Coach’s Corner: Turf Renovation

Friday, June 16, 2017

Taking a site walk to evaluate summer turf condition and possible need for renovation

Joe Ketterer

By Joe Ketterer, Director of Quality and Efficiency

Turf renovation—comprised of aeration, topdressing, liming and overseeding operations—is a process that takes place when air temperatures cool but soil temperatures are still warm, in late summer or early fall. However, mid-summer is the time to start taking proactive steps to get the best return on your investment and increase the chances of having good germination and development of the newly seeded grasses come fall, beginnig with a turf evaluation to identify deficienties or problematic areas that need to be addressed in order to support a healthy stand of turfgrass.

What are some reasons to perform turf renovation for our customers?

  • Poor growth and establishment following initial installation
  • Loss of color and density due to drought, insect or disease pressure. Loss of density can lead to the spread of opportunistic crabgrass, nutsedge and summer annual broadleaf weeds filling in the resulting voids. An old industry adage says, There's always something that will grow where turfgrass won't." There are times where standard chemical control programs are simply not able to provide sufficient levels of weed control and specialized supplemental applications are deemed necessary.
  • Excessive damage from construction or utilities resulting in erosion, or compaction from pedestrian traffic.
  • To introduce new and genetically improved varieties of grass seed, strengthening existing turf density so it can better serve as a bio-filter, helping keep our waterways and estuaries clean

Soil Sample

Once you determine a need for turf renovation, there are two things that you should do right away to get the process headed in the right direction. First, you should take a soil test to determine:

  1. Nutrient levels: In particular, phosphorous and potassium are crucial to seedling development. The recommendations provided with soil test results will determine if an additional starter fertilizer is necessary in accordance with nutrient management laws.
  1. pH levels: The desired pH range, at which nutrients in the soil profile are most readily available to the plant, is 6.0 to 7.0. If pH levels are low, you would apply lime to raise the pH, and if levels were high, you might consider elemental sulfur to lower the pH.
  1. Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC): This essentially is a measure of the soil’s ability to attract and hold nutrients. Soils with low CEC (excessively sandy soils, for example) typically need to have organic matter added to raise their CEC so that they can capture and retain nutrients. Topdressing, in conjunction with aeration, prior to overseeding at ½ to 1 inch of a 50/50 mix of compost and screened topsoil can dramatically improve success in those stressed out areas.

The importance of soil testing and maintaining the proper balance of soil chemistry cannot be overstated, as it is a key component to the success of basic aeration and overseeding operations. Too often, this important step is overlooked because of the time it takes to get results and recommendations back from an appropriate and dependable soil testing lab. The actual cost of the test is insignificant when compared to the cost of a failed turf renovation.

Second, coordination of the mowing and overseeding schedules with the turf chemical applications is key to a successful renovation in order to reduce weed competition and pave the way for the newly germinated seedlings. Chemical applications should be scheduled two to four weeks ahead to allow time for herbicides to “break down” and not negatively affect germination of the new seed.

In short, the time to start thinking about turf renovation is now, and this begins by walking the site with our customer and identifying needs, clarifying expectations, taking soil tests, making additional recommendations, and proactively scheduling turf chemical application as needed. It is a process of sequential events that requires attention to detail in order to get the best results from your fall turf renovation efforts.

Coach's Corner: Quality Details

Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Jimmy Watson Presenting

Jimmy Watson, area manager in our Mableton, GA maintenance branch, presenting his team's entry in the Quality Details contest.

By Joe Ketterer, Director of Quality and Efficiency, Maintenance Division

Joe Ketterer

During one of our MDD maintenance breakout sessions, we took a new twist on the traditional “Devil in the Details” quality training course. In an effort to make the classroom training more interactive and fun, we challenged each branch to come up with three examples of before-and-after shots displaying horticultural details addressed during spring operations (i.e. dormant pruning, specialty weed control, mulch bed consolidation, and flower maintenance). This tied in well with the MDD theme of “Pride in our Progress,” as each team had to explain to the group what work had been performed and how it improved the quality and appearance of the site. It also gave field managers a chance to practice public speaking and presenting to a group. They were each given 10 minutes to present in front of their peers and were graded by a panel of managers.

Criteria for judging included:

  • Overall visual and written presentation quality (an important skill for field managers who submit electronic property service reports to customers)
  • Speakers’ ability to verbally articulate the ideas in a clear, concise and professional manner within the given timeframe
  • Degree of innovation with respect to the knowledge, skill and creativity of the examples used
  • Degree of value added to the customer and to the company as a result of the operations 

We would like to congratulate the top three winners out of 15 entries, Samuel Antes (TOM), Rob Horton (BAM) and Jimmy Watson (MAM). They were each awarded a small bonus and recognized before the entire group attending MDD.

