When the economy turns south, the number of jobs put out to bid in a contractor's core business can decrease. Some contractors begin to look for jobs in other lines of work, such as landscaping. Contractors who own and operate compact equipment — such as skid-steer, compact track, mini track, or all-wheel steer loaders — can easily transition into landscaping by using some of the attachments they already have, or by renting or purchasing attachments that assist with most landscaping tasks.
In a soft economy, the benefit of compact equipment is that attachments can be bought and used on machines a contractor already owns for far less than equipment that is dedicated to one or a few applications. For each phase of a landscaping project, there are multiple attachments that decrease the labor and time it takes to complete these jobs.
There are many attachments that assist with the placement of pavers, retaining wall block and concrete. Excavating water features can be done with a backhoe attachment. The backhoe can also be used to install drainage tile and is helpful in retaining wall construction — from digging a base for a wall to moving dirt to clear the way, or to scoop fill behind the wall.
In any hardscaping application, compaction of dirt, sand or other material is always necessary, and the vibratory roller quickly creates a good foundation to build on. Often, dirt or sand needs to be taken to or removed from the job site. To minimize the number of trips and the time spent moving this material, contractors should consider a dumping hopper, which holds more material than buckets and makes fast work of any material-handling task.
On some job sites, it's impossible for concrete trucks to reach a work area where hardscaping is installed. The concrete pump attachment moves the concrete from the truck to the job site without requiring the loader to be moved. The pump runs off power from the loader and moves the concrete through a hose that can be routed through small openings, under decks, through bushes, and around buildings. Bryan Zent, marketing manager with Bobcat Company, says contractors don't even need to have someone at the loader when using the concrete pump. "The Bobcat concrete pump has an optional radio remote control, allowing the flow of concrete to be done at the work area," says Zent.
Hardscaping work that needs only a small amount of concrete can be done with the concrete mixer attachment. When used with a remote attachment control kit, the mixer can be operated from outside the cab. By using the mixer, contractors make only as much concrete as necessary and can produce it as soon as it's needed, saving time and money.
One of the most common tasks in landscaping is planting trees, shrubs and other greenery. The backhoe attachment can be used to dig holes for trees, but the auger may be a better option because the auger does not disturb as much ground as the backhoe. Some contractors use a digger attachment for greenery. The digger is like a shovel, but it works much faster because it is used on a loader. Pallet forks move pallets of small bushes and are also sometimes used to move trees. Zent says Bobcat offers a tree fork attachment for mini-track and small skid-steer loaders, which handle ball and burlap trees, potted trees, decorative rocks, and other odd-shaped objects. One of the fork arms opens and closes to grasp and hold objects against the second arm.
Perhaps the best attachment for planting trees is the tree spade. There are three types of blade configurations on tree spades, each suited to a type of soil and each providing a different type of root ball. Zent says landscapers using the tree spade attachment should remember the 10-1 ratio. Multiplying the diameter of the tree trunk by 10 will give the size of the tree spade to use. For instance, a tree with a trunk diameter of 3 inches requires a 30-inch tree spade. "Many loader manufacturers require that rear counterweights and stabilizers be used on the loader when using a tree spade attachment," says Zent.
One of the benefits of using attachments to install irrigation systems is that the work is done by disturbing as little ground as possible. This cuts down on the cost and time involved in cleanup when these systems are installed in established turf.
Trenchers and vibratory plows dig lines for irrigation systems. The vibratory plow disturbs less ground than the trencher attachment, and Zent suggests purchasing this attachment and using it on a mini-track loader when installing irrigation systems at existing properties. The vibratory plow works faster than a trencher by slicing a thin blade into the ground and placing the irrigation line directly into the trench with a single pass.
Holes for valve boxes can be drilled by using the auger. Once all the components are in place, the trench can be compacted with the trench compactor.
After hardscape, irrigation and trees have been put in place, installing turf is usually next. Before turf can be put down, the area must be prepped. The box blade grades the area, and landplanes and landscape rakes smooth and level the soil. The landscape rake will also collect any surface debris, such as trash that accumulates around new construction, which saves time on site cleanup. The soil conditioner is a cost-effective landscape attachment because it grades and smoothes an area while preparing it for seeding. Sometimes, ground needs to be broken up before it can be prepared for seeding, and the tiller quickly mixes the soil.
Seeder attachments are more accurate than broadcast spreaders in giving seeds proper spacing and putting the seed at the right depth. If sod is going to be used, Zent recommends the sod layer. Bobcat models can install 24- to 48-inch-wide rolls. "The Bobcat sod layer has a lock and pin system that will prevent the sod from unrolling while it is being transported," says Zent. "The Bobcat sod layer also has a relief valve so the attachment will not over-squeeze and damage the roll."
Preventing soil from running off the job site and cleaning up streets is important. "While many municipalities are issuing fines for soils that run into storm sewer systems, keeping a job site clean is just good professional practice," says Zent.
Preventing runoff from the job site is important to avoid fines, and the silt fence installer makes quick work of installing a barrier to keep soil out of storm water systems. An angle broom is good for pushing material off finished surfaces. However, if the material needs to be collected — such as scooping up and removing dirt from a street — the sweeper is a better option. Dirt and other debris are collected in the sweeper and then dumped in a truck or other appropriate location.
Bobcat offers an optional gutter brush for use on the sweeper, which makes it even easier to clean along curbs, buildings and other hard-to-reach areas. "Many work permits require a dust abatement plan," says Zent. "A water kit is available for both the angle broom and sweeper to help control dust on the job site."
These are just some of the attachments available to contractors looking to enter landscaping. Beyond loaders, compact excavators, telescopic tool carriers, and compact tractors are other machines that contractors may already own with optional attachments that can be purchased and used for landscaping at a lower cost than other equipment. Many dealers rent attachments, which is a cost-effective way of completing work when a contractor only uses an attachment occasionally.
Contractors thinking of transitioning into landscaping should consult with their local equipment dealers regarding recommend attachments for certain landscape applications. "If an application is new to you, consult a dealer before beginning work to see which attachment would be best to use," says Zent. "Dealers are experts in attachments, and know which attachments are available for the machines in a contractor's fleet."
An attachment works best when it is used properly, and that's part of dealer service. If an attachment is new to a contractor, the dealer will be able to show the correct way to use the attachment when it is delivered to the job site.
In this economic climate, contractors are looking to keep working. For many, that may mean turning to new types of work. Compact equipment is versatile due to the many attachments available for use on the machines; this makes it easy to transition into landscaping. Equipment dealers can also assist contractors with advice on what attachments to use and training for the proper way to use them.
(Eric Morse works in public relations in Des Moines, IA. Provided by Bobcat Company, Fargo, ND.)