By David Hazledine
SYRACUSE — April is the time area residents begin their outdoor projects. For many, it is simply a matter of keeping the lawn mowed.
Whatever the size of the project, many rely on landscaping companies, particularly businesses and seasonal residents. And so it is this year, only with a few changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Indiana landscapers are still in business, unlike their counterparts in Michigan who are under a total lockdown. “In Michigan, landscapers are dead in the water. They can’t even mow yards,” said Jim Plummer, owner of The Property Company, based in Syracuse. “We’re pretty lucky.”
Local landscaping and lawn care businesses have seen a small slowdown in work compared to 2019, however, particularly among middle-income customers. “Some have said, ‘we’re going to wait til this is over,’” Plummer reported. “I think the loss is more of a delay.”
Economic uncertainty has also affected larger jobs and commercial clients. “I’m sure a $150,000 project is going to be looked at more closely,” Plummer added.
Another factor is the number of people out of work who are taking the opportunity to do their own mowing and landscaping. Jason Becker, owner of Countryscapes and Gardens in Ligonier, which also maintains a greenhouse and garden supply retail store, noted, “We’ve seen an increase in folks calling and asking questions about things like bulk mulch … now that they’re not at work they have the time.”
Plummer has also seen clients either choosing to do their own lawn work or cutting back on “little things,” fertilizing five times instead of six, for example. “Still, there is a lot of activity.”
Landscapers are noticing many more seasonal residents in the area as well, likely due to an earlier-than-usual flight from larger cities like Chicago and Indianapolis, perhaps because of higher numbers of COVID-19 cases. “There are more people around the lakes than ever before,” Becker exclaimed.
“You would’ve thought it was June,” said Plummer, referencing the number of people out on the sidewalks in Syracuse.
Local landscapers often employ high school students in the summer, so they have also benefited from school closures, which have enabled them to get an early start on clean-up jobs and others leftover from 2019, as well as larger projects they otherwise would not have started for another month. “We had four people start up three weeks ago,” Plummer commented.
Lawn care does not require much close contact; nevertheless, these businesses are taking all necessary precautions. “We’re still carrying on, but we have to be a lot more careful,” said Derek Powell, owner of Total Property Care of Syracuse. This means social distancing, regular hand washing and limiting the number of people in vehicles, all of which helps keep both the workers and the clients safe.
Becker has noticed his clients seem to gain a measure of hope from seeing landscapers at work. “All our clients have been appreciative of us being around … They’re excited about life after the virus scare, just having a more normal summer.”