Photo by Kate Spirgen

We were in Las Vegas last month at the 2016 Irrigation Show to get all the latest education and product announcements from the irrigation industry. From evapotranspiration to app adaptability, here are some of the highlights from the show.

Strategic sprinkles

Calculating evapotranspiration is key to calibration. By Kate Spirgen

When every drop of water counts, evapotranspiration is an important calculation in the equation.

By monitoring the amount of water lost from soil or plant surfaces and the amount of water used by plants (transpiration), irrigation contractors can make important adjustments to their systems.

At the ET & Irrigation Management seminar Brent Mecham, industry development director for the Irrigation Association, explained what contractors need to know to make the right decisions.

Components.

Most ET data comes from weather stations that provide information on sunlight, wind, air temperature and humidity. Its basic components are:

  • Pyranometer:
  • Measures intensity and duration of sunshine
  • Anemometer:
  • Measures speed of wind
  • Radiation shield:
  • Measures humidity and temperature

“If you own a weather station and you haven’t calibrated it, I can guarantee the information you’re getting is not useful,” Mecham said, adding that it’s best to calibrate in the winter when the data isn’t as crucial to system adjustments.

To measure rainfall, most use a tipping bucket that counts each hundredth of an inch of rainfall. You can also use a rain gauge, but that can only be read in person.

To measure ET, an atmometer tube will tell you where the water level of the soil is, and if you read it and compare it day by day, you’ll know how much water was lost.

Mecham said an atmometer can tell you the ET in a microclimate such as a shady area on a property. An evaporative pan is another option, but they often require maintenance due to scum growth. By reading the weather station and looking at the atmometer, you can get a more accurate idea of which areas need more or less water.

“We all know watering plants in the shade is about half of plants in full sun,” he said.

Placement.

Most weather stations are located somewhere out of the way, like a rooftop, but that doesn’t give the most accurate reading due to nearby buildings or asphalt. Ideally, the station would be surrounded by green.

Look at your weather station and how close it is to the site that you’re managing, Mecham said. “I just need to take that into account when I take that data and try to use it.”

That means you’ll need to modify your ET. “If you don’t take that reference and fit it down to what you’re managing, you’re overwatering,” he said.

Considerations.

The two main things to think about are the types of plants you’re dealing with and the required appearance. For example, an industrial park won’t have as high of a standard as a residential yard.

“That required appearance is a big fudge factor we have working for us,” Mecham said.

Maintenance practices like slow release vs. quick release fertilizer also determine the amount of water necessary. And a cool season grass will require more water than a warm season grass, no matter what the maintenance practices.

When looking at mowing practices, it’s important to note that shorter grass will actually use less water than longer grass since its roots are smaller. However, you can go longer in between irrigation with longer grass.

“The bigger mystery for our industry is – OK, what about all the other plants?” Mecham said.

It seems counterintuitive, but plants in wet climates actually use more water than those in dry climates. Plants will close their stomates and stop evaporating when the climate is dry.

Visit bit.ly/iashowll to find how to calculate this.

Managing drought.

When dealing with water restrictions, managed plant stress is an option for short periods of time.

Depletion (when you decrease or reduce irrigation without detrimental effects) occurs when 50 percent of water is coming out of roots. This doesn’t cause any real damage to the plants. When levels reach 70 to 80 percent below what the plant requires, you begin to see stress.

“As you begin to stress a plant, it starts to slow down its transpiration so those plant factors start to go out the window when you practice depletion,” Mecham said. “You cannot go on vacation when you’re doing this. You can’t rely just on instruments telling you the whole story.”

This is not a management technique you can use for high-maintenance areas but it’s a good alternative to changing the landscape by taking out plants or replacing them with other options for short periods of time. “You cannot do this year after year,” Mecham said.

This is ideal for periods of higher drought resistance followed by ready recovery. “At some point in time you need to get the plant back healthy so that it has the energy to go through it again,” Mecham said.

But, used for short periods, this technique can develop deeper roots with greater density, making plants more drought-resistant.

It lowers water losses to evaporation and makes rainfall more effective as water is stored in the root zone. You can reduce water need by half by this practice, according to Mecham.

Consider the source

Look at the cost of treating alternative water resources before choosing a system. By Kate Spirgen

As irrigation contractors deal with drought and water restrictions, many are looking to alternative water sources. The key is to choose one that won’t kill plants but also doesn’t require too much processing, says Art Elmers, Netafim USA district sales manager.

At a seminar at the Irrigation Show in Las Vegas, Elmers explained how to evaluate water sources and find the right one for a site.

Alternate sources of water include rainwater, storm water, graywater, foundation water, air conditioning condensate, process water, reclaimed water, surface water and groundwater. Each has its own contaminants to consider: particulate, organic and chemical.

Particulate.

This includes sand, silt and clay that can clog sprinklers and drip irrigation valves, and cause remote control valve failure. Filtration will generally work in these situations but the appropriate type of filtration depends on the source, contaminants and volume of water, as well as the final use of the water. Manufacturer’s recommendations will tell you what level of protection you need.

