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The Landscaping Industry Needs Women Landscapers

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.

Women Landscapers

Photo by Michael Coghlan

Gender Biases in Landscaping

Traditional gender roles hold that women are less suited for manual labor and management jobs than men are. In modern history, women have been described as the “weaker” or “gentler” sex, and both their minds and bodies have been positioned as fragile and in need of protection. Indeed, women are, on average, smaller than men (modern science long ago disproved the myth that female brains were less developed than male ones). Still, women have never been strangers to manual labor. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, many working class women labored long hours in factories and, before that, many others worked tirelessly on farms and plantations. Generally, only affluent women could achieve the “ideals” of womanhood, working as caretakers and homemakers in the domestic sphere. Most women still had to make money to support their families, and many turned to manual labor as a dependable source of support.

Still, traditional gender roles prevented women from having access to the same kinds of opportunities men had. Up until the latter half of the 20th century, very few women went to college, and so employment opportunities were limited. Further, throughout the 20th century, most women were still the primary homemakers in their households—even if they also worked full or part-time jobs. So, while men made leeway in new and traditional industries, women struggled to balance the duel demands of work and family. These factors, and many others, contributed to the historical under-representation of women in nearly every field except for those that conformed to traditional gender roles: like caregiving, waitressing, child-rearing, and domestic service.

In the past fifty years, all of this has changed drastically. Now, women make up the majority of college graduates, and they are subsequently taking America’s job market by storm. Women have fought long and hard to change gender stereotypes, and now they are showing the world what has always been true: women are talented students, hard-working employees, and formidable power players in a dynamic world. In turn, men are changing their expectations too, and largely welcoming women as equals at home, at work, and in society broadly. Of course, there is still much work left to do. Women workers continue to face inordinate levels of harassment, gender discrimination, and hostility—especially in male-dominated industries. But change is possible. Landscapers across the country, both male and female, are working to create a more equitable workplace for all.

Welcoming Women into Landscaping

Sexist stereotypes are still one of the biggest obstacles that women face when entering the landscaping industry. Some landscapers question whether women are physically able to do the tough manual labor that landscaping crews do every day. Others question the amount of respect a woman can garner from clients and landscaping professionals. Ultimately, women who defy these stereotypes by entering the landscaping industry and working successfully as leaders and team members are testaments to what the landscaping industry stands to gain from shucking tired assumptions and welcoming women full-stop.

Industry experts have pointed out a number of reasons why women are valuable assets to all facets of the landscaping industry. Some things to consider:

  • Modern tools and state-of-the-art equipment have made quality landscaping less dependent on physical brawn and more dependent on a strong work ethic and superior attention to detail—qualities that both men and women can exemplify.
  • More women clients are taking the lead on making landscaping decisions and planning new projects. These clients appreciated seeing other women involved in the design and implementation process.
  • Many women entering the landscaping field are graduating from college programs in specialized topics like horticulture, landscape design, and small business management. Their expertise should be seen as an invaluable tool.
  • Many older women entering the landscaping industry come from long careers in business and customer service. They are well-versed in dealing with customers, and their communication skills and creativity are much-needed in every level of the industry.
  • A more diverse workforce reflects the perspectives and needs of a more diverse client base. As your clients change, so should your workforce.

Recently, Total Landscape Care did a piece on women paving a path forward in green industry careers. These women speak to both the challenges and rewards of breaking ground in an industry in which they have minority status. The challenges may seem daunting to prospective female landscapers, but the bigger picture is this: women are showing the landscaping industry that they have something big to contribute, regardless of whatever obstacles await them. It’s not that they need our support to succeed, it’s that they deserve it–and we need them.

Managing Back Pain in The Garden

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:

Back Pain in the Garden

Photo by Hans Splinter

Pre and Post Gardening Stretches

Remember in grade school gym class when stretching was a mandatory exercise, both before and after a workout? It may have seemed excessive at the time, but there’s a good reason why gym teachers are huge proponents of stretching: pre and post workout stretches significantly reduce the chance of exercise-related injury by “warming up” the muscles for physical activity.

The same holds true when it comes to gardening. Light stretches before and after a gardening session can prep your muscles for action and then relax them after the work is done. When stretching, move slowly and stop if you experience any significant pain. Stretching should feel comfortable and offer relief from tension and pressure. Try these productive back stretches out.

