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Let’s talk turf!

There's an elaborate process behind our community landscaping and changes from our new contract .

I wanted to talk about landscaping this month as I get numerous questions regarding this topic. I apologize in advance if I’m repeating myself from earlier columns, but we have had quite a few sales in the community so far this year, so there are always new homeowners who need the information.

As background, the community switched landscapers in January 2016, and with that switch came a few changes. Prior to the new contract, the community had landscaping services two days a week with a crew of about sixteen people. My experience has been that a community this size normally has a crew on site each day. So, with the advent of the new contract came the change: the community would have a crew of five people and a supervisor on site five days a week, weather permitting. I believe this has been a change for the better but it has brought about a shift in how we need to do business to accommodate the needs of the community.

In order to ensure the entire property is being addressed each week, the property was divided into five sections and each section gets landscaping services one day a week, weather permitting. As we know, this summer was a rainy one. As a normal mow schedule is seven to ten days, even if we lose a few days in a two-week span due to rain, we can still stay on top of mowing. As you may know from maintaining your own lawn, certain landscaping functions are performed at specific times of the year: 

  • we prune shrubs, fertilize turf and apply pre-emergents to turf and flower beds in the spring,
  • mow in the spring and summer,
  • fertilize, prune and apply post-emergents in the fall and
  • perform leaf removal in the fall and into the winter months.

Because the crew we have on site each day is small, there’s not a lot of time for multi-tasking nor the personnel to do so. When the grass needs to be mowed, we can’t also be pruning or picking up leaves. That’s why it is important for the on-site crew to stay on task in order to keep to the schedule ensuring that the property looks groomed. That precludes directing them around the property for landscaping needs or requests that are not urgent.

I maintain a spreadsheet of landscaping needs by section and forward those needs each day to the supervisor who then addresses them for the section the crew is working that day. This is the most cost-effective way of ensuring the necessary work gets completed.

The landscaping contract does not include what I refer to as “tall tree” trimming. Most landscaping contracts specify pruning will take place up to 10 or 12 feet, the tallest height that someone on the ground can normally reach with pruning shears and a small ladder. Consequently, we employ an arborist for all large tree pruning and tree removal in common areas. The arborist performs a yearly inspection. In the fall of 2016, we removed 14 trees on the property as a result of his inspection. Their removal required approval by the City of Gaithersburg, and this involved filing an application to the City. A City inspector visits the property and inspects the tree(s) to ensure there is a legitimate reason for removing them, normally because they are dead or dying. If you are thinking of removing a tree on your property you must have permission from the City as well. You can obtain an application from the City’s website,

Because we must go through an approval process to remove a tree and then need an arborist to do so, it is not cost-effective to remove one tree if it is not urgent. My spreadsheet also includes a list of trees in need of assessment. When I have several trees listed, we contact the arborist. Depending on his findings, we start the process to get approval in addition to getting on his schedule to remove the tree(s). I am explaining the process because every now and then, I speak with a homeowner who feels immediate action needs to be taken. Unless it is an extreme situation where a tree is leaning, this is not possible due to the need for approval from the City. I appreciate a homeowner’s patience when tree removal and tree pruning are necessary.

As mentioned in previous columns, the Kentlands common areas include the pocket parks and trees saves, the Clubhouse lawn and the entrances to the community. These are the only areas where the KCA is responsible for the trees. The curb strips — that area of land between the sidewalk and the street — is owned by the City of Gaithersburg, as are the medians. The City maintains and replaces trees in those areas. The KCA does have a Memo of Understanding with the City of Gaithersburg to allow us to mow the medians and curb strips (for which we are reimbursed). This came about because the association wanted a uniform appearance to the community, but the KCA does so much more than mow. Besides the turf applications mentioned above, the KCA has also tried to remediate the turf in these areas. Unfortunately, most of the remedies, such as aerating, have been unsuccessful. The curb strips are problematic in that some have rocky soil, others suffer from lack of sunlight due to heavy forestation, and they also have the added issues of foot traffic, salt from snow removal on sidewalks and residents and homeowners who curb their pets in these areas.

Last year with the arrival of the new landscaper, Community Landscaping Services, and the involvement of the Environmental Management Committee (EMC), we reexamined other options for these areas. The result was that an allotment was added to the contract for 20,000 sq. ft. of turf remediation annually. This remediation consists of tilling the soil, planting a hardy grass seed and applying topsoil. It was agreed that in the first several years these would be high profile areas in the community with a high probability of success. Upon inspection this year, it does appear that about 80% of the areas addressed last year have shown improvement. We recently selected the areas to be addressed this year and that work should be completed sometime in October.

Residents can offer suggestions for areas to be addressed in 2018, but we cannot address turf remediation throughout the year on a one-off basis. The landscapers on site each day are not prepared with the equipment or materials to do the work, and it is not cost-effective for the association to address an isolated issue in this manner.

As many long-term residents are probably aware, but new homeowners or residents might not be, we have an organic component to our landscaping protocol. Tree saves, pocket parks and the Clubhouse lawn receive only organic applications. This includes compost “tea” for the health of the turf and non-chemical applications for weed and pest control. In addition, the grass on all areas of the property is cut to 3½ to 4 inches for turf health and mulching lawn mowers are used everywhere to allow the grass clippings to remain in place for turf health as well. Curbstrips, medians, entrances and pavered sidewalks owned by the KCA receive a traditional protocol.

Lastly, the KCA is only responsible for leaf removal in the mews. The City is responsible for leaf removal from the streets. Because we have had a warm, wet September, mowing is still taking place. The landscaper is beginning to address leaves in the mews in the more heavily affected areas of the community. You may rake your fallen leaves out to the mews for pickup by the landscapers, to the street for pickup by the City, who will begin collection at the end of October. You may also bag your leaves for pickup by the City’s recycling crews every Thursday.

If all of the above caused your eyes to glaze over and roll to the back of your head, then you are probably not a candidate for the landscaping committee. However, if it sparked ideas and suggestions to pop into your head, you might be. The landscaping committee (EMC) meets monthly on the second Tuesday of each month at 4:00 pm in the Clubhouse, February through October. You do not have to be a seasoned gardener to join the committee, only someone with an eye towards what is aesthetically pleasing and have the time and interest to share your thoughts and opinions. If you do have an interest, please contact Barney Gorin, KCA President, via e-mail at

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