Joe Ketterer

Rob Horton (BAM) presented an example of how his crew dealt with mature ornamental grasses during spring perennial cutback operations. Instead of using gas shears to cut back the bulk of the grasses, they used a 36” WB mower raised to its highest mowing height, then used shears to clean up the edges. This technique improved efficiency and provided consistency throughout the site.

When we tap into our team’s competitive spirit, and combine that with a focus on lessons learned, we come away with valuable insight into the “Excellence of Execution” of our services. Not only was this exercise a valuable learning experience for those team members who were chosen to present, but it also helps us refine our processes and increase our efficiency for our customers. 

Renowned NFL player and coach Vince Lombardi is quoted as having said, “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” As your ‘coach,’ I beg to differ. I prefer to say, “winning is everything if everyone wins.” Moving forward, let us apply the ideas shared and lessons learned from this competition to create win-win scenarios with respect to quality and efficiency for our customers, first and foremost, and also for our company and each other.

Coach’s Corner: Preparing for Dormant Pruning

Monday, December 12, 2016


Joe Ketterer

By Joe Ketterer, Director of Quality and Efficiency, Maintenance Division

Dormant pruning is done to improve plant health and/or reduce the size of existing plantings that may have become overgrown since their initial planting. When properly timed and executed, dormant pruning will maintain the natural shape and growth habits of the shrub with respect to its flowering, fruiting and foliage characteristics.

All too often, many flowering plants are sheared repeatedly during the course of the growing season, preventing them from showing off the very attributes for which they were planted in the first place. We need to stop this horticulturally incorrect practice that is all too common within the industry/marketplace just because it appears to be faster and more economical. While shearing of some evergreens has its place with respect to maintaining a formal manicured hedge, we need to recognize that it actually can cost more in the long run with respect to total labor costs expended over the course of the entire season or contract year. More education regarding plant culture is needed for our own team members as well as our customers about the value of dormant pruning. As we prepare for the 2017 dormant pruning season (January through March), it is important to understand why we are doing this and what it means for our customer, the company, and the overall health and appearance of the plant.

Benefits of Dormant Pruning for the Customer:

  • Increases the aesthetic and ornamental value of existing plant material. This could include improved flowering, fruiting, foliage and general growth habit or plant shape.
  • Improves the overall appearance of the site with more natural looking plants that perform better horticulturally
  • Can potentially reduce maintenance costs over time and preserve the integrity of the original design while keeping property values up
  • Improves plant health by reducing certain pest populations

Photo caption (above): Spider mite damage is especially common among sheared and tightly pruned plants, and they can decimate the leaves. Dormant pruning will often eliminate this problem and make the plant more hospitable to beneficial insects such as ladybugs.

Photo caption (below): Crow’s feet is an excessive flush of growth caused by a single cut resulting in three to five new small stems.

Benefits of Dormant Pruning for the Company:

  • Reduces overall pruning hours for the entire season by reducing growth flushes and crow’s feet
  • Reduces our workload in the summer Dormant pruning can significantly reduce summer pruning needs, as long as we don’t “undo” the good work that we did in the first quarter with indiscriminate or severe shearing, which in turn negates the horticultural benefits of dormant pruning and applied growth regulators by actually encouraging flush growth as a response to severe shearing.
  • Improves our reputation and image by implementing more horticulturally correct methods
  • Creates enhancement sales opportunities

Euonymous Alatus Compacta (Burning Bush) when it’s been sheared (left), makes the plant more susceptible to mites.





Euonymous Alatus Compacta (Burning Bush) when it’s been dormant pruned (right), allows for beneficial insects to thrive.


It is important to note that not all shrub species require dormant pruning, and not all can be dormant pruned to the same extent or at the same time, as some are more sensitive to cold and severity of pruning. Not all plants are created equal and therefore should not be treated equally. The ability to identify plants is paramount to the success of dormant pruning.

The following species of plants offer the highest gains if properly dormant pruned:

  • Euonymus sp. (Manhattan and Burning Bush)
  • Hollies sp. (Chinese, Japanese, Inkberry, Winterberry)
  • Roses sp. (Knockout and Carpet Roses)
  • Barberry sp. (Crimson Pygmy and Julianne)
  • Viburnum sp. (Korean Spice, Dentatum, Burkwoodi, etc.)
  • Hydrangeas sp. (Paniculata, Macrophylla, Oakleaf, etc.)
  • Spireas sp. and Abelia (most summer flowering shrubs)

Knowledge is Power...look for three training modules on dormant pruning to be posted in the Learning Management System (LMS) soon!

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