Equip Your Plant Technicians for Success

Every interiorscape business owner I know worries about a million things…finding new accounts, avoiding the loss of existing accounts, accounts receivable and payable, payroll, taxes, insurance and more. One of the most crucial of these worries is finding, training and retaining good employees, plant technicians especially.

Techs seem to come and go for many reasons: not enough pay, limited opportunity for advancement, problems finding dependable transportation, childcare worries or lack of benefits. But have you ever considered that one of the most common complaints techs have about their jobs is also one of the easiest to remedy? That would be the lack of functional, professional tools of the trade.

Well, I’m going to help you fix that problem.

Watering Machines

If your company has a representative sampling of medium-sized to larger accounts, with lots of floor plants and file-top plants and specimen trees, then you need to outfit your techs with watering machines. Actually, even if you only have smaller accounts, it’s my contention that your technicians still need these wonderful inventions. I’ve previously discussed the merits of watering machines, so I won’t go over that ground here. But if you’re still stuck in the age of watering cans and buckets, you’re an anachronism and you’re dangerous to your employees. The chances of accidents resulting in spillage are routinely high with cans and buckets. And carrying around two 2-gallon watering cans (that’s 16 pounds of water each when full) can result in shoulder, elbow, wrist and back injuries from repetitive stress. So do your techs a favor and get them an Aquamate or WaterBoy or Tanks-a-Lot and make them instantly more productive and professional.

Now comes the meat-and-potatoes of any technician’s kit: the tools that make it possible to quickly, accurately and efficiently water, prune, trim, dust, clean and polish the plants under their care.

Cutting tools and accessories

Felco Pruner

-Felco Pruner

The best tool I’ve ever had I got for free as a door prize at a seminar sponsored by a well-known arborist company. The Felco #2 pruning shears are a bypass type (won’t crush stems when cutting) that has all replaceable parts and after you’ve used them for awhile, you’ll understand why that’s important. A Felco owner won’t buy new pruners if one part breaks. He’ll just get the new part and continue using his broken-in, familiar, comfy Felcos for life. Felcos are durable and smooth and stay sharp even with heavy use.

Fiskars Straight Scissors

-Fiskars Straight Scissors

Fiskars makes quality cutting tools of all sorts, but I particularly like their scissors or shears, because they have sturdy finger holes and hold sharp edges longer than other brands. When they do lose their sharpness, get the edge back with an inexpensive scissors sharpener like this Toolstation Multifunction Sharpener.

Cleaning/polishing tools and products

For my money, the best cleaning product we’ve used over the years is Foliglo foliage cleaner. Mix it with water in a sprayer at the desired rate for light, moderate or heavy grunge, spray on and allow to dry to a natural luster. No rinsing or wiping needed. For everyday detailing of clean foliage, I like Pokon aerosol. When used as directed, it leaves a glossier sheen than Foliglo. With both products, take care to protect neighboring surfaces, as they can be slippery on tile and wood floors.

EZ Sweep

-EZ Sweep

For everyday dusting of leaves, a microfiber hand duster works great. Dust is attracted and held by the fibers, and they are easily washed and dried to be used again the next day. But the best buy among cleaning tools is undoubtedly the EZ Sweep, an ingenious little gadget you might have seen in use by waiters at high-end restaurants for removing crumbs from tablecloths between customers (that’s why it’s sometimes called a “crumb roller”). The rolling brush picks up soil and mulch particles from carpets, something that can be a real challenge otherwise, and deposits them neatly inside its plastic shell for disposal later. If you haven’t used one, get one. You’ll wonder what took you so long!

