Trends in Vegetation Management

Nov. 1, 2004

“Highway aesthetics is a most important consideration in Federal highway programs. Highways must not only blend with our natural, social, and cultural environment, but also provide pleasure and satisfaction in their use. Planning and development of the roadside should be concurrent with or closely follow that of the highway.”-US Code of Federal Regulations, Title 23, Highways

Whether it’s the roadside, rights of way, or public spaces such as parks, vegetation management has become an increasing priority for governmental agencies. Critical decisions include what type of vegetation is chosen for these sites (and what is eradicated), who is responsible for maintaining these areas, and how to manage safety issues such as access around tight spaces and utilities.

Florida Roadsides
Roadside vegetation maintenance can be costly. As a Florida-based roadside beautification task team points out, plant mortality rates on highway landscape projects are higher than in most other environments. On the other hand, management of maturing trees on the state highway system according to arboricultural industry standards can reduce expenses and increase safety and value, the team adds.

The team points out that a return on investment on proper plant selection can be realized through several measures, including:

  • Safety through proper plantings, reducing the need for roadside mowing, reducing highway hypnosis, and screening glare from headlights and sunlight
  • Reduction of maintenance costs and energy consumption by reducing size of turf areas and frequency of mowing cycles, reducing erosion and increasing stability of slopes, and extending natural roadside edge
  • Environmental improvements through increasing native habitat, reducing stormwater runoff, improving stormwater treatment, and reducing heat islands
  • Improvement of property values and relationships with residential areas through screening undesirable views, framing desirable views, and enhancing stormwater ponds

Florida is one of the leading states in the country for its attention to roadside vegetation management-due in no small part, perhaps, to the fact that the Sunshine State heavily depends on tourism for its revenue and attracting tourists means looking good. The state received an award in 2001 for Excellence in Roadside Management from the National Roadside Vegetation Management Association (NRVMA).

The quest for excellence continues. The Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) Roadside Beautification Task Team prepared a report during the summer of 2004 with the goal of creating the most beautiful highways in the United States-highways that are safer while being ecologically and economically sustainable-and increasing its return on investment in roadside beautification.

FDOT is in charge of 12,000 miles and 186,000 acres. Historically, the foundation for the state’s roadside beautification programs lies in the design, construction, and maintenance of traditional landscape and wildflower projects. Now, however, the task team sees that roadside vegetation is best augmented by entire landscapes that include decorative paving, lighting, fencing, street furniture, ponds, greenways, trails, and other popular amenities.

Achieving these landscapes requires cooperation from other state agencies and even from non-state governmental entities, such as universities, media, local governments, and federal agencies, the team points out, calling for more refined organization and structure.

Beautification programs affect other program areas, including roadway design, construction, maintenance, emergency management, transportation enhancements, scenic highways, transit, roadside management, management of invasive plants, drainage, utilities, traffic operations, outdoor advertising, protection of endangered plants, community values, water quality, air quality, noise, wildlife mortality, and historic and cultural resources.

Roadside vegetation also affects every aspect of Florida’s landscape, including upland, wetland, aquatic, and coastal ecologies, as well as aesthetics, natural heritage, and urban forestry.

Although maintenance usually implies mowing and trimming, Florida officials point out that watering is another major consideration in vegetation management. The task team points out the need for the state to have water conservation (Xeriscape) standards, and irrigation design standards and specifications.

Jeff Caster is a landscape architect for FDOT. He is not only engaged in carrying out the state’s present practices for vegetation management, but is also involved in efforts for future improvements.

It was Caster’s predecessor, Gary Henry, who organized a national conference in Florida for which the state received the NRVMA award. Titled “Seeds for the Future,” the conference drew together producers, consumers, and research scientists trying to increase the availability of native ecotype seeds.

