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.

Project Profile: A Corporate Communications Campus in Charlotte

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Project Name: A Corporate Communications Campus in Charlotte

Location: Charlotte, NC

Project Scope: Installation and annual maintenance, maintenance of walkways, turf, beds, trees, pots, building entrances, roadways, perennial and tree care, pruning, irrigation maintenance, snow removal.

Date Project Maintenance Began: June 2014

Ruppert Branch: Charlotte, NC Landscape Management Branch

Ruppert Team Members who Worked on the Project: Josh Lawson (branch manager), Tito Caceres (area manager), Patrick Shelley (field manager), Joaquin Portimao, Taval Alexander and Toure Bradley (crewmen).

Industry Awards Won: National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) 2016 Grand Award, Landscape Contractors Association (LCA) 2016 Grand Award

Site Description: This sprawling 83-acre corporate campus for a communications company features a memorial garden, reflecting pool, wildflower meadow, an abundance of outdoor seating areas and extensive walking trails for the enjoyment of over 1700 employees and numerous visitors. Located directly off I-77 in Charlotte, the campus borders a 35 acre tract of open pasture, forest and wetland. Two of the five Class A office buildings as well as the site’s secure data center are LEED certified and the main buildings are connected by covered walkways. The entire site is designed to promote interconnectivity and harmony with its natural setting.

The five office buildings are connected by a series of covered walkways to promote a feeling on interconnectivity on this sprawling 83-acre campus.


The site is over a dozen years old and has grown in phases. When plant material is displaced due to construction, the client prefers to reuse it in other areas, often requiring temporary holding areas that are also maintained. One Japanese maple, such as those pictured here by the reflecting pool, has been transplanted three times and now resides in the memorial garden.


Boulders unearthed during various construction phases were repurposed throughout the campus to add visual points of interest. With boulders and bedrock as the site’s predominant foundation, landscape crews must add healthier soil and organic matter to the beds and turf more frequently to enable plant growth.


There are 1.5 acres of fire lanes to enable emergency vehicle access. While meant to blend with the rest of the turf, they require a layer of gravel and sand pavers below the turf to bear the vehicle weight. This paver material heats easily, which requires the contractor to closely monitor irrigation, overseed and topdress to ensure turf viability.


As it’s evolved, campus enhancements have been used to provide visual interest, correct for challenges and add material that meets LEED requirements, requiring less maintenance. Eighty percent of these high-visibility beds are located in the shade, so the contractor has worked closely with the client to provide a shade resistant plant palate.


In addition to regular enhancements, the contractor’s scope has evolved to include installation and maintenance of additional landscape areas, including (114) 6 ft. holly trees surrounding a new 1.5 acre solar field. The contractor also maintains the wild grass beneath the solar panels, applying growth regulator to minimize maintenance and keep machines away from the panels as much as possible.


A wildflower meadow was installed to create visual interest while requiring very low maintenance. It has become a naturalized area, seeding itself and only requiring the contractor to mow once a year.


In addition to the contractor’s weekly maintenance visit, a dedicated crewperson is stationed onsite five days a week, eight hours a day and is responsible for keeping all 20 flower beds (totaling 1,700 sq/ft) trim and tight and keeping over two miles of walking trails clean and level.


The contractor is tasked with extreme responsiveness during periods of expected snowfall or icy conditions. The campus’s main roadways and parking areas must remain accessible for employees at all times.


The campus is adjacent to wetlands and has a large wildlife population. The geese on the property create extra challenges for the landscape contractor which requires aerating and overseeding turf areas denuded by the geese and the dedicated crewperson spends up to an hour per day scrubbing and pressure washing the walkways around the buildings to remove excrement.


In addition to geese, the site has a large population of deer and rabbits. The contractor has chosen deer-resistant plant varieties for enhancements, including shrubs like azaleas, hollies, ogon, barberry and distylium, ferns and tall decorative grasses like mulhy grass, and perennials such as irises and astilbe.


While the majority of the site features perennials for sustainability, highly visible areas including the site entrance and roundabout feature bright, colorful annuals. These are inspected for weeds daily, treated with fungicide and fertilizer every 21 days, and rotated 2-3 times per year – in the fall, spring and/or early summer.


Expectations are high on this site and the client is very involved with decisions regarding the landscape and its care. The contractor is constantly challenged to provide new looks for portions of the site that add new plant varieties, colors, textures and patterns into the mix to keep the site vibrant.



Providing a consistently high standard of maintenance in this landscape is challenging. But with strong communication between all parties and an eye to detail, the project—which is always growing in scope—seems to be accomplishing its goal of creating a top notch landscape for its employees and visitors.


Seasonal Color Installation: Bed Prep is the Key to Success

Monday, July 18, 2016
Seasonal Color


Joe Ketterer

By Joe Ketterer, Director of Quality and Efficiency, Landscape Management Division

In our landscape management division, we’ve recently finished installing summer color. The timeframe for summer installation begins after the last frost-free date for that geographic area (the last day it’s expected to reach temperatures low enough for frost, based on historical weather data) and ends around Memorial Day when conditions get too hot and dry. The optimal weather conditions for flower planting are warm and moist, with enough moisture for proper root establishment.

But it’s not just weather conditions that have to be right. The success or failure of flower installation is dependent upon good bed preparation as it determines the depth of the flowers’ root systems. You can’t just remove last year’s flowers and put in new ones – just because a bed has been planted year after year doesn’t guarantee a successful flower display this year. We have developed a 10 Step Process outlining bed prep, proper planting, mulching and watering that we must adhere to for the flowers to have their best chance at taking root and thriving.

10 Step Process

  1. Remove all excess debris from the flower bed – this includes mulch, plant material, roots, weeds, etc.
  2. Test the soil chemistry (pH balance) – the ideal pH level should be between 6 and 7 (neutral)
  3. Add organic compost or ‘amendments’ as necessary (add lime to raise the pH or sulfur to lower the pH)
  4. Use a spade to turn the subsoil along the edges of the bed, being aware of irrigation lines
  5. Till the soil – use a heavy rototiller where possible to achieve a depth of 8-10”
  6. Rake the bed smooth and apply slow-release granular fertilizer with a 14-14-14 NPK ratio. (The NPK ratio refers to the percent of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium in the fertilizer. 14-14-14 is a balanced/complete fertilizer with high amounts of nutrients.)
  7. Plant the flowers – establish and follow an outside line about 10”-12” away from the bed edge. 

    Planter and Passer

    Efficiency Tip: Appoint a planter and a passer – one person removes the pots and passes the plants to the person planting backward in the flower bed so as not to step over any already installed flowers.

  8. Apply pre-emergent herbicide where necessary – this is particularly relevant for fall planting
  9. Top-dress the bed with organic material (composted pine fines or leaf compost when possible), tuck edges with a rake to prevent runoff, then use a blower to perform final cleanup
  10. Water thoroughly at high volume/low pressure and monitor closely for the first 2-3 weeks. Water approximately two times per week until plants are well established.

There are no shortcuts to the 10 Step Process. The more discipline we have when executing these steps, especially those pertaining to proper bed prep, the better quality flower display will result. By enabling plants to develop a deep root system, less watering will be required over the plant’s life and will also give them a better chance of withstanding environmental extremes such as heat, drought, insect and disease pressure.

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