Along the banks of the Potomac River is a waterfront destination known as “The Wharf,” which resides on the southwest side of Washington, D.C. This vibrant area is full of shops, restaurants, hotels, and a boardwalk, making it a popular stop for thousands of weekly visitors and Ruppert Landscape is responsible for keeping this space picturesque
Nathan Fadrowski is the area manager for Ruppert Landscape in Laytonsville, Maryland. His team maintains this property, which includes 450 planters, over 200 trees, and two urban parks. For them, winning a 2023 Gold Award of Excellence is significant.
“This kind of recognition means everything to me and my team,” Fadrowski says. “It shows that our hard work, planning, and everything we do does not go unnoticed by our industry, and it is humbling to think that it might inspire other contractors as they plan their upcoming projects.”
The Wharf is over a mile long and continues to grow as new sections are added.
“This site is constantly evolving — our scope has slowly expanded as Phase 1, and then Phase 2 of construction (for which Ruppert’s construction division was a major subcontractor) was completed and handed over to us for maintenance,” Fadrowski notes. “So, our contract scope has more than doubled since first awarded. There are many subsections of the Wharf, including Fish Market, District Pier, S’more Station, 7th Street Park, Waterfront Park and more. Some areas have interactive water features, while others have well-manicured lawns for more of a park-like feel. They all feature bright, colorful planters with a diverse plant palette that help create visual diversity while collectively defining the property as one cohesive destination.”
With such a high-profile location, every area must look immaculate 24/7. These high expectations bring their share of challenges, especially in the summer when pedestrians accidentally damage plants, or litter builds up in the planters. Vandalism has sometimes been an issue as bars and restaurants stay open late.
Each day, a four-person crew is onsite to ensure everything is tidy. In addition, they always have an extra supply of annuals/fillers ready to go when plants need replacing. One area of the site is frequently used as a shortcut for foot traffic, causing frequent damage to groundcovers, so Ruppert is working with the client to install iron fencing around that space.
Overcoming Mother Nature
Another challenge is the weather, especially in spring and summer. This site has many unique microclimates from the nearby buildings and harbor, which bring extra heat and moisture to the plants. To ensure the plants receive the correct amounts of water, the team uses moisture meters to spot-check the plants before and after irrigation. This also helps them spot any issues before they become more significant problems.
Many planters are irrigated using a 50-gallon water tank mounted on the back of a small utility vehicle. While the vehicle reaches many planters, a few are hard to access, so they use a wheelbarrow with hoses and spigots from nearby buildings.
For the full-time crew, much of their day is spent watering, deadheading, and maintaining the plants during the summer. In addition, a weekly crew comes for other tasks, like mowing, weeding, and pruning.
Mature trees are on the site, which creates challenges for leaf removal in the fall. A small portion of the leaves are blown onto the turf and mulched to add organic matter to the soil, while most of the leaves are tarped or vacuumed with a Billy Goat and leaf vacuum truck.
Winter can also be busy, as Ruppert Landscape is responsible for snow removal and salting. When snow is forecasted, a team member is stationed at the property to monitor the conditions. If deicing is needed, a utility vehicle is used to reach the pedestrian areas and apply magnesium chloride, a less corrosive material for the boardwalk. To keep the site looking good in winter, the planters remain full.
“The planters are on display year-round, so we often rely on evergreen and perennial plant material to keep them full in the winter when annuals do not add substantial color impact,” Fadrowski says. “There are a few holiday-themed displays with decorations in and around the planters.”
In 2022, a new law went into effect that prohibits gasoline-powered leaf blowers in the District of Columbia, so Ruppert has converted to using electric blowers. These new blowers are less powerful, which has led to a 25% increase in time to clean the site. To address the longer hours, they’ve created ways to reduce hours on other tasks. One example is using additional growth regulators on hedges to reduce the amount of required pruning.
With so many plants, Ruppert uses a broad palette to diversify the greenery.
“There are over 200 trees along the Wharf with dogwood, cherry, London planes, and crepe myrtles varieties,” Fadrowski adds. “Camelia shrubs, a wide range of perennials, and ornamental grasses are featured in the planters, alongside bright arrays of annual flowers.
The annuals are rotated throughout the seasons, and Ruppert works with the client to select hardy plants that will tolerate these conditions.
With so many moving parts, collaboration has been critical in managing this property.
“Our ongoing collaboration and track record helps to assure the client that we’re committed to meeting their time frame, especially for additional tasks that have a tight turnaround during holidays or special events,” Fadrowski says. “The most rewarding part of maintaining a high-profile property like The Wharf is the sense of pride and satisfaction with knowing that our dedicated team is responsible for everything.”
Interested in participating in the Awards of Excellence? Enter your projects by July 29, 2024.