“Sometimes plants that are native to Florida are also native to another part of the world, but genetically they are different the same way that people are native to different continents but genetically they’re different,” Caster points out. “Ninety-nine-point-nine percent, we’re all the same genetically, but there’s that one-tenth percent that makes us different. Plants are the same way-that little percentage makes those plants better adapted to the world they are from. Scientists know this now, but the green industries have not made that change.”

Caster says in Florida, as in other parts of the world, the state is forced to purchase plants that are genetically adapted to some other region of the world. The aim of the conference was to brainstorm on how native seeds and species could be made available when and where they are needed.

“Since that time, we’ve made a lot of progress here in Florida in the direction of making Florida ecotype species available here for roadway projects or any other project,” Caster says. “We spend a lot of money on seed; there are ecologic reasons for having those Florida seeds and there are also economic reasons. Governor Jeb Bush wants us to purchase from Florida farmers if seed is available.”

Consequently, the state has established a farmers’ native seed co-op called the Florida Wildflower Cooperative. Comprising about a dozen farmers, the group turned a profit and sold all available seed in 2003, its first year of operation.

“This year, they expect to have more seed available and hopefully more profit,” says Caster. “We have a new industry in Florida. There’s not enough available to meet the demand; demand is growing and production is growing.”

Caster notes Florida’s roadside vegetation management has taken the same approach for years: relying heavily on attentive mechanical control, supplemented with chemical control. The state does large and small machine mowing and also uses handheld machines.

“If we can mow less area and mow less frequently, that’s less time mowers are out there on the right of way, which makes the roadway safer,” Caster says. “It’s also a matter of saving energy consumption and reducing energy costs.” He adds, however, “As much as the resources allow, we are going to mow, because a more highly maintained area is what we are seeking.”

Caster says, though, that he is not convinced that the more manicured a roadway is, the better it is and that short grass with clipped hedges and everything trimmed back is the most desirable look. “It’s not sustainable. It’s not practical. It’s not serving any purpose,” he says. “In my professional opinion, we’re doing too much mechanical control and too much chemical control. We’re not working with nature, we are working against nature.

“We are too well-trained in mechanical and chemical control-so well-trained and so well-equipped to do that, it is hard to think about doing things any differently,” Caster says. “But we’re in the process of rethinking how we are doing our roadside management.”

Caster figures part of the pressure to look “manicured” comes from Florida relying heavily on tourism. “But to me, if the entire right of way was a tall grass prairie or a meadow, that could look good,” he says. “It can look kept; it can look managed. It doesn’t have to be a crew cut-it can be a long-hair look, but it can be well-groomed and still be safe.

“We can still have areas, if necessary, where we mow the grass short and frequently and keep it that way, but there are other areas that could be mowed once a year or every other year. We could allow native plants to dominate rather than let this monoculture of grass dominate.”

He’s monitoring how land is being managed by those in the state park, state forest, and national forest systems and other large land management agencies to find trends and see how their resources are being used.

Golf courses offer another good model, Caster says. “I believe the golf course industry is ahead of the roadway industry in terms of realizing that the way they manage land has a big impact on nearby ecology and economy. They are realizing that they can do a more sustainable type of golf course management,” he says.

“First of all, just the way golf courses look: entire fairways are not managed the same way. The edge around the green is managed differently than the green itself, and then you’ve got fairways and the rough, and then you’ve got natural areas.” It is not economically feasible, he notes, to manage the entire golf course the way the fairways are kept.

“I think in our roadways, we need to do that too, so that in urban and gateway areas, you invest a lot of money and resources to keep it managed and manicured, but as you move away from those areas, you go back to a more natural management routine,” Caster says.

Florida has traditionally used Bahia and Bermuda grass seeds, and that is one of the factors Caster is attempting to change. “After we build the roadways, we could come back and reseed an area with a mixture of native ecotype seeds and restore a native grassland,” Caster says. “Then we could let natural succession take its course.

“Or we could interfere with natural succession by mowing once a year or every couple of years so that it wouldn’t become a woodland; it would stay a grassland. In nature, you don’t get a monoculture of grass, you get a mosaic of grasses that has dozens of species of grasses and other native plants all living together in a kind of interdependency on each other.

