Not your garden-variety winter: Storms’ heavy toll translates to boon for landscapers

By Bruce Shipkowski, AP
Friday, March 19, 2010

Landscapers see green as weary East greets spring

TRENTON, N.J. — Gardeners and landscapers along the Eastern seaboard are making haste — and money — as spring begins and they pick up the pieces from the region’s particularly harsh winter, which toppled more than snowfall records.

Marian Anderson, a 73-year-old resident of Manchester, N.J., is having problems trying to find a crew with enough time to remove two old oak trees that fell in her yard during a nor’easter last weekend.

“They tell me they’re swamped and will get out as soon as they can, but who knows when that will be,” she said. “I really hated this winter; I truly did. It caused nothing but trouble.”

Seeing their snowiest winters on record were cities including Baltimore, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Del., Washington and Atlantic City, N.J. Heavy rains in recent weeks caused major flooding across the mid-Atlantic region. Hurricane-strength winds joined forces with heavy rains last month to make yards messy in New England.

“It has been a remarkable winter. One of the stormiest, if not the stormiest on record. It has impacted everyone,” New Jersey state climatologist David Robinson said Friday, the day before the official start of spring. “People will be talking about this 20 years from now.”

All that adds up to trees and shrubs that either died, are clinging to life or need some spiffing up. And that means tree removal firms and landscapers are being crunched for services but seeing green.

Teresa Fredette, bookkeeper at Knowles Tree Service in North Hampton, N.H., said the 25-year-old company “was never busier” than after the Feb. 25 storm.

“We brought on a full extra crew within the first two days of the storm,” she said. “We actually still have them working with us because there are still people calling who knew their situation wasn’t an emergency, but still had a lot of damage that they want cleaned up.

“We actually still have a couple of people that have a tree on their house,” she said.

In western Pennsylvania, where Pittsburgh also had one of its snowiest winters on record, most landscaping companies would usually be doing spring cleaning work, such as mulching flower beds or getting yards ready for graduation parties.

They’re still doing that this year — but they’re a couple of weeks behind because there’s still so much snow on the ground in spots.

Plantscape, a Pittsburgh company that maintains commercial properties for more than 150 clients, is about two weeks behind but expects to make more money than normal for the season, sales manager Chuck Croskey said.

“We had a lot of tree damage, a lot of tree pruning and guying up of the trees,” he said. “For a week or so, that’s all we’ve been doing is tree work.”

He foresees a lot of turf repairs, too, from snow plows damaging the edge of lawns.

Sean Porter, of Porter Brook Landscaping in Frederick, Md., said he’s getting about 20 percent more calls than normal for this time of year — and expects the requests for one-time clean-up jobs to boost his business in the long term.

“I think it’s going to help increase sales because it puts our foot in the door,” Porter said. When new customers want a tree planted or a patio installed, they might just call him, he said.

Homeowners aren’t the only ones who suffered losses this winter.

A lock gate failed during last weekend’s storm in Washington, swamping Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, uprooting trees and scouring the park’s gravel tow path. Repair costs won’t be known until next week, Ranger Peggie Gaul said.

The winter was “about the worst I’ve seen for a long while,” she said.

Nearly 3 feet of snow from back-to-back storms in February brought down evergreen branches and broke shrubbery in Deborah Catron’s yard in Ijamsville, Md., about 40 miles west of Baltimore.

The retired veterinary hospital worker said she doesn’t hate winter — she went skiing in Colorado last week.

“It’s one thing to go to the snow and it’s another to have to deal with it in your backyard,” she said. “I don’t really like dealing with it in our backyard.”

Contributing to this report were Associated Press reporters Kathy McCormack in Concord, N.H., David Sharp in Portland, Maine, Joe Mandak in Pittsburgh, and Dave Dishneau in Hagerstown, Md.

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