Paul Wagner

Interview with Paul Wagner

Paul is the president of Greener Pastures Organics, a property care company located in Southampton, N.Y. With over 15 years of experience in science-based organic tree, shrub and lawn care, he has an extensive roster of clients on Long Island. Originally from Babylon, N.Y., he is a Board Certified Master Arborist, as well as a NYS Certified Nursery Professional with a degree in Ornamental Horticulture.
631 653-6333

Q: How did you become a PRFCT landscape practitioner?
A: I started working in plant health care in the early 90’s and I worked on properties that had horses, and homeowners who were cancer survivors. On these properties we used an organic regimen – only soaps, oils and biologicals. I noticed that on those properties we didn’t get as many pest problems. I started to wonder, are pesticides really necessary? I then began to learn about tree biology and began to use lighter, organic materials. Also, I was trained to do spraying by a woman who taught me that protective clothing was required because pesticides are absorbed into your body and cause adverse health effects. I realized that if we could spray soaps, oils and environmentally benign products all the time, that would be a great thing.

Q: How long have you been PRFCT?
A: Since 1998 I’ve been 90-95% toxin-free in my practice. Basically I’ve been toxin-free for about 20 years.

Q: How many employees and clients do you have?
A: I’m in my 2nd year with my current business, Greener Pastures Organics, and I have 6 employees and approximately 100 clients.

Q: How has being toxin-free affected your business?
A: In general it has been very positive. Our clients tend to have more patience and are okay with a few weeds but no chemicals, unlike those that have zero weed tolerance and don’t care what chemicals are used. Because of this we have more allegiance from clients and this translates into better business.

Q: What’s your specialty?
A: Our specialty is soil health and organic tree, shrub and lawn care. The health of plants is all a byproduct of soil health. In a forest or meadow soil organisms do all the nutrient cycling, disease suppression, and insect control. It’s a million year-old system. But now in most landscapes those critters don’t exist in the amounts necessary to keep plants healthy. That’s where we come in. We re-establish the types of soil organisms that plants need. A soil test is important. It’s your roadmap to know what’s missing. In addition, organic matter creates food and the environment for microbes. It also holds moisture.

Q: What are the main issues clients come to you with?

A: Clients call me the most because they want fewer chemicals on their property. I firmly believe that it’s easier to take care of trees on a toxin-free program. Trees look healthier, there’s more flexibility, and they’re more resilient. Lawns are a little more work. An appreciation of a different aesthetic would be helpful and not just insistence on a “monoculture” lawn.

Q: What kind of questions do you get at Bridge Gardens where you’re available for questions every Tues. from 2:30 to 5:00 PM during the growing season (April – Oct.)?
A: The main questions I get are what should I do about grubs (in the fall), crabgrass and dandelions. For grubs I recommend beneficial nematodes and they can be purchased online from gardening stores. These are microscopic worms that go down into the subsoil and within 24-48 hours of contact with the larva the grubs are dead. They don’t pose any health or environmental risk to pets or humans. For crab grass and dandelions I tell people to make sure you’re seeding aggressively to choke out the weeds. Definitely do not mow your grass shorter than 3 inches. If it’s high enough that you don’t see bare soil you’re definitely shading out the weeds.

Q: Does it cost more for a homeowner to go organic?
A: A very good lawn can be achieved at a comparable price to conventional practices. A “monoculture” lawn with absolutely no other plants becomes more expensive to accomplish organically. It depends on one’s definition of the ideal lawn.

Q: What do you do for tick control?
A: We use a combination of vegetable oils, cedar oil and sometimes chrysanthemum extract (It’s not completely organic, but it breaks down quickly). As far as conventional toxins go, some have very long residuals and remain for a long time.

Q: Do you recommend compost tea?
A: I do recommend it highly – we use 700 to 800 gallons every day. It adds a lot of necessary microbes to the soil. We customize it for shady and sunny lawns as much as possible, analyzing it with a high-powered microscope to make sure we have just the right balance of beneficial organisms. Homeowners can do this themselves with a $400 microscope and we offer classes on this process.

Q: How can someone be sure they have the right blend of compost tea?
A: Packaged compost teas are not that great because you have no idea of how long they've been sitting on the shelf. The best way to tell is by smelling--does it have a fresh earthy smell or does it smell like vinegar or sulphur--in which case it's gone bad.
And then, of course, another way is to see if you get good results with it.
As far as professionals applying the tea, you basically have to trust a recommended professional.

Q: So basically you'll have to wait till you get home and open the package to tell if it's a good tea?

A: Yes, I think so.

Q: What is your biggest challenge in being PRFCT?
A: Our biggest challenge is time and unreasonable expectations. Clients have to be educated about the process of getting results from a living system. We have a lot of customer loyalty, so I believe our approach works.

Q: What are your biggest rewards?
A: When we are able to do things that conventional landscapers said we couldn’t. When we can keep someone’s lawn at a high level after we’ve been told that there’s no way to do this without toxins. We accomplish this frequently and we’re proud of that.