“You can get one species that thrives in the fall and another that thrives in the spring, and as one fades away the other comes on strong, so there’s always something there. They hold the soil beautifully and need little or no care.”

To maintain a monoculture of one type of grass such as Bahia requires extensive mechanical and chemical control, Caster points out, adding that mowing must occur up to 15 times a year and herbicides and fertilizers are constantly being applied. “If you stop mowing and spraying the Bahia grass, other plants quickly encroach, and nature tries to retake the land. Our current practices say that’s a bad thing, but I think that’s a good thing.”

Caster has heard it said that Mother Nature is the world’s best engineer. “She uses plants to stabilize the soil, to shade the ground and keep it cool. She uses plants to provide habitat for all different plants and animals. She uses plants to make the world beautiful, and the list goes on. Transportation agencies are not getting the full benefit of these plants,” he says.

In his push to persuade other state authorities to get away from a monoculture, manicured look, Caster says he draws his strength from the interagency work he does, “seeing what they are doing and realizing there’s nothing but a wire fence between our properties.

“You look on that side of the fence at what that looks like and then you cross over the fence and we’ve got just a monoculture that’s almost like we’re paving the ground with the Bahia grass. That 186,000 acres is a living natural resource we are squandering. It’s too precious to pave it all.”

In some isolated areas of Florida, some DOT employees have a passion for planting wildflowers on the roadside, Caster notes. “Historically at the DOT, the type of wildflower planting we’ve been doing is designating an area as a wildflower area. We prepare the bed and plant the seeds, the flowers would grow, and they would get mowed at some point; the next year we’d come back and have to do it all over again.

“I want to stop that nonsense. I want to go out there and plant some Florida ecotype seeds native to Florida and manage the right of way so that seed comes back year after year, and the area that is covered gets bigger and bigger every year as that seed disburses beyond its original area.”

With respect to stormwater areas, Caster says the way roadside vegetation is planted and managed can make a big difference. One can do calculations to determine the amount of runoff from a paved area, a forested area, or a turf area. “I look at how many thousands of acres of turf we are managing, and I do the calculations for the amount of runoff that comes off of our roadsides. If we could convert those acres of turf to a meadow or forested area, we would get a different set of calculations and there would be less runoff coming off of our roads,” he says. “If there was less runoff, we could have smaller stormwater management ponds and would have to treat less water.”

Smaller ponds, in turn, would mean “we have to buy and condemn fewer properties,” he explains. “It’s unbelievable, when you follow the trail of money, how you can save so much by just which plants you plant on a slope or which plants you put on a roadside and how you manage them.”

Caster says when a highway is designed, “it’s understood that if you disturb the land to build a road, you are going to cover it up with turf when you get done. Then they do the stormwater calculations based on how many square acres and miles of turf there is and then you run calculations and size up the stormwater pond.

“If we did those same designs and determined we are not going to cover it up with turf, but reforest it or make it into a tall grass prairie, we would come up with a different set of calculations and have less right of way to purchase and manage,” he adds.

Caster says many people believe Bahia grass is the “only super bullet that will stabilize slopes. If there are too many trees on a slope, we cut them down because they’re shading out the Bahia grass and of course, the Bahia grass is thought to be the only thing that will stabilize the slopes.”

A staunch advocate of prescribed fire, he says the state will be using it for the first time ever beginning this year or in early 2005 as a vegetation management technique. Ten years ago, the state initiated a right-of-way process to widen a portion of a US highway north of Tallahassee from two to four lanes. The entire right of way needed is owned by one individual, a woman who owns a large plantation. She gave all of the land needed to the state with the stipulation that the right of way be managed by prescribed fire in the manner in which her own plantation is managed.

“She found it to be the most economical and ecological way to manage her plantation,” Caster says. “We’ve never done that in Florida. We finished widening the 20-mile section of highway. We’re planting it with plants native to the watershed. Where appropriate, we’re planting fire-dependent species that will be the fuel for prescribed fires.

