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Saturday, December 15 Business

Property Rounds: Landscapers rake in leaf business

Cleanup of fall foliage is a boon to area landscapers — and a source of major expenditures for local governments.

The heavy and frequent rains in recent months have increased demand for autumnal lawn-care services. Meanwhile, some cities have weighed revisions to their leaf-collection policies to reduce their overhead by hundreds of thousands of dollars. But any such municipal changes likely would not cut into landscaping businesses’ bottom lines.

“There’s a lot of work for us at this time of year,” said Tom Gospodinoff, owner and president of Greenwich Landscape Contracting. “I’m expecting a very busy fall collection season.”

Busy season

With the high precipitation recently, trees are healthier and have kept more of their leaves to this point than in previous years when drought afflicted the area.

“This year, as the fall starts to progress and get towards winter, leaves will start dropping all at once,” Gospodinoff said. “And with the increased rain, the trees and shrubs have put on a lot of growth and need pruning more than once a year.”

Bridgeport-based Diamond Landscaping has also seen more activity recently.

“We’re seeing more people looking to hire out because people are getting busier, but they also have more money, too,” said Don Dickson, the company’s operations manager.

Mike Mattson, of Mike’s Lawn and Property Maintenance in Danbury, said the fall represents the busiest period for his business.

“We have to get the leaves off the lawn before the frost, rain and snow,” he said. “We have about six weeks to do it before putting the plows on the trucks.”

Greenwich Landscape Contracting’s leaf collections can cost several hundred dollars, with removal generally running about 20 percent more than disposing of them on or near the property, according to Gospodinoff.

“It’s up to the client how they want to handle the leaves,” Gospodinoff said. “Some people have the resources to have them picked up and taken away. Others don’t mind them being blown into the woods, if they have enough property to do that and don’t mind them accumulating in a wooded area.”

Proposed changes

To help ease the city’s budget strain, Stamford Mayor David Martin had proposed earlier this year a requirement for residents to bag their own leaves for pickup by the city.

The proposal would have saved at least $227,000. It also would have helped the city adhere to state regulations mandating that leaves be kept out of storm drains to prevent nitrogen and phosphorus from damaging the Long Island Sound ecosystem, Martin said.

But the plan sparked significant opposition from residents and local elected officials. Martin subsequently indicated that he would accept keeping the city’s curbside loose-leaf collection system as long as the Stamford Board of Representatives would support fee increases in other areas.

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In Greenwich, leaf collection is limited to properties on public streets in zones with a half-acre or less of land, with pickups starting in mid-November and running six to eight weeks depending on the year.

“We don’t have too many people down where the town does leaf cleanup,” Gospodinoff said. “In backcountry Greenwich, everybody is responsible for their own leaves.”

Bridgeport and neighboring towns offer loose-leaf collection services for residents, but Dickson said municipalities’ leaf-collection practices do not affect business much.

“We’re always busy,” Dickson said.

For curbside pickup in Norwalk by City Carting, leaves are restricted to brown paper leaf bags, cardboard boxes or plastic containers with no lids. Property owners can also drop off leaves through Dec. 21, at 15 S. Smith St., in East Norwalk.

In Danbury, a number of landscapers bring their leaves to New England Compost, at the back end of Taylor Farm, to be mixed with other organic matter and turned into compost.

Since 1998 under Connecticut’s recycling law, property owners must separate leaves and other yard waste to allow for natural composting.

In 2015, about 100 composting stations in Connecticut processed more than 775,000 cubic yards of leaves — about 165,000 cubic yards of it in the southwestern corner of the state — according to the most recent data from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Three years ago, the 36,000 cubic yards produced in Easton was surpassed statewide only by Ellington, with Stamford the only other local municipality in the top 10 with 20,000 cubic yards.

Chris Bosak, Jordan Grice and Alexander Soule contributed reporting to this article.

pschott@scni.com; 203-964-2236; Twitter: @paulschott

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