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Close-up: John Mohns

Landscape contractor says crisis will shift attitudes about water use

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A love of the outdoors is what attracted John Mohns, president of Poway-based Benchmark Landscape, to the landscape contracting industry.

"I have a love for horticulture and plants," Mohns said.

After earning a degree in horticulture, Mohns started up his own business offering landscape contracting and maintenance services.

The company enjoyed instant success when it opened its doors 25 years ago. During the first month of operation Mohns was able to hire his first employee, and at the height of its success in 2006, the company employed 335 -- it now employs 215.

The company's workload has been reduced by a combination of the economy and uncertainty over water issues. Though both residential and commercial clients will likely need to replace plants and irrigation to comply with new water restrictions implemented by the San Diego County Water Authority, most do not have the capital to do so.

John Mohns

Mohns said it seems absurd that San Diego should suffer a shortage of water, bordered to the west by the Pacific Ocean. He sees the drought as a result of mismanagement and a public uneducated about water resources.

"Personally, I feel that managing the water responsibly is what has to happen," Mohns said.

Many people water their lawns too often, he said, and there is a great need to educate people about water use in Southern California.

One of the best ways people can conserve water is by replacing lush lawns with native plants that require less water. The biggest challenge is changing the mindset of people who have become accustomed to "green carpets," Mohns said. He plans to lead the way by replacing his own landscape with natives.

"We absolutely have to reduce our water use as a community and I do, too, as a homeowner," he said.

It is also important that people do not forgo landscapes altogether in an effort to save money and reduce water consumption, Mohns said.

"I really think it's important that we not cover everything with asphalt and concrete," Mohns said.

That also includes not carpeting over lawns with artificial turf. While some of the new products look like real grass, they have not been around long enough to determine what they will look like a decade from now. The products also do not cool the air like real grass, and contribute to the urban heat island effect, Mohns said.

Artificial turf is, however, a good option for large sports fields that require an exorbitant quantity of water to maintain, he said.

Landscaping alternatives aside, Mohns is unsure public agencies' plans to encourage conservation by charging a higher rate for excess consumption will work.

"Why have people not done a better job of conserving water?" Mohns asked. "It's because water is cheap; but it's not going to be anymore."

However, there is still a portion of the population for whom a $1,000 water bill is not a problem, Mohns said. Such people are likely to value the appearance of their lush lawn over the cost to keep it that way.

"It's a quality of life issue," he said.

Another challenge facing the landscape industry is a shortage of management-level workers and trainees. There are not enough people interested in entering the field, and many of the laborers who currently work in the industry are not interested in furthering their training.

The industry is in need of people with a background in horticulture, business sense, good organizational and communication skills, Mohns said.

Though staffing may be a major problem in the future, water is still the largest issue facing the construction industry, Mohns said.

Mohns believes the current crisis will help change attitudes about water use in Southern California, just as recent wildfires changed residents' attitudes toward brush removal.

"With fires the community gets it," Mohns said. "I think sometimes it takes a crisis to get things done."

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1 UserComments
Sibley 4:54am September 8, 2009

Hi , Thanks for writing such an interesting article. It’s really good to know about the real estate and home decoration and renovation in detail. A beautifully groomed lawn and garden are in the dreams of most homeowners and whether their property is spacious or a postage stamp, getting that look they desire is going to require a big investment of time and labor intensive work, so a good alternative is hiring a reliable San Diego Landscaping company. Thanks, - Sibley