“If we do them frequently enough, there never will be enough fuel on the ground to create a raging wildfire. Florida frequently gets wildfires because of lightning. The wildfires of a couple of hundred years ago had flames only 6 inches or a foot high. They were clean-burning, smokeless fires.”

The state is aiming to have a continuous landscape from the plantation to the highway across the right of way. “She’d burn the plantation; we’d burn the right-of-way area,” Caster says. “It would be breathtaking, so beautiful, and so safe. We’d use the same maintenance of traffic precautions as we do to build roads. The Florida Division of Forestry will help us out with it. It’s just one vegetation management tool we can use in addition to mechanical and chemical control.”

The state plans a large media event for the first prescribed fire to use it as a teaching opportunity, Caster says. “We want to show there’s a difference between prescribed fire and wildfire,” he notes.

Excellence in South Carolina

The South Carolina Department of Transportation’s (SCDOT) Maintenance-IRVM (Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management) Program also received an Award for Excellence in Roadside Management from NRVMA in 2002. SCDOT is responsible for maintaining vegetation along 42,000 miles of roadways in South Carolina, including nine welcome centers and 24 rest areas.

“In some cases, SCDOT is partnering with communities, municipalities, and local government entities to provide maintenance of landscaped sites within the SCDOT rights of way,” says K.J. Swygert, program coordinator for SCDOT-Road Maintenance, Vegetation Management, and Prideways. “Road user fees on fuel provide funding for maintenance activities.”

Swygert says the safety of SCDOT employees and the traveling public is of utmost concern to SCDOT in vegetation management activities. “SCDOT follows established work-zone-safety and other internal guidelines and well as traffic control standards as stated in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices,” she says. “These guidelines are implemented to ensure the safety of persons for all roadside activities.”

Mowing is the only activity restricted statewide, Swygert says. “State law currently limits mowing of interstate rights of way to no more than 30 feet from the edge of the pavement,” she says.

Swygert says during road construction, portions of the right of way are used for detention and sediment basins. After construction, they are usually returned to a native state.

Plant species for roadside vegetation are selected based upon the needs of a particular project and location. “In order to provide a safe and reliable transportation system, SCDOT seeks vegetation that allows sufficient visibility of traffic signs and safety appurtenances,” Swygert says. “Additionally, species that require limited maintenance; establish relatively quickly; and are commercially, readily, and economically available are plant characteristics that are appealing to SCDOT.”

Avoiding Invasive Plants in Arizona
LeRoy Brady is the landscape architect for Arizona’s Department of Transportation. His agency is responsible for rights of way and rest areas. Brady says Arizona is trying to improve its approach to managing roadside vegetation by using seed mixes related to biozones in each area of the state, considering soil types as well as elevation and rainfall.

Arizona is using entirely native species-favoring perennials-in accommodating the needs of stormwater and erosion control, Brady says. “We use some annual flowers and a mixture of grasses, forbs, and shrubs, and then outside the clear zone areas are tree seed,” says Brady. The state uses products from Biological Networks of Conifer, CO.

Plants used depend partly on the elevation. For example, plants such as ironwood and blue Palo Verde might be planted at lower elevations, while juniper may be a choice at higher elevations. Currently, on low elevations, the state uses desert marigold, Mexican poppy, and brittlebush. “One interesting sideline on brittlebush is where we get establishments of brittlebush, we are not getting tumbleweeds,” Brady notes.

There are species that tend to be invasive in the desert area that are not included in the seed, Brady says. “Desert broom would be one,” he says. “We tend to be careful about the use of some things that get a little large, like four-wing saltbush.” In using native plants, Brady is opting for a preference that is in line with a practice that was initiated 20 years ago toward improving seed availability of native shrubs and grasses.

