Evidence-Based Management: Integrating Expertise and Research for Better Turf Outcomes

Clippings | Fall 2017  – View the full issue HERE:

Evidence-Based Management:
Integrating Expertise and Research for Better Turf Outcomes

Over the past decade, zoysiagrass became an increasingly popular choice for Florida homeowners and developers as an alternative to St. Augustinegrass.Promoted as being drought tolerant and resistant to chinch bugs, zoysiagrass also appealed to residents accustomed to a finer bladed lawn grass. But the maintenance needs of zoysiagrass differ significantly from St. Augustinegrass, and lawn care professionals have in many cases struggled to understand how to integrate the grass into their existing programs and adjust their customary practices. And while companies like Sod Solutions, developer of Empire zoysiagrass, provide ongoing education and outreach, there remains a significant knowledge gap about the unique challenges of caring for zoysiagrass and a need for specific education on this variety.

Dr. J. Bryan Unruh, a turf researcher and extension specialist with the University of Florida, credits a conversation with colleague Dr. Travis Shaddox as the catalyst for the development of an educational series designed to close this knowledge gap. In that conversation, Shaddox remarked that there were a lot of similarities between what they were trying to do (in turf research and education) and – well, dentists.

Shaddox explained that lectures and clinics at the University of Florida College of Dentistry, where his wife Dr. Luciana Shaddox is an oral surgeon and associate professor, utilize a model called Evidence-Based Dentistry, (EBD) which the American Dental Association notes is designed, “…to connect the latest research findings with the daily practice of dentistry.” Integrating three key areas – the dentist’s expertise, patient needs and preferences, and the latest clinical research – determine the best avenue for patient care. (http://ebd.ada.org).

And while EBM originated in the medical field, the method has been successfully applied in many other settings, from education to criminology to business management.   According to the Center for Evidence-Based Management (CEBMa):

The starting point for evidence-based management is that management decisions should be based on a combination of critical thinking and the best available evidence. Many managers, however, pay little or no attention to the quality of the evidence they rely on to make decisions. As a result management decisions are often based on so-called ‘best practice’….Evidence-based practice seeks to address this… by helping managers to critically evaluate the validity, generalizability and applicability of the evidence they have in hand and how to find the ‘best available’ evidence. – Source: www.cebma.org

“That was when the light bulb came on,” said Unruh. In the case of turf education, EBM would connect turf professionals to the best available research with the goal of helping participants refine their management practices for more successful outcomes.

“Framing the program under ‘Evidence-Based Turfgrass Management’ seemed to resonate. It encompasses a larger vision for the University of Florida turfgrass program and differentiates it from other events,” said Shaddox.   The programs accept no sponsorships, relying solely on registrations to cover expenses, thus eliminating potential or perceived bias.

“Evidence-Based Management: Water, Light, Temperature and Nutrition” debuted successfully in August 2016; the zoysiagrass management module quickly followed in response to requests from turf managers and from local extensions agents looking for ways to help their clients. Unruh and Shaddox partnered with UF/ IFAS Duval County Commercial Horticulture agent Erin Harlow to develop a day-long, hands-on workshop covering the most current science-based zoysiagrass care recommendations along with local case studies presented by UF/IFAS Extension agents.

The first EBM zoysiagrass workshops were presented in October of 2016 in two locations: in Wildwood, near The Villages, a master planned community which had specified zoysiagrass lawns in recently-developed areas and in Jacksonville, where homebuilders had utilized zoysiagrass in several new communities. The Jacksonville workshop drew over 70 participants and the Wildwood location well over 100.   Additional workshops have been offered in Callaway, Seffner (near Tampa), and Orlando. To date, the seminars have drawn nearly 400 attendees, the majority of whom are professionals servicing residential and commercial turf.

Harlow noted that of the 125 professionals who provided information about their accounts, half indicated that at least 25% of their zoysiagrass accounts were “struggling.” An additional 16% felt that most or all of their accounts (between 76% and 100%) were struggling. And feedback from attendees confirmed that both the format and content of the programs were meeting the needs of those in the industry:

“Learned a ton, most intensive zoysia training I’ve had in 26 years in the industry.”

 “Incredible, I am not in lawn service, I’m in golf; but this was even more beneficial in my work…than I realized I would gain.  I agree with one aspect of this- the more we know the better we become.”

“The takeaway message would be that correct cultural practices such as thatch management, proper fertilization, mowing and irrigation are critical for zoysiagrass to be successful,” said Harlow.

Two additional events were rescheduled due to Hurricane Irma and are set for December 13, 2017 in Ft. Myers and December 14,2017 in West Palm Beach.   Cost of the workshop is $60 if pre-registering through Eventbrite or $75 on the day of the event

For more information or to register, visit:

Fort Myers: Wednesday, December 13


West Palm Beach: Thursday, December 14


Photos courtesy of Erin Harlow, UF/IFAS Duval County Extension