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The National Mall is looking ‘turf-ific’

November 2, 2012  - By

By Jim Novak, Turfgrass Producers International

When Kirk Hunter, executive director of Turfgrass Producers International (TPI), traveled to Washington in 2009, he met with representatives of the National Coalition to Save Our Mall and a representative of the National Mall Third Century Initiative to discuss the deplorable condition of the turf.  TPI wanted an update on what could be done, and what was being done, to care for the nation’s No. 1 tourist attraction in Washington, that attracts approximately 24 million visitors from around the world.  At the time, Hunter took a series of photos (see below) that reflected the shocking conditions of the turfgrass panels between the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol.

Photo: Kirk Hunter

Photo: Kirk Hunter

A considerable challenge
It was learned that the eight center lawn panels on The National Mall each measure about 90,000 sq. ft., and the installation of quality turfgrass sod would just be one step in the renovation process. Other considerations included:

  • Renovating the existing lawn with better soils, removing existing soils if necessary and/or amending them.
  • Installing a reliable pop-up sprinkler irrigation system.
  • The installation of cisterns (underground tanks to store up to 250,000 gallons of rain water runoff that can be used later for irrigation).
  • Installation of curbs to delineate the edge of the grass panels.
  • Provide a full under-drainage system designed to collect rain water to fill the cisterns.
  • The installation of new turfgrass sod that meets required turf specifications.
  • Re-evaluate scheduled mall events and modify as necessary.
  • Review and improve upon existing maintenance procedures.

At the present time, the Trust for the National Mall only has sufficient funds to do three of the eight center grass panels and two of its cisterns.  In late August, they started Phase I of the project.

TPI member Tuckahoe Turf Farms, Hammonton, N.J., provided nearly 10,000 sq. yds. (slightly more than 2 acres) of turfgrass sod in big rolls for the first phase of the National Mall turf project.  Based on the recommendations of a team of turfgrass specialists led by Dr. Peter Landshoot, Penn State professor of turfgrass science, Tuckahoe planted, harvested and delivered a specific fescue/bluegrass mix comprised of 30 percent Wolfpack 2 Tall fescue, 30 percent Firenza Tall fescue, 30 percent Turbo Tall fescue and 10 percent P-105 Kentucky Bluegrass. The new turfgrass was laid atop a formulated topsoil sand blend that created an ideal base to encourage turf growth.

Harvesting, transportation and installation during Phase I of turfgrass renovation.

Photo: Tuckahoe Turf Farms

Photo: Tuckahoe Turf Farms

Photo: Tuckahoe Turf Farms

The Washington Post reported that the top 6 to 18 in. of soil was enhanced with a mixture of coarse sand and compost to alleviate compaction and increase water permeability. Grass panels were raised 2 in. higher than surrounding walkways. And each panel will be edged by a granite curb-and gutter-system to channel rainfall runoff into underground cisterns that will then supply water to the new irrigation system.

Photo: The National Mall

It should be noted that the project included many professionals (far too many to mention) who were involved in the design, pre-planning, developing the right soil structure, on-site inspections, irrigation, construction, installation and even propose feasible surface coverings to protect the turf during special events.

Murray Cook, president of Sports Turf Services, a division of The Brickman Group, Columbia, Md., and a past president of the Sports Turf Managers Association, was selected as the official turf consultant to the Trust for National Mall & Memorial Parks and provide design services for the first phase of the multi-year project. Suzette Goldstein, project manager for HOK, an architectural firm that designed the new lawn for the project, collaborated with Cook. They consulted and engaged additional sportsturf specialists including Steve Legros to assist with developing an operational plan; the before-mentioned Dr. Peter Landshoot to provide assistance with selecting the turfgrass, Dr. Norman Hummel to develop the soil structure, and Dr. Erik Ervin and Dr. Mike Goatley from Virginia Tech to perform studies on protective flooring surfaces for the new turfgrass system.

The three planned renovations that began in late August will continue through the fall of 2016.

Jim Novak is public relations manager of Turfgrass Producers International. He may be reached at

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