Miscellaneous tools and accessories

GE footcandle meter

-GE footcandle meter

If you took my advice above and decided to invest in a watering machine, you’ll need a few Faucet Adapters to connect to sinks that have aerator threads instead of garden hose threads. These handy fittings allow you to hook up your Aquamate or other standard female garden hose fittings to fill your machine from almost any tap, with either inside or outside threaded fittings. They generally come with a set of two washers of different thicknesses to work with different configurations of faucet aerators so you’re never without a water source. Unless your techs enjoy rooting through potting media with their bare hands to determine soil moisture levels, a quality metal soil probe is a must! The long shaft is inserted into the root zone, given a twist and pulled back out, taking with it tiny samples of the soil at different depths and bringing them out into the light of day for the tech’s inspection. Visual and touch inspection of the soil is thereby possible, leaving no doubt about the actual moisture conditions in the medium, eliminating costly guesswork by even the greenest of technicians. A GE footcandle light meter may seem an expensive luxury item to some, but techs and salespersons alike will benefit from having accurate light level measurements at their disposal, reducing replacement costs and verifying to themselves and to clients that plants are situated in proper light levels for optimal health.

Folding cart

-Folding cart

Any tech will tell you that lugging stuff is a large part of the job of caring for interior plants. The rugged storage tub with rope handles that I’ve used for the past twenty-five years or so is still in service, so this is a great investment. Use it to haul potting soil or mulch with no fears of breaking bags leaving a mess on a client’s carpet, or for keeping plants from dripping water as you’re hauling them around accounts. I have one in every service vehicle, which techs like to use as a trash can to empty clippings and other debris from their watering machine’s bag after each stop, avoiding taking any “hitchhikers” to the next account. For very small accounts, such as residences where you can’t bring your watering machine, a rugged bucket caddy will be much appreciated by your technicians. With its myriad pockets for tools and other items, it’s a mini-workshop that slides over any standard 5-gallon work bucket (we use the ones that floral preservative comes in…re-purposing and recycling is our thing). It holds wet messes and clippings securely, and keeps everything the tech uses organized and ready for use. And to help carry around all the cargo that techs have to bring with them, a compact folding cart will be much appreciated by them. It folds up flat so it’s easily stowed in a service vehicle (even the trunk of a small car) and rolls smoothly over any surface while carrying boxes, loose plants and containers to wherever they’re needed. I like the 24” wide by 36” long bed model as a compromise between ample capacity and compact size.

Tying and staking materials

Chain Lock ties

-Chain Lock ties

Do you really want your service technicians using twine, twist-ties and wooden stakes to shore up plants in need of a little support? Not when these modern alternatives are available and affordable. We love Chain Lock landscape ties for their adjustability, strength, flexibility U-V resistance and discreet black color that lets them blend into the shadows. They’re great for re-positioning tree limbs and supporting newly-planted trees, even outdoors. For smaller plant material, we use foam-padded steel wire that is gentle on plant tissues and has a muted green color that blends with foliage. The wire core can be re-adjusted into any configuration you like, allowing you to re-position stems and holding them in position as they grow. And for extra support, sturdy green-plastic-coated tubular steel Terra Verde stakes are our choice. They have nubbed protrusions all along their length so that ties won’t slip out of place, and their steel innards strongly support stems and small-diameter woody trunks unobtrusively and reliably. The plastic coating ensures that these stakes won’t rust and fail, and they’re available in many lengths and diameters to suit any staking job.

Equip your interiorscape service technicians with this complete kit, and you’ll make them happy campers and efficient workers. I’ve provided links to each product to help you with your shopping, but if you are having trouble sourcing any of these items, feel free to contact me on the Interiorscape.com forum and I’ll be happy to help you find them.

Empowering techs means giving them all the tools they need to succeed. Now go shopping!

Clem Cirelli, Jr. is a career horticulturist and interiorscaper at Belmont Greenhouses in Belle Mead, New Jersey, with over thirty-five years' experience in all segments of the green industry. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Biology from Rutgers University, has written for Interiorscape Magazine, has spoken at TPIE and the Mid-Atlantic Interior Landscape Conference, and contributes regularly to the industry forums, Interiorscape.com and GreenChat.

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