Landscapes of the Month: Maintaining a Sustainability-Focused Campus - National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Landscapes of the Month: Maintaining a Sustainability-Focused Campus

Photo: Ruppert Landscape

Ruppert Landscape has been caring for one of the largest data centers in the world, Digital Realty, located in Ashburn, Virginia, since 2016.

The campus is 173 acres and has doubled in size since the company first took on the client. The property has 13 office buildings that are connected by a series of sidewalks across the sprawling campus.

“The most challenging aspect of maintaining a property of this immense size is covering the entire property in a timely and efficient manner,” says Caroline Ianni, area manager of Ruppert’s Gainesville, Virginia, landscape management branch. “We took the time to carefully script the job, which has allowed us to better allocate time spent working on different details, such flower bed maintenance and shrub pruning.”

Photo: Ruppert Landscape

Ruppert’s work on this site earned them a Gold Award in the 2020 Awards of Excellence.

A dedicated six-person crew typically spends two and half days per week on the site. Ruppert mows over 800,000 square feet of turf. The crew also edges over 9.5 miles of curb throughout the property, taking roughly 12 hours per week.

The landscape maintenance crew has to relocate their truck several times throughout the day as they move to different buildings and stopping points around the perimeter. The crew maintains over 10,000 square feet of landscape along the outside perimeter of the fencing including mowing, edging, pruning and tree limbing.

The client focuses on a high level of security so the crew members must show ID badges at security checkpoints to enter the property. To access the irrigation control room, retention pond and interior courtyards for weekly maintenance, crew members must call ahead and be escorted by the onsite engineer.

Because the site is still growing, the crew must work around ongoing construction and be flexible with their scheduling.

While the client places a high premium on developing cutting-edge data storage spaces and services, they also value providing a tranquil and sustainable space for its employees and tenants. With the buildings having LEED Silver/Gold and Energy Star certifications, the landscape is designed to mirror the company’s philosophy of sustainability, with an emphasis on a native plant palette.

Photo: Ruppert Landscape

“One of the practices that help keep the campus sustainable are seeding and aeration in the fall,” Ianni says. “The aeration helps restore nutrients back into the soil and keeps the soil from becoming compacted. We also use native plants throughout the campus, which is beneficial in several ways including promoting native wildlife and pollinators. In addition, we installed a monitoring system for irrigation which allows us to track how much water is being used on the property and to control when the irrigation needs to be run.”

While the irrigation system is vast with over 400 zones, half of the turf along with the plant beds and newly installed trees and shrubs must be hand-watered twice per week.

Ruppert faced a unique set of challenges finding plants that were drought-tolerant and would adapt well to the clay-based soil. The company adds compost and soil amendments like lime and gypsum to allow a wider range of plants to thrive.

With their focus on sustainability, majority of the site features verdant perennials. Highly visible areas such as site entrances feature close to 2,000 annuals that are rotated out in the spring and fall. The crew inspects these beds for weeds daily.

Photo: Ruppert Landscape

There are close to 1,000 shrubs and over 3,000 grasses and perennials on site, softening the hardscape and buildings themselves. Cutbacks of perennials in the fall takes almost two full weeks to complete.

The plantings are mostly limited to the entrances and mow strip lines along the perimeter of the buildings because they are so large. Daylilies provide full coverage of beds and bloom continually through the summer if deadheaded properly. The property also features drift roses that are deadheaded after their initial bloom cycle to encourage blooming during the summer.

“We chose plants that are native to the area, which encourages the wildlife and pollinator populations,” Ianni says. “We selected roses due to the repeating blooms and other plants that have curb appeal for our client.”

The crew spends nearly 50 percent of their time each week weeding, pruning and deadheading the many perennials and annuals.

There are over 68,724 square feet of mulched bed space on site. Over 560 yards of mulch are needed to dress the tree pits and plant beds annually. Three six-person crews accomplish this task over a week in the spring.

Photo: Ruppert Landscape

There are roughly 800 trees on campus and the crew spends five to 10 percent of their time on site pruning and limbing trees. There are also over 100 crape myrtles that line the fences of the property. They are prone to root suckering, which must be hand pruned.

The crew also proactively monitors, and hand prunes any areas that may be infected and treats problems with organic products like horticultural oils or releases beneficial insects like ladybugs.

In the late fall, leaf removal takes over a week at a time. The crew first windrows and creates piles of leaves they then vacuum up with a leaf vac truck. Earlier in the season, fallen leaves are mowed/mulched to provide a natural compost to return nutrients to the soil.

“It’s a huge honor to see what our hard work and dedication has accomplished,” Ianni says. “My crew and I have spent many hours working on this site and being able to say that we won an NALP Gold Award gives us an extra sense of pride in our work. It goes to show how well we work together and what teamwork can accomplish.”

Interested in participating in the Awards of Excellence? The early bird deadline for entries is April 15, 2021. The deadline to enter is Aug. 9, 2021.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the content manager for NALP.

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