By Stephen J. Kotz
After a long and tough winter, Mr. Dodds said he is anticipating a very short window this spring to prune storm-damaged trees, clean up and prepare gardens for the season, repair damage to driveways and curbs caused by snowplows, and get irrigation systems up and running, all jobs his full-service company handles.
“Everybody is going to be really busy,” he said of the trade in general during an interview in his Southampton office. “So if you want to get on the schedule, don’t wait a month because we’re going to have a really condensed season.”
Every spring seems to bring a different challenge, said Mr. Dodds. Last year, it was damage from Hurricane Sandy. This year, ‘it’s been a brutal winter, and the deer damage is obscene,” he said. “A lot of deer-resistant plant material has been completely defoliated.”
Mr. Dodds, who grew up on what today is the Wolffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack, said he always wanted to “work outside” and the East End was one of the few places that offered the opportunity “where you could be a landscaper and still make a living.”
“I started dragging brush right of high school,” after landing a job with Ray Smith and Associates 19 years ago, where he was soon made a partner, Mr. Dodds said, adding that he was proud that he was the youngest certified arborist in New York State at age 18 and today is the vice president of the Long Island Arboricultural Association.
Mr. Dodds attended both Alfred State College and the State University of New York at Delhi before later completing his education at Farmingdale State College, where he received degrees in landscape design and turf management with a minor in business. “Farmingdale is a great school on Long Island for horticulture,” Mr. Dodds said.
Three years ago, he made the break to form his own company. Today, Jackson Dodds and Company has 14 employees, spread over four divisions, landscape design and installation, tree pruning and removal, irrigation and lawn care and planting.
During his career, Mr. Dodd said he has seen everything, including a trend that started in the mid-1990s before pausing for a few years when the economy tanked in 2007: the removal of full-size specimen trees from one property to be planted on another property, where the homeowner wants an instantly mature landscape.
“They say, ‘the first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps and the third year it leaps,’” Mr. Dodd said about tree transplants, although he quickly added that mature trees sometimes take a couple of more years to recover. “The after-care is everything,” he said. “That is where we carve out a niche, watching the plant’s health and care, prepping the soil and feeding.”
And how big are these trees? Last year, Mr. Dodds said his crew used a 110-ton crane to move a tree that had a 108-inch root ball. “Some of my clients move trees like they move furniture,” he said. “Nothing is too big.”
Fruit orchards are another specialty. “Fruit trees require a very specific timing on when you apply fungicide to the leaves,” he said. “You have to do everything to keep the leaf healthy to keep the fruit healthy. If you miss the timing, your fruit turns into a shriveled up prune.”
Mr. Dodd smiles when asked about organic plant care. It doesn’t work on orchards, he said, and the problem with it is “it typically doesn’t give the kind of results people expect out here.”
That’s not to say he is an advocate of wholesale applications of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Mr. Dodd said he used integrated pest management system and coordinates the applications with the temperature at which they will do the most good and the least harm. “We all have to drink the same water here,” he said, “so we’re by the book when it comes to that.”