Story of a Landscape: Irrigation Project Creates Award-Winning Turf


When most people think of award-winning landscape projects they think of extensive hardscape and lush plantings. However, the Nevada Landscape Association chose to give its 2016 President’s Award to a project that’s all about turf.

Reno Green Landscaping, Inc., was initially called to the Eklund property on the recommendation of the owner of the construction company that had just finished a large addition to the couple’s home. Mark Thompson, Reno Green’s irrigation expert, says the man giving the referral is also a friend of the landscape company’s owner.

“We were referred to them to come out and give them a maintenance quote,” Thompson says. “After that, we started performing maintenance services for them.”

In fact, the company also won NLA’s first place award for estate maintenance for the property. However, it was Thompson who was called in to solve a very real problem the owners were having.

“In our city, when you have an excessive water use for your property, regardless of the combination of landscape and domestic use, you’re put on what we call, ‘the naughty list,’” he explains. “Unfortunately, they had been put on the naughty list for the amount of domestic water they were using.”

Photo: Reno Green Landscaping, Inc.
Photo: Reno Green Landscaping, Inc.

Ironically, the Eklunds didn’t need to use domestic potable water for their turf. Living in one of the outer areas of Reno, the owners had water rights and access to something called the Last Chance Ditch.

“The problem was the previous landscaper couldn’t figure out the right way to irrigate or upgrade the irrigation system to be able to accommodate the use of the ditch water,” Thompson says.

Thompson, however, not only has extensive experience in dealing with irrigation issues from years of working in the Central Valley of California, but also a real passion for solving people’s water problems.

“I’m very experienced in dealing with drought conditions,” he says. “I try to keep very up-to-date with new innovations, doing audits, the use of smart controllers, all of those things. I was brought out to sit down and talk with the Eklunds and give them some ideas of what could be done to move forward and use the ditch water they have available from Memorial Day to Labor Day. “

Complicating matters was that the Eklunds – and Thompson – could only use the water during a four-hour window created as the water master for the ditch system managed the supply by opening and shutting different valves.

“The time in which they had water available was 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., which is probably the worst time of day to be irrigating,” Thompson says, adding that was by far the biggest challenge he faced with the job.

Photo: Reno Green Landscaping, Inc.
Photo: Reno Green Landscaping, Inc.

Not to be deterred, Thompson explains that he began by evaluating what kind of pressure the client’s existing system was operating with, both using the domestic system and utilizing the ditch water, in order to get a feel for what it could handle.

“They had a combination in their large turf areas of gear-driven rotors that use a pretty substantial amount of water depending on the type of nozzle and how many heads are operating per zone,” he says. “The smaller areas near the house were fixed spray heads, which I try to convince clients to switch out immediately because they’re the most inefficient nozzle in the market.”

After analyzing the situation, Thompson says he proposed changing to 6-inch profile pop-ups with built-in check valves (Rain Bird 1806 Seal-A-Matic [SAM] series spray heads) and matched precipitation rotor nozzles (Hunter Industries MP Rotator).

He also suggested switching out the clients’ controller to be able to handle the type of programming needed to be able to operate enough zones at one time to soak the property within the four-hour daily window for watering.

“By switching to a brand-new Hunter Industries I-Core controller and with the combination of 1806 SAM pop-ups and MP rotators, I was able to manipulate the system and operate more valves at the same time,” Thompson says.

Nor was that the end of the story. Thompson adds that much of the Eklund property is sloping, with the only flat piece being a small area in front of the home. During his inspection of the turf, he noticed a build-up of thatch.

“To make sure the turf was healthy and vibrant and green and still sustain it with the amount of water I had available to me, I did a soil polymer application with a product called AquaSmart (Pro, from Ewing Irrigation),” he says.

And, to make sure he got the best application possible with the AquaSmart, Thompson says he consulted with his local Ewing branch manager, Leon Villegas. First, he utilized a piston-driven aerator to get as many plugs as possible, then – to make sure the AquaSmart got to the turf’s root system – he mixed with it with a high-organic humus, and had it spread with a large mechanized spreader.

“That way, when it gets wet, the weight of the organic material will help flush down into the aeration holes to the root level where it should be,” Thompson says. “I’ve found I get better results that way, especially here where our soil is so lacking in organic nutrients.”

Photo: Reno Green Landscaping, Inc.
Photo: Reno Green Landscaping, Inc.

The end result is what Thompson calls a two-fer that saves the clients’ money on irrigation and also puts organics back into the soil, meaning less need for fertilization and less chemical use. And, he says the latter is a concern since using the ditch water means the potential for fungus, bacteria and weeds being introduced to the turf.

“I want to say last season’s turf was flawless,” he says.

Additionally, Thompson says he was able to accomplish this at a cost of $8,500 to the client, including utilizing Reno Green’s installation expert for the sprinkler head installation, and two landscapers for the polymer application.

Nor is the job finished. The Eklunds have additional turf pasture that he would like to perhaps cut down in size and change to something other than flood irrigation. Thompson would also like to expand the drip irrigation system they utilize for their trees out to the dew line to promote healthier root growth. Over this past winter the client lost two mature trees.

In the meantime, the job has made Thompson more confident about using the resources available to him – in this case non-potable water.

“In California, we didn’t deal with reclaimed water,” he says. “Coming to Nevada, that was one of the big things I had to really, really learn about. This taught me about some of the differences, and also to trust my instincts and not be afraid to move forward with my knowledge.”

Not surprisingly, he’s also very proud of the awards the job has won, and how it came out exactly as he had planned.

“I take a lot of pride in what I do, and I have an extreme passion for it,” Thompson says. “I want to check out every new product that comes out, and pick the brains of anyone who has more time out in the field to see what’s come across. I feel the more everyone in the industry is educated, the better off we all are.”

It’s perhaps not surprising, either, that as the Eklunds move ahead resolving their irrigation issues, Thompson stops by to check on the job, even though a regular Reno Green maintenance crew is on the property weekly.

“If I’m in the area and have time, I’ll stop by, fire up a couple zones and make sure everything is pristine and the heads are straight and level,” he says. “I keep my hand on that property as much as possible, because I have a huge sense of responsibility for it.”