When Andrew Jenkins, owner of Visual Edge, bought a tractor with a loader, it was just because he only had one skid steer and needed to be able to move debris.
What he didn’t expect to discover was the world of forestry mulching and the business it would bring him.
Visual Edge is a commercial landscaping company in Aldie, Virginia, that also caters to rural landowners in the area. In an attempt to find a summer purpose for his tractor, Jenkins decided to use a Bush Hog attachment and clear fields for customers in rural areas.
As he cleared the patches of land, his clients would often approach Jenkins and ask if he could also clear their woods. Of course, he couldn’t use a Bush Hog to clear that kind of vegetation, but he began to look at his options.
Forestry mulching attachments aren’t anything new, but purchasing one would cost $30,000. Jenkins instead chose to rent the attachment from Caterpillar and proceeded to be amazed at the market he discovered.
“It’s going nutty,” he says. “It’s so profitable and so cost effective.”
Clients are eager to hire Jenkins because he can clear two to three acres a day while they were spending weeks to clear a single acre with chainsaws, wood chippers and string trimmers.
“They’re throwing money at you because they don’t believe you’re going to be done that fast,” he says. “Clients stand out there and watch; they’re so mesmerized by it.”
The benefits of forestry mulching are numerous. One obvious perk is that there is zero waste. The cleared brush is not hauled away to a landfill or burned. Instead, it’s converted into a mulch coating for the remaining trees.
“It’s basically a 6- to 8-foot-wide wood chipper on steroids,” Jenkins says. “It grinds it up real fine, and it looks like someone just wood chipped your wooded area.”
The removal of invasive species and the reduction of habitats for vermin and ticks are other benefits, along with a visually appealing natural landscape.
Jenkins explains that every yard is different and each client has a different preference on how much should be cleared away.
“We can go through and be very selective with the underbrush,” Jenkins says. “We’re taking out trees that never had a chance.”
For landscapers who want to look into forestry mulching, Jenkins has some advice.
Due to the nature of the forestry mulching attachment, the work requires special attention to safety. Practice common sense and don’t work on the machine while it’s running. The drum speed can reach 2,400 RPMs on some of Caterpillar’s forestry mulching attachments.
“Give people a day rate,” he says. “You have to guess it’s a 2-3 day project, but because it’s the woods, you don’t know until you get back there.”
He also suggests doing a pre-job walkthrough, especially if the client wants only invasive species removed.
Just like any other attachment, you’ll need someone competent on a skid-steer loader. According to Jenkins, if you’re already experienced at operating a skid steer, you can learn how to operate a forestry mulching attachment in 10 to 15 minutes.
It’s also crucial to have experience in basic forestry and some arboreal knowledge. Clients may want a specific plant taken out and another type of tree or shrub to be left alone.
“You’ve got to know the difference between a pine tree and a poplar,” Jenkins says.
An advantage of offering forestry mulching is that it can be done during any time of the year, including the time of year when the rest of your business slows down.