Responsibility for maintenance of Arizona rights of way and rest stops generally is shared by both the state and private contractors. “There is some contracting of specific work items,” Brady says. “The department is responsible for the seeding, which is done with the construction projects, and the department is responsible for the maintenance. We don’t do a lot of mowing, but some of the mowing that is done is done by contract. Some spraying is also done by contract. And when we get some encroachment within some of the clear zones, some of that is done by contract, but it’s on a section-by-section basis.”

With rights of way, access from the roadway or cross street isn’t much of a problem, he notes. “When we are designing landscaping within the urban areas, we design that landscaping for areas where the landscape maintenance workers and those working on the traffic signal and like can do their maintenance activities,” he adds.

Brady says there are some detention basins in the areas being maintained, but they serve the sole purpose of accommodating stormwater runoff. “So far, the first flush hasn’t been a major problem. I wish everybody else had a state as neat as Arizona to work in. We tend to be proactive, and the desert is just beautiful.”

strong>Land Stewardship in Indiana

Don Miller works in Land Stewardship with Indy Parks and Recreation in Indianapolis, IN. The Land Stewardship section has been operational for 10 years and is responsible for an expansive greenway system with linear parks that connect into larger parks.

“We maintain natural areas and restore areas that are not natural anymore,” Miller says. “We inherit a lot of land from previous land users, like agriculture. When we buy land, often it’s been in agriculture, so we replant native plant communities. In the natural areas, we limit most of it to native species. We have several real nasty invasive species that leave bare soil under plants.”

The section also conducts countywide surveys on remaining natural woodlands in the county. For the fieldwork and planning, there are two full-time employees and seasonal hires. Land Stewardship also works with the Forestry section in hazardous tree removal and tree planting in rights of way.

In the erosion control arena, Land Stewardship spends time blocking what it calls “volunteer trails.” Those are off-trail traffic areas created by hikers who carve out their own paths through wooded areas.

“A lot of times, trail users will be up on top of the bluff overlooking another trail and just decide to slide down a hill to get to the other trail and as a result, we have many cubic yards of soil that end up on the bottom of the bluffs,” Miller says. “In those cases we experimented with putting down jute mats and cutting some invasive species-primarily bush honeysuckle-and we pile that on top of the jute mat as a barricade to keep people out,” he adds. “The object is to keep the traffic out and let the surrounding seed source find its way into that area and reestablish plants.”

The parks department also erects split-rail fence as a barrier when necessary. “We found that just brushing a trail doesn’t work, and eventually, as it starts decaying, they’ll start going around the edge and eventually it’ll end up being the same way,” Miller says. “If you look underneath the bush honeysuckle, you’ll see bare soil, so water runoff takes a lot of soil and deposits it in the drainageways.”

With respect to stormwater management, Miller says most of the structures are established, such as grass swales and retention ponds. “We planted swales with native vegetation. Then we plant shoreline vegetation to help reduce some of the wave erosion and help improve the habitat for critters that need vegetation.”

Miller says another part of the department’s plan is to pull back mowing, which he has found to be fairly successful. The department creates GIS (geographic information system) layers for all of the mowing, some of which is subcontracted work.

“We’ve pulled back to within 2 feet of the edge instead of mowing all the way down to the edge,” he says. “We haven’t been able to enforce that 100%-we just haven’t had the time-but if we put in plants and see the plants are being mowed, most of the time we take the time to contact the vendor and let them know they are mowing down our plants.”

Land Stewardship promotes the use of native plants at all times, Miller says. “Whether it is for horticulture use, large-scale native plant landscaping, or putting in street trees, we always try to promote native plants and native plant communities. Grasses, hedges, wildflowers, shrubs-the whole works. Our land stewardship policy talks about the use of native plants, and we will strive to incorporate those in the landscape and make it more of a functional landscape.

“We are trying to repair the landscape and not simply just decorate it. We want better groundwater and better water infiltration into the soil, and it goes along with the city of Indianapolis’ efforts to clean up the water in the streams.”