“If you’re worried about what the water looks like, you’re not going to get the turbidity out of the water if you’re using a disc filter or a media filter,” Elmers said. “You will with a self-cleaning filter.”

Biological.

Biological contaminants can either be organic, like algae, or pathogenic, like bacteria.

To deal with organic contaminants, you can use something like an aerating fountain or dyes to keep light from hitting the bottom of the pond and prevent anything from growing. Or run it over rocks to aerate it before it gets into the pond.

“A lot of people try to mitigate the problem from just in the irrigation system but I tell people a lot can be done from treating that water you’re going to pull from before the algae grows,” Elmers said, “Keep your source water clean.”

That will reduce the cost of filtration, which will still be necessary. Media or disk filtration works best.

While it’s impossible to get rid of all pathogens in water, you’ll want to limit them as much as possible using a chlorinator. A good controller is the key to making sure there isn’t too much chlorine.

Another option is UV treatments. “The benefit versus the chlorinator is I don’t have to go out and buy more UV,” Elmers said.

Chemical.

The first thing to do when choosing a source is to conduct a water test on all of your options, looking for salt and iron in particular. To keep salts out of the water, use an injection system to add gypsum, which will bind to the salt and keep it from getting into the plants or soil.

Elmers said it’s one of the most expensive options, so he’d treat a particulate issue before he’d use a source with salt.

If iron is the issue, the biggest problems are staining and iron slime – a bacteria that will grow inside the tubing and clog the emitters. A gas chlorinator will clump the iron together, and it can then be filtered out through a self-cleaning media or disk filter.

You probably need a self-cleaning filter. “This could be one of the most expensive,” Elmers said.

Carbonates.

Often referred to as ‘hard water,’ carbonates will even attach themselves to plastics.

You can treat it through amendments to the source water or you can treat the results.

“Most of the time people are looking at on a yearly basis going in and doing a chemical acid treatment and basically it will clear off the plaque or hard water deposits,” he said.

To do that, you’ll need a permanent or temporary injection system to run the acid through. Ultimately, you’re looking at filtration at least, along with some sort of disinfection, if necessary.

“Make sure you do the water test and you determine what you have before you start considering what you use as an alternate water source. And dollars can be from a little to a lot,” Elmers said.

EPA opens comments for pyrethroid review

The Environmental Protection Agency has opened the comment period for its review of pyrethroids, a family of chemicals used in many professional and consumer-grade insecticides.

Pyrethroids are used widely in many industries, but in lawn care are most often the active ingredient in mosquito control for turf and ornamental applications. The chemical class is also used to control termites, and in flea treatments for pets.

Congress requires the EPA to review all pesticides every 15 years. This review, the first time pyrethroids have been evaluated as a class, focuses mainly on how they impact fish and aquatic plants.

The comment period is open until Jan. 30. After the comment period, the EPA will issue a proposed risk assessment of the chemical group and, ultimately, recommendations for possible regulatory changes.

“Depending on the outcome of the assessments, the EPA may require additional mitigations, up to and including cancellation of uses,” said Jill Holihan, director of product development and regulatory affairs at FMC. “What is decided and enacted could affect everyone’s use of pyrethroids. Without input from lawn care, there could be use restrictions or even cancellation. The industry needs lawn care professionals to communicate the benefits of pyrethroids to the EPA. Without user input, everyone runs the risk of losing key uses of these pest control tools.”

Holihan leads the Pyrethroid Working Group, a group of industry suppliers including AMVAC Chemical, BASF, Bayer CropScience, FMC, Syngenta Crop Protection and Valent BioSciences, that are monitoring the review process. – Chuck Bowen

Now accepting Employee of the Year nominations

Lawn & Landscape magazine is once again looking for the best employees in the industry, and we need your help.

Phil Carlson of Carrington Lawn in Wisconsin was one of Lawn & Landscape’s 2016 Employee of the Year winners.
Photo courtesy of Carrington Lawn

If you have an employee who has gone above and beyond in their position and should be acknowledged, now is your chance to have them publicly recognized in our publication. Send us two to three paragraphs explaining why your employee should be chosen.

Your entry should include concrete examples/stories of how this person has improved your company either culturally or financially, and how they have set a good example for other employees. We will choose a few winners, interview them for a story in a future issue of Lawn & Landscape and send them a plaque recognizing their accomplishments. Visit bit.ly/eoyjune to read last year’s profiles.

You can nominate any employee who works for your company – crew members, office workers, foremen, etc.

Email submissions to Managing Editor Brian Horn at bhorn@gie.net. Please use Employee of the Year as the subject of the email.

Deadline: Friday, March 10.

Ask the Experts: Firing and accident reports

Q: I want to fire an employee who has always had some behavioral and performance issues. What do I need to do to make sure I am covered in doing it correctly?

© MichaelQuirk | Thinkstock

A: The first things to consider are: Do you have an employee handbook and rules in place? Are you following your own rules? Are their actions in violation of stated plans? It is not necessary that every termination be connected to a policy or a rule, but generally, did the employee know expectations in advance? Hold employees accountable to the policies as long as they are in effect and substantiate that the employee was on notice of the policy.