Practice Proper Bending and Stretching Techniques

Many back injuries are due to improper lifting, bending, and stretching techniques. There are a few general principles to keep in mind when working in the garden:

  • Keep your spine straight when crouched on the ground or standing.
  • Lift and bend with your knees instead of your back. When picking something up, keep the object close to your body and try to maintain a straight spine.
  • Move your position frequently and take breaks when needed. Consider pausing your work every half hour or so for a short break and quick stretch.

Set Realistic Goals

Most gardeners don’t get to spend all their time gardening—they also have families to take care of, jobs to work, and bills to pay! Constant busyness makes people less mindful of how they’re treating their bodies, and a long to-do list puts pressure on gardeners to finish projects quickly. Avoid getting swallowed by the buzz of deadlines and let your gardening project unfold naturally. If you can’t work an eight hour day in the garden without pulling your back, don’t do it. If you need a half hour break in the middle of weeding or mulching, take one. You’re much less susceptible to injury if you give yourself more time to work and work at a leisurely, comfortable pace.

Use the Right Tools

Gardeners have always been inventing tools to make the task at hand easier and less personally dangerous. Thankfully, there are now thousands of gardening gadgets designed specifically to ease the burden gardening places on human bodies. It is, of course, a good idea to use them every chance you get. Push heavy loads around in wheelbarrows or carts, invest in a gardening stool or raised plant bed, and take advantage of specialty cushions made to comfort the knees and reduce back pressure during long crouching sessions.

Hiring Tips for Landscapers

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.

Winter Gardening Projects for Kids

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:

Child Gardening

Kids have always loved gardening!

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.

Beating Cabin Fever

Cabin Fever

When foul weather hits….

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:

Do Chores at Home

When I feel stuck, I have trouble motivating myself to get unstuck, even if the solution is right in front of me: a stack of dirty dishes or a carpet covered with tumbleweeds of dog hair, for example. But there’s nothing that makes me feel productive on a cold, dreary day quite like polishing up around the house. Though it doesn’t seem like it at first, cleaning up your living space can actually be therapeutic and enriching. The results are tangibly useful and easy to enjoy. The hardest part is getting started. I like to motivate myself through a series of rewards—after I finish “x” amount of chores, I’ll pour myself a glass of wine or have some chocolate (not too much wine, though!)

Volunteer in Your Community

 Most of us stop doing unpaid work after we graduate from high school or college. Indeed, working a full time job can make a volunteer gig seem trite and pointless. But, volunteering is one way to make your life rich with purpose year-round, and it’s only as much of a time commitment as you make it. When cabin fever strikes, consider picking up a volunteer position that will help you learn a new skill or explore a passion/talent of yours that you don’t get to use as work.

Throw a Party

When I get cabin fever, the last thing I want to do is put real pants on and socialize. However, studies show that regular socialization boosts mood and improves well-being for most people. We are social creatures, after all. If you’re feeling stuck, plan a party with some friends or family members you haven’t seen in a while. You’ll be preoccupied planning, cleaning, and cooking for your guests, and then the social atmosphere will ease you out of your shell.

Learn Something New

It’s easy to forget this, but learning is a life-long process. There’s always a new skill to acquire, a new book to read, or a new class to take. These days, anyone can access thousands of classes and lessons online for free. There are also vast libraries of digital books and other learning tools on the web. Many of my friends are trying out language learning software for the first time, or using apps to learn how to play new instruments. Ultimately, the enormous amount of resources available to all of us who have internet connections and smart phones is enough of a reason to make boredom a blessing, not a curse. So, when foul weather hits, think first of what you can do and later of what you can’t.

Practical Garden Gifts for Your Valentine

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.

Practical Valentines Day

Photo by Esther Spektor.

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.




Landscape Renovation: Revamp or Redo?

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:

Lawn Renovation

Photo by Sam DeLong.

Identify Problem Areas

Too often, homeowners see that their lawn has a problem and then proceed with a solution before figuring out what the problem is. When it comes down to it, there are hundreds of reasons why grass might not be growing properly, or why plants might fail. Some of these are out of the homeowners’ control, but plenty are preventable. An accurate diagnoses of the problem will help you make successful changes. Say, for example, that you have a shady yard but are using a type of grass that loves sunlight. The proper solution in this case would be to remove the sun-loving grass, consult with a professional, and then plant a grass type more suitable for shady yards. As a general rule, always know the composition of your yard. How much sun does it get? How much rain does it get? What’s the PH of the soil? Plants, grasses, and watering routines should reflect your yard’s particular needs. Often, a yard seems unhealthy because its foliage is poorly suited for its environment.