Even eliminating all point-source pollution problems, such as combined sewer overflows, won’t completely solve the water-quality problems, Miller notes. “The streams will not be good enough for 100% body contact, so they realize that involves nonpoint-source pollution control by getting rid of the invasive species and planting native plant communities. That contributes to the reduction of stormwater runoff. That’s going to be the city’s biggest hurdle over the next several years.”

Indianapolis is cautious in its use of pesticides and herbicides, Miller says.

“We have our own pest management practices that are written down for our contractors; we are limited by federal and local ordinances and laws on how those herbicides are used,” he says. “We have a local ordinance that if you spray on school grounds, you have to notify them 48 hours in advance. We have some schools that are part of the park property that we don’t have to worry about, because we really don’t spray on the school property.

“We use herbicides that are not real persistent in the environment and don’t move in the soil; their half-lives are pretty short-such as 15 or 20 days-depending on the weather,” Miller says. The agency sometimes uses Townsend Chemicals products.

With respect to LD50 (toxicity) values, Miller says the state looks for products that are non-carcinogenic and non-restricted. “We try to use things that are only specifically for the target plants that we are trying to get rid of.”

Several factors drive the choice of plants, Miller says. “On one end of the scale, we have high-quality natural areas,” he says. “In some places where they’ve been previously cleared and are lacking species, we will pick native genotype shrubs and trees, introducing a few species here and there, such as swamp White oak and Burr oak. But we typically don’t plant natural areas unless we are trying to shrink a trail or reduce some impact,” he adds. “On the other end of the scale, we have areas that are just turf grass, so those are wide open to almost anything. We try to be creative with that and have to take into account the use of the areas—how tall the vegetation needs to be, are people going to feel closed in on a trail and be afraid someone is hiding behind taller vegetation, the secure feeling people will have in the area.”

In areas that are wide open with turf grass or previously heavily impacted by agriculture, plant communities that are low-maintenance and crowd out the weeds are favored. “Our best success is prairie vegetation, because the prairie vegetation seems to crowd out the thistles and other things that come in, so we don’t have to do much except burn or mow once a year,” Miller notes. “But we have been doing quite a bit of understory planting where we have canopy trees over turf. We get rid of the turf and plant shade species. We have a number of different successes on that also.”

Following planting, Land Stewardship contracts out most of the maintenance in invasive species removal and control. “Unfortunately, three years after we do the initial clearing, there’s a whole new crop from the existing seed source that’s in the ground,” Miller says. “It might cost us $5,000 an acre to remove the woody material initially and then $1,200 an acre three years afterward, and then it goes down after that to spot treat it.”

Miller concedes his section is “stressed” in trying to maintain what’s been started and, in some cases, has lost ground. “We move on to other areas and work on those, and we have volunteer projects and grants involved, so there are opportunities all over the place, but getting back to the ones that we’ve already done is a little bit more of a challenge,” he says.

Now, Land Stewardship is tracking everything with a GIS.

“Every time we do something, whether it’s hand-pulling or spraying, we track it with a GIS,” he says. “We record what chemical we used so we can look at that and remind ourselves what we’ve done, and that we have to go hit it again.”

A new stormwater ordinance regarding detention basins in engineered wetlands sets up parameters for monitoring. “For any new detention areas that are built, we do the engineered wetlands, the safety shelves, and all that go with it,” Miller says.

Miller says there are more than 1,000 acres of high-quality natural areas and some 3,000 additional acres of opportunity for restoration. His section will maintain about 50 acres in a basic control year and install about 18,000 potted native plants annually, as well as do about 12 acres of prairie installation a year.

Following State and Developer Preferences
Among its services, The “U” Company in Confluence, PA, provides roadside hydroseeding, emulsion, and erosion control for Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia. After the company does the seeding and soil supplementation according to a state’s specifications, the roadsides are maintained by the states or their subcontractors. The “U” Company uses JMD Company erosion control products.

