5 Questions with … Mark Willett on spring and greenery

Dracut landscaper Mark Willett, right, with his son and helper, Greg, 24. Valley Dispatch/Dennis Shaughnessey
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DRACUT – Growing up on Pleasant Street, Mark Willett lived in a two-family home with little frontage but with a backyard that seemingly went on forever.

Willett, the sixth of seven children born to Robert and Connie Willett, had to wait his turn before the responsibility of manicuring the large expanse of greenery behind the house fell to him. By then, his dad had purchased a lawn tractor, making Willett’s job that much easier.

In the early 1980s, Willett began his career as a high school math and science teacher at Fellowship Christian Academy in Methuen. With a wife and the first of his four children on the way, he soon realized he would have to supplement his teacher’s salary. Willett began working part-time with a professional landscaper who taught him the finer points of lawn care and yard maintenance.

In 1985, he began his own business, Willett Lawn and Property Services. Today he has a client list of about 30 regular customers in Dracut, Methuen, Andover, Tyngsboro and Pelham, N.H.

Willett still teaches at FCA, but after school on most days you can find him riding a John Deere mower, trimming a hedge and doing whatever else it takes to make the property look good. All three of his now-grown daughters worked with him when they were teens. Today, he works alongside his 24-year-old son, Greg, a student at UMass Lowell.

Q. How much of an impact did the recent winter without snow have on your business?

A. “On one hand it was a big help getting an early start on the spring season, which involves a lot of cleanup, but because there was no snow, the lawns all took a real beating. Snow is actually good for the lawn. It protects the lawn. No snow means no protection. I’ve had to go back to a lot of lawns and put more fertilizer down. But I was happy to get that early jump on the customers. It was a big help. And I don’t do snow removal at all, except for my own house. ”

Q. Are there any special tricks you’ve had to learn while working around stone and concrete?

A. “No tricks, really. You just have to be very careful, especially with a trimmer. You can easily pick up stones and hurl them at a very high velocity at your legs or worse, through a window. I had one that blasted through a sliding-glass patio door. The door just exploded like a bomb went off. That was an expensive day for me.”

Q. What’s the best kind of mulch for the average home and is there such a thing as too much mulch?

A. “I prefer hemlock mulch but you want to be careful about putting it too close to the house because it tends to attract bugs. You want to use it mainly around your trees, shrubs and flowerbeds but try to keep it away from the house.

“To answer the second part of your question, yes. Absolutely. Some people just pile on the mulch year after year without taking the old stuff out. The next thing you know, you have all kinds of fungus growing underneath, which can be really bad for your plants and your shrubs.”

Q. How long is the landscaping season?

A. “I usually begin in late March and go all the way until the beginning of December. We do spring and fall cleanup — that’s one of our specialties. Because I teach school, I can only do this about three afternoons a week, but when summer comes, it’s every day, early in the morning until sometimes early in the evening. ”

Q. Do you enjoy landscaping or do you treat it simply as a job?

A. “I really do enjoy it. There’s something about the smell of freshly cut grass that makes me nostalgic for when I was a little boy and my grandfather would be cutting the grass behind the big house on Pleasant Street. We had an enormous yard behind the house with that good Dracut soil that grew that lush green grass. I can still see him pushing that old yellow rotary mower. You know, the old push mower. I guess those are making a comeback as people go green. I don’t think it would be too practical for me to use one.”