Another common problem landscapers run across during yard renovations is infestations: weeds, pests, mold. Homeowners often become worried when they notice symptoms of an infestation—browning grass, half-eaten plants, bare spots—and are immediately tempted to rip up the ground and start over. However, most infestations can be treated using a pesticide/herbicide regimen, and they can be prevented through proper maintenance. Regular watering, fertilizing, trimming, and pruning can deter potential pests and combat common diseases.

Survey the Extent of the Damage

Deciding to redo a lawn that is 15% damaged is a big waste of time and money. Small problem areas can easily be fixed without disrupting the rest of the yard, and it’s often cheaper to address landscaping problems in parts. Before deciding on a plan of action, approximate how much of your lawn is damaged. If less than half of your lawn is in bad shape, a revamp is probably more productive than a redo. If more than half of your lawn is damaged, it’s probably best to forego the heroic effort it would take to save it and plant some new sod instead.

Protip: You can still plant sod on cool, mild days in the winter.

Set Long-Term Maintenance Goals

Ultimately, no matter how you decide to fix your lawn, none of the changes you make will matter much without a long-term maintenance plan. Most landscaping disasters are due to human error, and all landscaping “fixes” require continued upkeep. If you want to renovate your lawn, ask yourself why and how, but also plan for the future. How will you continue to take care of this landscape? What work will you put in week by week and month by month to ensure your grass, trees, and plants are healthy? If you don’t have time to work continually on a landscape, considering hiring a team of professionals who can do your landscaping maintenance for you. After all, the real goal of a landscape redo or revamp is that you’ll never have to tear up your yard again.

Selectively Pruning Boxwoods: What to Know

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

Selectively Pruning Boxwood

The Roanoke Landscapes crew layering 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:

Designing The Perfect Dog Park

Designing Dog Parks

Photo by Something Ferdinand.

According to Wikipedia, “dog parks” have become the fastest growing segment of city parks. Perhaps this is because there are now more households with dogs than there are households with children; dog parks, in effect, are a kind of playground for pups. This makes landscaping a dog park an interesting challenge, considering landscaping contractors typically design with people, rather than pets, in mind. But recently, landscapers have acknowledged how important doggy-welfare is to modern families, and landscaping designs have been optimized to accommodate the needs of dogs. Dog parks are the pinnacle of this accommodation: they provide outdoor space specifically tailored for fetching, playing, running, and jumping.

More and more cities are installing dog parks in residential neighborhoods and existing green spaces. Landscaping contractors should note this trend and be ready to meet the demand. Designing a landscape for dogs may be a bit different than our usual projects, but most of the principles remain the same. Here are some ideas to start:

Create Ample Space

When designing a dog park, keep in mind that many different kinds of dogs are going to be sharing this space together. When handled carelessly, this can create serious problems. Consider the great variety of dog breeds and personality types that are typically represented in a residential neighborhood: big dogs and small dogs, shy dogs and outgoing dogs, dogs on leashes and dogs that go without. Putting all of these types in a small, fenced-in area easily leads to conflict. Instead, create a dog parks that has separate designated spaces: a space for leashed dogs, a space for unleashed dogs, a play area, and a “special use” area where small dogs and shy dogs can rest. All of these designated spaces should be large enough so that individual dogs can move around and play without becoming claustrophobic or territorial.

Landscapers also have to create space in dog parks for people. Dog owners need a place where they can comfortably monitor their dogs and intervene if necessary, and many existing dog parks fulfill this need by including benches, tables, and resting areas within the park. As an added benefit, creating spaces for people in dog parks helps offset the chance of a dog fight.

Think Creatively About Play

Dogs love running around, but they also appreciate more challenging forms of play. Likewise, dog owners want their pups to have a variety of activities available to them when they go to the dog park. Including an obstacle course, different kinds of terrain, and objects to jump over and interact with in a dog park design helps dogs play more creatively. It also adds interest—people are more likely to bring their dogs back to a dog park that is interesting and entertaining. Give the dogs and their owners something special to look forward to; something that wouldn’t be in a typical backyard.

