Mt. Airy CUREator: Ryan Conlon, Honeysuckle Removal

We hope you’re enjoying the Resilient Neighborhood series which has focused on the Mt. Airy community of more than 9,000 residents in the northwest corner of the city. This is the second of three profiles of business owners who work in Mt. Airy in diverse fields. The moniker of Mt. Airy CUREator references Mt. Airy CURE, the community’s economic development nonprofit, which is working diligently to improve its business community and overall quality of life. 

This CUREator profile highlights Ryan Conlon, who co-owns Honeysuckle Removal with his wife, Karly.

A few years ago, Ryan Conlon didn’t envision shifting careers to specialize in removing one of our region’s most invasive plants. His move to the Mt. Airy community helped inspire his new vocation. Here’s his story.

How long have you been in business?
I have been in business for three years, working out of my house. I had previously worked as a real estate agent, guitar teacher, a company sign installer, an Uber driver, a jack of all trades. 

Did you ever envision yourself in this line of work?
Not really.

Tell me about your family.
My wife is Karly, and we have a son, Kuiper, who’s four, and a daughter, Charlotte, who’s 13.

Do your kids enjoy getting out in nature, too?
Maybe not as much as me, but they like it. My son’s loves going outside, and my daughter enjoys hiking too.

What was your impression of Mt. Airy when you moved there?
The house was a great fit for us, especially for the price point. I love my neighbors, and we have a great backyard. I noticed how widespread and aggressive honeysuckle was crowding out other plants. It became my testing ground because there was a lot of honeysuckle to clear out.

I enjoy going to our city parks and would sometimes remove a few honeysuckles on my own. It inspired a career change, and I learned everything I could about how honeysuckles grow and how to stop their spread.

I’d always thought of honeysuckle as this fragrant, pretty plant. Why is it harmful?
It smothers any other plant by shading out sunlight for any other native plant. Oaks, maples, poplars, they’re all common victims of honeysuckle.

Is it unique to this area?
Honeysuckle grows everywhere from Texas to Delaware, and its growing range expands every year. But this region is the epicenter of honeysuckle’s growth. It’s the most common woody plant in southwest Ohio.

How many do you have in your crew?
We have three other full-time workers in addition to Karly and me. During the summer, we’ll hire some relatives, college kids and other seasonal workers to meet peak demands.

What are the best ways to kill honeysuckle?
We certified to use herbicides if it’s not an area that receives heavy usage. If it’s a residential yard where the owners want their kids to be able to play, we’ll remove the stumps and cut the vines away.

How much of your business is residential and how much is commercial?
I’d say at least 80% of our work, more like 90%, is residential, people want their kids to be able to play in their yards, or to plant trees or a garden. Demand for honeysuckle removal from commercial properties and public parks is growing, but the large majority is for homes.

What’s been the largest job you’ve undertaken?
It was definitely Greenacres (River Education Center near Milford). It was an eight-acre property, and a good six and a half those acres had to be cleared from honeysuckle, with some very steep hills. We did it in winter, so it was easier to clear it out, but we were there for six weeks.

Do any of your employees live in Mt. Airy?
We’re all over the place. We’re here, we have one guy in Westwood, one in Lebanon, and one in Milford.

How do you get the most out of your business?
We use a lot of yard signs, which grab attention. There are a lot of plumbers and HVAC repair shops, but people see Honeysuckle Removal, and it stands out.

And of course, you’ve got your billboard ads. That’s really putting yourself out there.
It was a leap for sure, and we had to make sure we could afford the investment and could manage the work. We could tell a difference in the increased business.

Without a landscaping background, how did you learn the business?
It was all on the job, a lot of YouTube videos. I didn’t have much chainsaw experience, so when I bought them, I wasn’t shy about asking for help. If you ask, people are usually happy to share what they know.

How does honeysuckle spread?
The negative effects of honeysuckle are never-ending. The birds eat honeysuckle berries, even though they’re bad for them, because they often don’t have enough over sources of food, they poop them out, they fertilize in the ground and eventually vines spring up.

What is most rewarding and challenging about the job?
The heat can really suck, but it feels really good to see the difference that you’ve made in clearing out someone’s yard or a public park so they can enjoy it. We’ve cleared yards near the river where the owners couldn’t see the water because of the honeysuckle, and now they have their view back. It’s satisfying.

What’s the biggest honeysuckle you’ve ever cut down?
In Madisonville, we cut down a 35-ft.-tall honeysuckle, and it was wider around than a rain barrel. We thought it was a tree until we got up close.

Do you have to do a lot of education about the harm honeysuckle does?
We have information on our website about it, but there’s been a lot of emphasis put on it through programs through the parks, public-service ads, even educational kids’ shows that addressed invasive species like honeysuckle. It’s become a lot more widely known the damage honeysuckle can do.

How would you like to see your business evolve in the next five years?
We’d love to become more involved in working with parks and government projects to gain more consistent cashflow. The parks account for about 10% of county land, so it’s important to prevent the spread of invasive species there so residents can enjoy the parks’ natural beauty.

We’ve reached the point where we need to expand beyond running the business out of our house. When we have maintenance, we do it here or at one of guy’s houses. There’s a lot of equipment and inventory, and it would be good to have everything in one place.

Once we’re established in a bigger place, planting native trees would be a good addition to our removal business.

What else do you like to do besides combat honeysuckle?
I just like to play music, play with my kids, and go on hikes.

You can read earlier articles in the Resilient Neighborhoods – Mt. Airy series here.

The Mt. Airy series has been made possible with support from the City of Cincinnati and Homebase, the leading resource for community development, focused on sharing resources, funding, and expertise that helps transform neighborhoods and improve the quality of life for the residents of Greater Cincinnati.
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Read more articles by Steve Aust.

Steve is a freelance writer and editor, father, and husband who enjoys cooking, exercise, travel, and reading. A native of Fort Thomas who spent his collegiate and early-adulthood years in Georgia, marriage brought him across the river, where he now resides in Oakley.