Another thing to think about is whether you gave the employee warnings or let them know that their behavior was a problem. Notifying the employee that termination may occur unless there is improvement is one of the most important steps to help the employer avoid employment disputes. If you terminate them based on their performance, attitude or behavior, you should have been in contact with them enough before about the issue that they aren’t surprised.

Documentation helps you by establishing certainty and avoiding the risk of a misunderstanding. For example, make sure performance reviews are accurate and reflect facts and not wishes about their work. If, for example, you fire an employee not too long after a glowing performance review with no further documentation of changes in his performance, then, if the employee brings a legal challenge, the judge might question your actions.

Also, it is a good idea to reflect on how that employee was treated compared to other employees. Employers are not required to treat everyone the same, but they should be prepared to explain the business reasons for the difference.

You also want to think about whether the employee recently made claims against your company like speaking up about discrimination or harassment, raising ethical issues regarding employer actions or requesting medical leave. Employers should be sure that they can show the employee would have been terminated regardless of these “protected activities.”

Richard Lehr, NALP HR and legal adviser

Q: What am I required to do when documenting or reporting a jobsite accident?

A: It is important to learn about the federal OSHA and any state/local reporting and recordkeeping requirements for incident reporting so you are prepared to act.

Federal OSHA requires you to report work-related fatalities within eight hours of finding out about the fatality and all in-patient hospitalizations, amputations and losses of an eye within 24 hours of the employer learning about the event. Your company must report these incidents even if it’s exempt from maintaining injury and illness records. (Companies with fewer than 11 employees are exempt from routinely keeping injury and illness records.) You can learn more at OSHA’s recordkeeping page. Make sure you know your state and local reporting rules as well.

However, your responsibilities should go beyond reporting. It is important to a good safety program to document the incident and investigate at the scene and talk to everyone involved and those who witnessed the incident. Try to determine the causes of the incident and why it happened. Did people know the proper procedures? Were they hurrying? Did they have proper safety equipment? If you understand all the factors that led to the safety incident, you can correct them in future.

Olivia Grider, NALP Safety Committee

Ask the Experts is brought to you in partnership with NALP, the National Association of Landscape Professionals. Questions are fielded through NALP’s Trailblazers, the industry’s leading company mentoring program. For more questions visit Landscapeprofessionals.org.

2016’s most popular

Our most read stories on our website in 2016 ranged from alleged criminal activity to H2-B to Zika. Go to the bit.ly link to read the full stories.

1. Felony charges filed against Mainscape owner/CEO

Dave Mazanowski is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail, wire and health care fraud for approximately $1.5 million. bit.ly/llmainscape

2. Kerin out as BrightView CEO

BrightView announced that Andrew Kerin is stepping down as CEO of the company. Mr. Kerin will be succeeded on an interim basis by Pat Velasco, who will become interim CEO, effective immediately. bit.ly/kerinout

3. Litzenburger Landscape to close

After 31 years in the industry, Gow Litzenburger, owner of Harbor Springs, Michigan-based Litzenburger Landscape, closed his company because of delays in getting H-2B work visas processed. The company was featured in the July 2015 issue of L&L for its fleet management practices. bit.ly/litzcloses

4. Industry leader dies

Charles Vander Kooi, president of consulting firm Vander Kooi & Associates, died March 12 of an apparent heart attack. The author and consultant spent decades as an estimator and helped more than 1,500 companies in their estimating and bidding systems. bit.ly/vanderkooi

5. Landscape firm pleads guilty in employee death

The Pacific Topsoils worker was killed after getting caught in the auger of a bark-blower truck on his second day at work. bit.ly/pactopsoils

6. Altoz unveils new models

At the company’s dealer meeting in Minnesota, several new models were unveiled to dealers including the XE HD, XP HD, Limited Edition XR SS and XE SS models as well as Altoz’s TRX, a zero-turn mower with tracks. bit.ly/newaltoz

7. 17 secrets from Complete Landsculpture

Attendees at Marty Grunder’s GROW! 2016 were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of a $15-million company. Here’s what they learned. bit.ly/17grow

8. 6 things you must do to sell your business

If you plan to sell in 3 to 10 years, or even longer, here is what you must do to become a desirable acquisition target. And if you’re not ready to sell just yet, these tips will still serve you well as you run your business. bit.ly/6selltips

9. Judge suspends overtime expansion rule

A Texas federal judge blocked the Department of Labor rule that would have made millions of Americans eligible for overtime pay. bit.ly/dolsuspend

10. Zika insecticide kills honeybees

Millions of honeybees in South Carolina were killed earlier this week after being sprayed with an aerial insecticide used to kill mosquitoes that are known to carry Zika. bit.ly/zikabee

Corrections: A matter of inches

In our October issue feature on propane fuel, we incorrectly listed the average size for tank storage racks as 35 feet wide by 40 feet deep and 72 feet high. Those measurements should be in inches. A seven-story storage cage would only be called for if you were hunting a Sasquatch.