Traffic is the biggest access problem in conducting his company’s work, Supervisor Greg Uphold says. “Usually, we are a subcontractor, and we usually leave it up to the prime contractor to deal with traffic,” he adds.

Another challenge is working when the ground is wet. “We get stuck a lot and need to be pulled out,” he notes.

And, when the company is running a hydroseeding machine, workers have to stay away from electric lines, Uphold adds.

In providing the erosion control, The “U” Company does not use pesticides. Uphold says that the company always follows the specifications of the state in which it is working to put down the required seed, fertilizer, lime, urea, and various mulches.

Pennsylvania, for instance, favors a “non-maintenance” mix with hard fescue with a Formula C mix that includes annual rye grass and crown vetch.

West Virginia uses a different type of slope mix that includes crown vetch but is different in that it also has red fescue and additives of annual rye in colder months and love grass for summer months.

Maryland uses a permanent seed mixture that has different additives for different situations, Uphold says.

The type of grass used depends on the slope, Uphold says. Some turnpike systems use a mix that has wildflowers in it, he adds.

Some areas are used for stormwater management where runoff is an issue, says Uphold, adding that there are a lot of traps and ponds in many of the places in which he works.

Matt Jarzynkowski is with Fowler Contracting in Cary, NC. His company does seeding primarily for private developers after they grade a site in preparation for construction.

Fowler does temporary seeding and permanent slope seeding, and assists in stream relocation.

The type of seed used depends on the developer’s preference, Jarzynkowski says.

“Some of it is just the temporary seed and depends on what time of the year it is, and if they request more of a permanent seed, then we do have some erosion mixes we use that are a variety of different seeds that guarantees a good coverage and good vegetation on the slopes or shoulders,” he says. “But it really depends if you are tying into any homeowners’ properties at all and what the developer is requesting. We do a lot of outfalls.”

Jarzynkowski uses an erosion control seed mix that includes a variety of different seeds, such as fescue, rye, and love grass. He says there are summer mixes and winter mixes. The summer mix has Bermuda and love grass seeds, while the winter mix is devoid of those.

Fowler uses IKEX’s Platinum North and Platinum South erosion control mixes, with the south mix being more for summer, with warm-weather seeds and grasses mixed in, and Platinum North having more cold-weather seeds and grasses.

Fowler Contracting has strayed from the use of herbicides and pesticides.

“We’ve actually been using more of an organic fertilizer when we do our seeding and we’ve been testing that versus using a phosphorus fertilizer and a lime mix,” Jarzynkowski says. “We try different things as we go and see how it works.”

There are several factors that drive the developers’ choices, Jarzynkowski says.

“A lot of it is not so much the foot traffic, but whether it is maintainable or non-maintainable,” he says. “With the Platinum mix, you plant it, get it going, and really don’t need to maintain it.

“If you choose to maintain it you can, but it doesn’t hurt it not to maintain it. It depends where the seeding is taking place, such as whether it is around a highly visible area where they don’t want as much of a mixed-looking grass as they do one type of grass.”

Some of the areas where Fowler Contracting works are being used for stormwater management, Jarzynkowski says.

“We are getting involved in a lot of level spreaders now and we’ve even got a wildlife mix that we use for the level spreader that seems to work pretty well,” he says. “It depends on how wet the area is. Sometimes you’ve got some wetlands or are close to wetlands, so you use a wetland mix.”

Jarzynkowski notes that in vegetation management, those in charge have a greater awareness of doing seeding more quickly than they have in the past, due mainly to laws that require vegetation in “previously disturbed” areas that require mulching or seeding or straw after a 15-day period.

“In the past, there have been a lot of times when some [developers] wouldn’t take the time or spend the money to seed it because it really wasn’t enforced, but during the course of the last couple of years, they have been enforcing that more,” he says. “Once they get done doing the grading, they are more prone to do the seeding and get it more green than they had in the past.”

About the Author

Carol Brzozowski

Carol Brzozowski specializes in topics related to resource management and technology.