven recipients to have won the ‘Best of the Best’ award. This particular award honors the companies that have won the Overall Safety Achievement Award–Gold Performance status for the past three consecutive years.

Edward took a moment to share with us what safety means to him and the way in which he operates his business.

“Safety is not just a word. As a business owner, safety is a commitment to my employees and business by way of our company’s culture. It is my responsibility that I provide the safest environment for my employees to help ensure they return home safe and sound to their families each and everyday. Being part of the PLANET STARS Safety Company Program gives me the tools and information to incorporate safety into my company’s culture.”



Lou Kobus, Landscape Industry Certified, president of Fox Run Nurseries, was also one of the ‘Best of the Best’ winners.  Here is his view of PLANETs STARS Safety Company Program…


“A good company safety program which prevents accidents… saves money.”  Being part of PLANET’s STARS program and participating in the Safety Recognition Awards helps my company work towards safety excellence through our involvement and sharing our experiences.

The cost of rehabilitation of individuals, lost time, cost of repair or replacement of equipment/vehicles and the lost production time “on the job”,  is significantly more costly than any cost associated with a Company Safety Program.” An accident which results in lost time, manpower, equipment, and/or vehicle usage equates to lost production and resultant revenue. We at Fox Run Nurseries believe that by having a safety program in place, incorporating frequent and adequate training to our staff and by providing an environment that advocates safety, that our staff will take ownership to prevent hazards and injuries. Our safety record reflects our commitment.


We all know that safety is a priority on the job. If you aren’t already a STARS member, join the STARS Safety Company program, a free safety initiative designed for companies to set the precedent for safety throughout the industry. The STARS program helps industry service provider companies lower their total costs of risk by reducing hazards and injuries. With this initiative, PLANET works to connect all landscape industry companies in an effort to lessen the risks associated with this industry.

In addition, PLANET’s Safety Recognition Awards program, sponsored by CNA, is accepting applications for those companies that consistently demonstrate their commitment to safety, and reflects the dedication of these individuals and their companies to creating and maintaining safe work environments. By entering, you will receive a free copy of the Safety Benchmarking Survey! The deadline to enter is around the corner…April 30, 2013. 

Why Safety is so Important to Ecolawn, Inc.

As President of Ecolawn Inc. located in Eastlake, Ohio, we’re a small family owned lawn care company serving the Greater Cleveland area since 1993.

I joined the STARS Safe Company Program (Safety Training Achieves Remarkable Success) in 2006 and it’s a privilege to have received the ‘Best of the Best’ award, as part of PLANET’s Safety Recognition Awards Program for 2011 at the Green Industry Conference this past October.  ‘Best of the Best’ meant that we were honored with the Overall Safety Achievement Award–Gold Performance status for the past three consecutive years.


As the owner of my company, it’s my responsibility to create and enforce a culture of safety.  This includes finding and teaching the best people to work and provide lawn and landscape care to our customers.  At Ecolawn, focusing on safety isn’t just better, easier or less expensive; it’s the only way we’ll operate.  Equipment is on an aggressive preventative maintenance routine that identifies and corrects safety and performance issues. Our employees work in an environment that fosters safety and security with proper labeling, tagouts and aggressive impromptu and scheduled training.

This safe culture continues with the service our customers receive.  Drivers make pre trip truck and equipment safety checks, drive professionally and without distractions. Technicians inspect properties and spot treat only as needed so they use the least amount of control product to get the job done. Furniture and toys are moved to avoid contact. Customers receive ‘best practice’ educational materials to teach them about the environmental benefits of healthy turf and landscape plantings, and help them reduce emissions and water use in caring for their properties.

As landscape industry professionals with continuous public exposure, it’s important for people to know we share their concern for the environment, their safety and the well-being of our employees. We have to set a good example.

The STARS program provides a good outline and makes it easier to operate a company with a strong safety culture. Take the time to recognize your company and the safety minded culture you share with your employees. Enter PLANET’s Safety Recognition Awards Program – the deadline to enter is April 30, 2013.