The Global Cities Project Profile:
The Happy Gardener

Written and researched by Cariad Hayes


The Happy Gardener was founded in 1983 by a gardener with an interest in biological pest control.The company provides outdoor pest management, fertilizer services, lawn management, water management, weed management, and tree management to residents of Contra Costa County. The HappyGardener limits its service area to Danville, Alamo, Pleasant Hill, Moraga, Walnut Creek, andBlackhawk.

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Program Options

The Happy Gardener has not eliminated the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticidesentirely. However, the company has been able to minimize the use of these chemicals by relying onalternative products and practices wherever possible, and combining more than one method tocontrol disease and pests in an ecologically sound manner. The alternatives employed by The HappyGardener include:

Targeted and timed pesticide use.

The Happy Gardener carefully times its use of chemical sprays to make them most effective and to take full advantage of the natural pest control offered by beneficial insects. For example, while many other pest control companies spray yards on a quarterly, bimonthly, or even monthly basis, The Happy Gardener sprays only twice a year, in May and October. Instead of blindly spraying the entire yard, The Happy Gardener inspects the yard first to locate areas where beneficial insects are combatting pests, and avoids spraying in those areas. A power sprayer is used to get better coverage and make it possible to spray less frequently. The Happy Gardener spot sprays on an as-needed basis to control weeds.

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Targeted pre-emergent use.

To control weeds and crabgrass, The Happy Gardener applies pre-emergent herbicides only to bare areas in the landscape, the edges of lawns and, firebreaks. As the landscape fills in, the application of pre-emergent is reduced.

Light, frequent fertilizer application.

The Happy Gardener feeds lawns every four to six weeks, using only enough fertilizer to keep rootshealthy without leaching into groundwater.

Traps and biological controls.

Biological methods of pest control simply involve using beneficial insects to destroy harmful ones. The Happy Gardener has introduced encarsia wasps and beneficial nematodes into yards to eat white fly and ground weevil larvae, respectively. During the spring and summer, The Happy Gardener uses pheromone traps to control wasps, coddling moths, house flies, white flies, and fruit flies. Undergound wire traps are used to trap gophers. The company seeks out ant nests rather than simply spraying the trails.

Product substitution.

Because The Happy Gardener's customers insist on the deep green foliage color produced by chemicalfertilizers, the company still uses them. However, The Happy Gardener is gradually incorporatingorganic fertilizer into its tree and plant feeding programs. In 1993, the company began using organic fertilizer for lawn feedings, with good results.

Water management

The Happy Gardener works with clients to help them save water in irrigation, and provides and installs water saving devices in sprinklers. The water management system offered by the company has helped customers to reduce water consumption.

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Step 1:

Stay up-to-date with alternative techniques.

The Happy Gardener's owner was already well-versed in integrated pest management and alternative landscape management techniques before he decided to launch his own company in 1983.However, prior to starting the business he attended an advanced gardening program offered by theCalifornia Dept. of Agriculture. He continued to take classes to stay up-to-date with developmentsin the field.

Step 2:

Analyze the problems to identify solutions.

The Happy Gardener analyzes and classifies weed, pest, and disease problems carefully to determine the most effective, least toxic solution. For example, some weeds thrive in dry soil and can beeliminated simply by increasing irrigation. Other problems may be solved by moving a plant oraltering the irrigation schedule.

Step 3:

Limit service area.

The landscape management techniques used by The Happy Gardener require relatively intensivesupervision by the company. The Happy Gardener visits each customer according to a regularschedule, which varies depending on the type of services the customer uses. The Happy Gardenerserves customers only in a handful of towns in the same vicinity, allowing regular maintenanceroutes to be scheduled efficiently, reducing fuel consumption, and vehicle wear and tear.

Step 4:

Educate customers.

Diligent customer education has been an essential component of The Happy Gardener's success.The company explains the techniques it is using carefully to each customer and emphasizes thebenefits of integrated pest management and organic methods over traditional chemical ones. Thecompany also sends a monthly newsletter to each customer, featuring a lead story on subjectsranging from old growth redwoods to old wives tales about gardening, and including descriptionsof each month's services, irrigation schedules and instructions, yard-care tips, and information aboutalternative yard care practices. To prevent possible over use by non professionals, and to reducehousehold hazardous waste, the company regularly reminds customers not to apply yard chemicalsthemselves.

Policy Discussion

As a small, privately owned business, The Happy Gardener has not experienced any internal policydebate over the kinds of services it offers, nor has it been obliged by state or local regulations toalter its practice. Given the company's goal of achieving the results demanded by its clients whileminimizing chemical use, internal debate centers on such questions as how much organic fertilizerto include in the mix, and whether or not to use bait traps to catch gophers and moles.

The Happy Gardener's owner has been involved in efforts to reduce toxic substance use and hasserved on the Contra Costa County Health Services Department Household Hazardous Waste Program Advisory Board. He advocates banning the sale of Quart-size containers of pesticides becausehomeowners rarely use the entire contents and the unused portion often becomes a hazardous waste.

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Financial Considerations

An East Bay Municipal Utilities District analysis of The Happy Gardener's water managementprogram estimated that the program saves customers an average of $86.16 per month on their waterbills.

The Happy Gardener's management practices have allowed it to reduce the use of pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers steadily since the company was founded. For example, spot sprayingfor pests was reduced from two to three applications each year prior to 1992, to one or two applications per year since 1992. The company has reduced its use of pesticides since 1983.
The companywon the Individual Source Reduction Award in 1992 and in 1993 a certificate of appreciation fromthe Contra Costa Recycling and Source Reduction Award program. The company also won a Certificate of Appreciation from the City of Concord in 1994, and in 1997 received the Pollution Prevention Award from Central Contra Costa Sanitation District.
In 1999 The Happy Gardener received the Water Conservation Principles and Practices award from East Bay Municipal Utilities District.

The Happy Gardener's approach has also been successful in terms of customer satisfaction. Apartfrom hand-distributed flyers during its first year, the company has engaged in minimal advertisingand most of its growth has been through word-of-mouth from pleased customers.

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