Many dog park designers are now building water terrains: pools and ponds that water-loving dogs can splash around in. Though water fountains are a necessity at all dog parks, added water features are a creative benefit for dog breeds that love to swim, and they can help keep large dogs cool on hot days.

Get Tough on Weeds and Debris

When it comes to weeds, what may be a minor inconvenience to humans can be deadly to dogs. Several plants, such as the sago palm, are highly toxic to most breeds when ingested. While maintaining a dog park, take extra care to remove all weeds, and research anything you’re planning on planting to make sure it has no toxic effects.

Trash and litter left behind by people can be just as damaging to dogs as toxic plants are. Keeping a dog park clean of litter, feces, and debris is integral to upholding health standards and maintaining a clean play space.

Don’t Skimp on Shade

On that note, dog parks need plants and trees to be successful—just like any green space. Trees and shrubs provide shade and shelter to dogs who want to take a break from the sun. Trees, shrubs, and flowers are also important to human guests, who value green spaces for their natural beauty and relaxing atmosphere. Landscapers should include shaded spaces in every area of the park, paired with easy access to water fountains and bathroom stations. Including these features will help keep dogs safe and make clean-up easier in the long run.

In Midst of College Crisis, Green Industry Offers Alternatives

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?

College Crisis

Photo by Kevin Dooley.

For teens growing up in today’s tumultuous economy, the path forward after high school is hardly simple. Over the past few decades, the cost of higher education rose exponentially as wages for most jobs remained stagnant. Now, even middle class families struggle to put their children through college, and most young people who chose to go to school end up accruing thousands of dollars in debt. Still, high schoolers are told that college is the sole key to upward mobility. The message is clear: if you want a good job that pays well and offers advancements, get a degree. But what of the bright, talented young people who can’t afford to take out $10,000 or more in loans? What of the high schoolers who, at the tender age of 18, just aren’t ready for more schooling? And what of everyone stuck somewhere in-between?

It’s Not Just “School or Bust”

When it comes to education and career advancement, young people need more options. It is no longer feasible (or even desirable) for every high schooler in the country to go to college. Telling young people that it’s “school or bust” inevitably leads many people who cannot afford school or don’t truly want to be there on a path towards failure. When I was completing my degree, I saw countless other students stumble miserably through courses they didn’t care about just to earn a degree they didn’t really want or need. Most of them left school with impossible debts and poor job prospects. They struggled to pay their bills and felt as if their time spent at school was a waste of time and money. Stories like these make it difficult not to feel disillusionment towards the entire system of higher education: a system that promises everything and then delivers scraps.

What The Green Industry Can Do

The Green Industry is in a unique position to address this disillusionment. Long plagued by low retention rates and flaky employees, landscapers across the country have searched far and wide for a more reliable workforce. Most companies do not require that employees have any kind of formal degree, though some (admirably) incentivize education by offering to pay for community college courses in exchange for more specialized skills. In order to attract better workers, many companies have also started offering benefits to full-time employees: PTO, healthcare and retirement packages, as well as better starting wages and opportunities for advancement. Hell, when I graduated from college in 2016, local green industry jobs paid higher wages and offered more incentives than other jobs that “required” a college degree.

Growing up, I was fed stigmas about “blue collar” work; namely, that blue collar jobs are for people who aren’t good enough to do white collar work. Well, in a world where the line between poverty and affluence is getting thinner and thinner, it’s about time we move past needless pretensions. These days, young people dream more about making a living wage than changing the world. They are creative, technologically saavy and hard-working, but they increasingly see college as more of a privilege than a right—because that is precisely what higher education has become. Looking towards the future, they know what’s at stake, and they’re willing to utilize their skills and expertise in unorthodox ways—provided they receive something more concrete than a diploma in return.

If landscaping companies can incentive young people by providing living wages, benefits packages, vacation time, and a supportive work environment that promises future opportunities, young people—both college graduates and those without degrees—can bring innovation, insight, and creativity into The Green Industry. In turn, landscapers can provide them with much needed options, and a path forward that offers more autonomy and control than obligatory, expensive schooling. What we can all do is empower the young people in our lives to make their own decisions regarding school and work. If we care about the future, we need to care about the welfare of teenagers and young adults who are uniquely vulnerable to poverty, exploitation, and stagnancy. They need more options—we can give them some.

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